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Understand Your Users with positionstack

One of the best things about the Internet is that it (mostly) doesn’t care where you are. The person you’re interacting with might be in Rio or Rhode Island, Bahrain or Birmingham. The Internet opens up the world.

But opening up the world doesn’t mean removing it. The geographic independence loved by users can be a real headache for businesses, because nearly all businesses are constrained by geography. For business, having an accurate picture of where your users are means understanding them, understanding your relationship to them, and can mean the difference between an enviable user experience, and a PR disaster.

Geocoding grants you Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction

One option for understanding a user’s location is Geolocation, which allows you to locate a user via their IP address; it’s not perfect because IP addresses are tricky things. Arguably a better option, thanks largely to the accuracy of the starting data, is Geocoding. Greater reliability than Geolocation makes Geocoding a more useful option for UX designers.

Geocoding grants you Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction, to seek out rich data about your users. But where do you start? One of the best ways is to integrate your site or app with positionstack.

 

What Are The Benefits of Geocoding?

It’s awesome that you can sell your band’s T-shirt to a fan in Vietnam, or ship a used car part to a mechanic in Siberia, but until 3D printing gets a lot more sophisticated there needs to be a way to move objects from Point A, to Point B; step 1 in that process is figuring out exactly where Points A and B are.

Shipping goods, with all the automatically calculated costs, isn’t the only reason you may want to know someone’s location. For example, it’s good manners to present prices in the local currency, or direct customers to a support line that speaks their language. And unfortunately, there are legal issues to consider: national and international bans exist on trading with some nations, accepting certain orders from some users could land you in hot water.

The key to a great user experience is gathering data about your users and then acting on it

One of the best features of a Geocode API like positionstack is that once your user has disclosed their location you can make an educated-guess at a whole lot more, from their probable first language, to their marketing preferences, and even the time they’re likely to come home from the office.

Imagine you’re offering a callback service on your website. Geocoding not only ensures you can pre-fill the international dialling code in the callback form, but it tells you the user’s timezone—essential if you don’t want to wake them up with a 4am sales pitch.

A user’s location also affects their outlook on the world. Go visit a major international company like Apple, Nike, or Pepsi, change your location on their site, and compare how brands with millions of research dollars pitch their wares differently in North America, France, Indonesia, or New Zealand. The key to a great user experience is gathering data about your users and then acting on it.

 

Why Choose positionstack?

With just a user’s physical address you can determine dozens of different characteristics that allow you to naturalize your site or app for users. Based on an address—even a partial address—positionstack can determine the user’s currency, dialling code, even their hours of daylight.

One of the best features of positionstack is its ability to translate an address into a latitude and longitude, then plot that position on a map that you can easily embed on your site. Nothing builds a connection like showing a user a place they recognize; it builds confidence, increases conversions, and ultimately means higher profits for you.

And that’s not all. positionstack enables both forward, and reverse geocoding. That means as well as finding a global position from an address, it can also find an address from a latitude and longitude. You can even perform batch queries (multiple searches) allowing you to narrow down addresses from an approximate location.

a super-reliable infrastructure, handling over a billion requests per day, with a typical response time of less than 100 milliseconds

As you can probably guess, any Geocoding API is only as useful as the data that underpins it. positionstack is run by apilayer, one of the most trusted names in APIs. It boasts a super-reliable infrastructure, handling over a billion requests per day, with a typical response time of less than 100 milliseconds. positionstack’s API is built on a database of more than two billion global locations, sourced from high-quality data sources, and it’s updated on a daily basis.

positionstack is also exceptionally easy to integrate into a site or app. There are code examples provided in PHP, Python, Nodejs, Go, Ruby, and jQuery—you can even use the service with vanilla JavaScript. Data is returned in XML, JSON, or GeoJSON formats.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of positionstack is that it’s completely free for use up to 10,000 API requests per month. So if you’re running a small site, or just getting started, you can make use of professional-grade data at zero cost. Once you’ve grown large enough to need it, premium subscriptions start at just $9.99 per month.

Head over to positionstack.com today, to get started with Geocoding for free.

 

[– This is a sponsored post on behalf of positionstack –]



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Apple wants privacy laws to protect its users

Your iPhone (like most smartphones) knows when it is picked up, what you do with it, who you call, where you go, who you know – and a bunch more personal information, too.

The snag with your device knowing all this information is that once the data is understood, that information can be shared or even used against you.

Information is power

Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director for global privacy, appeared at CES 2020 this week to discuss the company’s approach to smartphone security. She stressed the company’s opposition to the creation of software backdoors into devices, and also said:

“Our phones are relatively small and they get lost and stolen. If we’re going to be able to rely on our health data and finance data on our devices, we need to make sure that if you misplace that device, you’re not losing your sensitive data.”

Privacy should not be a leaking bucket

Her approach is correct, of course. After all, once you create a security backdoor for one government, you’ll be forced to share it with every government. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before that information leaks into the hands of bad actors, with the result that no one’s data is safe.

Enterprise data will also become less safe, which threatens the security of connected infrastructure across the board.

Think of a security backdoor as being a hole in a bucket that only gets larger over time. Eventually the bucket stops working, water gets everywhere and all your secrets slip.

