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.

Bluetooth Tracking

morning rush hour

Research from Purdue University shows that Bluetooth would be a very good way to track travel time. Bluetooth devices give off unique IDs which could be used to measure speed and movement of pedestrians and vehicles.

But why stop there? Wouldn’t it be possible to track people via their Bluetooth signal, if you knew one of their device IDs? Anyway, here’s the abstract (thanks, Roland.)

Travel time is one of the most intuitive and widely understood performance measures. However, it is also one of the most difficult performance measures to accurately estimate. Toll tag tracking has demonstrated the utility of tracking electronic fingerprints to estimate link travel time. However, these devices have a small penetration outside of areas served by toll facilities, and the proprietary tag reading equipment is not widely available. This paper reports on tracking of a wide variety of consumer electronics that already contain unique digital fingerprints.

Method uses ‘Bluetooth’ to track travel time for vehicles, pedestrians

SMS, Toilets, Bike Theft and Cars

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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.

Tight Angles at 30,000 Feet

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I’m sure I’m not the first person to think that economy class seats are getting smaller. This is me trying to do some writing on my ThinkPad when the person in front had her seat in recline mode. Forget about it. It’s impossible to lift the screen any higher than this (it’s a Malaysian Airlines plane.)

So what’s the answer? I want something I can type on when the muse strikes wherever I am, without worrying about space or whether I’m going to be told by attendants I can’t use the device because it’s really a phone.

I’m trying to get a new iGo ThinkOutside keyboard (spilt coffee over the last one) and was wondering whether a Palm LifeDrive might be the answer. Any thoughts? I’d like to have something with a bit of space on the screen and on the drive itself.

Hit the Road, Hack

Interesting project from Reuters, who have teamed up with Nokia to create a mobile journalism toolkit: 

So what is in the Mobile Journalism Toolkit? First of all the phone. This is a Nokia N95 which now comes in three different versions. The original European version that we used for most of the trial (image on left). Then there is a the US edition which adds more memory and support for US carrier frequencies. Finally there is the news 8GB version which can store much more music and videos, and for our journalists more raw materials.

With due respect, I’d ditch the Nokia keyboard for a more rugged, and better designed one from Mobility Electronics: the iGo Stowaway is a good one. I’m also not convinced the N95 is up to this kind of thing — as Nic Fulton says, the 8GB provides more storage, but I would be looking for something I could compose on, in which case I’d probably opt for the N800 Internet Tablet or its successor, the N810, which has GPS (yes, you need a phone to transmit if you’re not in WiFi range, but that’s what the N95 is for.)

I like the idea of recording direct to the N95 with an external microphone; hopefully Nokia will put the attachment they cooked up for this project on the market. It’s silly phones don’t have input ports.

Anyway, good stuff from Reuters and I look forward to hearing more about it. Yesterday I got myself in a terrible tangle trying to capture some video in an interview on my N95 while trying to record audio on my Olympus DS-20 and typing up the transcript on a Mac. It wasn’t pretty. In the meantime, regular readers will remember my humbling encounter with The Bangkok Post’s Don Sambandaraksa, whose keyboard dexterity put us all in the shade.

(Thanks, Mark)

The Mobile Journalism Toolkit contents – Reuters Mobile Journalism

Bluetooth’s Missing Suitcase

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Remember when Samsonite launched the Bluetooth suitcase? No, well, that’s not surprising, because they didn’t. This week’s WSJ.com column is (subscription only, I’m afraid) the first in a series about finding stuff in the real world. I started with a hunt for the Bluetooth suitcase, first announced in 2002 (and weirdly, still up on the Samsonite website):

I got all excited five years ago when Samsonite announced a suitcase that used Bluetooth, a wireless technology more commonly used to connect cellphones to headsets, to carry data about the owner and alert him or her if the case was moved. Hooray, I thought: Now we’ll all know where our luggage is. Unfortunately not: The Samsonite Hardlite never saw the light of day for technical reasons, although the company says it’s still looking at other ways to identify and secure luggage.

This is about as close as we came to the idea that the wireless technologies we now take for granted — Bluetooth, WiFi, infrared, cellphones, GPS — would actually help us stay in touch with the important things in life, like our stuff. Which is a shame. I would love to be able to ping all the Bluetooth gadgets in my house via my cellphone and know where they are. One Bluetooth headset has been missing for years.

I then take a look at what’s available. But what intrigued me was: what happened to the Samsonite case? This is what Samsonite PR came up with:

It seems from what I can gather this collection was in the end not launched. The reasons seem to be quite numerous – the cost to the consumer would have been significant, a lot of mobile phones were not compatible with the technology at the time, and today would still require additional memory.

Another person I contacted had this to say:

Basically the project did not make it to the market because of several reasons.

About 10 pieces were made for field testing, but there were issues on the standardisation. At the time Bluetooth technology was still at an early development stage and not yet standardised, so for a product to be able to ‘talk’ to another wasn’t that straight forward and obvious. Therefore after the field testing it was decided that the benefits for the consumer just weren’t sufficient. At the moment there are no plans to resurrect the project.

