I reckon we need to redesign public spaces to take into account all the folk who mill around tapping out SMS messages. People seem to be have gotten the idea that you can walk and talk on a cellphone at the same time, thereby causing minimal disruption to others, but texting still seems to be something that has to be done stationary, usually by stopping in the middle of a busy street, shopping aisle or fire escape during a real live emergency.
Short of shooting these people, what can we do? I propose little texting bays, where they can get out of the way of others to do their vital SMS work. At night these little nooks could be used by homeless people or drunks to recharge their batteries, or mobile bloggers like me to write posts like this.
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I don’t know how often this happens, but if true, it must be a worry. It’s either a hoax, a script kiddie adventure, or the first bit of post-US election cyberwar.
According to Filipino news website INQ7.net (no live URL available), a group of hackers today “breached the short messaging service (SMS) servers of both Smart Communications and Globe Telecom”. It quoted a posting on the blog of a concerned hacker, Hacker PI_Flashbulb, who appears to be a regular commentator on security issues and claims to have alerted the government to several holes in their security.
What’s intriguing is that the story has since been removed: A message on the link says “temporarily unavailable or has been taken down from our server”. The same hacker, PI_Flashbulb, was quoted earlier this month by the same publication as warning of “a group of hackers who said that they will soon launch coordinated attacks against Philippine websites. Their main reason: “their government is supporting Bush.” Akala nila Singaporean ako (they thought I was a Singaporean)”.
Today’s article, since removed, says that to see “the hacker group’s message, one has to create a new SMS message, key in “FLT RB9” on the message body, and send it to 2333 for Globe and 211 for Smart subscribers. After sending the cryptic text message to 211 or 2333, the subscriber will receive this message: “Greetz to PATz, Luvchris, Verum, Fed-X, hEps, ch1m3ra, TriSha22, powerb0xx, clown AFeD-XA, Bryle, royX, Crayden at sa mga wanabee hacker groups ng masang Pilipino!”” The article says that as of Wednesday evening, “the Smart service was still sending this same message to subscribers, while the Globe number gave an error message.”
Intriguingly, the earlier article, published Nov 6, said anonymous readers had posted messages on PI_Flashbulb’s blog saying that “that the digital subscriber line (DSL) service of both Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc.(Digitel) and Globe Telecom were open to possible attacks”. One comment appeared to suggest the hackers PI_Flashbulb were referring to are Indonesian. Many Indonesians — the world’s largest Muslim population — are opposed to George W Bush’s administration for his war on terror.
I’m trying to reach PI_Flashbulb to learn more about this. His website is usually given as phackers.org but that has not been reachable, although there’s a separate blog to which he contributes here. I could find no mention of the attack there.
It looks like SMS is turning us into nasty people. Or is it?
Freever, a European SMS content provider (and, incidentally, a candidate for world’s most graphic-heavy website) has just released a survey (PDF file) that shows Brits in a pretty poor light: cowardly, careless and sneaky. Here are some of the results:
51% of Brits would rather text an apology instead of phoning
38% prefer turning down invitations by text
45% of respondents have lied about their whereabouts by text message
46% prefer sending a text message rather than phone when running late
40% would rather text to let someone know what they really think of them
22% would text rather than phone to fake an illness
79% of people send a text when they feel it’s either too early or too late to call
Over half of respondents believe it is acceptable to text while in a restaurant (56%) or in a cinema (54%)
13% admit to texting whilst driving
40% of Brits say they have disclosed a secret by text
22% admitted to bitching about work colleagues
28% admitted to secretly criticising friends by text message
71% of respondents have shared jokes with people via text message
51% have wished someone a happy birthday
31% of respondents text because it’s cheaper
26% text to avoid getting bogged down in a long conversation
But how good was the survey, and how much does it really tell us about the sociology of texting? I took a look at the actual survey, which you should be able to see here. The survey was carried out from October to December 2003, and required folk to respond to five questions online: 16,300 people across the UK responded 55% of them male and 45% female. In other words, there was no attempt to get a proper sampling of users; the folk who responded are the kind of people who would visit an SMS content website heavily geared towards young people.
I may be nitpicking here, but looking at the questions, I don’t think the survey is that meaningful. While two of the questions allow the respondent to add their own answer, the questionnaire otherwise allows only five options to each, and is somewhat slanted — the first, for example, goes like this:
1. Which of the following have you done by text message:
(You may tick more than one)
Lied about your whereabout [sic]
Shared a joke with friends
Bitched about work colleagues
Bitched about friends
Wished someone a Happy Birthday
Disclosed a secret
The results — 45%/71%/22%/28%/51%/40% — are perhaps less surprising in this light. Given the first option is the one about lying, the 45% figure is understandable. The other questions follow suit, undermining the survey’s usefulness, in my view.