How Apple sees things

Apple’s approach to security:

  1. It tries to minimize the amount of personal information it gathers about its users, and tries to disconnect that data from a person’s identity.
  2. It aims to create services that require minimal personal data while using on-device AI to personalize user experiences – that way the data is never seen or used by the company. Differential privacy, CoreML, and assigning Siri and Maps requests to a random number rather than using a person’s Apple ID form part of this effort.
  3. It offers iCloud as a secured space in which customers can store their documents, images and other information.
  4. It attempts to empower users with tools with which to control their privacy.

What’s important to understand with this model is that while much of the information your device gathers is protected (unless you grant permission to specific apps to access it), data held in iCloud is not subject to the same protection and can be made available subject to warrant.

At the same time, Apple’s privacy protections can be confusing; the company’s recent decision to make it possible for people to opt out of sharing Siri recordings for “grading” was welcome, but the tools are still rather opaque.

iCloud thinks different

This is why Apple has teams whose job it is to help law enforcement with criminal/security queries. The information on your device is impossible to access, while data held in iCloud is accessible once a warrant is presented and accepted.

Not only can a great deal of information concerning location also be gathered by a request from cellular providers, but some of the most incriminating information is almost certainly available in the less-secured iCloud account.

Horvath referred to this during her CES appearance when she confirmed the company uses a set of tools to scan iCloud Photo libraries for child pornography.

To me, it seems reasonable to assume that those aren’t the only egregious acts Apple might monitor accounts for. That Apple actively already works to protect the public rather undermines the argument that even more access to personal data is required.

Privacy is a confusing mess

On an industry-wide basis, there’s still too much confusion. Internet services have been offering convenience in exchange for personal information for so long that many people have become accustomed to sharing data.

Added to that, the lack of a consistent set of principle or access protocols regarding  user privacy makes for a lack of a core set of consumer privacy standards.

Apple seems to believe government regulation is required in order to help promote a more consistent approach to privacy.

“We should consider a strong privacy law that is consistent across all 50 states that provides all consumers, regardless of where they live, the same protections,” said Horvath.

We’ve some way to go, as continued attempts to force tech firms to create those security backdoors in their products prove some in government don’t grasp the challenge of privacy in a digital age. (Though some do get it.)

While we wait for the industry and government to figure out a consistent approach, here are some guides to help iOS users manage their privacy using the tools Apple provides:

Finally, I currently recommend iPhone users take a look at the incredibly useful Jumbo app. This provides a range of privacy management and monitoring tools designed to easily put you in charge of what entities such as Apple, Facebook, Google or others are doing with your information.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple’s wants privacy laws to protect its users

Your iPhone (like most smartphones) knows when it is picked up, what you do with it, who you call, where you go, who you know – and a bunch more personal information, too.

Information is power

The snag with your device knowing all this information is that once the data is understood than that information can be shared or even used against you.

Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director for global privacy, appeared at CES 2012 to discuss the company’s approach to smartphone security.

She stressed the company’s opposition to the creation of software backdoors into devices, and also said:

“Our phones are relatively small and they get lost and stolen. If we’re going to be able to rely on our health data and finance data on our devices, we need to make sure that if you misplace that device, you’re not losing your sensitive data.”

Privacy should not become a leaking bucket

Her approach is correct, of course. After all, once you create a security backdoor for one government, you’ll be forced to share them with every government.

Once this happens it’s only a matter of time before that information leaks into the hands of bad actors, with the result that no one’s data is safe.

Enterprise data will also become less safe, which threatens the security of connected infrastructure across the board.

Think of a security backdoor as being a hole in a bucket that only gets larger over time.

Eventually the bucket stops working, water gets everywhere and all your secrets slip.

How Apple sees things

Apple’s approach to security:

  1. It tries to minimize the amount of personal information it gathers about its users, and tries to disconnect that data it does gather from a person’s identity.
  2. It aims to create services that require minimal personal data while using on-device AI to personalize user experiences – that way the data is never seen or used by the company. Differential privacy, CoreML, and sending Siri and Maps requests assigned to a random number rather than using a person’s Apple ID form part of this attempt.
  3. It offers iCloud as a secured space in which customers can store their documents, images and other information.
  4. It attempts to empower users with tools with which to control their privacy.

What’s important to understand with this model is that while much of the information your device gathers is protected (unless you grant permission to specific apps to access it), data held in iCloud is not subject to the same protection and can be made available subject to warrant.

At the same time, Apple’s privacy protections can be confusing – it’s recent decision to make it possible for people to opt out of sharing Siri recordings for ‘grading’ was welcome, but the tools are still rather opaque.

iCloud thinks different

This is why Apple has teams whose job it is to help law enforcement with criminal/security queries.

The information on your device is impossible to access, while data held in your iCloud is accessible once a warrant is presented and agreed.

Not only can a great deal of information concerning location also be gathered by request from cellular providers, but some of the most incriminating information is almost certainly available in the less-secured iCloud account.

Horvath referred to this during her CES 2020 appearance when she confirmed the company uses a set of tools to scan iCloud Photo libraries for child pornography.

To me it seems reasonable to assume that those aren’t the only egregious acts Apple might monitor accounts for. That Apple actively already works to protect the public rather undermines the argument that even more access to personal data is required.

Privacy is a confusing mess

On an industry-wide basis, there’s still too much confusion.

Internet services have been offering convenience in exchange for personal information for so long that many people have become accustomed to sharing data.

Added to which, the lack of a consistent set of principle or access protocols with regard to user privacy makes for a lack of a core set of agreed consumer privacy standards.

Apple seems to believe government regulation is required in order to help promote a more consistent approach to privacy.

“We should consider a strong privacy law that is consistent across all 50 states that provides all consumers, regardless of where they live, the same protections,” said Horvath.

