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September 16, 2013

Most American cell owners access Net from their mobiles

There’s a new Pew Internet [twitter: @PewInternet] report on American access to the Internet via mobile phones. Here’s a summary from their PR mailing:

The main finding is that 63% of adult cell owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since we first started tracking internet usage on cell phones in 2009. In addition, 34% of these cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone. That means that 21% of all adult cell owners now do most of their online browsing using their mobile phone—and not some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.

The full here report is here, for free as usual. Thanks, Pew Internet!


January 29, 2013

What I missed without my mobile phone

I’ve just spent almost two weeks without a mobile phone as mine was being repaired. I’m glad to have it back.

But why? What did I actually miss? Obviously, the following list is quite idiosyncratic â?? e.g., I don’t do a lot of texting â?? but here goes:

  • Making outbound utility phone calls. I don’t do a lot of socializing on the phone, but it’s nice to be able to check in on plans for the evening, etc.

  • Emergency call availability. I travelled for three days during my Mobile Hiatus, and asked a friend at a conference if I could give my wife her number in case of an emergency.

  • Google Maps for navigating. I was back to printing out a map and, mainly, annoying any competent adult near me.

  • Interstitial amusement. Waiting for the bus, I can read on my mobile, whereas reading a paper book or magazine while wearing gloves only works if you don’t ever have to change the page.

  • Bus location-finder. Given the way Boston buses cluster, getting to a stop 30 seconds late can make a 20 minute difference.

Things I did not miss:

  • Any of the dumb games. I like games. But other than my obligatory time with Angry Birds back when they were still angry and not just mildly pissed off, none have stuck with me.

  • Interstitial email. It’ll wait until I’m off the bus.

  • Weather reports. It’s a once-a-day thing for me, and my various work computers are fully weather report capable.

  • The time. I have a watch. And an alarm clock that actually wakes me up.

  • Typing on a tiny keyboard, although the slidy virtual keyboard built in to the Samsung Galaxy S III is pretty good, and Google’s speech-to-text is kind of awesome.

  • Misplacing my phone four times a day, although others might claim that that is not strictly the phone’s fault.

And you?


October 18, 2009

Tales of technolust: the appStoreless Droid

My Blackberry 8830 does what it needs to do. I can type on it. I can take it to Europe. With the Gmail app installed, I can read and delete emails and have them deleted from my gmail inbox. I an view web pages through a keyhole. I can recharge it off of my laptop. I can run the vaguely accurate Verizon GPS on it. I can fit a couple of downloads on it.

But I don’t love. I’m very glad to have it. But it does nothing for my hormone levels.

My eye now is roving. Verizon has announced it will be offering the Motorola Droid in November, which runs Google’s Android operating system. Unless there are some gotchas — if it has half of what we’re expecting, can we call it the Hemodrhoid? — I’m going to be explaining to my BBerry that the problem is really with me, not it, and then making the switch.

I don’t expect it the Droid to be as beautiful as the iPhone. Nor will there be as many apps. But, it will be beautiful enough, and as people write more skins for it, it may get better with age. And there are already more than enough Android apps, which is exactly how many I need.

Most of all, though, there won’t be an AppStore. The AppStore is the seductive angel of death for computing. It enables Apple to keep quality up and, more important, to keep support costs down. But a computer that can’t be programmed except by its manufacturer (or with the permission of its manufacturer) isn’t a real computer. The success of the AppStore is a gloomy, scary harbinger. From controlling the apps that can go on its mobile phone, it’s a short step for Apple to decide to control the apps that can go on its rumored slate/netbook device. And since so much of the future of computing will occur on mobiles and netbooks, this portends a serious de-generation of computing, as predicted by Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.

So, some of my technolust for a phone I haven’t even seen yet is due to the political hope it promises. Rally ’round the Droid, boys and girls!

Unless, of course, it sucks.


July 25, 2009

The racial divide in Internet devices

A Pew Internet report says that while 56% of Americans have accessed the Internet wirelessly, there’s a stark racial divide in the devices we use. About half of the African-American and English-speaking Hispanic population accesses the Net through cellphones and other handheld devices, but only 28% of white Americans have ever done so.

