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Mobile Technology News, December 6, 2013

As developers for tablets and smartphones we like to keep abreast of the latest mobile technology developments . This is a daily digest of mobile development and related technology news gathered from the BBC, the New York Times, New Scientist and the Globe and Mail to name a few. We scour the web for articles concerning, iPhone, iPad and android development, iOS and android operating systems as well as general articles on advances in mobile technology. We hope you find this useful and that it helps to keep you up to date with the latest technology developments.

  • Microsoft disrupts ZeroAccess botnet
    Microsoft and law enforcement agencies disrupt ZeroAccess, one of the world’s largest botnets responsible for millions in fraud losses.
  • Study: Apple still growing share in US, Samsung gaining
    Apple’s share of the smartphone market in the US continues to grow slowly, though chief rival Samsung is growing at a faster rate but still has a long way to go to catch up. Android sales combined continue to dominate, but have seen very slow or flat growth in recent months — however, in the latest three-month ComScore MobiLens survey, the platform managed twice the growth rate of iOS. Windows Phone also gained share, with all three platforms benefitting from BlackBerry’s continuing fall.


  • Analyst: China Mobile deal could change guidance, iPad sales
    Assuming that the latest iPhones (and possibly iPads) debut in China and on China Mobile as expected on December 18, Apple will have just two weeks of sales there to record before the close of the company’s fiscal Q1 for 2014. In a testament the sheer scale of both China’s overall economy and China Mobile’s subscriber base are, those few days might be enough to materially affect Apple’s overall earnings for the period, says Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.


  • New Technology Spawns Bevy of Accessories, From Shower Curtains and Gloves to Protective Cases
    In the beginning, there were the new tech toys. And the developers surveyed them and declared them geek-worthy.

    Then, all the begetting began. No mate, just a bevy of offspring, waiting to take their places as the ultimate, gotta-have-it accessories.

    Ranging from shower curtains to protective cases, these accessories often find a home in our pockets, purses and, yes, even bathrooms.

    Just when you thought it was safe to take a shower, the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer entice you with the iPad Musical Shower Curtain ($39.95).

    This is a great concept, and worked well when we tested it using an iPhone 4S, a Samsung Galaxy S4 and a first-generation iPad. The curtain’s built-in speakers delivered pure, beautiful sound at normal levels. But, when we cranked the volume up so we could hear our tunes over the noise of the shower, we detected a bit of distortion.

    Its key features include:

    • Two speakers placed in the left and right top corners of the curtain.
    • A waterproof zippered pocket on the outside of the curtain to hold our devices.
    • Waterproof touch controls on the inside of the curtain that allowed us to control our devices and answer phone calls.
    • A built-in audio cable.

    For those of us that spend the winter shoveling snow off of driveways, sidewalks and cars, come the new Snow Gloves from Beartek ($120). These leather gloves wirelessly connect to your smartphone, allowing you to continue shoveling with your phone snugly tucked away in your pocket.

    Beartek also makes motorcycle gloves ($145) and classic, all-purpose gloves ($95), featuring the same technology.

    Although we haven’t been hit with a major storm — yet — we were able to test our snow gloves by just wearing them and a headset around the house, using them to control our Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. We expected nothing less than perfection, and that’s what we got.

    The gloves connect to your phone using Bluetooth technology and a built-in Sync Module located in a zippered pocket in the bottom of the left-hand glove. All of the controls are accessed using your fingers and touch points on the gloves. Also, the Sync Module can be switched out for a module that will control a Go-Pro Camera.

    Using the gloves we were able to:

    • Answer phone calls.
    • Listen to music.
    • Make phone calls.

    Among their additional key features are:

    • Up to 80 hour battery life (rechargeable).
    • Four-ounce Primaloft® internal liner throughout.
    • Premium goatskin leather outer.
    • Windproof and waterproof with Aquatex™ insert.

    Next come a slew of smartphone cases. The ones below were for the Samsung Galaxy 4S, but these companies also make cases for everything from iPhones to Kindles.

    Acase has developed the Suprlegger, a hard shell case ($14.95) which features a hard shell back and separate silicone liner, designed to protect your phone from dirt, drops and physical damage. Since the case is designed specifically for the S4, we had complete access to all of the phone’s buttons, the camera and its speakers.

    We were able to break one of these cases while trying to attach it to one of our phones, but this shouldn’t be a common problem if the phone isn’t forced into the case.

    Next is the iLuv Jstyle leather wallet case ($69.99). This quickly became one of our favorites.

    Although it doesn’t offer the hard shell protection of many of the other cases, the J Style serves a dual purpose — it replaces your wallet and protects your phone.

    One side features a snug compartment for the S4, and the other features four compartments for your drivers’ license and credit cards. As with all of the cases we tested, the Jstyle gave us complete access to all of the features of our phone.

    The wallet style also protects the screen of your phone from dust and normal wear and tear of daily use. We do, however recommend using a screen protector.

