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Welcome to the Pittsburgh Tech Guy!  Your local source for good, dependable technical support and information!  Keep up with the latest Tech news here!

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Friday
Jul132018

How to Set Up Wi-Fi Calling on iOS

Need to make an important phone call in a cellular dead zone? Wi-Fi Calling helps you make or receive phone calls on your Apple devices when your phone says 'no service.'  Click here for the full PC Magazine article.

Friday
Jul132018

Microsoft: Facial-Recognition Tech Needs to Be Regulated

Microsoft is calling on the US government to regulate facial-recognition systems amid growing concerns the technology will one day be abused.

It's not every day a tech company calls for regulation, particularly Microsoft. But on Friday, company president Brad Smith said the potential dangers of facial-recognition technology are too serious for the tech industry and elected officials to ignore.

"We live in a nation of laws, and the government needs to play an important role in regulating facial-recognition technology," he wrote in a lengthy blog post.

Last month, Microsoft itself faced criticism for purportedly supplying facial-recognition systems to US border authorities. A number of company employees protested the work, and called on Microsoft to cancel the contract. On Friday, Smith said the contract with border authorities merely pertained to supporting office software such as email, calendar and messaging. But he acknowledged the potential dark side of facial recognition technologies, especially as they become more available to governments.

"Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge," he wrote. Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech."

Microsoft Facial API

Microsoft is taking steps to police its own approach to facial-recognition systems. In the coming months, it plans on releasing a set of principles governing the technology's development. However, it simply isn't enough to hope all technology vendors do the same, Smith said.

He indicated that some buyers are intent on using facial-recognition systems for questionable purposes. Microsoft itself has turned down customer requests where it was found "human rights risks" were at stake, Smith said, without elaborating.

That's why the government needs to step up and develop a common regulatory framework, he added. "It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products," Smith wrote. However, he pointed to the auto, air safety, and pharmaceutical industries, as examples, where "thoughtful" government regulation shaped the products involved for the better.

"There will always be debates about the details, and the details matter greatly. But a world with vigorous regulation of products that are useful but potentially troubling is better than a world devoid of legal standards," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a critic of Amazon's facial-recognition systems, said it supported Microsoft's call for regulation. "Microsoft is absolutely right that face recognition use by law enforcement must be fully analyzed and debated," ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement.

"Congress should take immediate action to put the brakes on this technology with a moratorium on its use, given that it has not been fully debated and its use has never been explicitly authorized," she added.

According to Microsoft's Smith, the US must decide a key question: "What role do we want this type of technology to play in everyday society." He recommends that Congress take the first step of forming a bipartisan and expert commission to investigate the technology's potential impact on society, and then suggest legislative action.

 

Friday
Jul132018

In No Rush to Upgrade Your Smartphone? You're Not Alone 

The average US smartphone upgrade cycle, as of the second half of 2017, was 32 months, up from 25 months a year prior, NPD Group says. The 5G rollout could help speed that up, though.

 

US consumers are now holding onto their smartphones for more than 2.5 years, on average, before upgrading, according to new research from The NPD Group.

The average US smartphone upgrade cycle, as of the second half of 2017, was 32 months, the market research firm wrote in its latest Mobile Connectivity report. That's up from 25 months a year prior.

It's also not uncommon these days for people to hold onto their smartphones for more than three years, the firm noted. In the second half of 2017, 22 percent of US smartphone users said they wait more than 36 months to upgrade, up from 18 percent who said the same a year earlier.

prepaid upgrades

Prepaid users are quickest to upgrade. In the latter half of last year, 21 percent of prepaid smartphone users reported upgrading their devices within a year of purchasing them. Just 10 percent of postpaid customers said the same.

"The continuous improvement of device build quality and components, coupled with higher price tags, has motivated consumers to hold on to their smartphones for longer periods than in the past," Brad Akyuz, director and industry analyst at NPD Connected Intelligence, said in a statement.

