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Cell Phones

Cell Phone Users Interrupt Sex for Phone Calls

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device

Fourteen percent of the world's cell phone users report that they have stopped in the middle of a sex act to answer a ringing wireless device, Ad Age reported.

The highest incidence of cellular interruptus was found in Germany and Spain, where 22 percent of users interrupted sex to answer their cell phones; the lowest was in Italy, where only 7 percent reported doing so. In the U.S., the figure was 15 percent, the magazine said, citing a study conducted by BBDO World...

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    Businesses warned about Pokemon Go security risk

    Security expert calls it a 'nightmare' for corporate networks

    Sometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning businesses such a risk could occur if employees download the insanely popular Pokemon Go app on company-owned devices.

    The association has recommended corporations prohibit the installation and use of Pokemon Go on any devices used for business purposes. The group says that includes "bring your own device" (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

    AITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa goes so far as to call the new augmented reality game a “nightmare” for firms trying to keep their email and cloud-based information secure.

    “Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices,” Rembiesa said. “We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.”

    She said to be safe, organizations must keep the app off any device the connects to the organization's network. Here are her concerns:

    Data breaches

    Rembiesa says the original user agreements for the game allowed Niantic to access each user's entire Google profile, including his or her history, past searches, and anything else associated with a Google Login ID.

    That is no longer the case in current versions, but Rembiesa says this meets the definition of a data breach for corporate-owned devices. It's also not clear to what extent data breaches took place before the change and what happened to the accessed information.

    Risky knockoffs

    Rembiesa says she has seen reports that some versions of the app that are on non-official download sites may include malware. The illicit software may allow cyber-criminals to take control of an infected phone or tablet.

    Rembiesa worries that unsophisticated users might not be aware of the risks inherent in downloading from any third party provider, especially if the device is used on a corporate network. She says Proofpoint, an online security provider, has already reported knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

    Encouraging bad behavior

    Making an exception and allowing the use of a game app on a corporate-owned device sets a bad precedent, Rembiesa argues. She says employees need to understand the importance of sticking with approved software.

    Despite its popularity, she says Pokemon Go must be considered a "rogue download," which is “any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization.”

    Sometimes it can be risky mixing business and pleasure. The International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) is warning business...

    The No iOS Zone lets attackers remotely crash any iPhone or iPad in wi-fi range

    Another danger of automatically connecting to public wi-fi

    Another day brings another way hackers can wreak havoc on your life, this time for owners of Apple devices: security researchers from Skycure have discovered a vulnerability they call the “No iOS Zone,” which effectively lets attackers crash any mobile iOS device connected to a wi-fi hotspot.

    Actually, it's even worse that: You don't have to actively connect your device to a hotspot in order to be at risk. No iOS Zone lets attackers crash your device if you are so much as in range of a hotspot, unless you've completely turned off the device (or at least its wi-fi).

    Yet in a way this is not entirely surprising — and Apple devices aren't the only ones at risk from public wi-fi.

    Last summer, for example, Ars Technica tried a little experiment and discovered that millions of customers of both Comcast and AT&T; were at risk of letting hackers surreptitiously get into their devices' Internet traffic and steal all sorts of personal data, because those two companies' hotspots proved particularly easy for hackers to “spoof” (which is hackerspeak for “impersonate”).

    Simple explanation

    Here's a very oversimplified explanation of why: Unless you specifically turn off that feature, or your device itself, your smartphone, tablet or other connectable device is always looking to connect with a familiar network.

    Let's say you visited Starbucks to take advantage of their free w-fi. Now, every time you go there your phone automatically sends out a signal, basically saying “Hey, Starbucks w-fi, where are you?” and waiting for the electronic response “Here I am! Starbucks wi-fi, now connecting with you.”

    But it's very easy for anyone to set up a wireless hotspot to respond under a false name: “Here I am, Starbucks wi-fi! Actually I'm a hacker up to no good, but I said my name is 'Starbucks w-fi' so I can connect with you.”

    To guard against that particular danger, you must shut off the wi-fi connections on your mobile devices when you're not using them, and set each device so that it must ask before joining a mobile network.

