Ring slightly overhauls security and privacy, but it’s still not enough

Security camera maker Ring is updating its service to improve account security and give more control when it comes to privacy. Once again, this is yet another update that makes the overall experience slightly better but the Amazon-owned company is still not doing enough to protect its users.

First, Ring is reversing its stance when it comes to two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is now mandatory — you can’t even opt out. So the next time you login on your Ring account, you’ll receive a six-digit code via email or text message to confirm your login request.

This is very different from what Ring founder Jamie Siminoff told me at CES in early January:

“So now, we’re going one step further, which is for two-factor authentication. We really want to make it an opt-out, not an opt-in. You still want to let people opt out of it because there are people that just don’t want it. You don’t want to force it, but you want to make it as forceful as you can be without hurting the customer experience.”

Security experts all say that sending you a code by text message isn’t perfect. It’s better than no form of two-factor authentication, but text messages are not secure. They’re also tied to your phone number. That’s why SIM-swapping attacks are on the rise.

As for sending you a code via email, it really depends on your email account. If you haven’t enabled two-factor authentication on your email account, then Ring’s implementation of two-factor authentication is basically worthless. Ring should let you use app-based two-factor with the ability to turn off other methods in your account.

And that doesn’t solve Ring’s password issues. As Motherboard originally found out, Ring doesn’t prevent you from using a weak password and reusing passwords that have been compromised in security breaches from third-party services.

A couple of weeks ago, TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker could create a Ring account with “12345678” and “password” as the password. He created another account with “password” a few minutes ago.

When it comes to privacy, the EFF called out Ring’s app as it shares a ton of information with third-party services, such as branch.io, mixpanel.com, appsflyer.com and facebook.com. Worse, Ring doesn’t require meaningful consent from the user.

You can now opt out of third-party services that help Ring serve personalized advertising. As for analytics, Ring is temporarily removing most third-party analytics services from its apps (but not all). The company plans on adding a menu to opt out of third-party analytics services in a future update.

Enabling third-party trackers and letting you opt out later isn’t GDPR compliant. So I hope the onboarding experience is going to change as well as the company shouldn’t enable these features without proper consent at all.

Ring could have used this opportunity to adopt a far stronger stance when it comes to privacy. The company sells devices that you set up in your garden, your living room and sometimes even your bedroom. Users certainly don’t want third-party companies to learn more about your interactions with Ring’s services. But it seems like Ring’s motto is still: “If we can do it, why shouldn’t we do it.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Nokia pulls out of MWC over coronavirus concerns

More big names are stepping away from the biggest phone and telecom trade show event this year.

Nokia, one of the omnipresent firms at major tech trade conferences, won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress, it said Wednesday citing health and safety concerns over coronavirus outbreak. Electronics giant HMD, which sells smartphones under Nokia brand, cited similar reasoning for its withdrawal, too.

The iconic Finnish firm, one of the cornerstone companies at MWC, and HMD have become the latest to back out of it. In recent days, scores of firms including Ericsson, Amazon, Vivo, Facebook, and Sony have withdrawn their participation from the world’s biggest smartphones-focused trade show.

MWC attracts more than 100,000 attendees, thousands of companies, and contributes to the bottom line of Barcelona city, where the trade show is held.

“While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers. In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios. The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress,” Nokia said in a statement.

The announcement today should put more pressure on GSMA, the body that organizes the event, to cancel this year’s edition of the trade show. On Tuesday, Spanish publication El Pais reported that the GSMA executives would meet on Friday and consider their next steps, which could include suspending this year’s event. A spokesperson declined comment to TechCrunch.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, another big name at MWC, will be backing out this year.

More to follow…

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Samsung teases videocalling on its next foldable during the Oscars

It was South Korea’s — rather than Netflix’s — night at the Oscars, thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s biting class satire Parasite, which won a well-deserved best picture gong

But tech giant Samsung appears to have been hoping to steal a little of the national limelight: The Korean phone maker chose a prime Oscars ad slot to show off a 360-degree view of its next foldable, running it as a teaser for its Unpacked 2020 unboxing event — which takes place in San Francisco tomorrow.

The ad shows the flip phones from all angles, opening and closing while the Comic Strip sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot pop and crackle in the background.