Carriers' stricter upgrade policies of late have also impacted the upgrade cycle. "Many carriers require that customers fully pay off their devices before trade-in, which has slowed down upgrade cycles for postpaid customers," Akyuz said.

However, the launch of 5G networks offering benefits like faster speeds and lower latency will likely spur many to upgrade quicker than they do today.

"With the debut of 5G networks in the coming years, OEMs and mobile operators will have the opportunity to educate consumers on the benefits of 5G services and convince them to upgrade to devices boasting a 5G chipset," Akyuz said. "This 4G to 5G migration will ultimately result in the acceleration of the device upgrade cycle."

Sunday
Jun032018

Microsoft is killing off Groove Music iOS and Android apps (Not that you were using it anyway...)

Microsoft retired its Groove Music streaming service last year, but promised to keep investing in the app for Windows 10 users. That investment won’t continue for iOS and Android users, though. “Tomorrow we’re notifying customers that on December 1, 2018, the Groove Music iOS and Android apps will also be retired and, effective June 1, are no longer available for download,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge.

The app removal means you’ll no longer be able to use Groove Music as a locker service to access MP3s or other audio files from Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service. However, Microsoft says music files will “continue to be available and playable on OneDrive” and other apps can access them. That’s not the same type of experience (with album art and music controls) that Groove Music users have come to expect, but Microsoft has obviously given up on offering a music app across major mobile platforms.

Sunday
Jun032018

How to use a smartphone as a mobile hotspot

Buried inside most smartphones is a capability that few people take advantage of but that I have come to rely on more and more: the ability to turn the phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Using my phone as a hotspot (also known as Wi-Fi tethering) means that whenever I have a couple of bars of signal strength, I can get my tablet or laptop online — and share my internet connection with work colleagues. It’s my way to stay on top of work wherever I am, allowing me to read and send emails, move data back and forth with the company’s servers and even get a taste of the latest office gossip from the comfort of a full-sized device.  Click here for the Computerworld full article in detail.

Sunday
Jun032018

How your web browser tells you when it's safe

Google last week spelled out the schedule it will use to reverse years of advice from security experts when browsing the Web - to "look for the padlock." Starting in July, the search giant will mark insecure URLs in its market-dominant Chrome, not those that already are secure. Google's goal? Pressure all website owners to adopt digital certificates and encrypt the traffic of all their pages.

The decision to tag HTTP sites - those not locked down with a certificate and which don't encrypt server-to-browser and browser-to-server communications - rather than label the safer HTTPS websites, didn't come out of nowhere. Google has been promising as much since 2014.

And Google will likely prevail: Chrome's browser share, now north of 60%, almost assures that.

Security pros praised Google's campaign, and the probable end-game. "I won't have to tell my mom to look for the padlock," said Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at security firm Sophos, of the switcheroo. "She can just use her computer."

But what are Chrome's rivals doing? Marching in step or sticking to tradition? Computerworld fired up the Big Four - Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari and Microsoft's Edge - to find out.

Safari

Apple's browser currently uses the traditional model of signage: It puts a small padlock icon in the address bar when a page is protected by a digital certificate and traffic between the Mac and site server is encrypted.

No padlock? That means the site does not encrypt traffic.

Recent versions of the browser, however, take additional steps in certain circumstances. If the user is at an insecure site - one not locked down with a certificate and encryption - and attempts tasks such as entering info into log-on fields or those designed to accept credit card numbers, Safari throws up a red text warning in the address bar that starts as Not Secure and then changes to Website Not Secure. Those hard-to-miss alerts debuted with the version of Safari bundled with macOS 10.13.4, an update issued March 29. (Mac owners running OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) or macOS 10.12 (Sierra) got the same functionality in the Safari 11.1 update on the same day.)

safari http 1 Apple

The Website Not Secure warning also should appear if the certificate is out-of-date or illegitimate.