    For complete protection of the S4, we recommend either the Fre ($79.99) or the Nuud ($89.95) from Lifeproof. Basically these cases are identical, with the Nuud coming with an optional screen protector, whereas it’s built into the Fre case. Features of both cases include:

    • They are fully submersible to 6.6 feet.
    • They can survive drops from up to 6.6 feet.
    • They are totally sealed from dirt, dust, snow and ice.
    • Complete access to buttons, ports and headphone jack.
    • Maximum sound output and clarity.
    • Anti-reflective optical-glass camera lens.
    • They are backed by a 1-year warranty.

    Last, but not least, is the Echo from M-Edge ($34.99). This is also a hard shell case, but the protective lining is built into the case’s shell. The case offers shock-proof protection, plus protects the phone from damage from dust and other day-to-day occurrences. As with the Acase and Jstyle, we recommend the purchase of a screen protector.

    Check out the companies’ websites at www.hammacher.com, www.beartekgloves.com, www.acase.com, www.iluv.com, www.lifeproof.com and www.medgestore.com to get more information.

    Attention Facebook users: Check out Michael Berman’s Jocgeek fan page at www.facebook.com/jocgeek, or follow him on Twitter @jocgeek. You can also contact him via email at jocgeek@earthlink.net, or through his website at www.jocgeek.com.

  • Facebookers Like The Idea Of A 'Sympathize' Button (Keep Waiting For 'Dislike')
    The long-coveted “dislike” button may never make its way Facebook. But a Facebook engineer said Thursday that the social network has informally experimented with an alternative to “like”: specifically, the “sympathize” button.

    Facebook’s members have for years demanded a less cheery way to quickly respond to friends’ posts, pointing out that “liking” becomes awkward and inappropriate when someone posts about a breakup, a death or even just a bad day.

    The social network evidently hears their complaints: During a Facebook hackathon held “a little while back,” an engineer devised a “sympathize” button that would accompany gloomier status updates, according to Dan Muriello, a different Facebook engineer who described the hackathon experiment at a company event Thursday. If someone selected a negative emotion like “sad” or “depressed” from Facebook’s fixed list of feelings, the “like” button would be relabeled “sympathize.”

    Playing around with a “sympathize” button at a hackathon — a chance for staffers to brainstorm new ideas for site features — hardly guarantees it’ll pop up in feeds soon. The social network relies on its hackathons to explore out-of-the-box ideas, many of which never materialize.

    Muriello said his colleague’s creation was well-received by fellow Facebookers, but isn’t making its way to the site. For now.

    “It would be, ‘five people sympathize with this,’ instead of ‘five people ‘like’ this,'” said Muriello. “Which of course a lot of people were — and still are — very excited about. But we made a decision that it was not exactly the right time to launch that product. Yet.”

    Muriello spoke during a presentation at Facebook’s Compassion Research Day, a day-long public event at which researchers from Facebook, Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley shared findings from studies on human behavior on Facebook.

    A Facebook spokesman called the hackathons “the foundation for great innovation and thinking about how we can better serve people around the world.”

    “Some of our best ideas come from hackathons, and the many ideas that don’t get pursued often help us think differently about how we can improve our service,” the spokesman wrote in a email to The Huffington Post.

    Yet many of the site’s signature features, like Facebook Chat, the friend suggester and the Timeline profile pages, have indeed emerged from hackathons.

    If you’re someone who loves the idea of “sympathizing” your way through the News Feed, here’s one reason to be hopeful: The “like” button itself was a hackathon invention.

  • Natural Gas Building Spree Cancels Out Emissions We Save From Leaving Coal Behind: Report
    WASHINGTON — Companies are so excited about cheap natural gas that they’re on an expansion spree, which might undo some of the good we’ve done by switching to the cleaner fuel from coal, a new report says.

    The low cost of natural gas is largely seen as a net positive for climate change, as burning gas generates lower levels of emissions than burning coal. But an Environmental Integrity Project report released Thursday says that though gas is replacing coal — the dirtier alternative — in electric power plants, new industrial projects that use natural gas for feedstock or fuel are now being constructed so quickly that we’re probably walking back some of our progress.

    The report identified 95 new large industrial projects that are at some stage in the permitting process. Using permit applications for emissions, EIP estimated that the projects, which include facilities like chemical plants and oil refineries and all rely on natural gas, will generate an additional 90.9 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The total is an emissions output equivalent to that of 21 large coal-fired power plants, according to the report.

    Recent innovations in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have triggered a shale gas boom in the United States, and gas prices have dropped as a result. The report notes that industries like the chemical sector have been revived and inspired to expand by the low prices.

    And with all that cheap natural gas comes the need to process it — and sell it. But a single liquefied natural gas terminal, which transports the material, can produce emissions comparable to a new coal plant, according to the report. The EIP report documents seven permits or applications for new emissions from terminals since January 2012.