We’ve some way to go, as those continued attempts to force tech firms to create those security backdoors in their products prove some in government don’t grasp the challenge of privacy in a digital age. (Though some do get it).

While we wait for the industry and government to figure out a consistent approach, here are some guides to help iOS users manage their privacy using the tools Apple provides:

Finally, I currently recommend iPhone users take a look at the incredibly useful Jumbo app. This provides a range of privacy management and monitoring tools designed to easily put you in charge of what entities such as Apple, Facebook, Google or others are doing with your information.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Wayback Wednesday: New year, same old users

User at this remote site has the task of helping with the backup-tape rotation on the local server, reports a pilot fish in the main office.

“After working the user on a tape-drive cleaning issue, we suggested that she get a can of compressed air and blow out the drive,” fish says.

“User called back in tears. She said she sprayed the inside of the unit with WD-40 instead of air.

“Pretty much in total disbelief, we were hoping that maybe she just shot one small burst. When questioned about how much she sprayed, her response was, ‘I’m not sure. While I was spraying I realized the can didn’t get cold, so I looked to see what was wrong.’

To read this article in full, please click here



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28 keyboard shortcuts Mac users need to know

I’m sure most Mac users know Command-C means copy and Command-V means paste, but there’s a host of other useful shortcuts that make a Mac user’s life much easier. I’ve assembled this short collection to illustrate this truth:

Esc

Never underestimate the power of the Esc key to get you out of trouble. Say you’re taking a screen shot and managed to select part of your screen for that shot, only to discover it’s the wrong part – tap Esc and you won’t need to worry about it. That’s basically the principle of Esc. Use it to cancel a previous command. Another example: Web page won’t load and is sucking up your system resources?

Tap Esc….

Command-W

Closes the active window you are currently in. Use Option-Command-W to close all currently active app windows.

Command-Y

A lot of people use QuickLook to preview items they’re looking for. To use QuickLook, select an item in Finder, press the Space bar and a preview will appear. There’s also a keyboard shortcut — select an item (you can even use the Up and Down arrows to navigate to it in Finder view) and then press Command-Y.

Command – Comma (,)

This is one of the least-known keyboard commands on a Mac, but it’s super useful. It works like this: You are working in an app, and you want to open the application’s Preferences. You can navigate to the Menu bar if you like and scroll through to access the Preferences. Or you can simply press Command-, (comma) to get to them in the fastest possible time.

Command-G

I’m sure you use Command-F to find items, such as words in a document or on a webpage. Command-G is its lesser-known relative. Use it to navigate through each instance of the item you want to find. This means that if you use Command-F to find all the mentions of ‘Command’ on this page, and then tap Command-G, you’ll be able to navigate through each one. Oh, and you can also press Shift-Command-G to move back to the previous mention.

Command-M

Press this combination to minimize the front app window to Dock, or press Command-Option-M to minimize all the windows belonging to the front app.

Command and Option

If you can’t see your desktop for all the open applications, just hold Command and Option down and click anywhere on your desktop. You may just want to get to all the open windows for a specific app, in which case hold down the same keys and click on any available window for that app.

Command-Shift-A

Select this combination when in Finder/Desktop view to get to your Applications folder, or replace the A with U to open your Utilities folder in a new Finder window (or D for Desktop, H for Home or I to access iCloud Drive).

Command-Space

The combination that can change your life, Command-Space invokes Spotlight, just depress these keys and start typing your query. (I guess you know about Command-tab already?)

Command-L

The fastest way to make a search or navigate to a Website in Safari, Command-L instantly selects the address bar: start typing your query, and select the appropriate choice using the up/down arrows on the keyboard.

Command-Tab

Open application switcher, keeping Command pressed, use Tab to navigate to the app you hope to use.

Command-Option-D

Show or hide the Dock from within most apps.

Fn-left arrow (or right arrow)

Jump directly to the top or bottom of a web page using the Function key and the right (to the bottom of the page) or left (to the top of the page) arrows on the keyboard. You can achieve a similar result using Command-Up or Command-Down. A third way is to use Control-Tab and Control-Shift-Tab.

Command-left/right arrows

Hit Command and the left arrow to go back a page in the browser window. Hit Command right to go forward again.

Tab nav

Navigate between multiple tabs using the Command-Shift-] or Command-Shift-[ characters.

Command-Shift-

The easiest way to see all your open tabs in one Safari window.

Option-Shift-Volume

Press Option-Shift and volume up/down to increase or decrease the volume on your Mac in small increments. You can also use Option-Shift to change display brightness in small amounts. Read even more Option secrets here.

Fn twice

Press the function (fn) key twice to launch Dictation on your Mac, start speaking, and press fn once you’ve finished. Here are some other ideas on controlling your Mac with your voice. NB: macOS Catalina now offers the far more powerful Voice Control, which lets you manage everything on your Mac using only your voice. Find out more about this here.

Option-File

In Safari, pressing the Option key while selecting the File menu lets you access the ‘Close Other Tabs’ command. Try the other Safari menu items with Option depressed to find other commands you probably weren’t aware of.

Option-Brightness Up (or down)

Use this command to quickly launch Displays preferences. Or press Option with the Mission Control or Volume (up/down) buttons to access preferences for Mission Control and Sounds.

Command – Backtick `

This is one of the least well-known keyboard commands on a Mac, but it’s super useful. Use this combination to move between open windows in your currently active app. It’s so useful you’ll wonder why you hadn’t used it before.