    Endless reboot

    The “No iOS Zone” vulnerability is similar, except instead of letting hackers use wi-fi hotspots to spy on various iDevices, it “only” gives hackers the ability to make those devices crash and go into an endless reboot loop. And once that happens, you can't turn off your wi-fi connection and regain control since, of course, your device has to be booted up before you can change its wi-fi settings or do anything else with it.

    The Skycure researchers presented their findings (available here in .pdf form) at today's RSA Conference (an annual cryptography and information-security conference held in San Francisco).

    The researchers named this vulnerability the “No iOS Zone” because once attackers set up a malicious wi-fi network, any iOS mobile device within range of it would connect, get stuck in an endless reboot loop and thus be rendered useless, resulting in a literal no-iOS zone.

    Skycure's presentation also offered a list of “potential areas that may be attractive for attackers,” which includes “political events, economical & business events, Wall Street [and] governmental and military facilities.”

    Apple is currently working with Skycure to develop a fix for this problem. Meanwhile, iOwners should keep their wi-fi turned off unless and until they actually plan to use it, and be extra-wary of any public wi-fi hotspot – which, come to think of it, is good advice regarding any mobile device, regardless of who manufactured it.

    Another day brings another way hackers can wreak havoc on your life, this time for owners of Apple devices: security researchers from Skycure have discover...

    New technology may extend cellphone battery life

    Ohio State researchers say they can keep devices going 30% longer between charges

    As long as there have been cellphones, there have been complaints about cellphones’ short battery life. Not only do batteries never seem to last long enough, they invariably die in the middle of an important call.

    Researchers at Ohio State University are riding to the rescue. They are announcing a technology they claim will extend your battery life by 30%.

    You don’t have to buy a new battery and you don’t need a special kind of cellphone. With modifications, their invention is said to work with any device.

    Harnessing radio signals

    It works like this: special circuity converts some of the radio signals produced by the device into direct current (DC) power which is routed back to the battery to recharge it. The researchers say the new technology can be built into a cell phone case, without adding more than a small amount of bulk and weight.

    “When we communicate with a cell tower or Wi-Fi router, so much energy goes to waste,” said Chi-Chih Chen, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the inventors. “We recycle some of that wasted energy back into the battery.”

    The inventors who came up with this system are all researchers at Ohio State. They’re now working with a spin-off company to fine-tune the technology and will launch a Kickstarter campaign in June to bring the idea to market.

    Not a new idea

    This isn’t necessarily a new idea. There are already some products that capture stray radio signals to charge tiny devices like temperature sensors. But it hasn’t been tried on this scale before, and not to charge a common consumer product like a cellphone.

    And there are other differences. For one, the cellphone charger is working with considerably more power.

    “These other devices are trying to harvest little bits of energy from the air,” said Robert Lee, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Our technology is based on harvesting energy directly from the source. They can capture microwatts or even nanowatts, but cell phones need milliwatts or higher.”

    Lee estimates that nearly 97% of cellphone signals never get to their destination and are simply lost. While not all can be recaptured, some can.

    Battery extender

    He says the objective is to reduce power consumption by retrieving some of that lost power. Rather than call the technology a battery charger, Lee prefers to think of it as a battery “extender.”

    The inventors actually look at their technology as something based on a fairly simple principal, something they should have thought of a long time ago. The basic technology is almost as old as commercial electricity. It relies on the fact that radio waves are actually just a very high-frequency form of electric current.

    If you are not using the phone for voice or data – instead, playing a game or listening to downloaded music – the new technology won’t be of any help. The phone needs to be transmitting through the airwaves for the technology to work.

    But that’s exactly how most people, in fact, use their phones. Chen and his colleagues believe their as-yet unnamed technology will soon be an indispensable part of everyone’s cellphone, reducing the number of complaints about short battery life.

    Photo © - Fotolia As long as there have been cellphones, there have been complaints about cellphones’ short battery life. Not only do ba...

    New app creates customized radio news content

    It's a news version of Pandora

    Pandora was one of the first music apps to allow you to create your own radio station, simply by selecting an artist, song or genre of music. It has had many imitators since, most recently Apple Music.

