Tag: android

By Jillian D’Onfro for CNBC

In response to the European Union’s $5 billion antitrust ruling in July, Google will change how it bundles its apps on Android phones and charge a licensing fee for phone makers that want to pre-install apps like Gmail, Maps and YouTube in the EU.

Google will also end restrictions on phone makers selling modified or “forked” versions of the mobile operating system.

Previously, Google tied together a suite of 11 different apps that phone makers would have to pre-install if they wanted to license its app store, Play. In July, the EU ruled that this bundling was anti-competitive — pushing consumers toward Google’s search engine and weakening rival app makers — though it only specifically called for Google to separate Chrome and Search from Play.

In response, Google said in a blog post on Tuesday that it will start offering separate licenses for Search and Chrome, as well as a license for its suite of apps like Maps, Gmail and Docs. That means that if phone makers want to pre-install those apps, they will have to pay a fee, though the amount was not specified. Google says the new licensing fee will offset revenue lost through compliance efforts that it uses to fund the development of Android, which it offers as a free, open source platform. The licenses for Search and Chrome will not have a fee.

Although Google doesn’t make money from Android directly, it generates advertising revenue through search as well as Chrome, Maps and Gmail, serving ads within those apps and using data it collects from users to better target ads across its platforms.

“Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA [European Economic Area],” wrote Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president of platforms.

Google’s previous agreements with phone makers also prevented them from selling modified versions of Android if they wanted to use its suite of apps, but the company will now allow manufacturers to build forked smartphones and tablets for the EEA.

Overall, Google’s Android powers more than 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. These changes, which will come into effect on Oct. 29, will only affect phones for the EEA, a group consisting of 28 EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

By Mark Bergen and Christopher Palmeri for Business Day 

A backlash against Apple and Google app stores is gaining steam, with a growing number of companies saying the tech giants are collecting too high a tax for connecting consumers to developers’ wares.

Netflix and video game makers Epic Games and Valve are among companies that have recently tried to usurp the app stores or complained about the cost of the tolls Apple and Google charge.

Grumbling about app store economics isn’t new. But the number of complaints, combined with new ways of reaching users, regulatory scrutiny and competitive pressure are threatening to undermine what have become digital gold mines for Apple and Google.

“It feels like something bubbling up here,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie. “The dollars are just getting so big. They just don’t want to be paying Apple and Google billions.”

Apple and Google launched their app stores in 2008, and they soon grew into powerful marketplaces that matched the creations of millions of independent developers will billions of smartphone users. In exchange, the companies take up to 30% of the money consumers pay developers.

For most of the decade, the companies won praise for helping build an app economy that’s projected to grow to $157bn in 2022, from $82bn last year. But more recently, smartphones and apps have become so important for reaching customers that these app stores have been criticised for taking too big a share of the spoils. Rather than supporting innovation, Apple and Google are being talked about as tax collectors inhibiting the flow of dollars between creators and consumers.

“They’re very aggressive about making sure companies aren’t trying to work around their billing,” said Alex Austin, co-founder of mobile company Branch. “They have whole teams reviewing these flows to ensure they get their tax.”

Last week, Schachter co-authored a report arguing that current app store fees were unsustainable. Apple and Google take 30% of subscription dollars and in-app purchases made on iPhones and Android phones using Google’s app store (effectively all those outside China). About two years ago, the companies lowered that cut to 15% in some cases.

If app store commissions fell to a blended rate of 5% to 15%, it would knock up to 21% off Apple’s earnings, before interest and tax, by fiscal 2020, Macquarie estimated. Google could lose up to 20% by the same measure, according to the brokerage firm. The technology giants are expected to earn more than $50bn each, before interest and tax, in 2020, according to analyst forecast data compiled by Bloomberg.

This is particularly worrying for Apple investors, who are expecting the App Store to support the growth of the company’s services business. Apple often highlights the financial success of its App Store on conference calls with analysts.

Alphabet’s Google is susceptible given its legal problems. A recent EU anti-trust ruling requires the company to stop automatically installing its app store on Android phones in Europe. (Google is fighting the charges.) This may compel more app makers to circumvent Google, luring in customers through the web or through partnerships with other companies. “Around the world, everyone is looking for ways to push back against American tech,” Schachter said. “This feels like a natural way to go about it.”

