mfioretti: google* + android*

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  1. urope has propelled past the United States when it comes to constraining the abuses of Big Tech. In June, the European Union fined Google $2.7 billion for steering web users to its shopping site, and investigations remain active over similar treatment on Android phones. European regulators fined Facebook for lying about whether it could match user profiles with phone numbers on its messaging acquisition WhatsApp. They demanded Apple repay $15.3 billion in back taxes in Ireland. And they forced Amazon to change its e-book contracts, which they claimed inappropriately squeezed publishers.
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Trust-Busted: In 2002, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates had to testify at federal court in his company's antitrust case. The public trial led Microsoft to sfoten its aggressive strategy against rivals.

    Unfortunately, these actions were treated mainly as the cost of doing business. The Facebook fine totaled not even 1 percent of the $22 billion purchase price for WhatsApp, and it allowed the two companies to remain partnered. Government policy, in effect, has “told these companies that the smart thing to do is to lie to us and break the law,” said Scott Galloway in his presentation. Google’s remedy in the shopping case still forces rivals to bid for placement at the top of the page, with Google Shopping spun off as a stand-alone competitor. This does weaken Google’s power and solves the “equal treatment” problem, but it doesn’t protect consumers, who will ultimately pay for those costly bids. “The EU got a $2.7 billion fine to hold a party and bail out Greek banks,” said Gary Reback, an antitrust lawyer and critic of the EU’s actions. “No amount of money will make a difference.”

    However, one thing might: Europe’s increasing move toward data privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled for implementation in May 2018, empowers European web users to affirmatively opt out of having their data collected, with high penalties for non-compliance. Consumers will be able to obtain their personal data and learn how it is used. They can request that their data be erased completely (known as the “right to be forgotten”) as well as prohibited from sale to third parties. Platforms could not condition use of their products on data collection. A separate, not-yet-finalized regulation called ePrivacy would forbid platforms from tracking users across separate apps, websites, and devices.
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  2. After several weeks of development, eelo is running as a beta.

    The real challenge isn't building a new front-end. It's removing Google Play Store, Google Play Services, and Google Services. That's not easy. While Android developers don't have to use any of them, they are very useful.

    For installing programs, Duval is turning to the alternative Android program repositories F-Droid and APKPure. Ideally, he wants an an "eelo store," which would deliver both official free applications like APKPure and open-source applications such as offered in F-Droid.

    To replace Google Services, Duval plans on using MicroG. This is an open-source implementation of Google's proprietary Android user space apps and libraries. To deal with programs that use Google's SafetyNet Attestation Application Programming Interface (API) -- an API that checks to make sure the application runs in a Google Android compliant environment -- Duval thinks eelo will probably use Magisk Manager. This is a program that enables Android applications to run on smartphones, such as rooted systems, that would normally block them.

    For search, the plan is to offer privacy-enabled DuckDuckGo and the new privacy oriented search engine Qwant. You'll also be able to pick your own search engine, since as Duval admits, "in some cases, it Google » is still offering the best results."

    Then, there are all the invisible internet services most people never think about, such as Domain Name System (DNS), which can also be used to track you. To deal with this, by default, eelo will use the Quad 9 DNS. The Global Cyber Alliance (GCA)'s Quad 9 both preserves privacy while blocking access to known malicious sites.

    Low-level proprietary smartphone hardware drivers remain a problem -- but, short of building an eelo phone from the circuits up, that's beyond eelo's current scope.

    It's still early days for eelo, and Duval is welcoming support both on eelo's KickStarter page, where the current goal is to raise $120,000, and by talking directly to him via e-mail at or by following him on Twitter or Mastodon.

    Can it work? While alternatives to Android and iOS have failed more often than not, Android forks have had more success. With people increasingly desiring more privacy, I think eelo has an excellent chance of becoming a viable niche operating system
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-03)
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  3. I switched from using a BlackBerry to an Android phone a few years ago it really irked me that the only way to keep my contacts info on the phone was to also let Google sync them into their cloud. This may not be true universally (I think some samsung phones will let you store contacts to the SD card) but it was true for phone I was using then and is true on the Nexus 4 I'm using now. It took a lot of painful digging through Android source and googling, but I successfully ended up writing a bunch of code to get around this.