    Meep is an app following in Pandora's footsteps, but with one huge difference. Instead of music, the iPhone app creates a radio station delivering news about a user's particular interests.

    Meep launched this week for iOS with an Android version soon to follow.

    Personal stations

    According to the creators, the app instantly creates personal stations that play the latest audio stories about topics that users choose. There might also be short clips of ancillary content like music and local weather thrown in for good measure.

    The app's developers make it sound simple. Users just pick a subject and start listening, without having to dig through podcasts or blog posts. Once a user skips a story, Meep makes a note of that – just like Pandora – and doesn't offer content along that subject line again.

    Meep also has a feature to allow users to record their own content, in the form of short comments about a particular story. These short audio bites are then shared among friends.

    Content you don't have to look at

    "Meep selects and plays content you're passionate about while you're running, driving, or simply can't look down at your phone," said Mark DiPaola, founder and CEO of Meep. "Now you can use your commute to keep up with your favorite technologies, celebrities, sports teams, companies, cities, and over a million other topics. Want a station dedicated to Asteroids and Alpacas? Presto! We won't even ask why."

    Meep is currently lining up a stable of news-readers, who will turn web-based text articles into audio content. If you're interested in trying out, click here. We have no idea what they pay.

    Meep is also trying to line up publishers, who would like their content turned into audio. However, print copy is seldom written to be spoken. Radio copy is written for the ear – at least, once upon a time it was.

    The Internet is the perfect laboratory for bold and creative ideas. That said, this new app will face some pretty stiff competition.

    There are plenty of actual radio stations and thousands of podcasts available from apps like TuneIn and IheartRadio. The most listened-to podcast in the country is This American Life, a compelling NPR show with a talented staff that excels at the art of storytelling.

    Pandora was one of the first music apps to allow you to create your own radio station, simply by selecting an artist, song or genre of music. It has had ma...

    Android adware getting more dangerous

    Security firm warns new generation of malware almost impossible to remove

    When you download a popular app to your Android smartphone, make sure you know the source.

    Lookout, a mobile security firm, has found widespread examples of extremely dangerous adware getting onto consumers' phones when they download what they believe is a legitimate app.

    Lookout says there are a number of things that make this development worrisome. First, this new generation of malware roots the device when the user installs it, making it, for all intents, a system application.

    “Adware, which has traditionally been used to aggressively push ads, is now becoming trojanized and sophisticated,” Lookout's Michael Bentley writes in the company blog. “This is a new trend for adware and an alarming one at that.”

    And it gets worse. Consumers are downloading this dangerous new form of adware because it has been integrated into many legitimate and popular apps, including Candy Crush, Facebook, GoogleNow, NYTimes, Okta, Snapchat, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

    Third-party source

    Bentley says hackers simply repackage and inject malicious code into these popular applications, and then later publish them to third-party app stores. He says many of these apps are actually fully-functional, providing their usual services, in addition to the malicious code that roots the device. That means the user has no way of knowing his or her device has been compromised.

    Lookout says it has found thousands of these trojanized apps in third party app stores. When a consumer downloads one of these hijacked apps, it usually means having to buy a new phone, since the malware often can't be removed.

    The company says the developers of apps that have been hijacked are also victims, since their brands may suffer with the spread of the malicious adware.

    Meanwhile the danger is likely to increase.

    “We expect this class of trojanized adware to continue gaining sophistication over time, leveraging its root privilege to further exploit user devices, allow additional malware to gain read or write privileges in the system directory, and better hide evidence of its presence and activities,” Bentley concludes.

    When you download a popular app to your Android smartphone, make sure you know the source.Lookout, a mobile security firm, has found widespread example...

    Brave new browser blocks ads, inserts others

    Stronger privacy protection, faster page loads, less intrusive ads, developer promises

    Internet advertising is both a curse and a blessing. It's frequently an annoyance to consumers, who complain about ads popping up all over their favorite sites. But it's also a blessing in that it pays the bills to support those sites, which would most likely not exist without the revenue from ads.

    One solution a lot of consumers have adopted is ad-blocking. A simple app or browser extension is all that's needed to block most ads from appearing on your smartphone or laptop. But ad-blocking, if it becomes widespread, threatens to kill free content on the web.