Firefox

Mozilla's browser is on a path similar to Google's Chrome; it will eventually tag all sites sans encryption with a distinctive marker. But Firefox is not there yet.

firefox http 2 Mozilla

Currently, Firefox shows a padlock with a red strike-through line when the user reaches an HTTP page that contains a username+password log-on combination. Placing the cursor in one of the fields - by clicking in one, for instance - adds a textual warning that reads This connection is not secure. Logins entered here could be compromised.

Otherwise, tradition still rules in Firefox: HTTPS websites are marked by green padlocks in the address bar, while regular HTTP pages are unmarked.

Mozilla has committed to reversing the iconography, though. "Firefox will eventually display the struck-through lock icon for all pages that don't use HTTPS [emphasis added], to make clear that they are not secure," wrote Tanvi Vyas and Peter Dolanjski, a security engineer and product manager, respectively, in a blog post over a year ago. "As our plans evolve, we will continue to post updates, but our hope is that all developers are encouraged by these changes to take the necessary steps to protect users of the Web through HTTPS."

firefox http 1 Mozilla

The mark-all-HTTP feature is tucked inside Firefox, but it's not been enabled in the current production-quality browser, Firefox 60. Users can switch it on manually, however.

  • Type about:config in Firefox's address bar
  • Search for security.insecure_connection_icon.enabled
  • Double-click that item; the false under Value will change to true

You can test the change by entering an HTTP page into the address bar, like bbc.com.

Chrome

Chrome still uses the usual padlock to mark HTTPS sites and does not call out unencrypted traffic (HTTP), at least at a quick glance to the address bar. (Clicking the information icon in the address bar, the symbol of a lowercase i within a circle, at the left of the URL, displays a drop-down that does call attention to existing insecure connections, however.)

chrome http 1 Google

And since 2017, Chrome has tagged sites that transmit either passwords or credit card information over HTTP connections as Not secure using text in the address bar.

But Google has scheduled several additional steps for this year that will move Chrome closer to a goal of overturning decades of visual signals that mark traffic encryption.

The changes begin in July with Chrome 68 - set to ship the week of July 22-28 - that will mark all HTTP sites with text that reads Not Secure preceding the URL in the address bar.

chrome http 3 Google

Users can enable Chrome 68's behavior with these steps in the current Chrome 66:

  • Type chrome://flags in the address bar.
  • Find the item Mark non-secure origins as non-secure.
  • Select Enable (mark with a Not Secure warning) and relaunch Chrome.
  • Optionally, choose Enable (mark as actively dangerous)instead to display the red icon, too.

chrome https sept Google

Next, Chrome 69 - slated for release during the week of Sept. 2-8 - the browser will drop the green Secure text from the address bar for HTTPS pages and show only the small padlock icon. Google characterized that as a step away from affirmatively noting a secure page, and toward a more neutral label.

chrome http 3 Google

Then in October, Chrome 70 will appear (during the week of Oct. 14-20), labeling any HTTP site with a small red triangle to indicate an insecure connection, along with the text Not secure in the address bar. Those signals show as soon as the user interacts with any input field.

Edge

In much the same way as Apple's Safari, Microsoft's lead browser has stuck with the HTTPS-is-marked, HTTP-is-not model.

Edge displays a padlock icon in the address bar when the page is protected by a digital certificate, and traffic between the Windows 10 PC and server is encrypted. If there is no padlock, the site does not encrypt traffic, relying on HTTP instead. To get the full story, however, users must click on the icon - an i within a circle - and read the text in the ensuing pop-up. "Be careful here," Edge warns. "Your connection to this website isn't encrypted. This makes it easier for someone to steal sensitive information like passwords."

edge http 1 Microsoft

Unlike Safari, Firefox and Chrome, Edge does not proffer special warnings when the user visits an HTTP site sporting important input fields, like those dedicated to passwords or credit card numbers.