Complaints about app store taxes became louder in 2015 as Apple and Google waded deeper into the digital content business, making them rivals, not just digital distribution partners. In 2015, music streaming company Spotify began e-mailing customers saying that they should cancel subscriptions purchased through Apple’s app store.

On Tuesday, video streaming company Netflix said it’s testing a way to bypass Apple in-app subscriptions by sending users to its own website. Currently, Netflix users on iPads and iPhones can subscribe via the App Store’s in-app purchasing system. This makes subscribing simpler, but also gives Apple a 15% cut of those subscriptions. And as of May, Google Play billing for Netflix was unavailable to new or rejoining customers, according to Netflix’s website.

On iPhones in the US, Netflix was the number one entertainment app by consumer spend and the most downloaded entertainment app on the Google Play store over the last 90 days, according to App Annie, which tracks the industry.

The video game industry has also worked to avoid app store taxes this year. Valve’s Steam, the largest distributor of video games for PCs, planned to release a free iPhone app that let gamers keep playing while away from their computers. Apple blocked the app. Soon after, the tech giant updated its app review guidelines to ban anything that looks like an app store within an app or gives users the ability to “browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user”, according to Reuters.

More recently, Epic Games, the maker of hit video game Fortnite, opted to ditch Google’s app store. Epic executive Tim Sweeney said the 30% app store fee is a “high cost” in a world where publishers must bear the expense of developing, operating and supporting their games. “Middlemen distributors are no longer required.”

Fortnite has grossed $200m on the Apple App Store since its release there in March, according to Sensor Tower, which tracks app purchases. Apple could make as much as $135m in fees from the title, Sensor Tower estimates, while Google misses out on at least $50m.

The Google Pixel smartphone’s dialler will soon have a spam filtering feature that sends suspected spam callers directly to voicemail.

According to MyBroadband, this is an extension of the app’s existing ability to alert users as to whether it suspects a call of being a “suspected spam caller”.

Instead of a missed call, numbers marked as “spam” or “suspected spam” will be automatically sent to voicemail where they can be listened to at a later date.

This may pose a problem for the traditional telemarketing companies. Once a company has been marked as “spam” by a number of users, it will be “blacklisted” and not appear as a call.

Marketing for large companies is often done by telephone.

Your phone is tracking your every move

Your phone can reveal all of your physical activities to Google and the apps you use.

The sensors inside it can monitor, understand and disclose your real-world movements, based on what’s happening to the phone itself.

It can tell, for instance, if you’re standing up, or if you’ve just lifted your phone off a desk, or if you’ve started
walking.

An Android permission called “Activity Recognition”, which was discussed on Reddit and highlighted by DuckDuckGo last week, makes it much easier for developers to work out what you’re doing at any one time.

Shazam and SoundHound request the permission, but it isn’t completely clear why.

Though Activity Recognition isn’t new, the reaction to the Reddit and DuckDuckGo posts suggests a lot of users are unaware of it.

“The Activity Recognition API is built on top of the sensors available in a device,” says Google.

“Device sensors provide insights into what users are currently doing. However, with dozens of signals from multiple sensors and slight variations in how people do things, detecting what users are doing is not easy.

“The Activity Recognition API automatically detects activities by periodically reading short bursts of sensor data and processing them using machine learning models.”

Activity Recognition can tell developers when your phone is: in a vehicle, such as a car; on a bicycle; not moving; being tilted, due to its angle “relative to gravity” changing; on a user who’s walking or on a user who’s running.

It can even tell when you’re doing more than one thing at once, such as walking while being on a bus.

The API automatically gives its findings a likelihood rating out of 100. The higher the number, the more confident it is that you’re actually doing what it believes you’re doing.

This information is fed to the apps you’ve granted the Activity Recognition permission to.

“A common use case is that an application wants to monitor activities in the background and perform an action when a specific activity is detected,” says Google.

For instance, an app can automatically start monitoring your heartbeat when you start running, or switch to car mode when you start driving.