Three bullet points quoted from the report:

* 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

* 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

* Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

We can read this in many different ways:

  • Mobiles are helping to end the digital racial divide

  • Mobiles are extending the digital racial divide by providing second-class Net access to African Americans

  • For a far greater percentage of African Americans than white Americans, the Net is less generative and participatory

  • We’d better make sure that the carriers become device independent and Net neutral

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March 10, 2009

[berkman] Al Gidari on cellphone/mobile privacy

Al Gidari, Jr. of Perkins Cole is giving a Berkman talk on privacy called “They Know Where You Are: Location Privacy in a Mobile World.” [Note: I’m live blogging, getting things wrong, paraphrasing badly, missing stuff, not spell-checking, and generally just taking notes. ]

Early on, cellphone fraud was rampant. It was relatively easy to clone a phone. Al worked on tracking down offenders. The three-letter government agencies took note. E.g., the hacker Kevin Mittnick was tracked down by the FBI and the provider by using “trigger fish” tech that judges location based on cellular signals. But the carriers refused to put in the tech the feds wanted because it was too expensive. In 1994, Congress required carriers to install “surveillance-ready” technology; you could wiretap with just a flip of a switch.

“In those debates one of the serious privacy issues was whether or not the gov’t sought to have tracking capabilities for wireless phones included,” Al says. Louis Freeh said that the gov’t didn’t want such a capability, that it was a red herring, etc. CALEA separated the basic info from location info. For the basic info, you just need a subpoena. For location info, you need to go to a judge and show that it’s relevant to an ongoing investigation.

Cellphone carriers know and record a cellphone’s availability on a particular cell tower, whether or not you’re making a call. If you make a call, the tower is recorded. (This was required back when roaming agreements mattered a lot.) Google knows this also for use in Google Maps. So, location info is available from various sources. There’s also realtime inf about where you are. Then there’s prospective: mapping your movements over time.

CALEA only dealt with the historical aspect of this, not real time or prospective. Industry spent 4 years developing a standard for delivering info to law enforcement. There was a major debate over location info. In 2000, the courts decided the way the industry handled location info was proper. In a compromise, the carriers agreed that location would be given at the beginning and end of a call and the info would be included as part of the “pen register” info (the number you dialed, etc.) provided under the law. That’s “signaling info” that’s covered by CALEA.

The carriers immediately started receiving orders from the feds for the pen register info including the location info. The feds looked in the Stored Communication Act to find statutory justification for getting the prospective location info. But it’s about stored records that already exist, not records to be created in the future and stored in real time. The carriers weren’t ready to fight this. A couple of years ago, a judge said that the prospective info — where someone is going — isn’t permitted and that it violates the Fourth Amendment. Most of the following cases have gone against the feds. [Al talks about the applicability of various laws. I lost track.] “One magistrate’s decision doesn’t bind another, and we have inconsistent implementation…” Plus states get to make up their own minds about this, given the “floor.”

“The debate continues to age. We don’t know what the outcome will be.” But we need certainty, so a decision is being brewed. Feds want access, but at least are ok with bringing it before a judge. The carriers want probable cause.

The privacy implications are huge, Al says. For example, they get requests for all people on a cellphone on a site for a ten minute period, e.g., when looking for witnesses to a drug transaction. What about third parties who aren’t subject to this, e.g., Google Maps? Are the standards for requesting info lower for them? Google only responds to search warrants about location info. And if you’re a parent tracking your kid’s location, you’re developing a history that may or may not be subject to the law.

We need transparency, Al says. The carriers get 100 requests a week for location info, often for multiple people. That volume is high. And how long will they be required to track them. Because you can disclose location in emergencies without prior permission, law enforcement has gamed the system. No carrier withholds info if it’s a matter of life and death. But there’s no recording of any of these requests. There’s no oversight. Al tells about a state law enforcement official who insisted that a phone be manually pinged ever 15 mins, even when the phone was off, fort 24 hours. It turned out the guy was pinging his daughter who had not returned from a date. “How subject to abuse is that?” Al asks. Finally, if law enforcement wants to now about a particular target, should the location info of the people s/he calls also subject to disclosure?

“If the service provider is offering these location based services, can civil parties track someone who’s using the service?” he asks. Recently in a state court, a lawyer asked about info based on phone found on a container ship carrying counterfeit condoms. They wanted to know everywhere the phone had been and who it had called. The carriers refused. “The risk is enormous that location information will be abused and misused both in civil and criminal cases and it’s far from clear what Congress will do when this hot potato lands in its lap. But we do know it is coming.”

Q: What are the privacy considerations about providing aggregated, anonymized info? Can anyone other than gov’t request that?
A: Carriers want customer consent to disclose location info. But many customers buy phones for the family. Can the husband watch where the wife is going? But the customer must agree to it. It requires CPNI oy!, i.e., the customer’s consent. Non-carriers are not covered by law covering standards for aggregated or individual information. They all have policies about this and require permission.

