Archive for the
‘Safety’ Category

The severe weather season is underway, and with it comes the likelihood that you will have to take steps to protect yourself and your family in case of a tornado, hurricane or other serious weather event.

tornado2_artYour smartphone can connect you to a source of emergency information that notifies you of severe weather events. It’s called the Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, and it is similar to the Emergency Alert System that broadcasters use.

The WEA is a cooperative effort between wireless service providers, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It delivers text message-like warnings to areas facing an imminent weather threat, such as tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and high winds.

A WEA-enabled phone will receive alerts based on your current location, rather than your home service area, if the phone is using a cell tower in the location you are in. These message often complement alerts issued by local agencies that are sent to your mobile device.

The WEA is also broadcast for child abduction incidents, called Amber Alerts, and for presidential bulletins regarding national emergencies. This service is offered for free by wireless carriers, and WEA messages do not count towards texting limits on your wireless plan.

WEA messages have been issued for the past two years. Most newer handsets, including smartphones, are capable of receiving these alerts. You may check with your service provider to see if your device is WEA capable.


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Technology that can render a stolen smartphone worthless to thieves could save consumers $2.6 billion a year in product replacement and insurance premiums if it significantly reduces thefts of the devices, a new report says.

lockedphone_artThe study by Creighton University researcher William Duckworth is the latest argument for the installation of so-called “kill switch” technology in smartphones. California became the first state in the nation to propose making the disabling technology mandatory on the devices when state legislators proposed a bill in February. Federal lawmakers are also considering legislation in Washington.

Wireless carriers have mostly resisted these requests, and the wireless trade group CTIA has come out in opposition, citing potential hacking and privacy risks that could affect entire groups of smartphone customers.

Duckworth, an assistant professor of statistics, data science and analytics at Creighton, surveyed 1,200 smartphone owners in February using ResearchNow and reviewed the average cost of the devices and insurance as part of his study.

Duckworth estimated that it costs consumers about $580 million a year to replace stolen smartphones and another $4.8 billion annually to insure premium handsets like the iPhone. Duckworth summarizes in his report:

“A stolen smartphone – such as the iPhone 5S – could sell for $800 or more in the United States and overseas. For criminals, a stolen phone could be worth more than a stolen wallet, a tablet, or even a laptop.”

The professor said his research showed that if the kill switch technology proves an effective deterrent by rendering stolen smartphones useless, leaving no incentive for thieves to steal them, most of the $580 million spent by users to replace the devices would be saved.

Another $2 billion a year would be saved by customers who switch to cheaper insurance coverage for their devices. Duckworth says at least half of smartphone users would do this if the disabling technology reduced the theft threat.

Says Duckworth:

“Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the Kill Switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year.”

Duckworth’s survey also found that:

  • 99 percent of smartphone owners believe wireless carries should allow consumers the option to disable the device if it is stolen
  • 93 percent believe owners should not be expected to pay extra for the ability to disable a stolen phone
  • 83 percent believe a kill switch would reduce smartphone theft.

You spot a person in a restaurant or market wearing Google Glass, the wearable technology that’s hard not to take notice of. Does it leave you impressed? Or offended by this apparent intrusion of mobile technology in your space?

As interest grows in the potential for the device that mounts a computer and camera on a wearer’s face, so is the debate over its acceptance in public, and whether by its presence an apparent boundary of privacy is breached.

Tensions over Google Glass flared recently when a San Francisco social media consultant said she was attacked for wearing the device at a local bar. Sarah Slocum said she was “verbally and physically assaulted” by patrons for using the device, and that one of them yanked the device from her face. Slocum said she was also robbed of other belongings when she pursued her alleged attackers.

San Francisco police believe it is the first incident of outright violence in the city over Google Glass. There have been other reports of friction regarding the device.

We posted one recently about a movie patron who was questioned by federal Homeland Security agents for wearing his Google Glass device inside a Columbus, Ohio, theater. The man was able to convince the agents that he was not using the device to record the film for bootleg sale.

In San Diego, a woman was ticketed last year for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel. The case was dismissed when it could not be proven that the device was activated while she was driving.

Several states appear to be considering legislation regulating the use of Google Glass by drivers.

Google Glass remains in the testing stage – it is available to “Explorers” who act as ambassadors for the device – and is not yet available to the general public.

For its part, the company released a list of dos and don’ts for its Explorer community to follow, like don’t “Wear it and expect to be ignored.”

But as companies invest heavily in wearable consumer technology, from fitness bands and health diagnostic devices to wrist devices that can tell time as well as take and download images, there will be inevitable run-ins between those embracing this technology and others who prefer to keep it at arms’ length.

California legislators are proposing a law that would be the first in the nation to require that all smartphones and tablets sold in the state have disabling technology installed that would render the smartphone or tablet inoperable if stolen.

As we said in a recent post, the proposed “kill switch” law could catch on nationwide as thefts of mobile devices continue to be a serious and dangerous issue. If passed, the law could go into effect as early as New Year’s Day.

tablets_artUntil then — or if you live somewhere other than California — here are a few low-tech ways to safeguard your mobile device from theft:

Don’t leave your device unattended. It only takes a moment for a thief to walk off with your $600 iPad or $400 smartphone when you’re at the coffee shop counter. Don’t leave it alone in public places.

Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid using it in areas that appear unsafe. Be wary of people who act suspiciously, and keep both hands on the device when using it in public.

Install a tracking app. This comes in handy in case someone does swipe your mobile device or takes it by force. Both Android smartphones and iPhones offer free tracking apps. You can log in to another device like a laptop or tablet to locate your missing device. Get help from law enforcement; don’t go after it yourself.

Use the protection features installed on your device. Whether it is fingerprint technology, retinal displays or a password, use these features to render the phone or tablet or iPad useless to thieves.

Treat the device like your wallet. You make sure your wallet containing your cash, ATM card, personal photos and other sensitive items is secure from pickpockets. Your smartphone or tablet has sensitive data, passwords, mobile banking information, all of which can be a big payoff for thieves. Treat your mobile device like you would your wallet.

It took but 2 inches of snow to turn metro Atlanta into the largest commuter parking lot in the South.

A critical convergence of snow, freezing weather and an exodus of hundreds of thousands of homeward commuters wreaked havoc on the region Tuesday afternoon, leading to colossal traffic jams on the interstates and access roads and stranding motorists in their cars overnight in many locations.

The past 24 hours have been rough on those living in Atlanta and throughout parts of the Southeast, in places where this winter storm cut an icy swath. With that in mind, we came across this CNN Tech piece from last year on several smartphone apps that it says can be helpful in the event of a winter storm.

One in particular, the Winter Survival Kit app developed by the North Dakota State University extension service and downloadable for Android and Apple devices, would have been especially useful to the thousands who were stuck on the ice-slick highways.

Maybe these apps will come in handy when the next big one hits.

blurred charging stationCharging stations are popping up all over the place, and there’s no doubt that they’re convenient. But are they safe?

We’re all connected to our phones and use them as an integral part of our everyday lives. But have we been so eager to keep our devices charged that we overlooked some basic safety concerns?

Every time we plug our phone into a USB at a charging station, we may be exposing our data to being stolen and downloaded. Think about all the important, sensitive data stored in your phone.

If we weren’t so hungry for a quick charge, and blinded by the fear of our devices dying, would this have raised red flags to us?

This article raises some really great points about potential security threats we may be exposing ourselves to by plugging our phones into these charging stations.