Tag Archives: Mobile technology

Deconstructing Carrier IQ’s Press Release

I couldn’t find this press release on their website, and it’s a couple of weeks old, but I thought it worth deconstructing anyway. My comments in quotes. The rest is from the release. I don’t pretend to have got anything right here, but these might be the starting points for deeper questions.

Carrier IQ Says Measuring Mobile User Experience Does Matter! – MarketWatch:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Nov 16, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Carrier IQ would like to clarify some recent press on how our product is used and the information that is gathered from smartphones and mobile devices.

Carrier IQ delivers Mobile Intelligence on the performance of mobile devices and networks to assist operators and device manufacturers in delivering high quality products and services to their customers. We do this by counting and measuring operational information in mobile devices — feature phones, smartphones and tablets.

operational information is a very vague term. And it’s clear from this comment that it’s not just smart phones that have the software installed. Feature phones and tablets also have it.

This information is used by our customers as a mission critical tool to improve the quality of the network, understand device issues and ultimately improve the user experience. Our software is embedded by device manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools and software prior to shipment.

It calls it a diagnostic tool, but most people’s understanding of a diagnostic tool is one that runs in diagnostic mode. This doesn’t. It runs all the time–even on WiFi and airplane mode. But this comment also hints that there are other tools and software installed by manufacturers too.

While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools.

‘Recording’ keystrokes could be as it looks, or it could be weasel language, given the fact that keystrokes are definitely logged. Logging could be considered different to recording in this context.

The metrics and tools we derive are not designed to deliver such information, nor do we have any intention of developing such tools.

But they clearly do, so is that a bug? Is the word deliver here key, as in not designed to deliver such information to certain parties?

The information gathered by Carrier IQ is done so for the exclusive use of that customer, and Carrier IQ does not sell personal subscriber information to 3rd parties.

This doesn’t really help. Not only was it not really the issue that Carrier IQ was selling the data–it was assumed the carrier would be, if anyone was–and the term personal subscriber information is quite possibly a weasel term, as personal has tended to mean to include the actual subscriber’s name. But we know now that even anonymized data can be mined so it is quickly connected to a specific person.

The information derived from devices is encrypted and secured within our customer’s network or in our audited and customer-approved facilities.

I don’t know enough about this, but I’m guessing these are weasel words too. The key word is within. It seems pretty clear that most if not all of the Carrier IQ data is in plain text, so presumably the encryption and securing is only when that data reaches the customer’s network (i.e. this doesn’t include the external network, but the customer’s own computer network.) It also makes clear that the data, whether encrypted or not, also resides within Carrier IQ’s systems.

Our customers have stringent policies and obligations on data collection and retention. Each customer is different and our technology is customized to their exacting needs and legal requirements.

Except that at  no point was any customer, as far as we know, actually asked whether they approved this data being collected about them. In fact, we don’t even know who those customers are in order to be able to verify this.

Carrier IQ enables a measurable impact on improving the quality and experience of our customer’s mobile networks and devices. Our business model and technology aligns exclusively with this goal.

Don’t get me started on the word ‘experience.’ It covers a multitude of sins and can mean more or less anything. My experience of call dropouts? Yes, sure, fix that. My experience of what services I use, how many times I enter my password, whether I’m buying something in Starbucks or Coffee Bean, how many people are in my address book etc. No. Not what I want you to log.

I think there’s another element at play here. Clearly the device manufacturers have allowed this to happen since the software is installed at the point of manufacturer. A carrier can use the service because whatever device their customer uses, they can be pretty confident that the Carrier IQ software is embedded. So one has to ask what data are being shared between carrier, Carrier IQ and manufacturer? And how does this work?

SOURCE: Carrier IQ

The Shape of Things to Come

This is from my weekly newspaper column, hence the lack of links.

By Jeremy Wagstaff

We’re all touch typists now.