Control – Command – Space

Want to insert emoji or other symbols into what you write? Use Control-Command-Space to open the Character Viewer where you can select and use such symbols.

Touch Bar tip No. 1

If you use a MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar, you can press Shift-Command-6 to grab an image of what is on your Touch Bar. Want to grab an image to place into the document you’re typing in? Just tap Control-Shift-Command-6 and the picture will be saved to your Clipboard for pasting it in.

Touch Bar tip No. 2

This MacBook Pro Touch Bar tip is particularly useful if you find that you often  accidentally tap the Siri button: You can change where that button is located so you’re less likely to tap it by accident. Open Keyboard Preferences and choose Customize Control Strip. Look at the Touch Bar, and you’ll see the icons are slightly agitated. Move your cursor to the bottom of your screen and keep moving (as if you’re moving it off the screen); you should see one of the items in your Touch bar highlighted. Now move your cursor to highlight the Siri button and then drag and drop that button a space or two to the left.

(This is also an excellent way to become familiar with how you can edit other items in your Touch Bar.)

Touch Bar tip No. 3

Do you use the function keys regularly in some apps? You can get to them, of course,  by pressing the ‘fn’ character. But it’s also possible to set up the Touch Bar so it always shows the function keys in those apps. To do this, open Keyboard System Preferences, select Function Keys, and tap +. You can then select the app(s). Don’t worry if you want to use a regular Control Strip command when you’re using one of the apps — just press Fn to get back to that view.

Safari tips

There are lots of keyboard tips for the Safari browser:

  • Command + I: Open new email message with content of a page.
  • Command + Shift + I: Open new email message containing only the URL of a page.
  • Spacebar: To move your window down one screen.
  • Shift+Spacebar: To move your window up one screen.
  • Command + Y: Open/close the History window.

Command + Shift + T

This web browser tip can sometimes be a lifesaver. Command + Shift + T will open your last closed tab, which helps a lot if you are researching something and close a window without saving the URL.

Command + Control + Q

Walking away from your Mac? Tap this shortcut to immediately lock your machine.

You can also take a look at Apple’s own extensive collection of keyboard shortcuts for more great ideas.

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic’s Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I’d like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when fresh items are published here first on Computerworld.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Salesforce to expand Einstein Voice Skills so users can create custom voice apps

Salesforce plans to expand its Einstein Voice Assistant capabilities, enabling customers to create their own custom “skills” as it seeks to broaden the appeal of voice interfaces in the workplace. 

The company unveiled Einstein at last year’s Dreamforce conference, promising to enable sales staff to update customer records on its CRM platform using voice commands.

Its efforts are part of a wider push from numerous tech firms to popularize conversational voice interfaces for business apps, including Amazon’s Alexa for Business, Microsoft’s Cortana and Oracle’s Digital Assistant. Analyst firm Gartner forecast that 25% of digital workers will interact with virtual assistants on a daily basis within two years. 

On Tuesday at this year’s Dreamforce, Salesforce unveiled a handful of voice-related updates. 

With Einstein Voice Skills, developers can create voice-powered apps for Salesforce’s Customer 360 Platform, expanding the range of potential uses, the company said. The skills could, for instance, allow field technicians to check on a service history while driving to their next customer, the company said.

“Voice is a huge shift for the industry and will be as impactful in businesses as it’s been in our homes,” said Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce, in a statement. “With Einstein, Salesforce is bringing the power of voice to every business, giving everyone an intelligent, trusted guide at work.” 

While AI-based voice technology has potential, it is still nascent in terms of its use in enterprise applications, said Nicholas McQuire, vice president for enterprise research at CCS Insight.

“Obviously, voice is becoming a trend in mobile as the next phase of the phone and application interface. But it is still going to take some time for business professionals to take hold of this technology, and for voice to be the dominant modality of interaction with applications,” said McQuire.

Salesforce is not in a rush to bring its voice assistant, which has been in a private pilot since the summer, to market. Although Einstein Voice Assistant and Einstein Voice Skills will be available in beta in February, a full rollout is not planned until 2021.

McQuire said that the biggest opportunity for Salesforce with conversational interfaces, in the short term, lies in customer-facing voice interactions. That’s an area the company focused on with the announcement of Einstein Voice Bots at last year’s Dreamforce event. Einstein Voice Bots will enable developers to build corporate branded bots that link to Salesforce CRM and can be accessed via Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

“When it comes to the customer and consumer applications, it is a different ball game,” said McQuire. “From a customer perspective, there is an increasing drive to interact with brands and with services using different modalities. …Voice is one that we are starting to see more and more.

“Salesforce will probably see the maturity curve of voice starting with the customer first, and over the next three to five years we will see it creep in more and more to the enterprise,” he said.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce also unveiled the Einstein Call Coaching feature for its Sales Cloud. It lets managers quickly see key phrases in sales call transcripts, highlighting trends in conversation data such as an increase in mentions of a rival company. It can also identify best practices around objection handling and pricing discussions that can be used to give sales reps personalized training. 

That feature is currently being piloted and will be available in June 2020.

Salesforce also announced that it has integrated telephony into its Service Cloud console with the introduction of Service Cloud Voice. It’s designed to offer users access to AI capabilities such as real-time transcriptions with AI-generated suggested actions that help call center staffers resolve issues faster. 

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Facebook’s iOS ‘bug’ secretly filmed users. IT, take note.