    “We’re looking at a boom in the gas industry that has some advantages for the economy, but can also create pollution,” EIP Executive Director Eric Schaeffer said on a call with reporters Thursday.

    In the wake of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that found that greenhouse gas emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency issued draft rules that will require all new power plants to limit the amount of emissions they release into the atmosphere. The EPA’s rules will apply to new power plants that emit more than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

    Industrial facilities that aren’t power plants, however, won’t need to meet those standards, which means that major new sources of emissions are still coming online. The EPA, the report says, “has yet to meet its legal obligation to get industry-wide standards in place that would set consistent and enforceable emission limits for large sources of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other pollutants that are heating up the planet.”

    In some cases, tighter emissions standards can also mean more efficiency for businesses, Schaeffer said. “EPA needs to get in front of this phenomenon and get some standards in place that are based, at least in part, on maximizing efficiency,” Schaeffer told reporters.

    Schaeffer said the report only includes proposed facilities that will emit more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Smaller projects excluded from the report would mean an even bigger increase in total greenhouse emissions, he noted.

  • Could high-tech make cyclists safer?
    How new tech aims to make cycling safer
  • America Is Launching A Giant, World-Sucking Octopus Into Space
    One of the National Security Agency’s partners is launching a spy satellite with a classified payload into space on Thursday night — and its logo is an angry, globe-gripping octopus.

    The spacecraft, being rocketed into the sky by an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, carries a payload from the National Reconnaissance Office. Far less well-known than the NSA, the NRO has a budget that is only a shade smaller — $10.3 billion a year — and provides satellite-based surveillance capabilities.

    Ready for launch? An Atlas 5 will blast off at just past 11PM, PST carrying an classified NRO payload (also cubesats) pic.twitter.com/ll7s0nCOPg

    — Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) December 5, 2013

    “Nothing is beyond our reach,” reads a motto beneath the world-sucking cephalopod. The logo is the latest in a long line of patches produced for classified military missions that are equal parts menacing and mysterious.

    nro satellite more

    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which also oversees the NSA, tweeted pictures of the launch preparation. That spurred Christopher Soghoian, of the American Civil Liberties Union, to give the spooks some free advice: “You may want to downplay the massive dragnet spying thing right now. This logo isn’t helping.”

  • Obama Intends To Propose NSA Reforms, Reassure Americans
    WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Thursday he intends to propose National Security Agency reforms to reassure Americans that their privacy is not being violated by the agency.

    “Part of what we’re trying to do over the next month or so is, having done an independent review and brought a whole bunch of folks, civil libertarians and lawyers and others to examine what’s being done, I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA and to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence,” Obama said in an interview on the MSNBC television program “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

    A steady drip of revelations of NSA snooping has raised widespread concern about the reach of the agency’s operations and its ability to pry into the affairs of private individuals as well as the communications of foreign leaders.

    In the most recent such news, the Washington Post reported this week that the agency gathers nearly 5 billion records a day on the location of mobile telephones worldwide, including those of some Americans. The information comes from documents made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

    Obama said he would not comment on details of NSA programs, but that while revelations of the agency’s activities have raised legitimate concerns, some aspects have been exaggerated.

    “Some of it has also been highly sensationalized and has been painted in a way that’s not accurate,” he said.

    Some surveillance is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, but the agency’s activities are constrained in the United States, Obama said.

    “They are not interested in reading your emails,” he said. “They’re not interested in – reading your text messages.” (Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
  • 'Hour Of Code' Event Aims To Demystify Computer Science | Education Lab Blog | Seattle Times
    Students and teachers in classrooms around the globe will join in a worldwide initiative called Hour of Code next week.

    Presented by Seattle-based nonprofit Code.org, the event aims to demystify computer science for educators and students alike. Thus far, some 28,000 groups plan to host tutorials next week across 166 countries. (Go here for a real-time map of registrants.)

  • Mozilla takes another stab at elusive multiprocess Firefox
    Internet Explorer does it. Chrome does it too. Now Mozilla is trying — again — to make Firefox run multiple processes at the same time.
  • Tech and Baby Monitoring: Not the Best Mix
    It’s scary being a parent, especially a first-time parent. I mean, talk about the responsibility: An actual human being is relying on you for survival. And basically, you have no idea what you are doing. Sometimes, it seems amazing that our species has made it this far.

    So… why not turn to technology? Why not wire your baby up and monitor their breathing and heart rate and movement? I mean, if doctors and hospitals do it, it’s got to be a good idea, right?

    Not so much.

    I totally get it. Like every new parent, I went in to check my babies’ breathing again and again. I did it more with my first couple of babies, but didn’t stop even when I was a veteran parent. I’ve watched or felt for the rising chest, listened for that barely perceptible sound of air moving, felt a wash of relief when a hand moved or a head turned.

