Mobile

Tech Tip – Apps To Stop Pocket Dialling

If you’ve ever accidentally pocket-dialled someone or accidentally clicked through things on your phone while it’s in your pocket, apps such as ‘Pocket Screen Lock’, ‘Pocket Mode’ and ‘Pocket Sensor’ can prevent this from happening.

These kinds of apps include a proximity sensor to enable them to detect when the phone is in your pocket whereupon it is locked and is unlocked again when it’s taken out of your pocket.

To find these and similar apps for Android, go to Google Play Store.

‘Mobile-Sensing System’ Could Evaluate Your Workplace Performance

A newly developed ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ that uses a combination of smartphone, fitness bracelet, app and cloud-based machine learning algorithms can track and rank the workplace performance of employees with 80% accuracy.

Based On Student Monitoring App

The underlying technology blueprint for the new system, which was developed by a group of researchers including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, is a student monitoring app that was used to help improve productivity. The ‘StudentLife’ app monitored student behaviour and predicted academic performance.

The ‘Mobile-Sensing System’

The new ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ uses the combination of a smartphone to track physical activity, location, phone usage and ambient light, a wearable fitness tracker to monitor heart functions, sleep, stress, and body measurements e.g. weight and calorie consumption, and location beacons that can be placed in the home or office to provide information about time at work and breaks.

The number-crunching for the system is carried out by cloud-based machine learning algorithms that have been trained to classify workers by performance level.

Why?

The system provides feedback to both the employee and employer and, according to the researchers, by using this ‘passive’ sensing and machine learning system, companies have another way of assessing how individuals are doing in their jobs, and employees can be helped to see how they can optimise and boost their performance.

The researchers believe that the system can unlock and give greater insight into behaviours that drive performance and offers benefits over more traditional review techniques that can require manual effort and can be biased and unreliable.

Best Performers

The researchers have noted that, according to the new system, the best performers are likely to be those who have lower rates of phone usage, have longer deep sleep periods and are more physically active and mobile.

Surveillance?

Although the researchers have pitched the system as something that could help employer and employee, critics may say that, in the relationship where the employer has the power, this kind of close surveillance and micro-management tool could favour younger physically active people (those without disabilities or sleeping disorders), could create stress in individuals who feel that they are constantly being monitored and ‘ranked’ by a ‘big brother’ system with a view to being replaced based on numbers created by secret algorithms.

It could also mean that employees without home/family commitments or who live closer to work may be ranked as more productive because they are able to stay longer or come into the workplace outside normal hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This system does show how new technologies can be combined to provide closer insights into work and performance and in some jobs e.g. repetitive manual jobs where time is a key factor anyway.  For some employers, therefore, this system could have a real value in evaluating and improving working processes, particularly if it is accompanied by a positive rewards-based system, and if support is made available to those employees who don’t rank as highly.

This system, however, may not be able to take account of many of the other dynamics and soft factors that make up good performance, and may not be suitable as the main monitoring method in certain more specialised jobs and roles.  There is also a danger that this kind of system in the wrong hands could be used as a blunt instrument of surveillance and control over a workforce.

Privacy and security are also a major concern for businesses and employees, and whether or not the data and performance measurements can be linked to an individual, where (and how securely) that data is stored, and who the data can be shared with should be areas of concern.

Fire-Prone MacBook Pros Recalled

Apple has announced a recall of some older generation 15-inch MacBook Pro units due to the fire risk posed by a tendency for the battery to overheat.

Repair and Replace Free

Apple is offering a recall and replacement program for units that were sold primarily between September 2015 and February 2017 with the company offering to replace affected batteries, free of charge due to a potential battery fire risk.

Service options for affected customers include finding an Apple Authorized Service Provider (through the online tool), making an appointment at an Apple Retail Store, or contacting Apple Support to arrange mail-in service via the Apple Repair Centre.