    Brendan Eich wants to change all that. He sees a brave new world that uses his new browser, called Brave. It blocks "regular" ads and inserts its own ads, funneling revenue from those ads both to the website that's being viewed and to the consumer who's doing the viewing.

    It's a guilt-free way to block ads, in other words.

    Not born yesterday

    Will it work?

    Well, it might. Eich was not exactly born yesterday. Though not a household name, he is nevertheless a notable figure in the software biz. He's one of the major backers of Mozilla, which makes a pretty good browser of its own. He also invented the JavaScript programming language that runs pretty much everything on the Web today.

    With his tiny, 10-person start-up in San Francisco, Eich is setting off to change the world by improving privacy protection, building a faster browser, and blocking those nasty ads. 

    It's not just intrusive ads Eich is out to eliminate but also the tracking that underlies today's advertising infrastructure. When you see an ad for running shoes, chances are it's because you have conducted searches for running shoes, purchased running shoes, or frequented websites that deal with fitness and sports. 

    Lots of people hate being stalked by marketers in that way. If Eich has his way, it won't happen anymore. His ads won't be based on personal profiles, he says. 

    "We have to disconnect the bad system. I talk about putting chlorine in the pool," he said, according to CNET

    Eich also promises his browser will be faster -- up to four times faster than other smartphone browsers and 1.4 times faster than other laptop browsers.

    A pre-release version of Brave is making the rounds today. When a public version is ready, Eich promises it will work on all major operating systems.

    Whether publishers, advertisers, and consumers will get on board is the big question. The advertising industry is concerned by the growth of ad-blocking and is openly looking for new models. Many publishers, on the other hand, are relatively happy with the current system, having built their sites around catering to behavioral ads. They may be reluctant to change.  

    Internet advertising is both a curse and a blessing. It's frequently an annoyance to consumers, who compla...

    Federal judge won't dismiss FTC's “data throttling” lawsuit against AT&T

    The common carrier loophole isn't wide enough for AT&T to wriggle through

    A federal judge in San Francisco has rejected AT&T's attempt to dismiss a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit charging that the company misled consumers by selling “unlimited” data plans and then throttling data speeds. Specifically, the judge ruled that AT&T cannot hide behind common-carrier exemptions to avoid the lawsuit, as Courthouse News Service reports.

    The FTC first filed its suit late last October, alleging that AT&T misled consumers by promising “unlimited” data plans while engaging in data throttling to reduce their data speeds, sometimes by up to 90%.

    As its name suggests, “data throttling” is when someone's network connection is deliberately slowed down, or throttled, sometimes to the point where streaming videos and other common online activities become impossible until the throttling stops.

    Granted, it's true that sometimes, when networks are congested from heavy use, some level of throttling the heaviest users genuinely is necessary to keep the network running.

    Sometimes legit

    On a related note, that's why when hurricanes or other natural disasters damage infrastructure and knock out utilities over a wide area, cell phone and smartphone users are asked to use text messages rather than voice or video calls to contact friends and family: because texts use far less bandwidth and are less likely to overwhelm the system.

    Should you ever have the misfortune to find yourself in a literal disaster area someday, don't be surprised to discover that everybody's wireless connections have been throttled so that streaming video and other data-heavy online activity is impossible for the duration.

    But that's not what AT&T is allegedly doing. Long before the FTC filed its lawsuit, AT&T's critics have claimed that the company uses data throttling not for network management reasons but for revenue enhancement — and pointed to the company's own advertised pricing policies as evidence.

    For example: in January 2014, AT&T launched its then-new “Sponsored Data” program, which it said would shift “mobile data costs from the consumer to the content provider.” (In other words, websites would have to pay in order to ensure AT&T mobile visitors could access them in a timely fashion, in complete opposition to proposed “net neutrality” rules.)

    At the time, TechDirt called the program “an admission that data caps have nothing to do with congestion.”

    "Share Value"

    Consumers rate AT&T Wireless

    And last September, a month before the FTC filed its data-throttling suit against AT&T, the company ran another promotion called the “Mobile Share Value plan,” which offered to double the data limits of new subscribers who signed up for it. Data throttling isn't used on all AT&T mobile customers, only those who signed up for unlimited data plans before the company stopped offering them.