    Not that there would have been any particular reason why any of my babies would have stopped breathing, but I felt so much better when I could see they were fine — and sometimes felt so scared when I was in another room and couldn’t be sure. I had one of those baby monitors that you plugged in and let you hear when the baby cries (or when an older sibling sneaks in and starts talking to them), but they certainly didn’t let me know everything was fine.

    The newest gadgets can go into onesies, are wireless and can give you all sorts of information. They can even give you a continuous video feed. You literally never need to take your eyes off your baby. You’d think that as a mom and pediatrician I’d be happy about the idea of continuous monitoring and continuous reassurance. But I’m not.

    First of all, the obvious reason: Technology fails sometimes. Now, this is true for all technology and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use phones or computers or other devices because they might fail. I love tech. But when we solely rely on it, we can get into trouble. We need to be able to manage without it, which in this case, is being able to know how often to look at a baby and to know what to look for. It also means knowing how to create a really safe environment for a baby — sometimes we cut corners if we think technology will alert us to every problem.

    Not only does technology fail sometimes, it’s frequently confusing. As a doctor, there have definitely been times when a machine gives me data that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes a number can be off, but the child can be fine — or a number can be fine, but the child isn’t. Babies are more than their numbers and data — all of us are. I worry that if parents become fixated on the information they get from their gadgets, they won’t learn the rhythms of their babies, how to read cues, which noises mean something, which can be ignored or how to recognize the subtle signs of both illness and wellness.

    I also worry that the latest gadgets will make parents even more anxious — and make them feel like they have to be staring at their gadgets all the time, like they have to know everything that is happening with their children every single second to be good parents. That’s not helpful — and could set parents up for some really unhealthy habits as their children grow.

    Part of being a parent is figuring out how to handle not knowing everything that is happening every single second. Some of that is about preparation and safety and picking good caregivers, but some of it is about learning to take leaps of faith and about coming to peace with the fact that we can’t control everything in life.

    As improbable as it may seem, our species has made it this far, mostly without baby monitors. Yes, technology can be helpful, but it’s really important that technology not get in the way of common sense — or learning good parenting instincts. Because in parenthood, as in life, common sense and good instincts will get you much further than any technology ever could.

  • This Video Reveals One Big Problem For Those Amazon Drones: Birds
    Birds are used to being the only bird-sized things in the sky. They also have sharp beaks and no morals. No other flying thing stands a chance.

    Unfortunately for those Amazon delivery drones that may or may not be in our future, territorial aggression + tiny flying robots = undelivered packages. As Slate points out, people with model planes and helicopters have been battling birds for airspace for years, and these package drones would probably face a similar struggle.

    Read more at Slate.

    In the above video, a man’s radio-controlled drone was attacked by a flock of birds. The birds hit it so hard it crashed to the ground. That’s bad enough when it happens to your expensive model plane, but you’d be extra sad if a flock of birds pecked away at your mom’s Christmas gift.

    No matter what, Amazon’s drones probably aren’t hitting the skies anytime soon. Amazon still has the FAA and, ya know, technology to contend with.

  • Wearable Technology Trends to Watch in 2014
    Wearable technology has had a big year.

    Google Glass launched to the first wave of “Explorers” and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear introduced smart watches to the masses. Wearables will only continue to grow in new markets and is expected to amass $50 billion in the next five years. With the New Year around the corner, here are three wearable tech trends to watch in 2014:

    The “second wave” of wearables is coming.
    Wearables are a “bleeding edge” technology. It’s new and advanced, but not yet commonly accepted. A lot of technology goes through that cycle and consumers should keep that in mind before purchasing. In 2014 we’re going to be greeted by a whole new array of wearable products.

    Early adopters or “first generation” purchases will be akin to the first people who bought the iPad. What they may have hoped the technology would be good for differed from what it actually proved to be. The next generation of wearable technology is quickly approaching in 2014 — Google is already pushing out Glass 2 — but expect to see new wearable devices like smart rings and embedded sensor shirts.

    Wearable technology will soon be in your car.
    The car is a significant form of heads-up display, the same functionality Google Glass serves. Our cars are a “captive” environment and we are perhaps in the best frame of mind to subtly receive information from our wearables when in them. For example, if a driver gets stressed, wearables should be able to pick up on it, notify the driver and offer to play soothing music.

    Wearables can monitor for carbon monoxide levels for those stuck in long traffic jams and adjust the circulation in their car. Wearables can detect and work in conjunction with the car to enact countermeasures for drivers who experience sudden illness or attacks while behind the wheel. Automotive manufacturers have already begun to explore ways in which wearables can work in tandem with their vehicles — the Nissan NISMO being a prime example. Expect more partnerships in the New Year that will improve driver experience and enhance the safety of everyone on the road.

    Wearables will raise new privacy concerns in the New Year.
    Most wearables will interact with the Internet in some manner of speaking and these interactions will be recorded. Wearable health devices can be synced to provide information about our lifestyles to doctors or insurance providers and navigation-based wearables could send data about our location through technologies like GPS sensors.

