Increasing Understanding of Technology and Communication

ACLU Joins Microsoft in Suit Against the DOJ


SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft got an ally in its lawsuit against the Justice Department Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion to join Microsoft’s effort to challenge DOJ gag orders that prevent the tech company from telling customers when the government has ordered it to turn over data.

The ACLU is a Microsoft customer. Microsoft filed its lawsuit in April, one of a number of legal challenges the Redmond, Wash., company has mounted against growing law enforcement requests for its cloud-based consumer data.

“A basic promise of our Constitution is that the government must notify you at some point when it searches or seizes your private information,” said Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Notice serves as a crucial check on executive power, and it has been a regular and constitutionally required feature of searches and seizures since the nation’s founding.”

Microsoft spokesperson David Cuddy said the company "appreciates the support from the ACLU and many others in the business, legal and policy communities who are concerned about secrecy becoming the norm rather than the exception.”

Requests from law enforcement agencies for access to users' personal information routinely flood tech companies that store vast amounts of data in the cloud. Massive data centers run by Microsoft, Amazon and other big tech companies allow businesses and individuals to access email, photos and other content from multiple devices, wherever they are.

Law enforcement officials say that access to such data is critical to fighting crime and terrorism. Using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the U.S. government is increasingly targeting such data, according to Microsoft, which says the government has mandated secrecy in 2,576 instances over the past 18 months. People would know if the government went through their filing cabinet or their hard drive, but are unaware when their privacy in the cloud is intruded upon, they argue.

The 1986 law was written before the Web was born and long before Americans started sending, receiving and storing so much of their personal communications and documents on the Internet.

Microsoft alleges the Electronic Communications Privacy Act violates users' Fourth Amendment right that a search be reasonable and Microsoft's First Amendment right to talk to its users.

"Notably and even surprisingly, 1,752 of these secrecy orders, or 68% of the total, contained no fixed end date at all. This means that we effectively are prohibited forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data," Microsoft chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in an April blog post when the suit was announced.

Tech companies increasingly are being drawn into legal battles with federal agencies over access to consumer information. A broad swath of major technology names filed amicus briefs on behalf of Apple during the iPhone maker's protracted battle with the FBI earlier this year over access to the smartphone used by one of the San Bernardino killers.

Read Article (Marco della Cava | | 05/26/2016)

Today Microsoft is fighting a battle to protect your digital privacy, tomorrow you may need to fight your own battle to protect your digital privacy. But only if you realize it’s been hacked and only if you know what you are talking about.

By now you should have some idea of what we are about, if not read our about page. But our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing digital literacy and how to fully use devices that connect to the Internet and the Internet itself.

The digital industry is not going to provide this type of effective solution. Join the cause and donate to our startup today, let’s make it real. By helping those around you, you are really helping yourself in the long run.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Smartphone Literacy: Understanding Feature Terms


If you’re shopping for a new smartphone, you might feel like you need a geek-to-English dictionary just to understand the lingo. Some also have been faking it, acting as it they have some geek in them and know this lingo, you just might know one or two. Megapixel this, gigahertz that, terabyte this. All this could make your head spin. Am I right?

If you’re one of the many looking to upgrade your smartphone this summer – but need a bit of help to understand what all the tech specs mean — look no further than this following glossary of popular mobile terms and acronyms.

4K: Many new smartphones have a rear-facing camera that can shoot “4K,” which refers to video with four times the resolution of 1080p HD. In other words, the video contains more than 8 million pixels (little dots) compared to roughly 2 million. You’ll best appreciate this bump up in detail when playing back the video on a 4K TV. Be aware, 4K takes up a lot more storage on your phone and uses up more battery power.

aptX: Regular Bluetooth is fine for hands-free calls, but subpar when it comes to streaming music to your headphones or speaker. This is because it’s difficult to send large files through a small “pipe” without sacrificing sound quality. Smartphones with aptX, however, can reduce the size of audio so they can easily flow through the wireless pipeline, delivering near CD-quality audio over Bluetooth.

Always-on display: For added convenience and to help with battery preservation, a few Android smartphones today have an “Always-on display,” which shows you notifications on the screen – such as date and time, calendar appointments, text messages and emails, recent calls, and more -- without needing to wake up the phone.

IP67/IP68: The Ingress Protection (IP) rating system shows you how much protection your tech has from the elements. Phones that are IP67-certified means the device and connectors can withstand up to 3.2 feet of water for up to 30 minutes (and are dust-resistant, too). An IP68-certified device can withstand “more than” 3.2 feet of water, but it varies by device. To err on the side of caution, consider these phones ideal for splashes, rain, sweat, and accidental submersion. Don’t go swimming with your phone.