    I've been meaning to put up the code and post this for a while, but kept procrastinating because the code wasn't generic/pretty enough to publish. It still isn't but it's better to post it anyway in case somebody finds it useful, so that's what I'm doing.

    In a nutshell, what I wrote is an Android app that includes (a) an account authenticator, (b) a contacts sync adapter and (c) a calendar sync adapter. On a stock Android phone this will allow you to create an "account" on the device and add contacts/calendar entries to it.

    Note that I wrote this to interface with the way I already have my data stored, so the account creation process actually tries to validate the entered credentials against a webhost, and the the contacts sync adapter is actually a working one-way sync adapter that will download contact info from a remote server in vcard format and update the local database. The calendar sync adapter, though, is just a dummy. You're encouraged to rip out the parts that you don't want and use the rest as you see fit. It's mostly meant to be a working example of how this can be accomplished.

    The net effect is that you can store contacts and calendar entries on the device so they don't get synced to Google, but you can still use the built-in contacts and calendar apps to manipulate them. This benefits from much better integration with the rest of the OS than if you were to use a third-party contacts or calendar app.
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  4. With Tesla, Musk isn’t just trying to build an electric sports car. He’s trying to build a network that relies on electricity for transport: cars, batteries, supplies and components, charging stations and equipment. That’s an enormously expensive undertaking, and one that Musk and Tesla have largely shouldered alone.

    Despite the company’s supreme self-confidence and demonstrated competency, Tesla is coming to realize that it can’t take on the world by itself. Take the political realm. Rather than work through dealers, Tesla owns its stores. But influential dealers have spurred state legislatures to erect obstacles to Tesla’s expansions in states like Texas, North Carolina, and Ohio. Even with its large market capitalization, Tesla on its own is no match for entrenched political lobbies.

    But Tesla also needs help in the nuts and bolts of development and operation. Unable to attack Apple on its own, Google created Android and then invited others to use the platform to innovate and create rival apps. In attempting to compete against the internal combustion engine, Tesla may have to do something similar.
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  5. The web will become more like native apps. It’s not about native vs web anymore, it’s about the right use cases for web or native. In news and shopping, which are driven by search and social, the web makes a ton of sense. In these cases, the experience of the web is going to have to adapt to be much more like native apps. If you are a publisher or commerce provider without being mobile-first, you won’t be around for a while. Their users will go elsewhere and the lack of monetization will bankrupt their business.

    Native apps will become more like the Web. Native apps will start to behave more like the web due to cards and deeplinking. Brands that advertise on native apps along with the web will want to be able to link to specific pages and deeplinking capabilities will permute with Twitter cards and Google Kit Kat. The difference between the web and native apps will be tough to tell. Both will be great experiences and have linking capabilities. Users will choose them based upon the right use case.

    Android as we know it will be dead, long live Android. Android itself is dead. Every phone manufacturer that matters and is Apple has their own fork of Android — including Google itself with Motorola. We need to not think of Android as Android, but as Samsung/Amazon/Googlerola/HTC etc. With their own version of Android, each manufacturer will start to have unique offerings that make them stand out. Android will continue to grow in the smartphone market, but you won’t think of Android, you will think of the manufacturer.
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  6. The proliferation of the manufacturing processes behind mobile phone technologies has gradually driven the price down, to the point at which new ranges of contract-free smartphones are coming to the market, all in the £70 to £90 price range.

    Originally intended for emerging markets where the traditional costs of smartphones had been prohibitive, these devices are now appearing in developed markets.

    The rise of this new breed of affordable, functional smartphone will have dire consequences for carriers and manufacturers selling in the mid range.

