Children’s Apps Collecting, Sharing Info Without Parents’ Knowledge: FTC

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Hundreds of children’s apps are collecting “an alarming amount of information” on their young users without parents’ knowledge, a federal report revealed Dec. 10.

Only 20 percent of children’s apps disclose their data collection practices, a staff report from the Federal Trade Commission has uncovered.

Of those that did offer disclosures, the links provided were often long, technically-worded privacy policies “filled with irrelevant information,” the report found. Other apps, it said, gave ambiguous information about their practices.

“While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

“In fact, our study shows that kids’ apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents. All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job.”

The FTC, which performed a similar study last year of both Android and iOS apps, said there has been precious little progress toward giving parents insight on what information is being collected from their children, how it is being shared and who will have access to it.

The report also found many of the apps connect to social media, sending information from mobile devices to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties, without disclosing these activities to parents.

“Most apps failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection, and who would obtain access to the data,” the FTC said. “Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information with third parties — such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number — without disclosing that fact to parents.

“Further, a number of apps contained interactive features – such as advertising, the ability to make in-app purchases, and links to social media – without disclosing these features to parents prior to download.”

The report also found:

• Fifty-eight percent of the apps reviewed contained advertising within the app, but only 15 percent revealed the presence of advertising prior to the app being downloaded.

• Twenty-two percent of the apps contained links to social networking services, but only nine percent divulged that information.

• Seventeen percent of the apps reviewed enable children to make purchases for virtual goods within the app, with prices ranging from 99 cents to $29.99.  Although both stores provided certain indicators when an app contained in-app purchasing capabilities, these indicators were not always prominent and, even if noticed, could be difficult for many parents to understand.

The FTC is pushing app stores, app developers and third parties providing services within the apps to “accelerate efforts to ensure that parents have the key information they need to make decisions about the apps they download for their children.”

The FTC is also suggesting the industry implement the following recommendations:

• Incorporating privacy protections into the design of mobile products and services;

• Offering parents easy-to-understand choices about the data collection and sharing through kids’ apps; and

• Providing greater transparency about how data is collected, used, and shared through kids’ apps.

FTC staff will work toward better education for parents on navigating the mobile app marketplace and understanding which apps are a privacy risk.

The FTC is also launching an investigation to determine if “certain entities” are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or standards laid out in the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The FTC report can be downloaded here.

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Children’s Apps Collecting, Sharing Info Without Parents’ Knowledge: FTC

Instagram Completes Cut of Photo Ties With Twitter

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Instagram has completely disabled photo integration with Twitter this week after hampering Twitter users’ ability to properly display its photos Dec. 5.

The move is no surprise — the relationship between the social sharing sites and former allies has deteriorated since Facebook purchased Instagram in April.

“Photos are no longer appearing in Tweets or user photo galleries,” a Twitter blog post reads.

“While tweeting links to Instagram photos is still possible, you can no longer view the photos on Twitter, as was previously the case.”

Instagram halted support of Twitter cards — which embed photos into tweets — causing photos to be poorly cropped and oddly placed.

Instagram’s founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said during the LeWeb 12 conference Dec. 5 that the move is related to Instagram’s desire to take control of its content, the New York Times reported.

“We’ve decided that right now, what makes sense, is to direct our users to the Instagram website,” Systrom said, adding Instagram images will no longer be visible on Twitter.

Instead all clicks will go directly to Instagram.com.

“We’re working on building an awesome web presence, which we just launched,” said Systrom. “We revamped our web properties, and now we’re able to staff up teams to work on web properties with the Facebook acquisition.”

Systrom also denied that Facebook played any role in the change, saying the decision was his. He also rejected the notion that Instagram was hitting back at Twitter for eliminating a feature enabling Instagram users to find friends through Twitter.

He said the change will not affect Tumblr and other such sites at this time.

“This is more of a one-off,” Systrom is quote by The Washington Post. Instagram “is trying to figure out — specifically with our Twitter integration — what it should look like. And we’ve decided that, right now, what makes sense is to direct users to our new mobile experience.”

The article also indicated he is open to negotiating with Twitter about integration in the future.

Twitter, meanwhile, has launched its own set of photo filters which, according to news reports, will be available before year’s end.

The filters will be made for use inside the official Twitter app, according to AllThingsD.

The new version of the app is in the testing phase, according to the AllThingsD report. In fact, that could be the reason Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey posted so many black and white photos over the weekend.

 

 

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Instagram Completes Cut of Photo Ties With Twitter

Apple Maps Dangerous, Mildura Police Warn, After Motorists Stranded

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Apple Maps could have been a killer, police in Australia say.

Four different motorists attempting to find the city of Mildura were stranded in a national park in sweltering temperatures in the past few weeks after following faulty directions courtesy of the iOS 6 mapping system on their iPhones.

Apple updated the location Dec. 10 after receiving a complaint from the Mildura Police force.  A search for Mildura now points to the middle of the town in the state of Victoria instead of the Murray-Sunset National Park.

Before Apple made the update Dec. 10, the Mildura Police issued a warning to motorists to exercise caution when using the iOS 6 mapping system.

Officers were called to assist motorists on at least four different occasions in “potentially life-threatening” situations after they became stranded within the forrest after following directions on their iPhones.

“Police are extremely concerned as there is no water supply within the park and temperatures can reach as high as 46 degrees (114 F), making this a potentially life threatening issue,” Mildura Police acting senior sergeant Sharon Darcy said in a statement.