LTE: Long-term evolution, or LTE, is an industry term that refers to higher data speeds – comparable to (or even faster than) your home's broadband Internet connection. Sometimes referred to as 4G speeds, all major phone carriers offer LTE phones, tablets and Internet sticks or pucks, all of which grant you fast downloads, streaming and uploading in supported (mostly urban) areas.

Gorilla Glass: From Corning, Gorilla Glass is a tougher screen technology that can withstand the bumps and knocks of everyday life. With the latest version, Gorilla Glass 4, Corning says it could withstand 3-foot drops onto rough surfaces 80% of the time, which they claim is up to twice as good as competitive glass designs. It’s still a good idea to go with a case to protect the entire phone from accidental drops.

mAh: Short for milliamp, this refers to the capacity of your smartphone’s battery. Generally speaking, the higher the milliamp (mAh), the longer the phone will last between charges. There are other variables that can affect battery performance, such as environmental conditions (such as heat), operating system and applications (software), processing power, and more. A rule of thumb: the bigger the number, such as 2800mAh compared to 1900mAh, the longer the phone’s battery will last.

Marshmallow: Android 6.0, or “Marshmallow,” introduces a number of improvements and new features tied to the overall user experience. A few highlights: tap and hold the Home button to activate “Now on Tap,” which provides contextually-relevant info and apps based on what you’re doing on the phone; a “Doze” feature automatically puts the device into a sleep state, but still takes calls and messages; use your fingertip or thumb to unlock your phone and shop on Google Play; new keyboard refinements; and more.

NFC: Near-field communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless technology that allows for two NFC-enabled devices to make a digital handshake, by simply placing them within 1.5 inches of one another. There are many applications, such as tapping your phone to make a payment on a retailer’s contactless terminal, quickly pairing a phone with NFC headphones, or two compatible phones quickly exchanging contact information.

Push-to-talk (PTT): Some phones today support push-to-talk – which may be advertised as “PTT,” for short – which have a walkie-talkie-like button on the side that instantly connects you to a preprogrammed person or group. Popular among workers “in the field,” especially if they’re wearing protective gloves, PTT phones are almost exclusively Android-based, therefore iPhone fans can’t take advantage of this feature.

SIM: A SIM (“Subscriber Identity Module”) is a small white card inside your phone. It's what enables cellular service with your provider. It also stores your phone number, and other info. When you upgrade your phone, simply pop out the SIM, which is usually found in a small slot in the side or on top of your phone, or underneath the battery, and insert it into a new phone. They’ve become smaller over the years: from SIM to mini SIM to microSIM to nano SIM. Some phones offer dual SIM support, so you can pop in a second card, perhaps having one number for personal use and one for work, or using a local SIM when traveling.

Super AMOLED: There are two major smartphone screen technologies on the market – AMOLED and IPS LCD – and each has their own benefits. With AMOLED, individual pixels are lit separately on top of a thin film transistor array that passes electricity through organic compounds; colors and bright and blacks are deep as portions of the screen can be turned off (like an LED TV). Super AMOLED reflects less sunlight than AMOLED, while IPS is said to show more accurate colors than AMOLED/Super AMOLED — but the latter excels in contrast (blacks), and energy efficiency

Wireless charging: While the name is a little misleading as your phone isn’t charging up over airwaves (yet!), smartphones with a “wireless charging” feature can be powered up by placing it on top of a compatible base at home, in the car, at the office, in an airport, or at a restaurant. In other words, no USB cable is needed. Phone carriers often sell these small pucks to place the phone on top of to charge up, plus IKEA now sells furniture with this feature built in. A catch: you likely have to remove your case for this to work.

Now you too, can talk like a techie but have some idea of what you’re talking about.

Read Article (Marc Saltzman | | 05/21/2016)

Internet availability and access is important without a doubt, but knowing how to fully utilize the constantly evolving devices that connect to it and the Internet itself, is an issue just as important if not more.  Our instructional webinars are the long-term solution for addressing device usage, and we need your support.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

To Buy iPhone Costs iPhone Workers 1 Months Pay


Workers at the Pegatron iPhone factory in China make an average of $650 to $850 a month, Bloomberg recently reported. That means some of them make just enough to purchase an iPhone 6S — if they spend an entire month’s salary on the device. The smartphone is Apple’s top-of-the-line offering. Its base price in China, before memory upgrades, is 5,288 yuan, or $807.95 based on the current conversion rate. The device retails for $649 in the United States.

Apple’s iPhone is an expensive device, and no one is entitled to one. Many Americans would struggle to justify the cost all at once — that’s one reason why Apple offers an installment plan. Android phones, which come in a number of budget-friendly varieties, are also somewhat more popular than iPhones in the United States.

To be fair and draw another comparison, Tesla Factory workers probably don’t drive Teslas.

