Technophobia: Orwell was 28 years too early

Technophobia is a column by James Hardy. Views expressed are not necessarily those of Digixav.

Welcome to China everybody! Yep, renowned file-sharing site The Pirate Bay is being blocked in the UK by five of Britain’s biggest internet service providers: O2, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and Everything Everywhere (aka T-Mobile and Orange or T-Morange). BT requested ‘a couple more weeks’ before announcing their position on blocking the website, but they are under no obligation to do so.

I can’t help but think that this is the beginning of a slippery slope. The government won’t know when to stop. They’ll block all file sharing sites, websites which have links to them, any search engines through which you can access these sites and, while they’re at it, why don’t they just block any anti-government websites? Oh snap, they just killed free speech!

They say that these sites take millions of pounds from the entertainment industry, but the truth is the money the industry loses is minimal. I download American TV shows from file sharing sites. Why? Because I can’t get them here in the UK. Show them over here, get more views, get more money from advertising, everyone wins. Simples.

Often the reason people download games from these websites is because they come out earlier in the US. People want things ASAP. Say a game is released in the US two weeks before Europe, and someone across the pond uploads to The Pirate Bay. So, if you live in the UK, you can have it now, or you can wait a fortnight to get it. I wonder what you’re going to choose? The same goes for films and music – release at the same time around the world and more people will pay for them. Fact.

The movies I download from file sharing sites are ones I wouldn’t go to the cinema to see. They’re ones I would wait to see on TV. I’m going to see The Avengers in the cinema because it’s going to be awesome. If I can be bothered, I might even write a review on STR. But other movies, ones which tend to get a resounding ‘meh’ from critics, I would download. So, film industry: make good movies and I will pay to see them. Cinemas are overpriced, too. It can cost me £20 for a movie and some popcorn. That’s too much.

The entertainment industry needs to get with the times. Services like iTunes, Netflix and Spotify are doing brilliantly for themselves. That is what the people want. Whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. The entertainment industry wants you to go to a real shop and buy a DVD. Sad though it is, human beings are lazy. They don’t want to do that. The entertainment industry needs to make things downloadable. Why not have file sharing sites where you have to pay some money which the industry gets to download something? Everyone wins.

Blocking The Pirate Bay won’t work. People will use things like proxies, *insert more technological terms here* etc. to get round it. And blocking it will just mean more sites like it will appear. It isn’t the answer.

File sharing sites aren’t losing the entertainment industry money. It’s bringing about its own downfall.

Another news story that came out last month was that of the government introducing a new law so they can monitor our email, phone and web use. Whenever they feel like it. Just like that. Which, according to the Home Office, will be used to tackle crime and terrorism. Of course. It’s interesting to note that Labour tried to introduce similar plans when they were last in power, but they failed due to massive opposition to the proposals, mainly from the Tories. But it’s fine now they’re in power, erm, why exactly, Mr Cameron?

The government will be able to look at any website you’ve visited, group you’re in contact with or email, text or phone call you have made from the last two years. Without needing permission from anyone. And to those people who make the ‘I have nothing to hide’ argument, you are unbelievably naïve. Would you want someone to be able to open your post and reseal it? I think not.

So while the government criticises China, Iran and other countries with similar regimes for taking similar measures, they do exactly the same back here. That’s fair. At this rate, it won’t be long before they control exactly what we can and can’t do with the internet. They’re not far away from controlling our thoughts.

Anyway, seeing as how the government could block this site if they wanted to, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to call them lying, hypocritical bastards. Turns out George Orwell predicted what was to come pretty damn well.

Enjoy the future, people!

This article was originally published on Stuff Things Rants

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Alternatives to SMS services cause financial dent to networks

Everyone jumps at the opportunity of not paying for something, even the smallest things. Text messaging is now included in that list. Apple’s iMessage, BlackBerry’s BBM and Facebook’s Messenger are all free messaging services and they are all very good. People use them as free alternatives to texting and they seem to becoming very popular, but too popular for the networks.