Though it can prove useful, it also sounds somewhat creepy.

The fact that Google categorises buries it in the “Other” category of permissions and doesn’t let you deny or disable it doesn’t help matters.

Google keeps a complete list of almost everything you’ve looked at, and what’s more, the company has made it difficult to find out which apps ask for the permission.

Right now, the only way to find out is by checking out each of your apps’ permissions one-by-one, by going to Settings, Apps, tapping an app, hitting the menu button and selecting All Permissions. It’s a slow and laborious process.

If you’re particularly concerned about Activity Recognition, it’s worth going through the effort and uninstalling any of you apps that request the permission, for peace of mind.

What can you do about Activity Recognition?

  • Read app permissions closely when you install a new app
  • Go into settings on your phone and read each existing app’s permissions
  • Delete apps that require Activity Recognition permissions

By Aatif Sulleyman for The Independent 
Image credit: Reuters

Cybercriminals could have access to hundreds of millions of Android smartphones’ data. This conclusion was reached after Check Point uncovered four vulnerabilities.

The security firm released a report that showed Android devices running Qualcomm chipsets are at risk from a threat dubbed QuadRooter.

The affected devices include smartphones from BlackBerry, Blackphone, Google Nexus, HTC, LG, Motorola, OnePlus, Samsung and Sony Xperia.

“Such an app would require no special permissions to take advantage of these vulnerabilities, alleviating any suspicion users may have when installing,” says Adam Donenfeld, a member of the Check Point mobile research team.

The attacker would then potentially be able to control devices and could access capabilities such as GPS tracking, and recording video and audio.

The weaknesses were found in software drivers that come with Qualcomm chipsets.

“The drivers, controlling communication between chipset components, become incorporated into Android builds manufacturers develop for their devices,” the company said in the report.

“Pre-installed on devices at the point of manufacturing, these vulnerable drivers can only be fixed by installing a patch from the distributor or carrier. Distributors and carriers can only issue patches after receiving fixed driver packs from Qualcomm.”

After discovering the faults, Check Point let the chip manufacturer know in April.

Qualcomm confirmed to the firm it would release patches to the device manufacturers. It is then up to the manufacturers to send updates to smartphones already sold, and for end-users to install them.

“This situation highlights the inherent risks in the Android security model. Critical security updates must pass through the entire supply chain before they can be made available to end-users,” says Donenfeld.

Check Point has developed a QuadRooter scanner app that is available free on Google Play. Running it will tell users if these vulnerabilities exist on their device.

Smartphone models which could be at risk include:

  • BlackBerry Priv
  • Blackphone 1 and Blackphone 2
  • Google Nexus 5X, Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P
  • HTC One, HTC M9 and HTC 10
  • LG G4, LG G5, and LG V10
  • New Moto X by Motorola
  • OnePlus One, OnePlus 2 and OnePlus 3
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung S7 Edge
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra

While the vulnerabilities unearthed by Check Point are serious, Google has said it has an app pre-installed onto most affected devices that will automatically block a malicious app from being downloaded.
A Google spokesperson told Android Central: “Exploitation of these issues depends on users also downloading and installing a malicious application. Our Verify Apps and SafetyNet protections help identify, block and remove applications that exploit vulnerabilities like these.”

However, Android phones that do not come with Google Play Services installed will still be at risk.

The spokesperson also said Google has released a security patch that protects against three of the vulnerabilities and is working on a patch for the fourth.

Smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry has released a statement saying it is aware of QuadRooter and a fix for BlackBerry’s Android devices has been tested and pushed to customers.

Risky behaviour
Much has been done by partners to mitigate the vulnerabilities and protect the device owners.

Those most at risk will be users who side-load Android apps, by downloading APK files, or those who have disabled Google’s Verify Apps feature.

Side-loading apps is often used to acquire apps that are not available in certain regions, like the mobile game Pokémon Go and music app Spotify.

Check Point recommends downloading and installing the latest Android updates as soon as they become available, carefully examining app permissions before giving access, and avoiding app downloads from third-party sources.

By Lauren Kate Rawlins for www.itweb.co.za

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