Of course, the definition of touch type has had to change a little, since most of us don’t actually learn touch typing as we’re supposed to. Watch people tapping away at a keyboard and you’ll see all sorts of cobbled-together methods that would make the office secretary of yesteryear blanch.

But for now keyboards are going to be with us for a while as the main way to get our thoughts into a computer, so some sort of touch typing is necessary.

But the mobile phone is different. After ten years most of us have gotten used to entering text using the predictive, or T9, method, where the phone figures out you’re trying to say “hello” rather than “gekko” when you tap the 4,3,5,5,6 keys.

Texting has gotten faster—Portugal’s Pedro Matias, 27, set a new world record in January by typing a 264-character text in less than 2 minutes, shaving 23 seconds off the previous record—but that’s still slower than your average touch typist, who manages 120 words-say 480 characters—in the same amount of time.

Blackberry uses have their QWERTY keyboards, each key the size of a pixie’s fingernail, and while some people seem to be quite happy with these things, I’m not.

And the iPhone has given us, or given back to us, the idea of little virtual keyboards on our screen. I’ll be honest: I’m not a big fan of these either.

The arrival of the Android phone hasn’t really helped matters: The keyboard is usually virtual (some of the earlier phones had physical keyboards, but most have dropped them in favor of onscreen ones) and I really didn’t enjoy typing on them.

To the point that my wife complained that she could tell when I was using the Android phone over my trusty old Nokia because she didn’t feel I was “so reachable.” By which she means my monosyllabic answers weren’t as reassuring as my long rambling Nokia, predictive text ones.

But that has changed with the arrival of software called ShapeWriter. ShapeWriter is software that provides the same virtual keyboard, but lets you swipe your words on it by dragging your fingers over the keys to, well, form a shape.

Typing “hello,” for example, is done by starting your finger on “h”, dragging it northwest to “e”, then to the far east of “l”, lingering there a second, then north a notch to “o.” No lifting of the finger off the keyboard. Your finger instead leaves a red slug-like trail on the keyboard, and, in theory, when you lift your finger off the keys that trail will be converted to the word “Hello.”

And, surprise, surprise, it actually works. Well, unless you’re demonstrating it to a skeptical spouse, in which case instead of “hello” it types “gremio” or “hemp.”

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve used ShapeWriter. It has been around a while—it was first developed by IBM Labs in the early 2000s. It’s gone through quite a few changes in the meantime, not least in the theory behind it.

But the main bit of thinking is the same as that with predictive text (and speech recognition): what is called the redundancy of language. Taking, for example, the whole body of emails written by Enron employees, the most frequent email sender wrote nearly 9,000 emails in two years, totalling about 400,000 words.

That’s a lot of words. But in fact the number of actual words was about 2.5% of that: That email sender only used 10,858 unique words.

Now of course, Enron employees might not be representative of the wider population, but researchers have to work with data, and the Enron case threw up lots of data. The Enron Email Dataset is a 400 megabyte file of about 500,000 emails from about 150 users, mostly senior management of Enron. Making it a goldmine for researchers of language, machine learning and the like.

Learning from the words used—though presumably not their morals—researchers are able to figure out what words we use and what we don’t. Thus, ShapeWriter, and T9, and speech recognition, are able to tune out all the white noise by only having to worry about a small subset of words a user is typing, or saying. Most words we either don’t use because our vocabularies aren’t that great, or because we haven’t invented those words yet.

ShapeWriter has 50,000 words in its lexicon, but it gives preference to those 10,000 or so words it considers most common (presumably

In ShapeWriter’s case, they produce a template of the shape of each word they decide to store in the software, so the shape you’re drawing—left-far right, up, down, along—is recognised.

In its latest incarnation it actually works surprisingly well, and I’d recommend anyone with an Android phone to check it out. (It’s free.) There’s a version for the iPhone too, as well as Windows Mobile and the Windows Tablet PC. Only downside: For now, at least, only five–European–languages are supported.

