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Encryptr

Every now and then something comes along where you can see somebody’s put some serious thought in to what they’re designing. The Raspberry Pi is probably the first thing that comes to mind, the Pebble watch is another. Lego is a brilliant example.

With apps, it’s lesser so. Not because people don’t think about what they’re doing, but because there are so many out there that are either sloppy/lazy, through no fault of their own the developers don’t have the experience, or because they’re looking at a means of making money (adverts, data theft etc.). Some apps really do shine through though, Tasker, AutoRemote, Titanium Backup, Spideroak. [See an early list]

Latest to the list must be Encryptr. Like Spideroak, at its core it is built on the ZeroKnowledge principle. This got Spideroak some criticism because with ZeroKnowledge systems, only the end user (that’s you) can read what’s stored. Not GHCQ, not David Bloody Cameron, not the FBI, not even Spideroak themselves. All associated data is encrypted and can only be decrypted with a passcode, password, phrase, or similar.

For a little while now (since Dropbox was hacked for the second time) I’ve been looking for something that uses Spideroak’s approach, end point decryption for keeping passwords secure. After a quick search I decided the best way was to use Spideroak’s Hive. Spideroak has a couple of options, data is stored per machine or shared with all machines signed in to that account. Hive is the latter, so my passwords are securely synced with every machine I choose to sign in with. It meant that if I didn’t have a phone signal I was a bit stuck, but only passwords for internet based systems were being stored. It also meant that I had to be at a PC to create the file but Spideroak are currently looking to implement this as an option in an upcoming release.

Encryptr is the solution to the problem. It doesn’t matter if your phone gets lost, stolen, soaked or damaged because no data is stored on your phone. Every password, PIN, credit card number and note that’s stored is done so securely online. With cross platform availability, the same passwords on your phone can be synced with your Windows or Linux PC or even your Mac. It even offers a secure, randomly generated password for you when you input an entry. Best of all, it’s free. There’s no advertising, no sign up, no personal details required to use it, just a user name and a passphrase/password. That’s it.

As Encryptr’s web site states, there’s a down side. If you forget your username and/or passphrase you’re locked out. No ‘forgot my password’ option as they don’t ask for your email address. Taking this into account, you have to acknowledge the advantages far outweigh any risk of forgetting your username and passphrase.

Encryptr’s developers have obviously thought about what they’re doing. While basic, the app and its ethos have a solid foundation. I’d like to be able to put entries in folders, toggle the courtesy password on/off and select its length and complexity (upper/lower case, numbers, symbols etc) and be able to copy the password in to the clipboard, but these are suggestions for a later version.

Considering the app is only at version 1.1.0, what Encryptr have achieved is impressive.

 

Pain Diary

I recently had the opportunity to answer questions about pain management and wearables.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, I suspect most people are aware of the products.

Wearables are smart devices that are worn; fitness trackers, smart watches, health trackers etc. I’m not sure if those Bluetooth pills that are swallowed and feed back to a smartphone are strictly classified as wearable, but their benefits are definitely there.  Real time data is big business, and there are companies all over the world looking to cash in.  While many of those companies are profit based, some are more altruistic.  I certainly don’t have their budget but I wonder if the limited consumer gadgets I own could be put to use?

I’ve suffered with pain in my left knee after a road accident in 2007, pain in my lower back since around ’96 and my shoulder has dislocated at least since ’91.  I’d love to be able to walk, but the consultant at the Pain Clinic has told me it will never happen.  I’m taking it with a pinch of salt.  In 1974 my parents were told I wouldn’t survive the week.  I may be completely in denial, but I’d like to think that when it comes to medicine we can’t say never.  Putting aside the progress that’s being made in exoskeletons, I think the odds are against me but if I can help the medical profession find a trend then I’m going to do all I can.

Tasker already manages my medicines for me, announcing when they should be taken and nagging me if I’ve been unable to take them at a given time.  Tasker also allows me to manually record entries to my Pain Diary.  The entries update a text file (chosen for universal compatibility) via Dropbox, and also a privately shared Google calendar (accessible only via a private link). When combined with AutoPebble, medication notices can be pushed to the watch and actions taken.  I can notify Tasker that I’ve taken my meds, or to dismiss the alert and remind me later.  It also allows me to update my Pain Diary, all without taking my phone from my pocket.