    The FTC's suit alleges that in July 2011, AT&T first started throttling data for customers with unlimited data plans. In densely populated markets such as San Francisco and New York City, “unlimited” plans were actually given 2 gigabyte thresholds, with data speeds capped at only 128 kilobytes per second (kps). The FTC says that AT&T raised the threshold to 3 gigabytes in March 2012, but even with the increase, unlimited data-plan users are on slow networks with top speeds of 256 kps, whereas LTE customers have doubly fast connections at 512 kps.

    AT&T's courtroom counter-argument disputed none of this. Instead, the company asked U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it fell beyond the FTC's jurisdiction, since AT&T is a “common carrier” according to the Communications Act, which exempts common carriers from FTC oversight (since that jurisdiction goes to the Federal Communications Commission).

    Uncommon carrier

    The FTC countered that, according to the Communications Act, AT&T does not qualify as a “common carrier” in this instance, because mobile data isn't considered common carrier (the way old-fashioned landline phone connections are). AT&T in turn argued that, since some of its services have common carrier status, all of its services should be considered that way for FTC purposes.

    But Judge Chen disagreed with that argument. In the 23-page ruling he released, he noted that “Contrary to what AT&T argues, the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity.”

    Chen's ruling also states that:

    The gravamen of the FTC's complaint is based on AT&T's failure to disclose its throttling practice to certain customers. More specifically, in Count I, the FTC asserts that AT&T's throttling program is unfair because AT&T 'entered into numerous mobile data contracts that were advertised as providing access to unlimited mobile data, and that do not provide that AT&T may modify, diminish, or impair the service of customers who use more than a specified amount of data for permissible activities.' Thus, the FTC is not arguing in the case at bar that the throttling program is unfair per se; instead it challenges AT&T's failure to disclose the practice to certain customers and afford them alternative options.

    Since yesterday's ruling allows the FTC to continue its suit against AT&T, FTC Chairperson Edith Ramirez said that the agency intends to seek refunds on behalf of millions of AT&T's “unlimited” data customers.

    A federal judge in San Francisco has rejected AT&T's attempt to dismiss a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit charging that the company misled consumers by se...

    Verizon FiOS begins unwinding the cable bundle

    Slimmed-down program packages starting at $55 a month

    With consumers fleeing to streaming video sources like Netflix, cable companies clearly see the writing on the wall. Verizon FiOS today took the biggest step so far towards unwinding the cable programming bundles that charge consumers for channels they may never watch.

    Beginning Sunday, Verizon said, it will offer FiOS Custom TV, starting at $55 a month, not including Internet or telephone service. It will offer a slimmed-down assortment of 35 programming packages with no long-term contract commitment.

    Besides the basic package, which includes CNN, HGTV and AMC, customers can select two of seven genre-specific packages — like sports, children or entertainment — that include about 10 to 17 additional channels as part of the basic package. Additional packages are available for $10 a month.

    Verizon's current typical cable package is about $90 a month.

    The FiOS offering is the latest in a growing assortment of plans from program producers and distributors including CBS, HBO, Dish Network and Sony.

    College & pro sports 

    Verizon has also announced  new wireless service focused on college and pro sports, available later this year to Verizon Wireless customers who have a data plan.

    “Sports fans are some of the most passionate around, and they never want to miss a single play,” said Terry Denson, vice president, content acquisition and strategy at Verizon. “With consumers – especially younger consumers – demanding access to entertainment and information that matters to them, whenever and wherever they are, college sports with all of its live programming and networks targeted to millennials are a natural fit for any mobile-first video platform.”

    Bundles and bundles

    While consumers are champing at the bit to disassemble bundles in an attempt to save money, it's not yet clear what the final results of all this unbundling will be.

    With streaming video packages costing $10 and up, it doesn't take long to get back to the $90 that industry watchers say is the average household cable expenditure.

    It's entirely possible consumers will wind up spending more to put together their own packages but the psychological satisfaction of doing so may outweigh the additional costs.

