NHS COVID-19 update blocked for breaching privacy rules

The NHS COVID-19 app, run by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), has had its latest update blocked due to a breach in the privacy terms outlined by Apple and Google.

NHS Coronavirus app, available on Apple and Android devices, was designed to include a new feature that would allow users (upon showing a positive COVID test result) to upload a list of all locations and establishments they have visited using a phone scan QR code.

The Exposure Notification System built into the app’s software would then alert other users who had entered the same venue to monitor their symptoms or to immediately be tested. This update relies on location tracking for its function – a tracking type heavily reliant on Bluetooth monitoring of surrounding devices with the app installed – outlawed by Apple and Google privacy agreements.

This is the latest in a calamitous string of COVID app mishaps by the UK Government who had only recently scrapped plans for their own rival system to the Apple and Android contact tracing system.

Total development of the UK based rival tracking app cost £12 million over a 3 month period, but was eventually rejected due to battery life issues, privacy concerns over Bluetooth’s potentially invasive interaction with, and data collection from, other apps installed on the device such as Facebook and Twitter. As a consequence, the Apple and Android app was adopted even with the concerns over restrictions of location data.

As the UK returns to a quasi-normal state with Phase 2 of lockdown lifting measures being rolled out today, this news comes as a blow for the Department of Health who have released a statement reassuring the public that the update blockage does not affect the overall functionality of the NHS COVID-19 app and that there are “discussions ongoing with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public”

Instead of the updated version, the previous form of the app will still be obtainable in both the Google Play and iOS App Stores.


Android users suffer random app crashes

Android users around the world have reported problems with apps crashing randomly, following a widespread fault with WebView.

In particular, the problem seems common to email clients including Google Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo! Mail and more – with one early warning sign being the repeated display of messages warning that apps ‘keep closing’.

It’s as yet unclear how the bug found its way into the live build of so many users’ hardware. In a statement, Google acknowledged they are aware of the fault, and advised users looking to self-fix the problem to uninstall Android System WebView.

A further fix was issued to Android as of 11pm Pacific Time on Monday which updates WebView directly. Webview is a piece of software which helps load content from the web and receives regular updated alongside Google Chrome.

So far only Google and Samsung support have acknowledged the issue directly, although it’s likely to affect all recent Android phones not yet updated to Chrome version 89.0.4389.105.

 

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Android 11 Previews 5G VR Overlay

Google have released the new developer preview of Android 11, with technology ready for 5G and support for virtual-reality overlay options within apps.

Developer previews are designed to encourage 3rd-party app developers to stay ahead of the curve, and test the compatibility of new features, prior to the release of Android 11 during the Summer.

This time around, the much-hyped release of 5G requires Android handsets and app developers to adapt to the new technology: including operating-system to assess whether connections are metered or unmetered, and unlock boosted computing options if data speeds are sufficiently high.

android 11 vr

Some of the improvements are also being driven by hardware trends among the big manufacturers – including new support for folding-screens and the ‘pin-hole’ style cameras that sit within the screen extent of the phone.

An ‘Only this time’ choice will be added to security preferences which allows for a one-time exemption to default security options. This is already the case with standard apps (such as your default browser) but will now apply to system tools such as the phone’s GPS, microphone or camera.

On the flip side of this, more of the phone’s intrinsic features (such as phone/messaging apps) will begin behaving more like their popular 3rd-party app counterparts – allowing persistent notification ‘bubbles’ that can be re-positioned on screen for a more fluid experience.

At present Android 11 will only operate on Google’s own flagship ‘Pixel’ range of smartphones, but expect the OS to begin appearing on other handsets from June 2020.

 

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Google hit with €4bn Android anti-competition fine

The European Commission has issued Google with a €4.34 billion fine for Android anti-competition practices, after ruling the popular operating system unfairly cemented the dominance of Google Search.

The EC found Google had, via ’significant’ payments to smartphone manufacturers, ensured exclusive installation of Google’s own search application, and bundled Google apps such that selectively omitting services was impossible on the mobile platform prior to release.

More than 95% of all searches on European Android devices are made via Google search, testifying to the search giant’s unprecedented reach via pre-installation.

Many users (as Microsoft’s Bing search engine can surely attest) never change their system defaults, and although many rival search and browser providers are available for Android, these must be installed separately, often via Google Play.

Many will remember similar court battles fought between the US Government and Microsoft, resulting in the former’s eventual ruling that the latter had unfairly influenced the market via pre-installation of Internet Explorer, and creating the convention of an initial default browser choice on all new Windows PCs.

Microsoft eventually paid $561 million, but also continued losing ground to rival web browsers, including Google Chrome, among those using the internet on their operating system. Since 2013, the number of affected devices (particularly handhelds operating various versions of Android) has increased hugely. In future, new Android devices may be forced to include a similar initial search/browser selection, to help maintain consumer choice.

Google has defended its actions throughout, and has already announced it will appeal the decision, with the case expected to continue for some years.