But it’s still worth considering the inequality here. Americans aren’t the ones working to assemble iPhones. Bloomberg’s article quotes an advocacy group that alleges the Chinese factory’s base pay is so low that many workers need to work overtime to make ends meet, though Pegatron and Apple have reportedly developed systems to discourage excessive work. (It’s worth noting that Pegatron also contains safety nets in the stairways “to prevent accidents—or suicide attempts,” according to Bloomberg.) Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post about labor at the factory.

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but American families made an average of $53,657 last year, or a bit more than $4,471 a month. It’s considerably more than the Chinese workers, even if you assumed a dual-income household and split that number in half.

The takeaway? Your iPhone is an incredibly complicated device, and not just in terms of its mechanical innards. It all begins with a supply chain that, for many electronics companies, includes materials secured with child labor. And assembling the device requires workers who couldn’t realistically buy the thing. And then it’s shipped to you.

How Apple Profits from A System That Abuses Children — And Why It’s So Hard to Stop.

A new report from Amnesty International suggests that companies including Apple, Samsung and Sony are profiting from child labor in Africa — and no one should be surprised.

It’s been public knowledge for years that electronics are stuffed with minerals that come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a war-torn place rich in must-have materials that are rarely found elsewhere. Less well-known, however, is how these sometimes blood-soaked metals move from the DRC into the supply chains of some of the world’s richest and most powerful tech companies. While these companies carry considerable influence and are aware of the controversy surrounding their supply chains, a number of complicating factors make it difficult — if not impossible — for them to solve the problem of child labor.

Amnesty says its report, published Monday, is the “first comprehensive account” of how cobalt ore found by children enters the global supply chain. The group focused on cobalt specifically for two reasons: One, it’s a key component of the lithium-ion rechargeable batteries used in phones. Two, the material stands apart from other “conflict minerals” you may have heard of because it doesn’t contribute to armed groups in the country the same way other materials do, and as a result receives less scrutiny.

“If you’re a corporate executive with these minerals in your products, there is no excuse for turning a blind eye to child labor in your supply chains,” Holly Dranginis, senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, told HuffPost.

The situation isn’t simple. But perhaps greater efforts from those in positions of power could make a difference.

“We need systemic change, and real accountability,” Dranginis told Huffpost, “and that will take policy and behavior change from a range of actors: end-user companies, smelters, traders, and of course government officials in the DRC and surrounding region.”

Read Article (Damon Beres | | 05/19/2016)

The Digital Era is all pervasive; effecting Cultural, National & International laws as well as the General Public, Governments, Government Officials and even Law Enforcement.  It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Google Facing a $3.4B Antitrust Fine in Europe


U.S. technology companies are not having a good time of it in Europe. An investigation into Apple’s tax affairs in Ireland continues; Amazon’s e-book distribution system is being looked into; Qualcomm is facing not one but two investigations in Europe; and of course Microsoft was fined more than $700 million by the European Commission in 2013 for failing to offer users a choice of web browser.

Now it’s Google’s turn to face the music. The search giant, which is no stranger to probes by European regulators, could face more charges this week as investigators conclude a yearlong investigation into its Android operating system. The investigation could result in a fine of as much as $7.5 billion for the Mountain View, California, company.

Last April the European Commission announced it was issuing formal charges against Google following a five-year investigation into its comparison shopping practices. In the same breath the commission announced it was opening an entirely new investigation into Android to assess if Google's practice of forcing operators and manufacturers to preload its own apps onto the devices prevents developers of other apps from succeeding.

According to sources close to the investigation speaking to the Financial Times, the competition authority could announce formal charges against Google as soon as Wednesday, with lawyers involved in the case sending out requests for information with 24-hour deadlines — seen as a strong indication that the investigation is concluding.

The commission has the power to fine Google up to 10 percent of its global revenue, which in 2015 rose to $74.5 billion. Google, for its part, strongly denies any wrongdoing in either the comparison shopping or Android cases.

“By requiring phone makers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner, said during a speech in Amsterdam on Monday.

Vestager, who recently indicated the EC would be willing to investigate Google’s tax practices in the U.K., added that the investigation into Google had not formally closed, “so I can’t yet say if [it] has broken the rules.” What Vestager said this week is nothing new, and the commission said it would not be commenting on reports that a decision on its Android investigation was imminent.

Responding to the reports of possible charges, Google told International Business Times in an emailed statement that it continues to discuss the issues with the European Commission, pointing out why it believes Android helps rather than hinders developers and consumers. “Anyone can use Android, with or without Google applications,” the statement said. “Hardware manufacturers and carriers can decide how to use Android, and consumers have the last word about which apps they want to use on their devices.”

In a blog post published after the investigation was opened last year, Google claimed Android had led to more innovation and choice on mobile than ever before. Google, however, is clearly worried about the number of investigations it is facing in Europe.