Which I found interesting. To me, back in 2002, the suitcase made all sorts of sense. Bluetooth, cellphones, missing suitcases: who wouldn’t have gone for something like that? But Bluetooth has always been a bit of a devil when it comes to anything other than really basic connectivity. Even Mac users have been heard to complain of connecting Bluetooth devices to their laptops.

Would today’s Bluetooth be able to cope with with this kind of concept now? Is it already doing so? Or would security concerns — how long would it take before someone puts together software to reprogram the data on a Samsonite suitcase so it gets diverted to Luang Prabang?

Podcast: How secure is your phone?

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on the security of mobile phones, courtesy of the BBC World Service.

An End to the Anonymity of Trash?

Britain is quietly introducing RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) tags to rubbish bins (trash cans) in a bid to measure the individual waste of each household and charge them accordingly. Some Britons are up in arms about this, saying that households have not been informed and calling it an abuse of privacy. Is it?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports that some bins, provided by local councils for households to dispose of their trash, contain coin-sized devices that monitor how much non-recyclable waste the owner throws out:

With the bugging technology, the electronic chips are carefully hidden under the moulded front ’lip’ of wheelie bins used by householders for non-recyclable waste. As the bin is raised by the mechanical hoister at the back of the truck, the chip passes across an antenna fitted to the lifting mechanism. That enables the antenna to ’read’ a serial number assigned to each property in the street.

A computer inside the truck weighs the bin as it is raised, subtracts the weight of the bin itself and records the weight of the contents on an electronic data card.

When the truck returns to the depot, all the information collected on the round is transmitted to a hand-held device and downloaded on to the council’s centralised computer. Each household can be billed for the amount of waste collected – even though they have already paid for the services through their council tax.

According to The Mail two German companies manufacture the bins and sensors, Sulo and RFID specialist Deister Electronic.

As with all such things, the story reflects local fears, obsessions and behaviour. First off, drinking: The Mail quotes a local council chairman saying he believed the chips “were simply to ensure bins could be returned to the right addresses if they got mixed up or drunks rolled them off”. Second, avoiding paying: The opposition Conservative party warns that “people will simply start dumping bags in their neighbours’ gardens or at the end of the street to avoid paying”. And then there’s the whole castle thing: a council spokesman in Wiltshire says the chips were “to sort out disputes between householders about whose wheelie bin is whose. If there are any arguments we can just send out an officer to scan the chip and settle the argument.” Oh, and then there’s the whole WWII hang-up: The headline at The Evening Standard’s This is London website is “Germans plant bugs in our wheelie bins”.

Is this something to be worried about? Well, the government, and local councils, haven’t been very smart about installing these tags before explaining their use to the public. But that’s not unusual: A council in Australia did the same thing a few weeks back. What I think is most interesting about this is that coverage of the subject in both countries lacks depth, pandering to the fears of its readers (The Mail may not know better, but The Press Association and The Independent should.) Even basic research would show that this sort of thing is not new, is widely used elsewhere, and has a name: Pay-by-weight.

It seems the same technology is already in use in Ireland and has, according to the company involved, reduced the amount of trash put out for collection by 40%. (There may have been some privacy uproar, but I can’t find any obvious evidence of any.) In Canada the program has been in place since 1994, and as of 1999 more than 1.5 million transponders have been deployed throughout the world, including the U.S., although there have been problems with the technology (this being RFID an’ all.)

That said, just because it’s being used elsewhere doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. Trash is as much a privacy issue as anything linked to personal property, and the angry response to the news is related to an individual’s desire to keep what they throw out a secret (however illogical this is, given you’re putting it in an unlocked plastic bin in the street for hours, if not days, before it’s picked up.) Further research into what these RFID chips are capable of isn’t particularly reassuring: The SULO device for example (PDF file), can measure exact weight, when the bin is emptied, can report any damage to the bin, and, if linked to other equipment, could also locate where the bin was emptied. Nothing too sinister about this, but it increases the possibility, at least in theory, that an individual’s trash is no longer as anonymous as it was.

Bottom line? I don’t think this is likely, and given the technology has been in active service for more than a decade. But who knows where the technology may go? This is more a story about how RFID — although it’s not really identified in the story as such — scares people when they hear about it because instinctively they recognise its power. No one would disagree with the goal — reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste — but, as with all technologies, Pay by weight has to be handled carefully, its usage and goals explained, and clear and transparent limits to its usage imposed.

A Communicator Killer?

I tend to think of the Nokia Communicator (aka The Brick) as a somewhat retrograde device, popular to folk who haven’t quite caught up with the shape of things to come (aka The Smartphone). But Indonesians and Germans don’t agree (link to a podcast I did on the subject for the BBC), using the Communicator in such large numbers that Nokia tends to focus most of its promotional energies in those two countries. This may explain why a German company is about to launch a Communicator lookalike: the HandyPC.

Tony Smith of The Register reports that Berlin-based phone maker ROAD GmbH has announced the HandyPC, a clamshell device based on the Linux operating system and Trolltech’s Qtopia GUI. It’s a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE device with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on board too. No date has been given for when the product will be sold, or how much it will cost.
 

Linux-based HandyPC to challenge Nokia Communicator | Reg Hardware.