Serial Number

The eligibility for the program is determined by the serial number product which can be checked on Apple’s website here:

https://support.apple.com/15-inch-macbook-pro-battery-recall

Second Time

This is the second time that this generation of MacBook Pro units has been recalled.  Back in June 2018 and after numerous complaints over two years and even an online petition by a customer, Apple decided to offer free repairs or replacements for the butterfly keyboard on its MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops.  The petition from the time, which attracted over 21,000 signatures, claimed that every one of Apple’s MacBook Pro models, 13in and 15in, were sold with a keyboard that could become defective at any moment because of a design failure.  Apple responded by launching a program which meant that Apple or an Apple Authorised Service Provider could service eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards, free of charge.

Apple iPad Battery Gas Leak

To make things worse, in August 2018 the leaking of vapours from a damaged iPad battery led to an Amsterdam shop being evacuated and 3 staff being treated for breathing problems caused by the released gas. The fire brigade was called and attended, but there were no reports of any actual flames/fire coming from the affected iPad. Staff had, however, initially reacted to the smoking iPad by putting it in a sand-filled fire bucket. At the time, however, other online reports indicated that similar faults had occurred elsewhere since Apple had started its iPhone battery replacement programme.

Apple Adapter – Fire Risk

In May this year, Apple recalled two different types of plug adapter because of a possible risk of electric shock.  The affected plugs were the two-prong AC wall plug adapter that came with Macs and some iOS devices between 2003 and 2010, and the three prong plug that was included with Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest fire-risk recall appears to be part of pattern that could indicate that some Apple products/components/accessories have been released for sale despite having some potentially serious risks, but that the company (perhaps after some time has elapsed and complaints have been made) has made an effort to admit to risks and at least offer repair and replacement programs.

Apple is one of those brands however, that has built a strong reputation for products that are user-friendly, reliable, not prone to the security risks of PCs for example, and for products that look stylish.  As such the company has built a loyal base of fan-like supporters, many of whom are prepared to accept fire and electric shock risk hiccups, and carry on paying premium prices as they perceive the products to be worthy of their generally positive image and relatively high prices.

It is good to note that this product repair and replacement program was offered swiftly, but it is worrying that the same model has been the subject of two such recall programs to date.  Let’s hope it’s the last.

Tech Tip – Sleep App That Could Help You Work

We spend one-third of our lives asleep, and it has been estimated that around £30bn and 200,000 working days are lost in the UK each year through a lack of good sleep (gov.uk).  The Rise app shows you how to get better sleep, and keeps a record of your sleeping progress, thereby helping you to feel better and be more productive at work.

Rise offers 4 techniques to help users with sleep, provided by experts, 120 sleep relaxing guides, and sleep tracking tools to enable you to understand how your sleep is affected by the techniques. The app learns your sleep patterns and suggests the technique that may suit you best.  Rise claims that a massive 85% of app respondents reported better sleep after using the Sleep Better app.

You can find the Rise app in Google Play and Apple iTunes stores.

Serious Security Flaws Discovered In Popular GPS Tracker

Researchers at UK cyber-security company, Fidus Information Security, say that they have found security flaws in a popular Chinese-manufactured white-label location tracker that could be serious enough to warrant a recall.

Which Tracker?

The GPS tracker which is used as a panic alarm for elderly patients, to monitor children, and to track vehicles is white label manufactured but rebranded and sold by several different companies which reportedly include Pebbell (by HoIP Telecom), OwnFone Footprint and SureSafeGo. The tracker uses a SIM card to connect to the 2G/GPRS network.  According to Fidus at least 10,000+ of these trackers are currently used in the UK

What’s The Problem?

According to the researchers, simply sending the device a text message with a keyword can trick the tracker into revealing its real-time location. Also, other commands tried by the researchers can allow anyone to call the device and remotely listen in to its in-built microphone without the user knowing, and even remotely stop the signal from the tracker, thereby making the device effectively useless.  On its blog, Fidus lists several other things that its researchers were able to do to the device including change or completely remove all emergency contacts, disable the motion alarm, disable fall detection and remove any device PIN which had been set.

All these scenarios could pose significant risks to the (mainly vulnerable) users of the trackers.

According to Fidus, one of the main reasons why the device has so many security flaws is that it doesn’t appear that the manufacturers, nor the companies reselling the devices, have conducted any security testing or penetration testing of the device.