    The picture is not so bright for the cable channels that appeal to niche audiences. Those channels are now included in the bundles lashed together by cable companies. As unbundling progresses, the smaller channels may go the way of the afternoon newspaper.   

    With consumers fleeing to streaming video sources like Netflix, cable companies clearly see the writing on the wall. Verizon FiOS today took the biggest st...

    Wireless service begins to go the way of DSL as new entrants pit network against network

    Google's Project Fi and smaller players like FreedomPop are acting as spectrum wholesalers

    Think back a decade ago. If you wanted broadband, DSL was all that was available in many areas. And it was available only as an add-on to your landline telephone service. Then cable systems began offering broadband service and the telephone companies reluctantly began offering DSL on a standalone basis. 

    That, says Stephen Stokols, CEO of a small company called FreedomPop, is what's about to happen to wireless service, with a big psychological boost from Google, which last week announced its Project Fi, a wireless phone and data service that automatically switches between traditonal cellular and wi-fi networks, offering low-cost, no-contract service to customers.

    It's something FreedomPop has been doing for quite awhile but Stokols told ConsumerAffairs Google's announcement is "sort of an endorsement from the most geeky company in the world on what telco may look like in the future."

    FreedomPop and other small companies, like Republic Wireless, aren't threatened by Google's move, Stokols says, describing it instead as a shot across the bow of the embedded wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon. 

    A new paradigm

    The model the new entrants are pursuing basically pits network against network in realtime on every single call -- switching the call from Sprint to T-Mobile to wi-fi on the basis of who has the stongest signal at that moment. Google does this with software built into the phone; FreedomPop does it with an app.

    At $20 a month, Google's plan is actually more expensive than FreedomPop's -- which, like Republic's, starts at $5 a month -- and is comparable to some prepaid wireless plans. And since it initially works only on Google Nexus 6 phones -- making up less than 1% of the wireless universe -- it's not an immediate threat to anyone at the retail level.

    What it is, says Stokols, is the first step in a strategy aimed at disaggregating, blowing up, in other words, the stranglehold that the big carriers currently enjoy. Initially, it's aimed at demonstrating to other equipment manufacturers -- Samsung, Apple, HTC, etc. -- that consumers will vote with their checkbooks.

    If that happens, the manufacturers will be more likely to build network-switching intelligence into their phones, setting the stage for the new carriers to begin scaling up quickly. 

    "If Samsung and all the OEMs (phone manufacturers) adopted the same technology that lets devices switch between networks, that switches power from the carriers to the consumer," Stokols said. "Then a wholesaler like us, we can push more traffic to better carriers, play the carriers off each other and get the best deal for consumers."

    No more roaming

    The new services also promise to send the roaming concept straight into the history books, somewhere in the chapter that explains what "long distance" charges were.

    Those old enough to remember long distance will tell you that it was what you paid to place a phone call from, say, New York to Chicago. Sure, if you lived in New York City, you could call Westchester County for free (depending on a zillion inexplicable ifs, ands and buts). But if you wanted to call Chicago, it would cost you 20 or 30 cents a minute, depending on yet another set of completely mysterious rules called tariffs.

    In truth, there was no actual physical cost to the telephone companies to complete so-called "trunk" calls, except for the half-cent or so that they charged each other -- charges based on calculations of their "embedded costs," outlined in accounting reports similar to the hieroglyphics found in ancient cave dwellings.

    Likewise, when the Googles and FreedomPops of the world have negotiated deals with wireless carriers and lined up open wi-fi networks worldwide, there will be no easy rationalization for international roaming charges.

    Although Sokols would not confirm it, industry sources say that FreedomPop will be announcing free international roaming to one or more countries later this week.

    Wi-fi only

    Leaving Sprint and T-Mobile by the wayside may also become more commonplace. Sokols said his company currently has 8.5 million wi-fi hotspots at the moment and is adding new locations daily.

    In 18 to 24 months, he said, he hopes to enough wi-fi hotspots to offer a wi-fi-only plan that would be extremely inexpensive, possibly even free, for the first half gigabyte or so.  

    That, he estimates, would appeal to the 80 million or so consumers who are sporadic prepaid users or do not have wireless service at all.