News reports last week — subsequently confirmed by a Facebook executive’s tweet — that the Facebook iOS app was videotaping users without notice should serve as a critical heads up to enterprise IT and security execs that mobile devices are every bit as risky as they feared. And a very different bug, planted by cyberthieves, presents even more frightening camera-spying issues with Android.

On the iOS issue, the confirmation tweet from Guy Rosen, who is Facebook’s vice president of Integrity (go ahead and insert whatever joke you want about Facebook having a vice president of integrity; for me, it’s way too easy a shot), said, “We recently discovered our iOS app incorrectly launched in landscape. In fixing that last week in v246, we inadvertently introduced a bug where the app partially navigates to the camera screen when a photo is tapped. We have no evidence of photos/videos uploaded due to this.”

Please forgive me if I don’t immediately accept that this filming was an error, nor that Facebook has no evidence of any photos/videos being uploaded. When it comes to being candid about their privacy moves and the real intentions behind them, Facebook executives’ track record isn’t great. Consider this Reuters story from earlier this month that cited court documents establishing that “Facebook began cutting off access to user data for app developers from 2012 to squash potential rivals while presenting the move to the general public as a boon for user privacy.” And, of course, who can forget Cambridge Analytica?

In this case, though, intentions are irrelevant. This situation merely serves as a reminder of what apps can do if no one is paying enough attention.

This is what happened, according to a well-done summary of the incident in The Next Web (TNW): “The problem becomes evident due to a bug that shows the camera feed in a tiny sliver on the left side of your screen, when you open a photo in the app and swipe down. TNW has since been able to independently reproduce the issue.”

This all began when an iOS Facebaook user named Joshua Maddux tweeted about his scary discovery. “In footage he shared, you can see his camera actively working in the background as he scrolls through his feed.”

It seems as though the FB app for Android does not do the same video effort — or, if it does happen on Android, it’s better at hiding its stealthy behavior. If it is the case that this only happens on iOS, that would suggest that it might indeed be just an accident. Otherwise, why wouldn’t FB have done it for both versions of its app?

As for iOS vulnerability — note that Rosen didn’t say that the glitch was fixed or even promise when it would be fixed — it seems to depend on the specific iOS version. From the TNW report: “Maddux adds he found the same issue on five iPhone devices running iOS 13.2.2, but was unable to reproduce it on iOS 12. ‘I will note that iPhones running iOS 12 don’t show the camera, not to say that it’s not being used,’ he said. The findings are consistent with [TNW’s] attempts. [Although] iPhones running iOS 13.2.2 indeed show the camera actively working in the background, the issue doesn’t appear to affect iOS 13.1.3. We further noticed the issue only occurs if you have given the Facebook app access to your camera. If not, it appears the Facebook app tries to access it, but iOS blocks the attempt.”

How rare it is that iOS security actually comes through and helps, but it appears to be the case here.

Looking at this from a security and compliance perspective, though, is maddening. Regardless of Facebook’s intent here, the situation is allowing the videocamera on the phone or tablet to come alive at any point and start capturing what is on the screen and where the fingers are positioned. What if the employee is working on an ultra-sensitive acquisition memo at that moment? The obvious problem is what happens if Facebook is breached and that particular video segment winds up on the dark web for thieves to purchase? Want to try explaining that to your CISO, the CEO or the board?

Even worse, what if this isn’t an instance of a Facebook security breach? What if a thief sniffs the communication as it travels from your employee’s phone to Facebook? One can hope that Facebook security is fairly robust, but this situation permits the data to be intercepted enroute.

Another scenario: What if the mobile device is stolen? Let’s say that the employee properly created the document on a corporate server accessed via a good VPN. By video-capturing the data while typing, it bypasses all security mechanisms. The thief can now potentially access that video, which offers images of the memo. 

What if that employee downloaded a virus that shares all phone content with the thief? Again, the data is out.

There needs to be a way for the phone to always flash an alert whenever an app attempts access and a way to shut it down before it happens. Until then, CISOs are unlikely to sleep well.

On the Android bug, other than accessing the phone in a highly naughty way, the problem is very different. Security researchers at CheckMarx published a report that made it clear how attackers could sidestep all security mechanisms and take over the camera at will.

“After a detailed analysis of the Google Camera app, our team found that by manipulating specific actions and intents, an attacker can control the app to take photos and/or record videos through a rogue application that has no permissions to do so. Additionally, we found that certain attack scenarios enable malicious actors to circumvent various storage permission policies, giving them access to stored videos and photos, as well as GPS metadata embedded in photos, to locate the user by taking a photo or video and parsing the proper EXIF data.This same technique also applied to Samsung’s Camera app,” the report said. “In doing so, our researchers determined a way to enable a rogue application to force the camera apps to take photos and record video, even if the phone is locked or the screen is turned off. Our researchers could do the same even when a user was is in the middle of a voice call.”

The report drills into the specifics of the attack approach.

“It is known that Android camera applications usually store their photos and videos on the SD card. Since photos and videos are sensitive user information, in order for an application to access them, it needs special permissions: storage permissions. Unfortunately, storage permissions are very broad and these permissions give access to the entire SD card. There are a large number of applications, with legitimate use-cases, that request access to this storage, yet have no special interest in photos or videos. In fact, it’s one of the most common requested permissions observed. This means that a rogue application can take photos and/or videos without specific camera permissions, and it only needs storage permissions to take things a step further and fetch photos and videos after being taken. Additionally, if the location is enabled in the camera app, the rogue application also has a way to access the current GPS position of the phone and user,” the report noted. “Of course, a video also contains sound. It was interesting to prove that a video could be initiated during a voice call. We could easily record the receiver’s voice during the call and we could record the caller’s voice as well.”