Still, there are some useful aspects to this, and maybe I shouldn’t be taking the whole thing so seriously. For sure, SMS is changing the way we behave, the way we interact, and what constitutes acceptable behaviour. We may talk less because of texting, but we maybe stay in touch more. I for one would prefer to communicate by SMS when I’m working; it’s less disruptive. But for sure there are downsides: Getting out of something by SMS is not going to get you a lifetime membership of the Polite Society. And if I’m in a cinema and I catch you texting without the sound turned off, don’t expect leniency.
Warning of a new computer worm, this time from South Korea. Yonhap reports Friday that W32/Smess.worm, BadTrans, appears attached to an instant message in MSN’s instant messenger service. The worm is a mutant version of another worm called Sinmsn, which was detected last July.
MSN’s messenger service, which gives pairs or groups of users the capability to send instantaneous text messages to each other via the Internet, is one of the most popular communication tools in South Korea, where more than 10 million customers are connected to the broadband Internet.
Canada seems to be getting into SMS/texting, call it what you will. Next week Toronto’s Café Havana will host the country’s first text-messaging party (‘Text And The City’) as part of a (somewhat belated, I can’t help feeling) awakening of the potential for SMS. According to the Toronto Star, SMS volumes still don’t compare to Europe (or Asia, I’m assuming) but they’re picking up.
If you’re in Toronto, register online at http://www.jambo.ca and pay $8 at the door. Once registered, you’ll be assigned a number that lets people send you an anonymous text message. And since you’ll be anonymous as well, whether you hook up with somebody depends on your skills as a wireless flirter.
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.
From the That’s Interesting, I Think, But Why Exactly Do We Need It Dept comes news that the boffins at British Telecom — BT Exact, to be exact — are working on interactive toys that are linked to mobile phones so that SMS communication can be displayed through the toys’ actions. “This enables the texting experience to become more personable and fun”, reports The Register, who could well be making this up.
So it would work like this: Send a message to the toy — a smiley 🙂 or whatever — and the toy would convey the emotion. For example, if a happy symbol was sent to a toy dog it would come to life and start barking. Alternatively a love message could be sent to a teddy bear, which would trigger its heart to glow and become warm to the touch. Lovely. The researchers, apparently, reckon this would “create a more natural and tangible mode of communicating for adults and children, which will encourage more imaginative text messaging”. Er, OK. Your medication’s ready, Sir.
A sign of the times? ThreeZee Technology, Inc., a security research firm, has located a bug within the Verizon Wireless Text Messaging system which allows any Tom, Dick or Harry to “easily view mass lists of SMS messages sent to Verizon customers, including the telephone number and the text in the message”. Not just that: Tom (or Dick, or Harry) can then use the bug to intercept messages sent to any such phone, as well as the ability to make numerous charges to the customer’s phone bill. Yikes.
This is bad, of course, but it’s not a feature of SMS per se, more of the website that Verizon set up to allow folk to send SMS messages to Verizon phones. Still, hopefully Verizon will fix it. No sign so far of any mention of the problem on their website.
Seems the UK is still sending lots of SMSs — text messages — to each other. The Mobile Data Association (MDA) today said the total number of chargeable person-to-person text messages sent in the UK in June 2003 averaged 55 million per day, compared to 45 million in June 2002 and 30 million in June 2001. This takes the cumulative total for 2003 to 10 billion, against a 12 month forecast for the year of 20 billion. “Text messaging is continuing to rise in popularity and diversity”, comments Mike Short, chairman of the MDA, not unsurprisingly. But if you look at the graph:
it looks to me as if the whole thing is levelling off. After all, how many text messages can folk send? After all, there are less than 59 million people living in the UK, which means at the moment nearly every person is sending one SMS a day. That can’t be right. My mother hates her cellphone and keeps trying to throw it on the compost. I’m no expert but it looks as if people haven’t really been sending more text messages since last October. If that’s the case, are they going to move to MMS?
From the excellent Techdirt website, a collection of stories about how rude we are getting with our mobile phones: “Yet another study about mobile phone rudeness (going along with the one we posted earlier this week has determined that a stunning 71% of people are now consistently late for social events because they can reschedule at the last minute with their mobile phones. 70% say they’ve completely canceled meetings at the very last minute using their mobile phone, and 78% say they’ve gotten out of “awkward situations” by sending a text message rather than calling. From the sound of this, it appears to be focused on the UK, where text messaging is a lot more popular than the US. Also, the study found that 89% of people think others need to have better etiquette when using a mobile phone. Yet another example of the way mobile phones are changing the way people go about their day (not always for the better).”