 

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Google One to Google Drive your Life

Google looks set to replace Google Drive with Google One, a broader ranging storage service designed to incorporate storage across a whole range of Google services.

Google One will be available with up to 15GB storage for free (as with Google Drive now), $1.99 a month for 100GB, $2.99 for 200GB, 2TB for $9.99. It’s not yet clear whether these prices will be adjusted for UK users.

Drive users will be migrated to the new service over the ‘coming months’ and can stay updated by email by subscribing with Google here.

Google Drive has been able to handle direct sync from Android’s photos app, and more advanced tasks like full PC backup, or on-demand file sync on the business version, for a while now – but the new platform unifies the offering under a shared storage allowance.

There are also other nods to a more ‘iCloud like’ service – including shared plans for families, a support service, and promotional customer benefits like discounts for other products.

For now, the new app appears to be a unifying ‘personal’ platform (rather than a more formal ‘work’ platform like Microsoft Office 365.) Google are hoping to centralise your personal life such that desktop PC files, data and media generated by a whole pantheon of Android apps all will are share a central storage plan. The tech giant’s target of making ‘life simpler and less cluttered’ with Google One is being kept at arms-length from G-Suite business customers.

One simple way to get more out of Google? If you’re using Android, this could make a lot of sense.

For assistance and advice in adopting cloud-based technologies: contact Lineal today.


Android Chat app to (finally) challenge iMessage

Google have made public their plans to release a comprehensive Android Chat app, comprising of both SMS and a new rich communication standard (RCS.)

In an exclusive with the Verge, Android announced the new app, which looks distinctly like the direct challenge to Apple’s iMessage fans Android have been hoping for, and which will be able to centralise messaging under a single platform.

Unlike Apple users, content with the excellent iMessage, Android users have long been split among a variety of messaging apps. They must suffer SMS run via Android’s ageing ‘Messages’ app, and direct messaging spread out among video/IM hybrid Google Hangouts, world domination software WhatsApp, various invasive species of Facebook Messenger, the re-branded Microsoft Skype app, and Google’s own doomed chat app: Google Allo. It’s all a bit of a mess.

In addition to overhauling this, Android Chat will also be available from a desktop client with SMS abilities (much like iMessage) and include new rich communication standard style messaging familiar to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp users.

A single ‘feed’ encompassing rich content abilities also tracks the trend in the commercial sector: with firms looking to adapt from email to group-managed, millenial-friendly, cross platform communication apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

However, in addition to trying to build a fan-base for individual use, Google is presenting fresh opportunities for businesses. RCS has already been trialled by the tech giant in partnership with a number of companies (pictured), who plan to evolve currently SMS-based messaging services into RCS based customer service that integrates more complex tasks, such as calendar bookings and imagery.

Google Allo ran out of steam around 50 million installations. Whether, like iOS, Android can finally centralise disparate systems under a kingmaker will soon be tested.


Android Oreo Released to the World

Android Oreo, the latest version of the popular Google-developed smartphone operating system has been released publicly.

Version 8 of Android’s sweetly-named world domination plan was announced to coincide with 2017’s solar eclipse, visible across much of North America, and includes a number of upgrades to software performance and device functionality.

The most visually compelling changes are the partial screen management of apps – in particular Android’s new ‘notification dots’ which launch a floating speech bubble-style notification from the app icon itself, and ‘picture-in-picture’ app-minimisation into a small corner screen allowing app-multitasking.

The defining test for this will be whether users increasingly see their smartphones as even more powerful workhorse devices, capable of running a computer-style ‘desktop’ of apps all at once, or find the extra content on screen overwhelming.

In hardware terms, Google claims Android Oreo will bring significant advantages behind the scenes improving app security from Google Play, battery life, and system performance. This last benefit has been achieved, Google adds, by the way Oreo will limit the computing demands of background apps not being displayed.

There are also nods to the latest trends – fresh emojis for the newest standard of Unicode, richer screen colours (subject to device) and, in a move likely to be welcome amongst recovering smartphone addicts: intrusive notification ‘snoozing’.

At the time of writing, Android Oreo is currently only available in Beta, with Google’s own Pixel and Nexus handsets widely expected to be the first to receive the new update. Third-party developers (prolific in the open-source universe of Android) are likely to be spoilt too: with early availability and various development tweaks, such as tooltip functionality and new API tools for Oreo apps.

Timescales from the other Android smartphone manufacturers are unclear – although speaking to TechCrunch: LG, Huawei, HTC, Blackberry and OnePlus statements suggested a willingness to offer Android Oreo to customers sooner rather than later, with Motorola and Samsung sounding slightly more cautious.

 

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4 Smartphone security threats you need to avoid:

smartphone security

We increasingly live in a mobile dominated world in which Smartphone sales have skyrocketed whilst traditional PC sales have stalled. With portable devices likely to be the future of many people’s IT use – we’ve put together a few of the main smartphone security threats you need to be aware of.