Although the Pebble smart watch is renowned for its battery life, usually lasting 6 – 8 days, I’m not relying exclusively on it.  Using Tasker’s Scene functionality I can also have buttons pop up and update the Pain Diary straight from the phone’s home screen.  Because of the way Tasker works, that screen and all associated settings can be taken to a tablet or an upgraded phone in a couple of minutes.

Because of the way it’s set up I can add or remove items in the list very quickly. I can also type in rarer entries manually.  It has only really benefited me properly a couple of times, but those times have been worth it.  When a nurse asked how often I experience chest pains I was able to provide exact times and dates in a couple of minutes.

Obviously, this doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication of what is achievable or even what’s currently in development. It has to be manually selected and doesn’t include heart rate, blood pressure, etc. but that’s not what I’ve set out to do. This started as a means for me to keep a personal record of when I’m in the most pain.  Providing the Pain Clinic with the entries is just an added bonus.

In App Purchases

In app purchases

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of in app purchases (IAPs).  People have had issues with them not transferring to new phones, upgrades, replacements, and secondary (usually work) phones.  I much prefer to buy a separate unlock key/app.  This way you know it’s tied in to your Google account and not something like your IMEI (the handsets serial number) which will almost certainly change over time.

I saw something last night which both shocked and appalled me.  A game by Disney with a medium rating showed IAPs ranging from £3.08 to £61.63!  That’s around US$98!  This is something that my seven year old son would positively love to play but if I told him it would cost him over £60 to buy part of the game, and unless he paid it he wouldn’t be able to play that part or buy something he’d need, even he would say it didn’t matter.

Only recently, Amazon was sued by the USA’s regulators over child IAPs.  The European Commission and the EU regulatory body asked Google to stop calling apps containing IAPs free by the end of September.  Apple say they promise to tackle it, but offered no date by which they must do this.

After looking at Google Play and Apple itunes it’s interesting that while the Play store charges £61, Apple’s iTunes charges nearly £70! (US$111.10)

We all know that Disney has faced hard times.  Their reputation diminished hugely, which possibly influenced them to buy Pixar.  They simply haven’t kept up with modern times.  Their merchandising may have no shame, but this is disgraceful.  It’s disgusting and looks thoroughly extortionate.

At £60 to £70 this is the most expensive IAP I’ve ever seen.  Considering Disney is associated with young children I can’t see how they could possibly think their demographic could afford to pay it.

Facebook

Those who know me are painfully aware that I have no love of Facebook.  It feels as though Facebook is where the English language goes to die.  I don’t mean people in the States claiming their own bastardisation of the English language is English, annoying as it is, I’m referring to people who drop as many letters from a word and still claiming it has some resemblance.  It feels as though Facebook is the low-brow incestuous offspring of the village idiot and their mother.

So, why have an account if I dislike it so much?  I have friends whose primary means of keeping in touch is Facebook.  There are companies whose laziness or greed means their primary online presence is on Facebook.  It would appear that a Facebook account is not just a means of keeping in touch with people, but is a passport to much more.

We give Facebook so much information about ourselves.  We complete extensive profiles, detailing our every interest.  We give our name, date of birth, birthplace, current town of residence, photos of ourself and friends, and so much more required to identify ourselves.  We then give them answers to much more personal questions in the name of security, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name etc.  Why?  Because we invest so much time in giving Facebook every detail about our lives.

It would appear, however, that this isn’t enough.  Facebook wants more.  I took a read through some of the permissions required by Facebook if you want to use their app on your smartphone.

SMS records: The first permission shows it wants access to all of your texts.  It doesn’t matter who they’re from or how personal they are.  Facebook wants to know who you’re texting and what you’re talking about.  [How dare you not use Facebook chat!]

Storage: Facebook wants full access to your SD card. [They can see which music preferences you’ve not told them about, and which photos you’ve not yet uploaded to them.  They can also create/delete anything.]