PIN Problem

The research by Fidus also uncovered the fact that even though the manufacturers built in PIN functionality to help lock the devices down, the PIN, by default, is disabled and users need to read the manual to find out about it, and when enabled, the PIN is required as a prefix to any commands to be accepted by the device, except for REBOOT or RESET functionality.  The problem with this is that the RESET functionality is the thing that really could provide any malicious user with the ability to gain remote control of the device.  This is because is the RESET command that wipes all stored contacts and emergency contacts, restores the device to factory defaults and means that a PIN is no longer needed.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

What is particularly disturbing about this story is that the tracking devices are used for some of the most vulnerable members of society.  Even though they have been marketed as a way to make a person safer, the cruel irony is that it appears that if they are taken over by a malicious attacker, they could put a person at greater risk.

This story also illustrates the importance of security penetration testing in discovering and plugging security loopholes in devices before making them widely available.  This is another example of an IoT/smart device that has security loopholes related to default settings, and with an ever-growing number of IoT devices out there, many of them perhaps not tested as well as they could be, many buyers are unknowingly at risk from hackers.f

Could Biometric Regulations Be On The Way Soon?

A written parliamentary question from MP Luciana Berger about the possibility of bringing forward legislation to regulate the use of facial recognition technology has led the Home Office to hint that the legislation (and more) may be on the way soon.

Questions and Answers

The question by the MP about bringing forward ‘biometrics legislation’ related to how facial recognition was being used for immigration purposes at airports. Last month, MP David Davis also asked about possible safeguards to protect the security and privacy of citizens’ data that is held as part of the Home Office’s biometrics programme.

Caroline Nokes has said on behalf of the Home Office, in response to these and other questions about biometrics, that options to simplify and extend governance and oversight of biometrics across the Home Office sector are being looked at, including where law enforcement, border and immigration control use of biometrics is concerned.  Caroline Nokes is also reported to have said that other measures would also be looked at with a view to improving the governance and use of biometrics in advance of “possible legislation”.

Controversial

There have been several controversial incidents where the Police have used/held trials of facial recognition at events and in public places, for example:

In February this year a deliberately overt trial of live facial recognition technology by the Metropolitan Police in the centre of Romford led to an incident whereby a man who was observed pulling his jumper over part of his face and putting his head down while walking past the police cameras ended up being fined after being challenged by police.  The 8-hour trial only resulted in three arrests as a direct result of facial recognition technology.

In December 2018 ICO head Elizabeth Dunham was reported to have launched a formal investigation into how police forces use facial recognition technology after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.

A trial of facial recognition at the Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff back in 2017 only yielded one arrest, and this was the arrest of a local man for something unconnected to the Champions League. This prompted criticism that the trial was a waste of money.

Biometrics – Approved By The FIDO Alliance

One area where biometrics has got the seal of approval by The FIDO Alliance is in its use in facial recognition, and fingerprint scanning as part the login for millions of Windows 10 devices from next month. The FIDO Alliance is an open industry association whose mission is to develop and promote authentication standards that help reduce the world’s over-reliance on passwords.

In a recent interview with CBNC, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Officer Bret Arsenault, signalled the corporation’s move away from passwords on their own as a means of authentication towards biometrics and a “passwordless future”.  Windows Hello (the Windows 10 authenticator) has been built to align with FIDO2 standards so it works with Microsoft cloud services, and this has led to the FIDO Alliance now granting Microsoft official certification for Windows Hello from the forthcoming May 2019 upgrade.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Taking images of our faces as part of a facial recognition system used by the government may seem like an efficient way of identifying and verification e.g. for immigration purposes, but our facial images constitute personal data.  For this reason, we should be concerned about how and where they are gathered (with or without our knowledge) and how they are stored, as well as how and why they are used.  There are security and privacy matters to consider, and it may well make sense to put regulations and perhaps legislation in place now in order to provide some protection for citizens and to ensure that biometrics are used responsibly by all, including the state, and that privacy and security are given proper consideration.

It should be remembered that some of the police facial recognition tests have led to mistaken identity, and this is a reminder that the technology is still in its early stages, and this may provide another reason for regulations and legislation now.