And yes, more details make this even more frightening: “When the client starts the app, it essentially creates a persistent connection back to the C&C server and waits for commands and instructions from the attacker, who is operating the C&C server’s console from anywhere in the world. Even closing the app does not terminate the persistent connection.”

In short, these two incidents illustrate stunning security and privacy holes within a huge percentage of smartphones today. Whether IT owns these phones or the devices are BYOD (owned by the employee) makes little difference here. Anything created on that device can be easily stolen. And given that a rapidly increasing percentage of all enterprise data is moving to mobile devices, this needs to be fixed and fixed yesterday.

If Google and Apple won’t fix this — given that it’s unlikely to impact sales, since both iOS and Android have these holes, neither Google nor Apple has much financial incentive to act quickly — CISOs must consider direct action. Creating a homegrown app (or convincing a major ISV to do it for everyone) that will impose its own restrictions might be the only viable route.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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iPhone users: Do you love or loathe Quick Share in iOS 13?

I know lots of people who rely on iOS 13 and iPad OS for their business, but they aren’t necessarily getting much from using the QuickShare feature, so why is it there?

What’s wrong with QuickShare?

QuickShare is that first row of names you see when you open up the Share pane from within almost any app in iOS 13.

It is populated by the names of people you have most recently communicated with by Messages and nearby AirDrop shares.

However, the way the Share sheet works is that the far more useful Apps panel, which productivity workers are more likely to need is knocked down the screen, while the potentially even more useful scrolling Actions list is hardly visible at all – you have to scroll to get to it.

So, if I want to take a webpage, tap print, and spread my fingers in order to very quickly create a PDF and then share that with multiple people using an app, I need to scroll down the display to find the tools I need.

It adds friction to what should be a relatively straightforward process.

That’s not the only problem. If you make a lot of calls and send lots of messages as part of your day job, then the QuickShare item quickly becomes useless.

The people and names offered by the feature soon become unwieldy – and given the fast flow of business communications, irrelevant.

I’ve also encountered quite a few people who actively don’t want that list of names to be made visible.

One talent agent friend of mine hates it, as when she tries to share items on her iPhone any person, she happens to be near can see the celebrity names and numbers she has on her device. While we all know the iPhone is the most private and secure mobile device money can buy, it’s still enough to raise concerns about privacy.

‘If you don’t like the feature, you can turn it off’

Apple is usually good about keeping people at the centre of the experience. These days you can even delete most of Apple’s pre-installed apps – but you can’t switch off QuickShare.

  • You can’t edit it.
  • You can’t set it to contain just your most useful contacts.
  • You can’t relegate it to the lowest row on your iPhone so you can easily ignore it.
  • You can’t remove it.
  • You’re stuck with it.

QuickShare is a noise terrorist stealing prime screen real estate when you reach for the precious Share menu. That you cannot adjust it suggests you are not in full control of your iPhone. I see it as the iPhone equivalent of Microsoft’s deeply annoying ‘Clippy’ Office Assistant.

I realized it was time to call time on QuickShare when a friend of mine attempted to AirDrop images with me this morning.

“What is this list of names,” she asked me, knowing I have a little knowledge about such things. “I hate it, it gets in the way – I don’t want to see all those people there, and I don’t know why it’s there,” she said.

She was only saying what I’ve ended up thinking.

The users don’t like it

I know she isn’t alone. Hand on heart I’ve received enough feedback on this feature to believe it to be among the least popular changes in iOS 13.

It gets in the way, reduces the iPhone owner’s feelings of personal autonomy, and reminds us of just how much data our devices gather about us, generating privacy fears.

Such fears may be surfaced in unexpected ways.

Imagine how an abusive spouse might demand to review those connections in order to monitor those who the person they bully communicates with?

People subject to abusive relationships of any kid (with spouse, colleagues, even governments) don’t always have the agency to refuse such access.

Yet the information is there, clear to see, in the QuickShare menu.

The thing that makes it most abrasive is that you as a user can’t edit the contents of or disable this feature. After all, who needs it? You can start a phone call faster by asking Siri to dial your call than using QuickShare.

Not only this, but…

Sharing isn’t really what the Share pane is for

I don’t really see the Share menu as a place for sharing items with other people (though sometimes I use it for that), but as a place for sharing items between apps to get productive tasks done.

I’d like the power to switch this feature off. Or, at least some way to relegate it to the forgotten zone at the bottom of the Share pane where all those useful Shortcut workflows you’ve lovingly crafted currently hide.

Apple doesn’t need to eradicate QuickShare. I can’t help but imagine the feature has been introduced to form some kind of platform for future enhancements, so even though few people like it now, it may one day become something we can’t live without.

Perhaps.

It’s over to you, really. I can write what I like, but what do you think of QuickShare? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Do you even use it?

Please let me know on social media below.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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10 Cool Gift Ideas for Mac Users This Holiday Season

Looking to snag the perfect gift for a Mac fan this holiday season? We’re here to help! Here are some great accessories that will make perfect gifts for any Mac owner.



Jabra Elite 85h


Jabra Elite 85h

Buy Now On Amazon
$290.00

A good pair of headphones is a must-have for any Mac owner. They can help drown out distractions and help you focus on the task at hand. A combination of active noise cancellation technology and a comfortable fit make the Jabra Elite 85h hard to beat. The wireless over-ear headphones can provide up to 36 hours of music playback on a single charge.