    One of the big phrases of the moment is “The Internet of Things,” where we as individuals are nodes in a connected network. There are a lot of implications associated with that phenomenon. Our data is going to be much more accessible on an intense and personal level.

    We — the consumers — will have to decide how much privacy we are willing to trade for the convenience of wearable technology and this will need to be a conscious choice.

  • 'PayPal 14' Plea Deal Lets Hacktivists Avoid Felonies, Which Is Pretty Much The Best They Could Hope For
    WASHINGTON — Eleven individuals charged with helping overwhelm PayPal’s website in 2010 have reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could potentially allow them to avoid a felony conviction.

    Under the terms of the deal, 11 defendants in what is known as the “PayPal 14” case pleaded guilty to both felony and misdemeanor charges during their appearances in federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, but their sentencing will be pushed back for a year, according to reporter Alexa O’Brien. If they stay out of trouble with the law, federal prosecutors will seek to drop the felony charges, and the defendants will be sentenced to probation and possibly receive credit for time served.

    One of the defendant’s attorneys, Stanley Cohen, who called the deal a “big win for civil disobedience,” said it also requires each defendant to pay eBay $5,600 in restitution. Two other defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and likely will be sentenced to 90 days in prison. A final defendant who was indicted earlier this year on separate charges involving attacks on credit card companies and recording industry groups was not eligible for a plea deal.

    The deal ends a three-year saga that started when members of the online group Anonymous launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, or a tactic of overwhelming the system by flooding it with requests, against PayPal after it cut off service to WikiLeaks. Without PayPal, it was more difficult for WikiLeaks, an organization known for publishing leaked documents, to raise money.

    In terms of the number of defendants, the PayPal case is the largest brought in connection to a DDoS attack, which some activists defend as a legitimate form of protest protected by the First Amendment. While PayPal collected the IP addresses of more than 1,000 computers involved in the attack, the PayPal 14 were the only people charged. There have been several other high-profile DDoS attacks against other websites, including government sites, in the years since the PayPal attack. A DDoS attack participant in a separate federal case was sentenced to two years probation earlier this week, and forced to pay $183,000 in restitution to Koch Industries.

    The 14 defendants were charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which critics say is overly broad and exposes computer users to extremely harsh sentences for relatively innocuous computer crimes.

    Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys had nearly reached a plea deal in the PayPal case this fall, but it was held up because not all the defendants agreed. Defendants in the case told The Huffington Post earlier this year that the case has had a severe financial and emotional impact.

    Pierre Omidyar, the founder of PayPal’s parent company eBay, called for leniency this week, saying they should have been charged with misdemeanors, not felonies.

    A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    This is a developing story and will be updated.

  • New Selfie-Help Apps Are Airbrushing Us All Into Fake Instagram Perfection
    A few weeks ago, a friend posted a “#carselfie” to Instagram. It was a beautiful photo — she peered up at the camera from under a beanie and looked positively radiant in the passenger seat of her car — and I duly “liked” it. “#Toogorgeous,” another friend wrote in a comment under the photo.

    She’s a stunning lady. But the photo, I learned later, was in fact “#toogorgeous” to be true: She’d had some digital work done.

    My friend, like millions of others online, had spruced up her selfie with Perfect365, a free app that lets people instantly smooth skin, excise zits, highlight eyes and even resize noses before sending their image out on the Internet.

    Perfect365 belongs to a growing breed of selfie-help apps, like FaceTune, ModiFace, Pixtr and Visage Lab, that let anyone with fingers and a smartphone transform basic snapshots into flawless Annie Leibovitz portraits (Buzzfeed’s John Herrman dubs this “selfie surgery.”) Eyelashes can be added, teeth whitened, smiles stretched, pounds shed, clocks reversed, genes fought. And artfully, too: unlike the previous generation of portrait-editing apps, which left figures with the two-dimensional masks of anime characters, these apps, like the best plastic surgeon, leave few obvious marks. I, for one, would never have guessed the #carselfie had a little help.

    Perfect365 in action. Users must first align their face with “KeyPoints,” then can choose a range of effects, from adding false eyelashes and sweeping on blush to evening out skintones and whitening teeth.

    While many claim social media has provided a more authentic and unvarnished view into people’s lives, the popularity of these selfie-help apps suggests precisely the opposite. We’ve always cherry-picked what we share online, but more than ever, what you see isn’t what you get. Even as people use Snapchat to share silly photos that, crucially, disappear after a few seconds, those same social media users are delighting in new ways to edit their lives and present an ever-more perfected, artificial image of their world. We’re hungry for ways to exert more control over our images, not less. And who’s to blame us? The rise of selfie-help represents a new way for people to cope with the relentless judgment of the web and the pressure to disclose more online. It also hints at the start of an airbrushing arms race that could make impossibly attractive photos the norm.