In 2011, mobile networks such as 3, O2, Orange, Vodafone and T-Mobile lost over $13.9bn (£8.8bn) because of these new free massaging apps. With so many alternatives to SMS services available, people are not texting as much as they used to and are instead looking to free apps. Network providers are missing out on their usually vast amounts of money they receive from people who pay for large SMS plans.

Network providers are desperately looking for ways to win back the public into SMS. In the short term, I expect, they will be looking to lower the prices of SMS services and crack down on data usage. Let’s see what 2012 brings…

O2 security flaw potentially lets every website access your phone number (updated: O2 react)

If you are on O2 or any MVNO that uses their network such as Giffgaff or Tesco Mobile, now is the time to be worried. It has emerged that the network is sending mobile numbers in plaintext to every website you visit as part of the header data. This could potentially allow sites to collect these numbers and do all kinds of things with them. Lewis Peckover has created a page to check for and display such information, and so far only O2 and their MVNOs have been displaying the number. Peckover says on the site:

To answer some questions and responses I’ve seen – no, it’s not anything client-side. O2 seem to be transparently proxying HTTP traffic and inserting this header. Another annoying feature of O2 is that they interfere with the responses from servers too. They downgrade all images and insert a javascript link into the HTML of each page. I’ve talked to customer service about this lovely feature several times, but they never have a clue what I’m talking about, let alone any idea how to opt out/disable it.

We don’t know why this is happening, but until O2 fully understand the problem of why this sensitive data is so easily accessible and how to solve it, be careful of any suspicious sites that may pop up. If you are not on O2 but still see your number in the header, let us know or tell Peckover on Twitter.

Update: Which? Magazine contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office, who had this to say:

Keeping people’s personal information secure is a fundamental principle that sits at the heart of the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. When people visit a website via their mobile phone they would not expect their number to be made available to that website. We will now speak to O2 to remind them of their data breach notification obligations, and to better understand what has happened, before we decide how to proceed.

Update 2: O2 have confirmed that this happened over their 3G and WAP networks due to accidental routine maintenance on January 10th. They have reported themselves to Ofcom and released this statement/Q&A.

O2 mobile numbers and web browsing

Security is of the utmost importance to us and we take the protection of our customers’ data extremely seriously.

We have seen the report published this morning suggesting the potential for disclosure of customers’ mobile phone numbers to website owners.

We investigated, identified and fixed it this afternoon. We would like to apologise for the concern we have caused.

Below is a set of Q&As, to answer questions we’ve been receiving. If you have further questions, do leave them in the blog comments and we will do our best to answer as many as possible.

Q: What’s happened with O2 mobile numbers when I browse the internet on my mobile?

A: Every time you browse a website (via mobile or desktop), certain technical information about the machine you are using, is passed to website owners. This happens across the internet, and enables website owners to optimise the site you see. When you browse from an O2 mobile, we add the user’s mobile number to this technical information, but only with certain trusted partners. This is standard industry practice. We share mobile numbers with selected trusted partners for 3 reasons: 1) to manage age verification, which manages access to adult content, 2) to enable third party content partners to bill for premium content such as downloads or ring tones that the customer has purchased 3) to identify customers using O2 services, such as My O2 and Priority Moments. This only happens over 3G and WAP data services, not WiFi.

Q: How long has this been happening?

A: In between the 10th of January and 1400 Wednesday 25th of January, in addition to the usual trusted partners, there has been the potential for disclosure of customers’ mobile phone numbers to further website owners.

Q: Has it been fixed?

A: Yes. It was fixed as of 1400 on Wednesday 25th January 2012.

Q: Which of my information can website owners access?

A: The only information websites had access to is your mobile number, which could not have been linked to any other identifying information we have about customers.

Q: Why did this happen?

A: Technical changes we implemented as part of routine maintenance had the unintended effect of making it possible in certain circumstances for website owners to see the mobile numbers of those browsing their site.