Notably we see the foldable propping itself up, with the screen half or three-quarters open, for a hands-free face-time style chat. (In case you were wondering what the point of a flip phone might be in 2020.)

There’s also an eye-popping iridescent purple colorway on show that seems intended to make the most of the screen-concealing clamshell design. A black version does a much better job of blending into the background.

While a brief side view of the phone shows what looks like a side-mounted fingerprint scanner — per earlier leaks.

And if you’re wondering how you’ll screen incoming calls when the clam is closed the ad shows a micro display that tells you the name of the person calling. tl;dr you can still ghost your frenemies while packing a flip.

We’ve seen renders of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip leak online before but this is an official full view of the foldable Samsung hopes will spark a retro fashion craze for clamshell flip phones. (See also the rebooted Motorola Razr.)

Samsung will also of course be hoping this foldable can bend without immediately breaking

Stay tuned for all the details from Samsung Unpacked 2020 as we get them (we’re especially keen to find out the price-tag for this foldable) — including our first look at the next flagship Galaxy S device.

TechCrunch’s intrepid hardware editor, Brian Heater, will be on the ground in San Francisco tomorrow to get hands on with all the new kit so you don’t have to.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Why your next TV needs ‘filmmaker mode’

TVs this year will ship with a new feature called “filmmaker mode,” but unlike the last dozen things the display industry has tried to foist on consumers, this one actually matters. It doesn’t magically turn your living room into a movie theater, but it’s an important step in that direction.

This new setting arose out of concerns among filmmakers (hence the name) that users were getting a sub-par viewing experience of the media that creators had so painstakingly composed.

The average TV these days is actually quite a quality piece of kit compared to a few years back. But few ever leave their default settings. This was beginning to be a problem, explained LG’s director of special projects, Neil Robinson, who helped define the filmmaker mode specification and execute it on the company’s displays.

“When people take TVs out of the box, they play with the settings for maybe five minutes, if you’re lucky,” he said. “So filmmakers wanted a way to drive awareness that you should have the settings configured in this particular way.”

In the past they’ve taken to social media and other platforms to mention this sort of thing, but it’s hard to say how effective a call to action is, even when it’s Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie begging you:

While very few people really need to tweak the gamma or adjust individual color levels, there are a couple settings that are absolutely crucial for a film or show to look the way it’s intended. The most important are ones that fit under the general term “motion processing.”

These settings have a variety of fancy-sounding names, like “game mode,” “motion smoothing,” “truemotion,” and such like, and they are on by default on many TVs. What they do differs from model to model, but it amounts to taking content at, say, 24 frames per second, and converting it to content at, say, 120 frames per second.

Generally this means inventing the images that come between the 24 actual frames — so if a person’s hand is at point A in one frame of a movie and point C in the next, motion processing will create a point B to go in between — or B, X, Y, Z, and dozens more if necessary.

This is bad for several reasons:

First, it produces a smoothness of motion that lies somewhere between real life and film, giving an uncanny look to motion-processed imagery that people often say reminds them of bad daytime TV shot on video — which is why people call it the “soap opera effect.”

Second, some of these algorithms are better than others, and some media is more compatible than the rest (sports broadcasts, for instance). While at best they produce the soap opera effect, at worst they can produce weird visual artifacts that can distract even the least sensitive viewer.

And third, it’s an aesthetic affront to the creators of the content, who usually crafted it very deliberately, choosing this shot, this frame rate, this shutter speed, this take, this movement, and so on with purpose and a careful eye. It’s one thing if your TV has the colors a little too warm or the shadows overbright — quite another to create new frames entirely with dubious effect.

So filmmakers, and in particular cinematographers, whose work crafting the look of the movie is most affected by these settings, began petitioning TV companies to either turn motion processing off by default or create some kind of easily accessible method for users to disable it themselves.

Ironically, the option already existed on some displays. “Many manufacturers already had something like this,” said Robinson. But with different names, different locations within the settings, and different exact effects, no user could really be sure what these various modes actually did. LG’s was “Technicolor Expert Mode.” Does that sound like something the average consumer would be inclined to turn on? I like messing with settings, and I’d probably keep away from it.

