Apps spy on phone messages

Robin Henry and Cal Flyn :

ompanies are using smartphone apps to extract vast quantities of private information about users’ lives, in some cases reading their text messages and intercepting calls.

Among those that admitted reading text messages this weekend was the internet giant Facebook, which said it was accessing the information as part of a trial to launch its own messaging service.

Companies ranging from Facebook and Apple to small operations run by individuals gain access to the treasury of data when people agree to the terms and conditions of downloading an app.

The terms and conditions often go unread, leaving users unaware that they have authorised access to their private information. According to a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, 70% rarely or never read T&Cs when downloading apps.

Burning Man Video

Ahmed Elhusseiny:

Every year, somewhere in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, a diverse and motley group of people from around the globe gather for the annual counterculture arts festival-cum-social experiment known as Burning Man.

I had heard stories about the festival and bits and pieces from friends and had seen enough images of the event to have some general idea of the aesthetic of the place. It was really that aesthetic rather than any kind of experiential or narrative aspect that was for me, the primary draw. Here was an entire city full of extravagant set pieces, whimsical vehicles, and fully costumed extras, set down in the middle of an almost otherworldly desert landscape that only magnified the surreal characteristics of the entire scene – all just waiting to be filmed.

When a chance arose to attend last year’s “Burn” the prospect was too good to pass up.

Ebooks: The Giant Disruption

Frédéric Filloux:

In the last twelve months, I’ve never bought fewer printed books — and I’ve never read so many books. I have switched to ebooks. My personal library is with me at all times, in my iPad and my iPhone (and in the cloud), allowing me to switch reading devices as conditions dictate. I also own a Kindle, I use it mostly during Summer, to read in broad daylight: an iPad won’t work on a sunny café terrace.

I don’t care about the device itself, I let the market decide, but I do care about a few key features. Screen quality is essential: in that respect the iPhone’s Retina Display is unbeatable in the LED backlit word, and Kindle e-ink is just perfect with natural light. Because I often devour at least two books in parallel, I don’t want to struggle to land on the page I was reading when I switch devices. They must sync seamlessly, period, even with the imperfect cellular network. (And most of the time, they do.)

I’m an ebook convert. Not by ideology (I love dead-tree books, and I enjoy giving those to friends and family), just pragmatism. Ebooks are great for impulse buying. Let’s say I read a story in a magazine and find the author particularly brilliant, or want to drill further down into the subject thanks to a pointer to nicely rated book, I cut and paste the reference in the Amazon Kindle store or in the Apple’s iBooks store and, one-click™ later, the book is mine. Most of the time, it’s much cheaper than the print version (especially in the case of imported books).

Why we all need a drone of our own

Francis Fukuyama:

For the past couple of months, I’ve been building myself a surveillance drone. My craft consists of a remotely controlled quadcopter – a small helicopter with four rotor blades that looks like a flying X – with an onboard video camera that sends a live feed back to my laptop base station. It also transmits telemetry data about its altitude, speed, bearing and location from its onboard global positioning system receiver. In future, I plan to equip the aircraft with an autopilot system that will allow it to fly from one GPS-specified location to another without my having to pilot it.

I decided I had to have my own drone after hearing about the US army’s RQ-11 Raven, made by a company called AeroVironment. This drone is no more than a glorified remote-control aircraft that a soldier launches by tossing into the air. It can send video back to the squad so they know whether, for example, there are bad guys lurking behind the building in front of them.

Harsh Laws

The Economist:

ONE of the unforgettable experiences to be had in California is to go whale watching in Monterey Bay. Nancy Black, a licensed marine biologist, is one of the scientists who lead these commercial outings, besides doing her own whale research. As Lawrence Biegel, her lawyer, tells it, one day Ms Black was in her research boat with assistants when killer whales attacked a pod of grey whales and killed a calf. Its blubber floated to the surface, and the killer whales were about to feed on it. Seizing this opportunity to film their behaviour, Ms Black threaded ropes through some pieces of blubber, then lowered a camera underwater.

China’s ‘Apple authoritarianism’

Chrystia Freeland:

Are we outsourcing repression to China? That is the fear driving stepped-up scrutiny of labor conditions at Foxconn, the consumer electronics maker that assembles products for a number of Western technology companies, most prominently Apple.

As one blogger put it before watching the latest high-profile investigation, aired this week on the ABC news program Nightline: ‘‘I had been worried that after I watched the report, I’d feel angst-ridden and guilty about using my iPad, iPhone, or MacBook Pro.’’ An independent assessor working with the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit group that Apple has hired to audit conditions at the plants, said the California company was facing its ‘‘Nike moment,’’ a reference to the 1990s, when the sporting goods maker was accused of using Asian sweatshops to manufacture its iconic sneakers.

The conditions at Foxconn are indeed grim: 12-hour shifts doing boring, repetitive work; dorms that pack seven workers into each room; commands issued by a disembodied fembot. And the ABC cameras and FLA auditors surely didn’t see the worst of it: Foxconn first came to international attention in the spring of 2010, when 18 workers killed themselves, or tried to.

But the Nightline report included an implicit justification — the 3,000 workers lined up at Foxconn’s gates before dawn in hope of a job. Work at Foxconn may be hard and boring, but for many Chinese people, it is better than the alternative.

This is the historic price and promise of industrialization: It is no fun, but it is better than subsistence living back on the farm. And, modernization theorists like Seymour Martin Lipset have argued, as people get richer thanks to dismal jobs like those at Foxconn, they are able to demand more rights.