    “There’s definitely more pressure to have a better version of yourself or put your best foot forward,” said Caroline Tien-Spalding, director of consumer marketing at ArcSoft, Perfect365’s parent company. “You don’t know how long that photo is going to live or how long the impression that you’re putting out there will last.”

    While selfies have lost their stigma, these selfie-help apps are still taboo. Just 50,000 Instagram photos have been tagged #Perfect365 — mostly people playing with the app’s makeup filters for dramatic effect — but the app has been downloaded 17 million times since its launch two years ago. People’s reluctance to acknowledge the handiwork of their digital dermatologists hasn’t much hampered the success of this type of app: ModiFace’s suite of about 20 editing apps have been installed nearly 27 million times, and FaceTune, since its debut this past March, has topped Apple’s rankings as the most popular paid app in 69 countries, including the U.S.

    These selfie-enhancers skew toward teens and 20-somethings, who are highly active on social media, and are also overwhelmingly female. Seventy percent of the users of FaceTune, which its creators, perhaps naively, thought was “gender neutral,” are female. And two-thirds of Perfect365’s users are under 24 years old.

    The pictures end up on dating profiles, Instagram, Facebook or even Christmas cards. (The chief executive of ModiFace said there’s always a bump in downloads around the holidays.) An 18-year-old high-school student in New York, who declined to be named to protect her privacy and her friends’, said that nine out of ten female friends quietly edit their Facebook profile photos before they’re uploaded, sometimes making an arm look skinnier or blurring a double chin, other times just tweaking the lighting to make it more flattering.

    “I’ve had phone calls where girls will ask me to go on iChat and send me four different versions of the same picture — with different lighting, with different skin,” she said. Among her peers, iPhoto’s suite of tools is still the most popular, she said.

    Much as in real life, the only thing worse than looking zitty, wrinkled and tired is looking like you’ve sought help. If you get caught editing a photo, “it’s very embarrassing,” the 18-year-old said. “People are hyperaware of not wanting to seem fake in their pictures. As much as they edit them, it has to come off as natural.”


    FaceTune’s “Patch” tool in action.

    Though Perfect365 offers a range of dramatic makeup styles, with names like “Enchant,” or “Ocean,” the app’s most natural-looking filter, which gently evens skin tones, is the most popular. (According to ArcSoft, 80 percent of people either use the “Natural” filter or custom settings.) The co-creator of FaceTune, Nir Pochter, agreed that most of their users opt for only minor improvements, like whiter teeth or fewer pimples, that don’t reveal any futzing with the photo.

    “My impression from our users is that they want to look in all their photos how they know they can look, because they saw it in their best photos,” he said.

    Jacqui Adkins, a 29-year-old FaceTune fan from South Amherst, Ohio, recently used the app to spruce up a shot of herself and her 7-year-old son. She touched up her skin, covered up a scratch on her son’s chin and then made the picture her Facebook profile photo. The appeal, she said, was that she could subtly fix temporary flaws caused by a breakout or poor lighting.

    Another FaceTune aficionado, Jennifer Brewer, 32, said she sees the apps as a necessary response to flawless Photoshopped fashion spreads. She doesn’t have great skin, she conceded, and the app lets her “even the playing field.”

    “We live in a world where everything you see on TV or in a magazine is edited to make a person look great,” Brewer wrote in an email. “I want to look good too.”

    So may everyone else. Even with a small fraction of Facebook and Instagram’s users currently morphing their photos, it’s clear these apps have the potential to make touching up de rigueur, so that every casual snapshot has the polish of a Vogue photo shoot. Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder of Google X, told me in an interview last year that he imagined technology like Google Glass, with its ever-present camera, could push us to share photos that are “uglier” and “more personal.” Instead, a contradictory trend is in motion: our pictures are getting prettier.

    These apps are attractive for the simple reason that they work. To be fair, I fall precisely in these apps’ prime demographics — 20-something, female, active online. Yet I’ve found myself drawn to them much more quickly than I’d have liked, in large part because my pictures really do look better. And every other photo looks worse.

    After browsing the FaceTune-tweaked portraits on Instagram, and editing a few of my own, I’m horrified to see the photos I’ve shared on Facebook in the past. I have blotchy skin in one picture, and I’m too pale in another. Red eyes! Too-yellow teeth! The selfie-enhancers set a new baseline for photo perfection, and unlike Instagram filters, the face fixing happens covertly, without any acknowledgment of the divine digital intervention.

    It seems inevitable we’ll face even more fictions from each other online. But then the high-schooler from New York tells me a story about her friends that suggests there may be a strange authenticity to our photo fakery as well. She recounts how one of her friends asked her if another girl had tried to make herself look skinnier by blurring her waist in a bikini photo she’d uploaded to Facebook. (Indeed, the girl had.)

    “I cringed when I heard that story today,” the 18-year-old told me. “Her insecurities are exposed.”