So the movement was more about standardization than reinvention. With a single name, icon, and prominent placement instead of being buried in a sub-menu somewhere, this is something people may actually see and use.

Not that there was no back-and-forth on the specification itself. For one thing, filmmaker mode also lowers the peak brightness of the TV to a relatively dark 100 nits — at a time when high brightness, daylight visibility, and contrast ratio are specs manufacturers want to show off.

The reason for this is, very simply, to make people turn off the lights.

There’s very little anyone in the production of a movie can do to control your living room setup or how you actually watch the film. But restricting your TV to certain levels of brightness does have the effect of making people want to dim the lights and sit right in front. Do you want to watch movies in broad daylight, with the shadows pumped up so bright they look grey? Feel free, but don’t imagine that’s what the creators consider ideal conditions.

Photo: Chris Ryan / Getty Images

“As long as you view in a room that’s not overly bright, I’d say you’re getting very close to what the filmmakers saw in grading,” said Robinson. Filmmaker mode’s color controls are a rather loose, he noted, but you’ll get the correct aspect ratio, white balance, no motion processing, and generally no weird surprises from not delving deep enough in the settings.

The full list of changes can be summarized as follows:

  • Maintain source frame rate and aspect ratio (no stretched or sped up imagery)
  • Motion processing off (no smoothing)
  • Peak brightness reduced (keeps shadows dark — this may change with HDR content)
  • Sharpening and noise reduction off (standard items with dubious benefit)
  • Other “image enhancements” off (non-standard items with dubious benefit)
  • White point at D65/6500K (prevents colors from looking too warm or cool)

All this, however, relies on people being aware of the mode and choosing to switch to it. Exactly how that will work depends on several factors. The ideal option is probably a filmmaker mode button right on the clicker, which is at least theoretically the plan.

The alternative is a content specification — as opposed to a display one — that allows TVs to automatically enter filmmaker mode when a piece of media requests it to. But this requires content providers to take advantage of the APIs that make the automatic switching possible, so don’t count on it.

And of course this has its own difficulties, including privacy concerns — do you really want your shows to tell your devices what to do and when? So a middle road where the TV prompts the user to “Show this content in filmmaker mode? Yes/No” and automatic fallback to the previous settings afterwards might be the best option.

There are other improvements that can be pursued to make home viewing more like the theater, but as Robinson pointed out, there are simply fundamental differences between LCD and OLED displays and the projectors used in theaters — and even then there are major differences between projectors. But that’s a whole other story.

At the very least, the mode as planned represents a wedge that content purists (it has a whiff of derogation but they may embrace the term) can widen over time. Getting the average user to turn off motion processing is the first and perhaps most important step — everything after that is incremental improvement.

So which TVs will have filmmaker mode? It’s unclear. LG, Vizio, and Panasonic have all committed to bringing models out with the feature, and it’s even possible it could be added to older models with a software update (but don’t count on it). Sony is a holdout for now. No one is sure exactly which models will have filmmaker mode available, so just cast an eye over the spec list of you’re thinking of getting and, if you’ll take my advice, don’t buy a TV without it.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple fined $27 million in France for throttling old iPhones without telling users

France’s competition watchdog DGCCRF announced earlier today that Apple will pay a $ 27.4 million (€25 million) fine due to an iOS update that capped performance of aging devices. The company will also have to display a statement on its website for a month.

A couple of years ago, Apple released an iOS update (10.2.1 and 11.2) that introduced a new feature for older devices. If your battery is getting old, iOS would cap peak performances as your battery might not be able to handle quick peaks of power draw. The result of those peaks is that your iPhone might shut down abruptly.

While that feature is technically fine, Apple failed to inform users that it was capping performances on some devices. The company apologized and introduced a new software feature called “Battery Health”. It lets you check the maximum capacity of your battery and if your iPhone can reach peak performance.

And that’s the issue here. Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game for instance. But they didn’t know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.

France’s DGCCRF also notes that iPhone users can’t downgrade to a previous version of iOS, which means that iPhone users had no way to lift the performance capping feature. “Failing to inform consumers represented a misleading business practice using omission,” the French authority writes.

Apple accepted to settle by paying a €25 million fine and recognizing its wrongdoing with a statement on its website.

Gadgets – TechCrunch