In a pinch, you can add five hours of playback with just a 15-minute charge with the included USB-C cable. There’s no need to worry about an on/off button on the headphones; the headphones will automatically turn on when worn and will and pause playback when removed. Jabra offers four different color options, too.

You can find out more about the headphones in our Jabra Elite 85h review.



Logitech MX Master 3


Logitech MX Master 3

Buy Now On Amazon
$99.99

Logitech has long been one of the best choices for anyone needing a mouse for the Mac. And the Logitech MX Master 3 offers great features to help you be even more productive during the workday. One of the best features of this model is an all-metal scroll wheel that’s quiet and can scroll through almost 1,000 lines in a second. There is also a thumbwheel to help you scroll horizontally.

You can customize the mouse for almost any app and take advantage of stock customization options for apps like Safari, Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, and Google Chrome. A built-in battery can go for up to 70 days of use on a single charge. The mouse connects to a Mac via Bluetooth or a small USB receiver. You can select from a graphite or gray version of the mouse.



CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock


CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 Dock

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Thunderbolt 3 technology has quickly become the standard on Mac laptops and desktop models. To make the most of the technology, a Thunderbolt 3 dock can solve the dongle dilemma and add other connections, including USB-A, HDMI, and others. One of the best on the market is CalDigit TS3 Plus.

The dock can provide up to 85W of power, which is good enough for even the largest 15-inch MacBook Pro. There are 15 ports on the dock, allowing you to connect up to two 4K monitors or a single 5K monitor. Other options include five USB-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, digital optical audio, and an SD card reader.



HP Tango X Printer


HP Tango X Printer

Buy Now On Amazon
$199.89

The HP Tango X Printer is a modern take on the ubiquitous accessory and designed to work with both a Mac and iOS devices. Getting started with the wireless printer is quick and easy, as there is no need to worry about drivers. The printer is AirPrint compatible, making it simple to print from any Apple device.

Along with a cover that doubles as an output tray, the small printer can fit almost anywhere in your home. An optional ink subscription service will always keep your printer ready to go. And as a nice plus, any subscriber can print photos from their iPhone for free.



Twelve South PlugBug Duo


Twelve South PlugBug Duo

Buy Now On Amazon
$59.99

Nearly every MacBook owner has the ubiquitous—and hefty—Apple charger in their bag. The TwelveSouth PlugBug Duo makes it much more useful. The device is compatible with Apple’s MagSafe and USB-C power chargers, and snaps on top of the adapter to add two additional USB plugs.

Both of these ports provide 2.1A to charge another device like an iPhone or iPad quickly. For the world traveler, Twelve South also includes five different AC prongs that will convert a MacBook charger to fit most electrical outlets around the globe.



Mophie Powerstation USB-C XXL


Mophie Powerstation USB-C XXL

Buy Now On Amazon
$99.95

The Mophie Powerstation USB-C XXL is a powerhouse battery pack that can charge pretty much any Apple product imaginable. This even includes newer MacBook models that have a USB-C connection. The 19,500mAh battery can provide up to 14 hours of additional battery power for a USB-C laptop at 30W. That means you can charge a MacBook or a MacBook Air as quickly with the battery as with a normal power adapter.

It can also juice up the new iPad Pro devices quickly using the USB-C port. This model also includes a 2.4A USB-A port to charge other devices, like a smartphone. Its LED indicator will let you know how much power remains. As a nice plus, the exterior is covered with soft fabric that’s easy to hold and won’t scratch other devices in your bag.



Belkin USB-C to Lightning Cable


Belkin USB-C to Lightning Cable

Buy Now On Amazon
$29.99

These days, USB-C cables are essential, especially for any modern MacBook. If you have an iPhone, the Belkin USB-C to Lightning Cable is a great choice. This cable is MFi certified and made with special DuraTek fiber that is built to stand the test of time.

The cable is also one foot longer than Apple’s official option for more flexibility to charge your iPhone. A built-in leather strap helps keep your desk organized and free of cable clutter. Belkin also provides a 5-year warranty on the cable.



Incase ICON Backpack With Woolenex


Incase ICON Backpack With Woolenex

Buy Now On Amazon
$139.97

When it’s time to hit the road with your MacBook, a good backpack can help protect the expensive investment and give you space for everything else you need. The Incase ICON Backpack with Woolenex holds up to a 15-inch MacBook in a padded laptop compartment. The exterior of the backpack is made with Woolenex fiber that’s durable and resists stretching and shrinking.

Along with space to hold small and large items inside, the backpack sports an iPad pocket on the side for quick access and a small pocket on the bottom with an integrated cable port for power or audio. While wearing the backpack, airflow channels on the back panel and padded shoulder straps help keep you comfortable.



WD My Passport Portable SSD


WD My Passport Portable SSD

Buy Now On Amazon
$167.99

Additional external storage can go a long way, especially for Mac users who need to store large photo or video libraries .The WD My Passport Portable SSD is available in sizes up to 2TB.

It can transfer files at speeds of up to 540MB/s. The drive is ready to use with any USB-C port and is also compatible with a USB-A. It even offers password protection and hardware encryption for additional layers of security.