    Back in the day, the U.S. government subsidized phone companies by allowing them to tack on a "Universal Service" fee, something that survives to this day. Its stated intention was to bring telephone service to every wide spot in the road. It took decades to get into the 90% neighborhood.

    If Sokols' plan works, universal wireless service may become a reality without fees in just a few years. Stay tuned.

    Think back a decade ago. If you wanted broadband, DSL was all that was available in many areas. And it was available only as an add-on to your landline tel...

    Student sues school alleging damage from wi-fi transmissions

    There's little agreement about whether wi-fi sensitivity is real, however

    Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome is well-known to viewers of the AMC series "Better Call Saul," in which the main character's brother believes he suffers from the supposed disorder.

    There's some controversy about whether the syndrome really exists because of the lack of scientific verification so far. But those who say they suffer from it demand accommodation, among them a 12-year-old boy and his parents who are suing the Fay School, a private boarding school in the Boston area, claiming the school's wi-fi system has aggravated their son's debilitating sensitivity to wi-fi emissions.

    According to the lawsuit the Fay School installed a high-powered wi-fi system in spring 2013. A short time later, the child -- referred to as "G" -- began coming home with headaches, itchy skin and rashes, which would disappear over the weekend and holidays, Courthouse News Service reported.

    The situation worsened during the 2014 academic year, when G frequently had to leave school early, the lawsuit charges. 

    "Exposure to Wi-Fi emissions at the levels emitted by the type of Wi-Fi to which the children are exposed in Fay classrooms causes, in those persons affected, most notably children, the symptoms of EHS, which include severe headaches, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin symptoms such as prickling, burning sensations and rashes, muscle aches, nausea, nose bleeds, dizziness and heart palpitations," the lawsuit states.

    ADA invoked

    The parents sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying the school refused to accommodate their son's condition.

    "G's continued exposure to the high-density Wi-Fi emissions, without any attempt at a reasonable accommodation by Fay to avoid or minimize them, violates the ADA," the complaint states.

    The suit includes a statement by Martin Blank, a Columbia University professor who has researched the issue.

    "I can say with conviction, in light of the science, and in particular in light of the cellular and DNA science, which has been my focus at Columbia University for several decades, putting radiating antennas in schools (and in close proximity to developing children) is an uninformed choice," Blank wrote.

    But a National Institutes of Health 2009 double-blind study found that when both the researchers and the test subjects were not aware whether or not they were actually being exposed to electromagnetic activity, symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity vanished.

    Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome is well-known to viewers of the AMC series "Better Call Saul," in which the main character's brother believes he ...

    FCC warns hotels against blocking guests' wi-fi

    It's illegal to jam legal radio transmissions of any kind, FCC vows tough enforcement

    It seemed like a good idea at the time. Hotels, miffed by guests who used their own wi-fi hotspots instead of paying $12 or more to use the hotels' in-house systems, decided to try blocking personal hotspots.

    It didn't work out too well. It turns out it's illegal to interfere with legal radio transmissions and the Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott $600,000 for blocking guests' wi-fi at a Nashville Marriott.

    Stung, Marriott, Hilton and hotel trade groups then petitioned the FCC asking for a waiver that would let them soak guests without fear of fines.

    No dice, said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a strongly-worded statement.

    “Consumers must get what they pay for," Wheeler said. "The Communications Act prohibits anyone from willfully or maliciously interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi. Marriott’s request seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle."

    Wheeler warned that future infractions will be dealt with harshly.

    "Protecting consumers from this kind of interference is a priority area for the FCC Enforcement Bureau. The Enforcement Bureau recently imposed a $600,000 fine on Marriott for this kind of conduct, and the FCC will continue to enforce the Communications Act if others act similarly."

    Censors beware

    The prohibition, of course, does not apply only to hotels. Churches, schools, theaters and other venues have been known to block -- or jam -- cell phone and wi-fi transmissions, hoping to prevent phones ringing and iChats bleeping during sermons, cantatas, lectures and so forth. 