System Tools: Facebook wants to be able to

  • change your network state – turn on or off your 3G, 4G, WiFi, Auto-sync, read (or change) your WiFi connections, etc.
  • Draw over other apps – pop up with notifications on parts/all of your screen, not just the notification bar.
  • Prevent your phone from sleeping – keep it running while the screen is off.
  • Re-order running apps – this changes priorities of your apps, it can ensure it has greater priority than your antivirus or launcher.
  • Retrieve running apps – Facebook wants to know which other apps you’ve used recently or currently.
  • Toggle sync – Facebook wants to ensure it, and every other app, is up to date at all times, even if you’ve turned it off to save battery and data.

Location: This is not only which cellular transmitter or WiFi router you’re connected to (used to identify which town you’re in), but it also wants to know which number of which street you’re at.  [You’ve already told Facebook where in the country you live, but it also wants to know your home/work address and the addresses of your friends, where you’re drinking etc.]

Services that cost you money: Basically, Facebook wants to call or text numbers for you, or without you knowing.

Hardware controls: Which includes:

  • Changing audio settings – volume settings and which speaker is used for notifications.
  • Record audio – this means Facebook can turn on your microphone at any time.  Big brother is not only watching you but can listen to you as well.
  • Take pictures and videos – not only can Facebook read the photos, videos, music etc. on your SD card, it can take pictures and/or videos from either camera on your phone at any time, for any purpose.

Accounts: Facebook not only wants to know which accounts you have on your phone (which members of the family can use a phone/tablet, but it also wants to be able to add/change/delete the account and/or the password).

Your personal information: By approving this, Facebook can:

  • add/modify/remove calendar events and email anyone to invite/revoke as guests without your knowledge
  • Modify your contacts – not only does this allow Facebook to read a contact’s name, but their phone numbers, email addresses, home/work addresses and how often you’ve communicated with them, but also gives permission to add/modify/delete any contact(s).
  • Read calendar events – it doesn’t matter whether the privacy setting in your calendar has marked the event as private/public, Facebook can now see what you’re doing and when.
  • Read call log – Facebook can not only read who you’ve called, when, and how long for, it can keep a copy of the call log for its own purpose.
  • Write call log – not only can Facebook write entries to your call log, but it can cover its tracks if it wants to make a call without you knowing.

Full network access – This permission allows the Facebook app to create customised links.  Any data that the app has access to can now be uploaded without having to ask you.

Phone calls: Read phone status and identity.  In short, if you hadn’t given Facebook your phone number, they’re going to get it anyway.  Not only that, but also the serial number of your phone/tablet, and the type of device you’re using.  Not just whether it’s a phone/tablet, but the make and model of the device.

Default: Modify battery statistics.  If Facebook has used over half of your battery to turn on your 3G, upload your contacts, call logs, text messages and scour through your SD card, it can change the battery statistics to make you think another app has pillaged your battery instead.

System Tools: This can mean anything from adjusting your wallpaper, its size, expand/collapse the status bar, install shortcuts so you go to sponsors sites, read your sync settings, run at startup, or send sticky broadcasts.

Network communication: 

  • Facebook can now secretly download anything it wants to your phone/tablet.  Ideal for filling your SD card with videos from sponsors.
  • View WiFi connections, not only does Facebook know which network you’re connected to but it will see what time you connected/disconnected and potentially who else is on the network with you.  Facebook can see whether you’ve ever connected to McDonald’s or Starbucks WiFi.

 

Obviously people are aware of these permissions.  They’re shown before you’re able to install the app, but how many of us realise the implications of the permissions.  I’m aware that the above focuses on the negative and I’d like to think that even Facebook isn’t that nefarious when it comes to this sort of data farming, but there have been reports of Facebook selling our information, so who knows?

Each time Facebook changes the privacy settings everyone is up in arms about it.  We share it with everyone we know, the frustration dissipates and we continue sharing information in full knowledge of how it’s used.  We’ll use fake names, withhold our phone numbers, create email addresses exclusively for use with Facebook etc., but as outlined above it doesn’t matter.  Facebook can see your phone number, your real name and who you’ve talked to.  You can take all the steps you want to keep your personal information private but if you use the app it may all be a waste of time.

I just thought you might like to know.

Facebook Permissions

Facebook Permissions