A Text Alert May Have Saved California From Power Blackouts

A timely mobile alert may have prevented hundreds of thousands of Californians from being plunged into darkness in the middle of a heat wave Tuesday night. Bloomberg reports: Just before 5:30 p.m. local time, California’s grid operator ordered its highest level of emergency, warning that blackouts were imminent. Then, at 5:48 p.m., the state’s Office of Emergency Services sent out a text alert to people in targeted counties, asking them to conserve power if they could. Within five minutes the grid emergency was all but over. Power demand plunged by 1.2 gigawatts between 5:50 and 5:55 p.m., and would continue to drop in the hours after that, according to data from the California Independent System Operator. A gigawatt is enough to power about 750,000 Californian homes.

But while the state’s grid operator said California had avoided rolling blackouts Tuesday, some cities apparently didn’t get the message. Officials in three San Francisco Bay area cities — Alameda, Healdsburg and Palo Alto — reported on social media that power shutdowns were underway that evening, which also could have contributed to the sharp decline in demand. By 8 p.m., the grid operator canceled the highest level of emergency without calling for power cuts. More than 500,000 homes and businesses had been warned earlier in the day that they might lose service.

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EU Wants Smartphones, Tablets To Be Repairable For At Least 5 Years

The European Commission is advocating new rules for mobile phone and tablet repairability. PC Magazine reports: Draft proposals published this week would require manufacturers to make at least 15 components available to professional repairers for up to five years after releasing a new phone in the European Union (EU). That means customers would get guaranteed access to replacement batteries, back covers, front- and rear-facing cameras, audio connectors, charging ports, microphones and speakers, SIM and memory card trays, and more.

“The steep increase in the demand for smartphones and tablets, combined [with] their increased functionality, has resulted in increased demand for energy and materials needed to manufacture these devices on the EU market, accompanied by an increase in their associated environmental impacts,” Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen wrote in the proposal. “In addition, devices are often replaced prematurely by users and are, at the end of their useful life, not sufficiently reused or recycled, leading to a waste of resources.”

If adopted, the initiative would also usher in a new energy label for phones and tablets — similar to the ones already in place across Europe for TVs and large household items. The labels would indicate an expected battery life, and include details on water and dust protection, and rate the device’s resistance to drops and scratches. Those manufacturers, meanwhile, that can’t (or won’t) supply batteries for five years must instead meet a set of battery endurance tests that certify devices achieve 80% of a rated capacity after 1,000 full-charge cycles. They’ll also need to ensure software updates never negatively impact battery life.

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Erik Prince Wants To Sell You a ‘Secure’ Smartphone That’s Too Good To Be True

MIT Technology Review obtained Prince’s investor presentation for the “RedPill Phone,” which promises more than it could possibly deliver. From the report: Erik Prince’s pitch to investors was simple — but certainly ambitious: pay just 5 million euros and cure the biggest cybersecurity and privacy plagues of our day. The American billionaire — best known for founding the notorious private military firm Blackwater, which became globally infamous for killing Iraqi civilians and threatening US government investigators — was pushing Unplugged, a smartphone startup promising “free speech, privacy, and security” untethered from dominant tech giants like Apple and Google. In June, Prince publicly revealed the new phone, priced at $850. But before that, beginning in 2021, he was privately hawking the device to investors — using a previously unreported pitch deck that has been obtained by MIT Technology Review. It boldly claims that the phone and its operating system are “impenetrable” to surveillance, interception, and tampering, and its messenger service is marketed as “impossible to intercept or decrypt.”

Boasting falsely that Unplugged has built “the first operating system free of big tech monetization and analytics,” Prince bragged that the device is protected by “government-grade encryption.” Better yet, the pitch added, Unplugged is to be hosted on a global array of server farms so that it “can never be taken offline.” One option is said to be a server farm “on a vessel” located in an “undisclosed location on international waters, connected via satellite to Elon Musk’s StarLink.” An Unplugged spokesperson explained that “they benefit in having servers not be subject to any governmental law.” The Unplugged investor pitch deck is a messy mix of these impossible claims, meaningless buzzwords, and outright fiction. While none of the experts I spoke with had yet been able to test the phone or read its code, because the company hasn’t provided access, the evidence available suggests Unplugged will fall wildly short of what’s promised.

[…] The UP Phone’s operating system, called LibertOS, is a proprietary version of Google’s Android, according to an Unplugged spokesperson. It’s running on an unclear mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says they’ve designed on their own. Even just maintaining a unique Android “fork” — a version of the operating system that departs from the original, like a fork in the road — is a difficult endeavor that can cost massive money and resources, experts warn. For a small startup, that can be an insurmountable challenge. […] Another key issue is life span. Apple’s iPhones are considered the most secure consumer device on the market due in part to the fact that the company offers security updates to some of its older phones for six years, longer than virtually all competitors. When support for a phone ends, security vulnerabilities go unaddressed, and the phone is no longer secure. There is no information available on how long UP Phones will receive security support. “There are two things happening here,” says Allan Liska, a cyberintelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. “There are the actual attempts to make real secure phones, and then there is the marketing BS. Distinguishing between those two can be really hard.”