Tech Tip – Lightbeam Screen-Sharing App

If you’d like an app that enables you to easily share mobile screens with a friend or colleague, for work or leisure, Lightbeam is a new, free, cross-platform app which does just that.

The social screen sharing app also makes it easy to book group itineraries and reservations for trips, and it also works as a video chat service.

To download the app find it on Apple’s iTunes, and on Google Play Store.

First Organ Delivery By Drone

A human kidney for transplant has been delivered by drone to a Medical Centre in Baltimore in the first flight of its kind.

Cutting Edge Technology

The drone transportation of the living organ over a one-mile journey used cutting-edge technology in the form of an AI-powered drone that had been specifically designed to maintain and monitor the organ during the journey.  As well as having a specially designed compartment to keep the organ in the right condition for transplant, the drone had onboard communications and safety systems to enable a safe flight over densely-populated/urban areas, and a parachute recovery system in case the drone failed.

Collaboration

The drone’s creation was the product of a collaboration between the aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland (UMD), transplant specialists and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and others at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.  Joseph Scalea, assistant professor of surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) who was one of the surgeons who carried out the transplant has also acknowledged the collaborative efforts of the surgeons, engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the organ procurement specialists, the drone pilots, nurses at the hospital, and the patient.

Solves Problems

The ability to deliver transplant organs by drone solves the problems caused primarily by traffic problems identified by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which reported that in 2018 there were nearly 114,000 people on waiting lists, with 1.5% of organs not making it to the destination and nearly 4% being delayed by two hours or more.

Medical Sample Delivery Too

There has also been a recent report in North Carolina of a hospital, in partnership with UPS, using a drone delivery program to speed up the delivery of critical medical samples across a hospital campus, thereby cutting 41 minutes off the usual on-foot journey.

Potential

The fact that the organ drone flight and the transplant operation were safe and successful has led to the recognition of the potential of this method e.g. unmanned transportation of organs over greater distances, minimising the need for multiple pilots and flight time and addressing safety issues.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This world-first in organ transportation is an important first step in what could be (if proven to be safe and reliable over multiple flights) an important new technological improvement to the provision of life-saving medicine.

Business owners may also be thinking that if this can be done successfully with something as important and delicate as a human organ for transplant, this system could potentially be scaled up and used to ensure the fast, safe delivery of other items. Amazon, for example, has been testing delivery drones for parcels since 2013 with a view to making its ‘Prime Air’ service a regular reality in the future.

As shown by UPS’s involvement with medical sample delivery, other major delivery companies are also investing in drones and their potential to combat the challenges posed by traffic congestion and labour-intensive and time-consuming on-foot journeys.

Also, the US Federal Aviation Administration has just authorised Alphabet’s (Google’s) Wing Aviation to start delivering goods via drones later this year.  This is the first time that the FAA has granted an “air-carrier” the certification for drone delivery of items such as food, medicine, and other small consumer products.

Drone transportation is clearly moving forward and starting to prove that it offers great potential in many different sectors in the not-too-distant future.

Tech Tip – The JigSpace App

If you’d like to have the ability to instantly see a step-by-step interactive 3D breakdown of a complex idea, product, or phenomenon, so that you can understand exactly how it works, and be able to explain it (e.g. for a work or education project) then the JigSpace app could be for you.

The JigSpace app for iPhone and iPad is a platform to explore and share interactive, 3D ‘knowledge for anything’. When you ask, “How does that work?” the answer is right in front of you in … interactive 3D. The basic JigSpace app is available for free from Apple iTunes.

Tech Tip – Spark E-Mail App

If you’re looking for a well-organised email app for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Android with a clever interface, flexible customisation options, and tools for discussing and collaborating on emails with your team ‘Spark’ may be the app for you.

The Spark email app offers a very tidy email inbox that puts the most important emails first and saves the junk, newsletters, and less important tasks for later.

The app also features a good email search engine, offers the scheduling and snoozing of emails, smart notifications, integrations with other services, and a host of other features.

To find out more visit the Spark website https://sparkmailapp.com/ , or go to iTunes or Google’s Play Store.