    In the images where the selfie-enhancement isn’t done so carefully, and the cheek is just a tad off or smile a bit over-stretched, you learn more about a person than an unaltered photo ever could have revealed, and more than they’d ever want to admit on social media: In our effort to fix everything, we reveal what isn’t going right.

    The HuffPostTech team, “perfected” with Pixtr.

  • Google updates Android, iOS search apps with new voice languages
    Google has updated its Android and iOS Search apps with voice support for French, German, and Japanese. The upgrades let people both speak commands and hear responses in the new languages. Previously, non-English speakers had to type in any search requests.


  • Forest Service Bought Drones To Keep Tabs On Pot Growers, Realized It Couldn't Actually Use Them
    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Forest Service spent $100,000 on two drones to track marijuana growers back in 2006. But because of aviation restrictions and a lack of qualified pilots, the Forest Service has never been able to use those drones, and now they are inoperable and sitting in storage.

    On Tuesday, the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released Forest Service documents, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, that provide insight into the decision to acquire the drones and the setbacks the service’s law enforcement division faced in seeking to fly them. The memos show the law enforcement division purchased the aircraft believing — incorrectly, as it turned out — there were “no known regulatory barriers” to use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

    “They spent $100,000 before they did any serious planning,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director. “They had no plan for deployment, no strategy, no personnel.”

    The law enforcement division bought the two drones — one for day surveillance and another for night — to keep an eye on pot growers in the woods of California. The division hoped the drones would help keep its officers safer by allowing them to monitor growers and assess dangers from a distance.

    But once the two SkySeer drones were purchased, barriers began popping up. Crucially, Federal Aviation Administration regulations issued shortly after the purchase barred the use of such drones by anyone without specific authority, which the Forest Service didn’t have. The FAA issued revised rules in 2009 that prohibited drone use “except for testing and temporary emergencies such as brush fires,” according to a Forest Service memo.

    Even if those regulations hadn’t grounded the drones, the internal memos reveal that the law enforcement branch had another problem. Two qualified staffers would have been necessary to fly a drone, and the law enforcement division did not have two qualified staffers in the same office.

    Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Jones told The Huffington Post that the agency’s fire and aviation branch was not consulted before its law enforcement division bought the drones. Memos on the “setbacks to implementation” state that the drones were “receiving the latest software updates to improve operational capacity” as they sat in storage. But Jones said the drones “are not even operational at this point,” noting that their custom batteries are dead and cannot be replaced.

    Despite that bungled foray into drones seven years ago, the Forest Service in 2012 signaled renewed interest in unmanned aircraft when it created an advisory group to explore future uses for drones. FAA regulations still bar the use of drones outside an operator’s eyeshot, which rules out a great number of proposed functions at this time. But the FAA is expected to issue new rules that would allow for more use of unmanned aerial vehicles within the next few years.

    Jones said that the Forest Service’s drone advisory group is still in the preliminary phases of investigating potential uses, such as sampling air quality and combating fires.

    The Forest Service has been investigating the firefighting potential of drones for years, though FAA concerns have largely stalled their actual use. Still, state firefighting efforts have employed drones on a limited basis in cases of emergency. As recently as August, the California National Guard deployed drones to fight fires in the Sierra Nevada.

    The Forest Service does not plan to undertake wider use of drones until it has a program and policies in place for unmanned aircraft, Jones said.

    Back when the agency bought the two SkySeer drones, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chaired the subcommittee controlling the Forest Service’s budget. She was dubious about their utility in combating marijuana growers. “I’ve provided additional funds to the Forest Service to fight this dangerous epidemic,” Feinstein said in a 2008 statement, according to the Associated Press. “But I intend to take a hard look at whether it’s appropriate for the Forest Service to buy and operate unmanned aerial vehicles for this purpose.”

    PEER’s Ruch was also skeptical in 2008 when his group first obtained documents revealing the purchase of the drones. He told AP at the time that the drone acquisition was emblematic of a “boys with toys” mentality in the agency’s management.

    This week Ruch said the aircraft purchase was a symptom of deeper management problems at the agency. “They weren’t spending money in the field,” he said. “Instead, they were buying fancy gadgets.”

    Jones, the Forest Service spokeswoman, said that drones are “a new frontier for us in a lot of ways.”

    “Sometimes what happens is the technology gets out there before our agency policies,” she said.

  • High Frequency Trading: Clear and Present Danger?
    As we look back on 2013, it has certainly been a year of increasing scrutiny and criticism of capital markets trading participants. One particular area of focus is so-called “High Frequency Trading” (HFT), the practice of automated trading algorithms rapidly taking market positions. HFT is seen by many as a major cause of market crashes and volatility. Most notably, many believe the automated withdrawal of liquidity by HFT algorithms accelerated the 2010 flash crash, where the Dow-Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 1000 points and then recovered most of the losses in only 30 minutes.