“When I worked in US intelligence, we [penetrated] a number of phone companies overseas,” says Liska. “We were inside those phone companies. We could easily track people based on where they connected to the towers. So when you talk about being impenetrable, that’s wrong. This is a phone, and the way that phones work is they triangulate to cell towers, and there is always latitude and longitude for exactly where you’re sitting,” he adds. “Nothing you do to the phone is going to change that.”

The UP Phone is due out in November 2022.

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Are Lock Screens About to Change?

“The lock screen is about to change,” writes CNET — both for iOS and Android devices.

Apple’s iOS 16 update, which launched in public beta on Monday, will bring more customization options and new widgets to the iPhone’s lock screen when it arrives this fall. You’ll be able to see more information quickly and apply stylistic effects to lock screen photos similar to the iPhone’s Portrait Mode photography feature…. Like the Apple Watch, the new lock screen should make it easier to see crucial pieces of information without having to dig into apps or even unlock your phone.

And for Android phones:
Glance, a Google-backed subsidiary of mobile ad tech company InMobi, also reiterated its plans to bring its lock screen platform to the U.S. [though the company also says there’s “no definitive timeline.”] And Google is reportedly planning to incorporate more bits of information into its own lock screen widget for Pixel phones…. Glance’s lock screen will appear in the form of what it calls “spaces,” which are essentially curated lock screens designed to fit specific themes. A fitness-oriented lock screen, for example, would show statistics such as calories burned and exercise goals alongside a music player. A news “space” would show headlines and the weather, while a music version could surface live concerts….

The TechCrunch report about Glance’s US arrival sparked concerns that advertisements would be coming to the lock screen, too. Glance’s business page shows examples of advertisers that have used its platform to reach potential customers on the very first screen they see when picking up their phone. Intel, Zomato and Garnier are among the listed case studies. But Rohan Choudhary, vice president and general manager of the Glance feed, told CNET the US version would be ad-free. “We are very clear that in the US, we will not have ads on the lock screen at all,” he said….
The company says it plans to monetize its service through news subscriptions and commerce links from shopping platforms that are surfaced through Glance.
Glance’s motto? “Transforming lock screens into smart surfaces.”

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Samsung To Provide Smartphone Parts, Tools, and Repair Guides Starting This Summer

Starting this summer, Samsung says it will sell genuine parts and tools to customers needed to repair its Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 smartphones, along with its Galaxy Tab S7+ tablet. Fast Company reports: The company, which is partnering with device repair resource iFixit on the initiative, will also provide access to step-by-step repair guides, and it plans to support more devices and repairs over time. The program is similar to one that Apple announced last fall, allowing users to repair the display, battery, and camera on their iPhones. Samsung says it’s launching the program to “promote a circular economy and minimize e-waste,” though it’s just as likely responding to regulatory pressure. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it would crack down on illegal repair restrictions, and iFixit expects dozens of states to introduce right-to-repair laws this year. […]

But while phone makers may now feel compelled to supply repair parts and guides to consumers, that doesn’t mean the repairs themselves will be any easier. According to iFixit’s Galaxy S21 teardown, some repairs involve work that’s “unnecessarily sticky and complicated,” requiring a heat gun to pry open the display panel and an isopropyl alcohol bath to loosen the “tar pit” around the battery. At least customers brave enough to make those repairs won’t have any trouble getting the parts and tools they need.

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Samsung Says It Will Release An Update To Address App Throttling Issues

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Samsung spokesperson said the company will release a software update to allow users to have more control over throttling. “Samsung has not provided details about when the update will roll out to users,” notes the report. From the report: “Our priority is to deliver the best mobile experience for consumers. We value the feedback we receive about our products and after careful consideration, we plan to roll out a software update soon so users can control the performance while running game apps,” a spokesperson from Samsung said in an email.

Samsung’s promise follows reports that the tech giant’s phones are throttling the performance of around 10,000 apps, as first reported by Android Authority, and via Twitter complaints, plus Samsung’s Korean community forums. The company’s Game Optimizing Service (GOS) software, which optimizes the performance of CPU and GPU to prevent excessive heating when playing a game for a long time, appeared to be at the core of the issue, but the list of affected apps wasn’t limited to games. However, Samsung has disputed claims that Game Optimizing Service was throttling non-gaming apps. “The Game Optimizing Service (GOS) has been designed to help game apps achieve a great performance while managing device temperature effectively. GOS does not manage the performance of non-gaming apps,” the spokesperson said.

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