Q: Which customers were affected?

A: It affected customers accessing the internet via their mobile phone on 3G or WAP services, but not WiFi, between 10th of January and 1400 on Wednesday the 25th of January.

Q: Which websites do you normally share my mobile number with?

A: Only where absolutely required by trusted partners who work with us on age verification, premium content billing, such as for downloads, and O2’s own services, have access to these mobile numbers.

Q: The Information Commissioner said he is investigating – what are you doing as part of this?

A: We are in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and we will be co-operating fully. We have also contacted Ofcom.

Nokia Lumia 900 for AT&T confirmed by New York Times

The New York Times has quoted sources that confirm that the Nokia Lumia 900 is to be officially announced at CES on Monday. Apparently AT&T will be carrying the phone in America but there is no news about anywhere else in the world, except for an earlier tweet from 3 and an O2 representative telling us that he does not expect the 900 to be stocked there as they already have the 800. There has been no confirmation on the specs but what we [sort of] know is that it will have a 4.3 inch WVGA screen with 512MB of RAM, LTE in eligible territories and an 8MP rear and front-facing camera. All in all, we at the Digixav team are very excited for Monday.

Bring on CES!

 

The incompetence in tech retail

Let’s face it. We all buy technology of one form or another. Many of us buy our gadgets online for savings and sheer convenience, but sometimes you need to actually try something before you buy. High street stores are everywhere these days, complete with friendly and ‘knowledgable’ salespeople to guide you to the right products and decisions, but not all is as it seems.

Circulating around Digixav are numerous stories of employees at leading British retailers not having a clue about the products and services that they are trying to sell to the public. Here I have compiled a list of some of the worst of our experiences for your entertainment and warning. Remember that all of these stories are true and have been witnessed by the Digixav team.

  • A hand scribbled description note for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc in a Carphone Warehouse store stated that the phone was sporting an ‘8.1 mega pixle’ rear camera.
  • Advertising material in a Carphone Warehouse store shows BlackBerry Curve specifications with a dummy model of an HTC Salsa, thus confusing two smartphones that could hardly be more different.20120107-213406.jpg
  • After his chain had been featured in an advert for the new Motorola RAZR, a Phones4U employee had no knowledge of the device other than its name despite the fact that people had come in requesting it.
  • A label for a Lenovo desktop PC in Currys states that its 2nd generation Intel Core i3 CPU is 2.7x faster than your old PC. This is very misleading as the i3 chip is in fact slower than many processors that have been available for a number of years.20120107-213452.jpg
  • The entire sales team of one Currys store had no idea of how the Kindle 4 lighted covers worked as the contact points had changed from those of the Kindle Keyboard. How can they try and sell a case for £50 if they have no idea how it works?
  • A dummy Samsung Wave II is on display in the Carphone Warehouse with no explanation as to what it was.
  • A Currys employee was left confused as he had no knowledge of what a flash drive was. He had to be reminded that it was the correct term for a memory stick.
  • Another upside-down price tag in Currys. I see these whenever I visit my local branch.
  • In December 2011, a Carphone Warehouse employee said that he did not expect the Lumia 900 to launch in the UK as, in his words, ‘it has been out in America for ages’. I played along with this, and he stated that it was just the 800 with a ‘4G’ LTE radio inside and at the exact same size of 3.7″. This is clearly incorrect as Nokia and AT&T are set to unveil this device at CES at Las Vegas on Monday. Another Carphone Warehouse employee since informed us that the database confirmed an 8MP rear shooter, a 4.3″ screen and 512MB RAM, but we cannot be certain if these specifications are genuine.

In conclusion, don’t believe everything you hear in tech shops. If you are in such an emporium and you hear an incompetent buffoon misleading a fellow consumer, don’t be afraid to butt in and steer them on the right path. Not all salespeople are terrible but the retail industry lacks people with a passion for technology and this is a sorry state for it.

If you have your own high street tale of woe, leave it in the comments or email it to us here.