    As Reuters recently reported, in Europe there is a lot of pressure from the European parliament to put measures in place to curb HFT. A proposed package of measures, including common tick sizes, synchronized exchange clocks to more easily spot abuse and more rigorous algorithm testing, are planned as part of the second Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II). Crucially omitted was a much-debated point about minimum holding time for instruments, proposed at 500 milliseconds. Many high frequency algorithms might hold positions for a shorter time! However, this compromise might get the legislation through more easily. In addition, MiFID II will also limit the amount of liquidity traded on dark pools — off-market venues, where transactions are not transparent.

    Earlier this year, Edward J Markey, Member of Congress in the U.S. declared that High Frequency Trading (HFT) “represents a clear and present danger to stability and safety of [US] capital markets and that it should be curtailed immediately.”

    Congressman Markey backs his assertion with evidence drawn from market events, such as the Flash Crash and Knight Capital, as well as academic studies on the impact of HFT on markets and therefore main street. To summarize his points:

    1. The speed of HFT disadvantages other styles of trading
    2. HFT exacerbates volatility in the market
    3. ‘Other’ investors are scared away
    4. Volume traded by HFT is therefore a dangerously high proportion of overall traded volume

    Not everyone shares Congressman Markey’s view. I was involved with a UK government-sponsored expert group called Foresight, which released its findings on “The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets” in November 2012. And Foresight’s findings were quite different! Foresight does not feel that HFT increases market volatility and raised some practical approaches to making markets safer for everyone, including circuit breakers and a consolidated tape. Foresight favored working with HFT to address perceived dangers is the committee’s preferred approach over banning HFT outright.

    So where does the truth lie? Is HFT bad? Before we can answer that, we need to define what exactly is meant by HFT. A huge proportion of the market is certainly electronic trading and gone are the days of open outcry trading. However, much of that is more traditional large orders, for example on behalf of a pension fund, which may use algorithms to break them down into more manageable chunks and sequence these chunks in the market. Then there may be other totally automated algorithms trading for a proprietary trading firms that might hold their positions for hours or days. The Chairman of the CFTC technology advisory committee (on which I serve) Commissioner Scott O’Malia has been trying to get a good definition of HFT. He’s now got one, which is essentially “fully automated super speedy, short holding time”.

    Within the ranks of HFT there are almost certainly bad apples. Several incidents of alleged market manipulation have led to fines, for example, the practice of quote stuffing in which a smoke screen of orders is used to mislead other market participants. Another big concern on market stability is trading algorithms going out of control — as we have seen many times, including at Knight Capital. This suggests a market not under our control. We must have better monitoring and control systems to prevent this from happening – or one can become sympathetic with the “speed limits” that U.S. and EU legislators might propose

    However, there are many benefits to automated trading and arguably HFT is normal trading but quicker. If any market participant, high frequency or otherwise, attempts to move the price of an instrument (a.k.a. price ramping) by dominating the market (a.k.a. abusive squeeze), it is market manipulation. If said participant takes the position with the sole intention of immediately reversing it (flipping) for profit, or indeed to engineer volatility, it is market manipulation. These are well understood dangers of any style of trading and apply equally to HFT. To suggest banning HFT is to not understand that it’s the behavior that is wrong not the speed at which is takes place. The question is — do we have the ability to police trading at that speed?

    What is needed is not a ban on High Frequency Trading but a mandate for “High Frequency Trading Surveillance,” preferably in as near real-time a possible so humans can respond to manipulative algos in timeframes less than minutes or hours or days or never. I’ve been involved now for several years applying the same technology used by high frequency traders to the job of monitoring trading activity to try to spot market manipulation, market abuse, rogue traders, flash crashes and algorithms gone wild. In high frequency trading, algorithms are looking for the correlations and patterns that indicate they should place orders in the market. An example could be a break in the statistical correlation relationship between the 10-year U.S. Treasury note and the 10-year U.S. Treasury future, which could be an opportunity to buy one and sell the other. Techniques, such as Complex Event Processing (CEP) and other in-memory technologies that involve continuous analytics of real-time data and intelligent action, have been used to good effect here. Now, with the need to monitor the behavior of traders and algorithms, the same techniques can be used, for example, to spot that a trading algorithm is operating outside of its normal parameters, placing too many large trades too frequently, and should be shut down with an automated kill switch. This would deal with the Knight Capital rogue algorithm. Also a regulator should be able to detect a pattern of quote stuffing or other abuse on one of more trading venues by continuously analyzing the data, just as trading algorithms do.

    In summary, let us apply the learning of advanced trading techniques to trading surveillance, monitor for any clear and present danger and stop it before it gets out of control. Not all traders should be penalized because of a few rogues. Today’s CEP and allied technologies enable us to identify many impending problems and take preventative action to reduce the risk and reputational damage. A blanket ban or severe restriction of HFT through legislation is an easy way out, but one that doesn’t necessarily stop the rogues.

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