T-Mobile announced its new "Uncarrier" strategy--no more two-year contracts, pay for the phone up front. It's a step in the right direction, but not enough. Let's ban all smartphone subsidies and contracts.
When it came to light that law enforcement has issued millions of annual requests/demands to the wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc) to hand over user data, we all got a little concerned. Our carriers know everything about us, and according to findings by Rep. Markey (D-MA), "Information shared with law enforcement includes data such as geolocation information, content of text messages, wiretaps, among others."
But! We have weapons. Here are some tricks to help protect your privacy.
So here's the scary number: the major wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and a couple little guys like U.S. Cellular and Cricket) revealed that in total, in 2011, they received 1.3 million requests for user data from law enforcement agencies. They released this information only after an inquiry by Congressman Edward J. Markey. This is the first time we've had any overarching glimpse at how (and how often) the carriers work with law enforcement.
This is a major step forward towards transparency. It received a front-page New York Times story, and certainly a fair bit of coverage elsewhere. It provides much more information than we've ever had before, especially from AT&T, which lists a few categories of requests as well as the specific (very tiny) number of requests AT&T refused to honor. But! That 1.3 million number leaves out some legitimately important information. Most important: what information is revealed, exactly, and how often do the carriers comply?
It gives the term skeleton key a whole new meaning: a prototype system from AT&T Labs that beams a unique vibration through a user’s bones to be picked up by a receiver in a door handle, automatically unlocking the door at the touch of the handle. Using piezoelectric transducers, the system could someday be embedded in smartphones or wristwatches to create doors that automatically unlock when the right person touches them and stay firmly dead-bolted when anyone else tries to gain entry.
GPS devices are great, but sometimes I want to throw mine out the window. There’s something so obnoxious about the Garmin voice, especially when you disregard its navigation choice and it tells you it’s “reCALCulating” in that disapproving tone. A new haptic steering wheel concept would be so much friendlier! Instead of smarmy commentary, the wheel simply vibrates to tell you which way to turn.
Most of the wireless carriers have scaled back on coverage at CES, but AT&T is still here, loud and proud, announcing a host of phones for the upcoming year. It's a sort of similar situation to last year with Verizon; AT&T is finally rolling out their LTE network, and they're using CES to announce the first round of phones. And a lot of them look great! Here's what you'll see trickling into AT&T stores this year.
The HTC Inspire 4G is part of a new effort on AT&T's part to pad out their lineup with some top-flight smartphones, a smart move now that the iPhone is no longer exclusively theirs. What's especially notable about the Inspire is that it's AT&T's first "4G" phone, running on an HSPA+ network that AT&T promises will deliver super-fast speeds--but what AT&T isn't rushing to tell you is that you probably won't see those speeds yet, even with a 4G phone like the Inspire. All over AT&T's website is an asterisk after mentions of 4G, leading to a note saying that 4G is "available in limited areas." Take that seriously, folks. No one knows where those "limited areas" actually are, and if AT&T does, it's not telling.
Almost every high-profile smart phone to be unveiled at CES this week boasts a super-fast "4G" network connection. But depending on the carrier, "4G" can mean many different things. Here's the breakdown.
Tired of that spotty AT&T network coverage? The carrier is offering a satellite backstop to its network, but you’ll have to give up your iPhone for an even pricier option. AT&T has announced that on Tuesday it will begin selling its first satellite phone that works anywhere in the U.S., including in wilderness areas or hundreds of miles offshore. And the TerreStar Genus will only run you $799.
A great article in MIT's Technology Review got me thinking of something that's so obvious, but almost always subconscious: your mobile phone provider knows so much about you. Every time you make a call, send a text or download data, your provider knows who you were talking to and for how long, along with exactly where you were at the time of the connection, accurate to within a mile.
This staggering stream of data is a gold mine for the mobile operators--both from an academic and commercial perspective. Now, they just have to figure out how to make the most of it, answering complex privacy questions along the way.