I am not convinced this kind of thing is going to replace the real keyboard, but it’s the first decent application I’ve come across that has gotten me back into actually enjoying tapping out messages on my device.

My wife, for one, is happy.

Beware the SMS Premium Number Scam

An Indian phone company is warning users against a variation on the premium rate phone scam, whereby users are contacted by email or mail and asked to call a number to confirm winning a prize. The number is a premium number—either local or international—and the user has to sit through several expensive minutes of canned music before finding they haven’t won anything.

The Indian variation is that victims are sent an SMS containing the phone number they should call. They’re then charged Rs500 ($10) a minute as they navigate their way through an automated phone tree.

Control Enter » Blog Archive » Beware of false lottery winning claims via SMS

links for 2008-09-11

  • Avego.com is where travelers cooperate to make the whole transport system more efficient, saving us all money, wasted time and reducing pollution.

    A 5-seat car traveling with only a driver is inherently inefficient, and yet 85% of the time, that’s how cars travel in much of the world. With our iPhone GPS technology, web services and your participation, we can fill up those empty seats.

  • Did I get enough exercise today? How many calories did I burn? Am I getting good quality sleep? How many steps and miles did I walk today? The Fitbit Tracker helps you answer these questions.

  • Swype was developed by founders Cliff Kushler and Randy Marsden, along with a very talented team of software programmers and linguists.

    Cliff is the co-inventor of T9, the standard predictive text-entry solution used on over 2.4 billion mobile phones worldwide. He is the named inventor on multiple patents related to alternative text entry.

    Randy is the developer of the onscreen keyboard included in Windows, with an installed base of over a half a billion units. He is a recognized leader in the field of assistive technology and alternative computer input.

    Together, their experience is unmatched in developing onscreen keyboard-based text input solutions for mobile touch-screen devices.

  • ShiftSpace (pronounced: §) is an open source browser plugin for collaboratively annotating, editing and shifting the web.

  • # Create and track invoices you issue to clients.
    # Determine what you’re owed, by whom, and when it’s due.
    # Keep track of timesheets for yourself and your employees.
    # Notify your clients of new invoices.
    # Create interesting reports and analyze payment history
    # Save time & collect your money.

SMS, Toilets, Bike Theft and Cars

image

I remember an instructive conversation with a guy who developed services for the mobile phone. I was suggesting some fancy service or other that involved a small app sitting on the phone. He said it wouldn’t fly with users. “No downloads, no registration, keep it simple,” he said. “Or it won’t stick.”

Maybe that’s why SMS is so powerful and why, still, it’s the method of choice for services on the cellphone. Emily over at textually.org has found some more, illustrating how SMS is not just about simplicity, but flexibility.

Tackling a more urgent problem there is SMS toiletting, where text messages help you relieve yourself. In London, Shanghai, and, via MizPee, anywhere in the U.S., those caught short can SMS for the address of the nearest loo. To guarantee you  have a pleasant experience, some toilets in Finland are locked. Of course, then you can open the door of a locked loo by SMS.

Then there’s what I’d call, for want of a better term, conditional SMS: You’ll only get your SMS depending on certain factors:

  • An SMS service that delivers text messages based on the recipient’s location. JotYou  lets you specify a location so your friends get your message only when they arrive at school or the mall. Yeah, I can’t quite figure out the use for this yet either, but I’m sure there are some.
  • Or a service, yet to be launched, that will ensure the sender knows when his message has been read. More on this anon.

When you marry the SMS with other tools, you can dream up some great services. Like this one from the UK:

  • A system that combines a motion detector and SMS is being used to deter and catch bicycle thieves in Portsmouth, England (picture above). When the bicycle owner locks up their bicycle they send a text to a security office to trigger the system to guard it. Then if someone then moves, or tries to move the bicycle, a sensor in the lock emits a silent alarm which triggers a CCTV camera to zoom in and take a picture. Result: bike theft down by 90%.