[me] What about CPNI? Should it be opt-in
A: The kerfuffle was an example of bad journalism. The article expressed it badly. The info you are opted in to giving can be used only within the family of companies for marketing purposes. For sharing outside, it requires explicit opt-in. And CPNI has a higher standard for location info, which does not get shared. An “affiliate” is an entity you own or control. Verizon is incorporated in separate states, so they’re trying to share the info among that family of corporations.

[ez] When I meet with human rights groups, they disassemble their phones. Is anyone discussing the way in which the backdoors we put into phones will be used by repressive governments?
A: The standards are developed by manufacturers distributed to local markets. The standard reflect the local laws. The local gov’ts own the access points, so they don’t need much of a backdoor…
Q: That’s not true of China.

A: Providers do support the criminal law of their host countries. You end up with compromises made by providers. The quality of service capabilities built in, not there for surveillance, enable monitoring by protocol, etc.

Q: What are the standards for getting info on the people who attended an event? Vodaphone did that in Egypt
A: We get requests. The standard is: Your guess is as good as mine. Suppose we get a request for info about everyone who viewed a particular video at YouTube? What’s the standard? Wisconsin asked Amazon to list everyone who bought a particular book, and a court sided with Amazon’s refusal. We rely on service providers to make those objections. It’s not even clear that you would have standing to make those requests. The carriers object on the grounds that it’s burdensome. “If not for the service providers, that information would go. Most service providers are very concerned because their business rests on your comfort level with the privacy they support.” But it’s not uniform.

[I missed the last few questions. I believe Ethan Zuckerman, the greatest live blogger alive has been taking assiduous notes.] [Tags: ]


January 26, 2009

[dld] Oberman and Varsavsky on German telecommunications

Martin Varsavsky is interviewing René Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom here at the DLD conference. [Live blogging, Missing stuff. Making mistakes.] [Disclosure: I am on the US board of advisers of Martin’s Fon company, and theoretically have some options in it.]

Obermann looks forward to gaining the spectrum required to let mobile phones achieve broadband speeds (= several Mb/sec, I believe he said). He compares European and US markets: The US is more focused on consumers. US users use 1000/mins a month; Europeans use a fraction of that.

Martin: Are consumers better off in the US or Europe?
A: They’re better off with T-Mobile.

Obermann says he expects DT to grow in the next year. Last year they restructured and took $4B in costs out of their structure.

Martin: How are currency fluctuations affecting you?
Obermann: Having the Euro is a great thing. Last year, the weak US dollar cost us money.

Martin: I thought pricing minute would disappear in the ’90s. But it hasn’t. Also, crossing borders still costs money. Will minutes and roaming disappear eventually?
Obermann: I thought mobile Internet would be here in 2002. Sometimes we overestimate the ability of the industry to adapt to customer changes. Second, minutes will disappear. But, roaming occurs in imbalanced markets: not everyone is on the same page. Competition will make roaming more user-friendly.

Martin: Mark Zuckerberg thinks about Facebook as an operating system or telecommunications platform, not a social network. Do you think of the customers of T-Mobile as being part of a social network?
Obermann: They think of themselves as members of multiple social networks. Last year 14-15 billion messages were transmitted over T-Mobile. Social networks will be more integrated with telecom platforms. E.g., you can now send messages from Facebook to T-Mobile users [I think]

Martin: Do you want to buy a social networking platform?
Obermann: No, we want to play with many of them.

Audience: Payment over mobiles is still hard. Will it get easier?
Obermann: Micropayments over mobile is technically possible, and can be supported by technical service processes.

Martin: Do you look to higher people with entrepreneurial experience?
Obermann: Yes, big time.
Martin: Are you retaining the key execs of the companies you acquire?
Obermann: Yes.

Audience: Can you imagine, say, YouTube paying you to transport their content to your users?
Obermann: We help our customers get access to whatever they want on whatever device they want it. We don’t want to be monopolists.

Martin: Is the future of video fiber optics or better mobile networks?
A: Both. In the next few years, you’ll see such an increased demand for bandwidth that mobile access will be relatively scarcer and scarcer. It will be hard to cover everything with mobile. The amount of available spectrum will not work. It has to be a hybrd approach.

Audience: When will we see the unlimited, all-you-can-eat program, if the demand is going to increase?
A: Even today, the markets are more more and more aggressive with bundles. In fixed line you see 25-year-old pricepoints. Hopefully billing will become easier…
Martin: It did happen in the fixed world.

Martin: Netbooks are exploding. This is the first time telecommunication operators are selling computers…
A: My mobile as 16GB. Netbooks were one of the hottest selling devices in the past few months. Also, dongles turn laptops into mobiles. The Internet mobilization will have a bigger impact on people’s lives and work than the Internet so far. [Tags: ]


July 2, 2008