    Apple may be relatively insulated from the trend for cheaper devices but others may not be. The iPhone maker can carry on innovating at the top end, introducing lighter, thinner phones coupled with across-the-board services such as its forthcoming music streaming service. These are attractive to those already inside the Apple ecosystem and should remain so.

    It is the mid-level manufacturers, such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola, that are most under threat. Year on year, they will see their margins decrease as the features that were once only available in mid-range devices begin to appear on phones at the lower end of the market.

    The fact that most of the mid-range phones available today operate on Android makes it significantly easier for a user to swap around. That would suggest that the only company able to continue making money in the new mobile phone era would be those in the software business. In this case, that’s Google.
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  7. Myth #2. Android is not open source.

    Yes, yes it is.

    You can take Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code today and make your own version of Android today. If you want to, you can even take a page from CyanogenMod's book and make an Android that works with multiple devices instead of being tied to one vendor's smartphones and tablets.

    Contrary to Edelman's claims, you can also build commercially viable operating systems off Android without Google Mobile Service (GMS) apps. Or, at least, you can try to. That's exactly what Mozilla is doing with Firefox OS. And, Canonical's Ubuntu Touch started out using CyanogenMod Android for its foundation. Indeed, it still uses Android during its initial boot up.
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    Granted, when Google is working on its latest version of Android, it has not always released beta code as early as some would like. Historically, the big hardware manufacturers, such as Samsung, HTC, and ASUS, get an early private look at Android source code. The goal is to enable these top Google hardware partners to create devices that work well with the newest version of Android as soon as it's released.
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  8. A moment ago, it looked as though Google cared about this massive privacy problem. Now we have our doubts. The only way to dispel them, frankly, is for Google to urgently reenable the App Ops interface, as well as adding some polish and completing the fundamental pieces that it is missing:

    * Android users should be able to disable all collection of trackable identifiers by an app with a single switch, including data like phone numbers, IMEIs, information about the user's accounts.

    * There should be a way to disable an app's network access entirely. It is clear that a large fraction of apps (including flashlights, wallpapers, UI skins, many games) simply don't need network access and, as we saw last week, are prone to abuse it.

    * The App Ops interface needs to be smoothed out an properly integrated into the main OS user interface, including the Settings->Apps menus and the Play Store. There are numerous ways to make App Ops work for developers. Pick one, and deploy it.

    In the mean time, we're not sure what to say to Android users. If app privacy is especially important to you — if, for instance, you want to be able to install an app like Shazam or Skype or Brightest Flashlight without giving it permission to know your location — we would have to advise you not to accept the update to 4.4.2. But this is also a catastrophic situation, because the update to Android 4.4.2 contains fixes to security and denial-of-service bugs. So, for the time being, users will need to chose between either privacy or security on the Android devices, but not both.

    Google, the right thing to do here is obvious.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2013-12-16)
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  9. The pre-installed crapware that fills many Android phones is more than just annoying -- it also frequently opens up big security holes. Here's how to kill the crapware and keep your phone safe and in tip-top shape.

    The crapware problem is much worse than you think. New research by the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University found that many popular Android phones are vulnerable because of security holes introduced by pre-installed apps you don't want.

    The researchers examined ten Android phones, looking for how much crapware is on each, although they preferred the gentler and more academic-sounding term "vendor customizations." They then examined the crapware to see if it made the phones more vulnerable. The phones they studied were Google's Nexus S and Nexus 4, HTC's Wildfire S and One X, Samsung's Galaxy S2 and S3, Sony's Xpreia Arc S and Xperia SL, and LG's Optimus P350 and P8880. The results are sobering -- and scary.
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  10. While this result lacks the power of precedent before the European Commission, it does highlight a basic problem for price predation claims against no-cost software: Low prices are, according to Judge Easterbrook, the "goal of antitrust law," and using antitrust law to raise prices would turn the law "on its head." Similar thinking should prevail at the European Commission when they consider Microsoft and Nokia’s complaints.
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