Bottom line. SMS still has a lot of leg left to it. Why? Because it’s simple. Because every phone can do it. Because it’s cheap. Because it’s tied to the most versatile device we’ve yet come up with: The mobile phone.

Tsunamis, Warnings and the SMS

Systems — especially warning systems — need to work perfectly, or not at all. Take Thailand’s new tsunami early warning system, which recently failed a trial because busy phone networks took hours to deliver vital SMS messages, while some some warnings sent by fax didn’t turn up at all, according to AFP. (More on the drill from DPA here.)

The report quotes Thailand’s National Disaster Warning Centre as saying that text messages sent by cell phones to emergency coordinators around the country took hours to arrive, while warnings sent by fax during the morning drill also failed to arrive. Said Pakdivat Vajirapanlop, the centre’s deputy operations chief: “The problem we faced was with communications. We have no idea whether our messages sent to local operations chiefs by fax and SMS arrived on time or not, and by midday some of them said they did not recieve the SMS. We need to know whether they have received our messages. What can they do if the messages don’t arrive on time? Then the warning is useless,” he said.

Indeed. SMS is not a reliable way to transmit messages, especially during a crisis. A warning system is as weak as its weakest link, and relying on SMS, or even fax, is not going to work. I’m just not sure what would work under such circumstances. The system needs to have an inbuilt check that a) ensures the message reaches its destination and b) the sender receives confirmation that the recipient has received and opened the message (what you might call passive acknowledgement. The recipient doesn’t need to actively acknowledge the message has been received, because that requires a further step. The message itself actually has an inbuilt acknowledgement mechanism.

SMS actually allows this confirmation, where the user can receive an SMS back informing him his message has been received by the sender. This system is not perfect of course, since nowadays SMS messages are filtered by increasingly sophisticated smartphones. So, for example, in the past an SMS’ arrival would intrude upon the recipient by a) making a noise and b) appearing on top of any other data or image on the phone’s screen, now smart phones can handle the SMS differently, from directing it to a specific folder to not appearing on the screen at all if another program is being used, or the phone is in silent mode, say. A great example of technology actually getting in the way of using the communication device as an alerting mechanism.

There are other ways, of course. One could use email trackers like MessageTag or DidTheyReadit which would alert the sender that the email has been sent. Although not popular with privacy advocates, this might be a way to inform a sender of a tsunami alert that a message has been read — even when, and perhaps where. Perhaps email trackers could be packaged and sold for this purpose?

On the other hand, how about picking up the phone and calling someone?

Software: Type SMS Messages On Your Laptop

 Neat little piece of free software from Microsoft: the SMS Sender. If you use Windows XP download the widget and type out and send SMS messages from your laptop. You’ll need some sort of connection with your GSM phone — infrared, Bluetooth, or cable.
 
 
There are some limitations: It is not possible to retrieve messages from the cellular phone from the computer, and the application only supports standard SMS. Flash SMS and MMS are not supported. Other data such as ring tones and logos are not supported. Multiple SMS sending is not allowed.

News: Now You Can Keep A Tag On Your ‘Loved Ones’

 Now you can monitor the whereabouts of anyone using a mobile phone, at least in the UK. Scary, or what? MapAmobile offers a service which can locate someone via their mobile phone, anywhere in the UK, notify you when they move from that location, 24 hours a day. The privacy element: mapAmobile, which is touting the service as a way to reassure yourself about where your loved ones are, needs the permission of the person you wish to locate and sends them regular text reminders that they’re being monitored.
 
 
My question: Isn’t this false comfort? Just because you know where the phone is, doesn’t mean you know where your loved one is, or whether they’re safe. They may have been kidnapped, had their handphone stolen, or just left it in the car. I can’t help feeling this kind of thing has more to do with bosses keeping an eye on employees (who would be smart enough to ditch their mobile in a drawer and then head out shopping). And if this has nothing to do with snooping, why is the ‘o’ in the logo a target?