Rain Design mStand 360


Rain Design mStand 360

Buy Now On Amazon
$49.96

A stand is another great way to improve ergonomics while working with a MacBook. It can raise the screen to eye level and help reduce neck strain. A solid all-around choice is Rain Design’s mStand360. The aluminum stand is compatible with all MacBook models and cools your laptop by acting as a heat sink.

A swivel base allows you to quickly access ports and share your screen with others. As a nice touch, the built-in cable organizer can help reduce wire clutter on your desk. You have three colors of the stand to select from; space gray, gold, or rose gold.

The Best Gifts for Mac Users

Hopefully, one of these gift ideas will make your shopping even easier this holiday season. Whether you pick out a stand, power bank, or something else entirely, these accessories should bring a smile to any Mac owner.

Don’t have time to wait for these to arrive? Check out last-minute gifts that don’t need shipping


3 Last-Minute Digital Gifts That Don’t Require Shipping




3 Last-Minute Digital Gifts That Don’t Require Shipping

Need a last-minute gift? Going digital may be your only hope for timely arrival. Here are the best last-minute digital gift ideas.
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IBM: ‘Mac users are happier and more productive’

MINNEAPOLIS – IBM stole the show at the annual Jamf Nation User Conference this week when it announced that Mac users are more likely to stay with the company and will be more productive while they’re there.

IBM’s happy Apple orchestra

IBM CIO Fletcher Previn talked up fresh IBM findings that show those of its employees who use Macs are more likely to stay with IBM and exceed performance expectations compared to PC users.

The details of his claims are:

  • There are 22% more macOS users who exceeded expectations in performance reviews, compared to Windows users.
  • High-value sales deals tend to be 16% larger for macOS users, compared to Windows users.
  • macOS users are 17% less likely to leave IBM, compared to those who use Windows.
  • MacOS users are happier with the third-party software availability within IBM — just 5% of macOS users ask for additional software, compared to 11% of Windows users.

It’s possible these claims reflect some other difference between Mac and PC users, but with hundreds of thousands of IBM employees in the sample group it’s hard not to see some contribution from the choice of computing platform.

Tomorrow’s world today

“The state of IT is a daily reflection of what IBM thinks and feels about its employees,” said IBM CIO Fletcher Previn. “I’ve said it before – when did it become OK to live like the Jetsons at home, but the Flintstones at work? We aim to create a productive environment for IBM’ers and continuously improve their work experience, and that’s why we introduced our employee-choice program to IBM employees in 2015.”

When IBM began its widely-reported move to integrate Mac (and other Apple systems) across its business with the [email protected] scheme in 2015, the company discovered that tech support costs were much, much lower.

At that time, it was deploying 1,900 Mac devices per week. During this deployment, it found that  a single help desk person was able to support 5,400 Mac users — even though it took about 22 people to support the equivalent number of PC users.

The TCO argument is over

Today, IBM has just seven people supporting 200,000 macOS devices in contrast to the 20 needed to support the same number of Windows devices, IBM said at JNUC.

This means it costs IBM 186% more to support Windows than it does Macs.

This wasn’t the only big surprise. IBM also observed that users found it easier to migrate from a previous version of Windows to a Mac than to upgrade older Windows systems to the latest version of Windows. IBM claims 98% of its Mac users said migration from Windows to macOS was easy, compared to 86% of people shifting from Windows 7 to Windows 10 who felt the same way.

Admittedly, the latter is not too damning a statement on its own. But when it is easier to switch to Mac than it is to stick with Windows – and when such a migration is also cheaper to support and delivers better staff retention and better productivity – it’s hard to see why any enterprise would delay exploring Apple as a viable alternative to existing technologies, particularly as older Windows versions hit End Of Life.

What happens next?

Year by year, the Jamf JNUC event provides additional evidence that Apple’s platforms are – at the very least – peer players in enterprise IT. IBM’s latest revelations seem to suggest that, at least in some common use cases, Apple – and the Mac – are breaking out to become the best available platforms for enterprise technology.

Jamf sits at the breaking edge of the Apple ocean as it floods into the enterprise technology sector. The company continues to seek and resolve the challenges faced by those making large-scale Mac deployments. For example, it announced a new endpoint security system for Macs it calls Jamf Protect at JNUC 2019, which it claims will give enterprise security teams “unprecedented visibility into [their] Mac fleet,” along with the ability to identify and deal with threats.

Apple in the IT ecosystem 

This is, in my opinion, a major step toward the evolution of (private by design) edge-device based AI-supplemented protections that I believe will define future cybersecurity protection. Jamf is by no means the only company exploring such systems — Orange Cyberdefense has its own takes on situational awareness for systems, for example.

Josh Stein, director of product strategy for Jamf Protect, explained what the system does:

“[It] monitors for system-wide activity, enabling security teams to take action against Mac-based threats which may otherwise go unnoticed, all while allowing organizations to embrace new OS functionality from day one.”

The company also announced Jamf Connect for mobile, an important technology that allows for secure password-less authentication through most modern systems, replacing smart cards and FIDO security keys with iPhones. The idea is that it becomes possible to use the system and your iPhone in order to access a Mac, cloud services or even Windows computers.

I’m at the JNUC event this week, but it is becoming very difficult to avoid the sense that, at least in terms of making an edge-based business case for its systems, Apple is developing powerful argument to replace Windows as the base system for successful enterprise IT deployments.

What’s interesting about this is that as Apple develops its own models for ultra-private, on-device AI, at what point can server-based enterprise deployments be replaced by more effective — and yet more private — edge-based intelligence?

This certainly seems to be where the industry is going.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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