    Some had argued that jamming wi-fi and cellphone calls is permissible because such devices are not licensed. It's true that you don't need a license to use a cellphone but the wireless carriers are licensed and the use of the devices is legal under the Communications Act, meaning it's protected from jamming by those who think they should have total control of their guests, congregants, students and what-have-you. 


    It seemed like a good idea at the time. Hotels, miffed by guests who used their own wi-fi hotspots instead of paying $12 or more to use the hotels' in-hous...

    NYC cabbies defecting to Uber can have it both ways

    Hailing an Uber is especially valuable if you're a Blackberry user

    If there was any doubt that Uber is unstoppable, this should dispel it: New York City officials are allowing Uber drivers to paint their cars yellow and pick up street hails. It's not quite that simple, of course. There are lots of specific requirements.

    So many cab drivers have abandoned their medallion cabs that the perennial cab shortage is worse than ever. Also, local politicos have been taking heat from cabbies who say Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations make it too hard for them to switch between being an NYC taxi and an Uber car.

    “We’re hoping to make it easier for drivers to move between segments and maximize their economic opportunities,” said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg.

    In New York, as in most other cities, only licensed taxis can pick up consumers who dash into the street with their hand held high. Uber drivers are only allowed to respond to requests that come in through the company's smartphone app. 

    As Uber and its competitors have siphoned off business, cabbies have abandoned their distinctive yellow medallion cabs and jumped into the nearest black car after calculating that they could make more money driving for Uber.

    To be an official NYC taxi requires a city-issued medallion. There are only about 13,000 medallions in existence, thus limiting the number of cabs while driving up the value of the medallion. A medallion is currently valued at around $1 million. Many cabbies rent their medallions by the day for about $120.  

    Uber drivers who want to go yellow will still need to find a medallion that they can lease, which shows you how much political clout the medallion owners wield. This being New York there are also all kinds of additional regulations, including the kinds of cars that can be used as yellow cabs. Check this TLC presentation for all the details. 

    Blackberry dilemma

    None of this does much to help business travelers and others who hit the Big Apple with Blackberry in hand. Uber's app either does or doesn't work on Blackberry phones, depending on who you talk to. Or maybe which phone you're using. Or both.

    Here at ConsumerAffairs, we've been testing the new Blackberry Passport, the somewhat bulky instrument that -- being neither Apple nor Android -- doesn't seem to speak Uber.

    The Passport is designed, like previous Blackberries, to appeal to business users who value robust email, long battery life and a tactile keyboard. Since this is apparently a rather small group, not many people write apps for Blackberries anymore.

    But you would think that Uber, Lyft, et al, would want to be sure that business travelers -- who tend to jump in and out of cabs and black cars frequently and tend to be Blackberry users -- would be able to summon up a ride when needed.

    We found an Uber app for the Blackberry on the Uber site and installed it but found, while standing on a rainy corner, that it didn't work. Checking the user forums got us the usual confusing array of answers, each insisting to be the correct one.

    "We released the Uber app for blackberry in 2013. Here is the blogpost with more information and the link to the Uber app in the blackberry store," Uber spokeswoman Sarah Maxwell told us.

    Only problem is that the app announced in the blogpost is for the Blackberry 7. The Passport uses a later OS, Blackberry 10.

    We next tried contacting Blackberry, which does not include any press contact information on its website. It's not easy to call them, either. As we tried to break out of the voicemail tree, there was a click, followed by a mature-sounding woman who said "Switchboard."

    Wow, we didn't know switchboards even existed anymore, especially at a smartphone company. The operator, as I suppose she would be called, assured us there was indeed a press center and said she would "connect" us. She did. To a voicemail that promised a prompt callback.

    Sure enough, a bit later we heard from Lisette Kwong from Blackberry's corporate communications office, who confirmed our suspicions.

    "We currently do not have an Uber app within our BlackBerry World or Amazon Appstore storefronts. However, we’re working with Amazon to bring these apps to our users in the near term," Ms. Kwong said.

    We also heard from a couple of readers who offered various fixes that, unfortunately, didn't work when we tried them. But hey, with those yellow Ubers flooding the streets, maybe it won't matter.

    If there was any doubt that Uber is unstoppable, this should dispel it: New York City officials are allowing Uber drivers to paint their cars yellow and pi...