 

  • Mobile Phishing & Fake Apps

Phishing websites which pretend to be your bank in order to get your personal or financial details have been around for many years, but for few people imagine that this is also a big risk on their smartphone.

Fake apps are the most obvious modern incarnation of this scam. IT security specialist ESET recently showed that a popular app like Prisma spawns multiple fakes online, downloaded unwittingly over 1.5 million times before being pulled from Google Play, with many containing harmful malware which attempt to steal personal information.

Don’t attempt to download an anticipated app before it’s official release date, as it’s likely you’ll be downloading a fake. Avoid downloading apps from unknown third-party websites, check the comments for warnings from other users, and invest in mobile antivirus to intercept downloaded threats to your smartphone security.

 

  • Old-fashioned Theft

In addition to fitting in your pocket, your phone contains a staggering amount of personal information about you which makes theft a real danger – everything including your personal details and those of friends/family, your emails, GPS coordinates of places you regularly visit and more: all stored on the device.

Home Office research suggests iPhones are the device most likely to be stolen – perhaps reflecting the Apple smartphone’s high value, quality and distinctive branding.

In addition to setting numeric pin codes on every device to prevent the danger of theft, tracking and lifesaving wiping tools like are strongly advised.

 

  • Public Wi-Fi Networks

With the proliferation of portable devices, many businesses, particularly in retail, offer public Wi-Fi hotspots to customers.

The problem with this is that you’re sharing a network with… whom? Terrifying free tools like [Redacted – obviously] and [Redacted] allow anyone on a shared public network to view insecure websites you visit, and snoop on any keystroke you type.

Not every public Wi-Fi network is a security nightmare, but it’s sensible to avoid using public Wi-Fi to do anything sensitive, such as online banking. A 4G data connection or simple telephone banking is the easiest alternative if you’re on a mobile phone, and likely to be more secure than a public Wi-Fi Network.

It should probably go without saying that you shouldn’t connect to entirely unrecognised, unsecured or unknown Wi-Fi networks either. For obvious reasons.

 

  • Being Personally Targeted

The problem with the wider shift to portable devices is that we carry our workplace into the outside world. Many of us expect complete access to our business data on our smartphone (as we would on our PC) wherever we are.

But carrying your work phone outside work means you’re also outside the protection of in-house IT security software and firewalls.

A simple phishing email can easily be targeted to you outside working hours when you’re ‘off-guard’, and the potential loss of confidential company data could be devastating.

Of course, many of the best IT security software providers now offer Android & iOS smartphone versions of their antivirus software – so why not extend your business’ IT security to your smartphone?

 

For IT support and security guidance – contact Lineal today.


Chromebooks to run Android Apps

Chromebooks

Chromebooks will soon run Android apps, after Google announced their Chrome and Android operating systems are to become fully compatible.

The minimal hardware, low cost, web-access laptops will now mirror existing Android smartphones and tablets. Apps available through Google Play on Android will operate fully on Chrome OS, granting many third-party software developers access to the rapidly growing numbers of Chromebook users out there.

The announcement itself comes at a fascinating time for Chromebooks, which with over 2 million devices purchased according to data from IDC analysts, outsold Macs in the United States for the first time during Q1 of 2016.

The popularity of Chromebooks, especially in sectors where cost-effective, limited capability devices are favoured (such as in education, or to equip remote workers) have been a surprise hit – which could have some interesting consequences for the industry.

Will the new capabilities spook Microsoft and Apple? Entirely possible: with most of the big brand hardware manufacturers releasing Chromebook models of their own, it’s clear that both the hardware has become widely available and the concept itself has taken flight.

More importantly, the traditional argument for buying a Windows PC was the use of Windows exclusive desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office. Office 365 and similar apps has been fully mobile on portable Android devices for a while now, but many users still prefer a larger screen with a keyboard for document processing – forcing them to buy a traditional desktop PC at traditional costs.

With a wide range of these ‘PC’ type apps becoming available on your Chromebook, that’s about to change.

 

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£2.50 Freedom 251 Smartphone Launches

 

Smartphone manufacturer Ringing Bells has launched a £2.50 Smartphone, the Freedom 251, aimed at bringing mobile access to rural parts of India.

The Freedom 251, which costs only 251 rupees, runs on Android and features a 1.3Ghz quad-core processor, 8GB of memory, with front and rear facing cameras.

As the second largest mobile phone market in the world, India is already estimated to have around 236 million mobile users – but this is expected to grow to a staggering 317 million during 2017.

Part of that growth includes tailoring the system to the needs of users in rural India – the Freedom 251 will include software aimed at farmers and fishermen, elderly users needing medical assistance, and even includes an app for ‘women safety’.

Wider connectivity is not only expected to bring economic benefits for Indian consumers, but also to third parties – with the £2.50 price reflecting an already heavy subsidy from interested companies looking to be the first to reach India’s newest smartphone customer base

A smartphone for less than the cost of a cup of tea? Welcome to the future.

 

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