“Some of the motorists located by police have been stranded for up to 24 hours without food or water and have walked long distances through dangerous terrain to get phone reception.”

When police officers tested the mapping system, they discovered Mildura was listed as being located in the middle of the Murray Sunset National Park, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from the actual city.

“Anyone travelling to Mildura or other locations within Victoria should rely on other forms of mapping until this matter is rectified,” Darcy said at the time.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently admitted Apple had “screwed up” and was working to improve the program.

Cook issued a written apology to Apple customers Sept. 28 for the inferior quality of its iOS 6 map app.

“At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers,” he wrote. “With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment.”

Apple has received a large number of complaints that the Maps app, a part of iOS 6, is a substandard replacement for Google Maps. Until now, Apple has used Google Maps on its iPhones.

As a result, Apple has been aggressively enlisting former Google’s Maps software engineers to improve the new iOS Maps — an app that has received two thumbs down from critics.

Users of the new app — which was to seamlessly integrate with Siri, Apple’s virtual voice-driven assistant — have complained of errors such as misrepresented locations and out-of-date place names. Other complaints included limited mapping data and building data as well as problems with Flyover rendering.

Cook’s letter said Apple decided to provide its own app to add features like turn-by-turn directions and flyovers.

“While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

In the fallout from the Apple Maps debacle, Scott Forstall, the former head of Apple’s iPhone software development, was asked to resign after his refusal to sign a letter apologizing for the app’s flaws.

Forstall led the unit that was responsible for the Maps app.

 

 

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Apple Maps Dangerous, Mildura Police Warn, After Motorists Stranded

Google Apps for Businesses No Longer Free

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Businesses of all sizes wishing to sign up for Google Apps will now have to shell out $50 a year.

Google said its basic app, used by millions of businesses, is no longer meeting the needs of its users.

“When we launched the premium business version we kept our free, basic version as well,” Google Apps director of product management Clay Bavor said in a blog post.

“Both businesses and individuals signed up for this version, but time has shown that in practice, the experience isn’t quite right for either group. Businesses quickly outgrow the basic version and want things like 24/7 customer support and larger inboxes. Similarly, consumers often have to wait to get new features while we make them business-ready.”

As a result, there will now be only one app for businesses. Companies of all sizes must now sign up for the premium version: Google Apps for Business. This app includes round-the-clock phone support for any issue, a 25GB inbox and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee with no scheduled downtime. The app has an annual fee of $50 per user.

Existing business customers using the free app will not be affected by the changes, at least, not yet.

Personal accounts will remain free with “a seamless experience across all of our web services on any device,” Bavor said.

Google Apps for Education will also continue to be free for schools and universities.

“With focus we’ll be able to do even more for our business customers,” Bavor said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to push Google Apps further so our customers can do what matters most to them–whether that’s scooping ice cream, changing the face of health-care or contributing to lifelong learning.”

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Google Apps for Businesses No Longer Free

Technology News Briefs — Dec. 11, 2012

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Iran Launched Own Video Sharing Site

The Iranian government has launched its own version of YouTube.

Mehr is a strict Islamic video-sharing site, run by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, created as an alternative to YouTube, which has been banned in Iran since 2009.

Mehr, which means affection or kindness in Farsi, is the first state-backed video site in Iran.

“From now on, people can upload their short films on the website and access (IRIB) produced material,” IRIB deputy chief Lotfollah Siahkali told AFP.

Poor download speeds have been an issue for the new service.

Facebook, Gmail and foreign news sites are routinely blocked in Iran and citizens’ Internet communications are often monitored.

Google Receiving Bids on Motorola Home Business

Arris Group and Pace PIc are bidding on Google’s Motorola Home Business, which sells set-top boxes and equipment to cable-television providers, a source told Bloomberg.

The source said Google received multiple offers Dec. 7 and a deal could be announced by year’s end. However, it is also possible the deal could be put on hold due to the complex “financing structure in which Google might retain some equity and the unit’s patents,” the article stated.

The report indicated Google was hoping to garner $2 billion from the sale.

Gmail Suffers Service Disruption

Gmail service was unavailable to both personal and business users the morning of Dec. 10 due to a global service disruption, Google said. Chrome, Google’s browser, was also crashing recurrently, according to reports.

Google announced the issues had been resolved by shortly after 1 p.m.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support,” reads a statement by Google.

“We experienced an issue with Gmail and some users experienced slow performance or errors. For everyone who was affected, we apologize — we know you count on Google to work for you, and we worked hard to restore normal operation for you. Although our engineering team is still fully engaged on investigation, we are confident we have established the root cause of the event and corrected it.”

Motorola Slashing South Korean Operations in 2013

Motorola Mobility is cutting jobs in 2013.

The Google-owned firm is shutting down most of its South Korean operations to cut costs, the company announced Dec. 10.

“We began communicating to staff in Korea our plans to close most of our operations in Korea, including our research and development and consumer mobile device marketing organization,” Motorola said in an e-mailed statement to CRN. “The changes in Korea reflect our plans to consolidate our global R&D efforts to foster collaboration, and to focus more attention on markets where we are best positioned to compete effectively.”

Motorola plans to relocate about 10 percent of its Korean research and development staff to other facilities. The company did not say how many jobs would be eliminated.

 

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Technology News Briefs — Dec. 11, 2012