According to a Guardian investigation last December, the company enlisted members of Congress to help lobby European politicians while it spent twice as much on lobbying in Europe as Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and Uber combined in 2015.

Android is the world's most popular mobile operating system, and across Europe’s top five markets (U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain) Android commands over 70 percent market share, according to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

It is an open-source piece of software, meaning anyone can download it and install it on their smartphones or tablets without having to pay Google to do so. However, to get access to apps like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Play Store — known collectively as Google Mobile Services — manufacturers need to sign a licensing agreement with Google. These agreements are confidential, but it is understood that Google imposes strict criteria on how its own apps will be displayed on the devices. It is on this aspect of Google's practice that the commission's investigation is focusing.

While Google doesn’t make any money directly from Android, it does derive huge profits from the fact that its services such as the Play Store, Maps, Gmail and search are all preloaded onto any Google-certified smartphone that runs Android. As the world moves more and more to mobile, Google wants to remain the dominant player in that market in order to be better able to sell ads to its customers.

While the European Union continues to investigate Android, it is not the only place in the world to do so. According to a report from Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission has also opened an investigation into whether Google stifled competitors’ access to the Android platform. In Russia, the courts have ruled against Google over an identical complaint by Yandex — known as the “Google of Russia” — which said Google was damaging competition by forcing manufacturers to pre-install certain apps. Having lost an appeal last month, Google will not be forced to change its contracts with manufacturers in Russia.

Read Article (David Gilbert | | 04/18/2016)

There are normally two victims in the event of a data breach, the business and the consumer.  In the US, media and government agencies seem to treat business as the primary victim but in the EU, they definitely treat the consumer as the primary victim.

In addition, Europe now has new rules in place to protect European citizen’s personal data. “Whatever else may be said about it, the simple fact is that the global standard for data protection will now be dictated by European rules.”

The new laws have already proved controversial with companies wishing to operate with EU citizens’ data, placing an administrative burden on some, including those based outside of Europe. (Facebook)

It’s up to each individual to get a little Tech-savvy for their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones and with your support, we will be able assist all those who struggle in the learning process.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars

Best 5 Laptops Under $200 Shopping Guide


Great news! I’ve done some of the work for you. If you only have $200 to spend on a laptop, your options are far better than they used to be. While these machines aren't built for hardcore gaming or video editing, they're more than enough for web browsing and writing papers.

These days, sub-$200 laptops commonly ship with HD displays, full Windows 10 (rather than something more limited, like Google's Chrome OS), and a decent chunk of internal storage. Many also come with a free year of Microsoft Office 365—perfect for the students they're targeting.

To find the best of this affordable bunch, we put the most popular models through a series of performance and display tests in our state-of-the-art labs. Then we put them to the test at our desks, to get a feel for real-world factors like keyboard feel, trackpad responsiveness, and build quality.

The result? We can tell you with authority that if you want the best affordable laptops available today, these are the ones to buy.

Asus E402SA – Best Overall - The Asus E402SA (also known as the EeeBook E402SA) won us over right away. While it's not much faster than its competition, its 14-inch screen is bigger than most. The display is a mere 1366 x 768 pixels, but it's glossy, looks great, and isn't a major drain on the battery. Its $249 MSRP is a little above our target price, but we've seen it on sale as low as $179. (Amazon $191.00)

Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (2016) - The Inspiron 11 3000's biggest flaw is the included McAfee install, which can be a real hog on system resources and annoys with frequent popups. But all things considered, Dell offers up a package that's colorful, modern, and just fast enough for schoolwork or surfing the web. It may not be inspiring, but this Inspiron is worth its asking price. (Best Buy $169.99)

Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 11 - While you can find a 16GB version, you should avoid that one at all costs; our test model had 32GB of storage and even that filled up right away. You can add more memory with an SD card, but since it's not microSD, it'll stick out the side of the machine. In our opinion, your best bet for inconspicuous extra storage on the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 11 is probably a low profile USB drive. (Amazon $148.00, Best Buy $206.99)

Lenovo Ideapad 100s 11.6" Laptop - Inside, it has an older Intel Atom Z3735F chip. It may be quad core, but it's still slower than the Celeron N3050 dual-core processor found in rival machines. The 100s is also stuck with USB 2.0 ports, which can't keep up with the 3.0 ports on better machines. It's not all bad though. You can add storage through the compact microSD slot, the hinge rotates a full 180 degrees, and it had the best battery life of any of the sub-$200 models we tested. (Amazon $158.38, Best Buy $199.99)

HP Stream 11 (2016) - The worst part of using the Stream 11 is its iffy trackpad, which isn't nearly as responsive as we'd like. The screen also seemed a little duller than the rest of our test group. Unfortunately, HP also bundles McAfee with this computer; it's a pain, but you can uninstall it to speed things up. (Amazon $208.77, Best Buy $199.99, $199.99)

To get a better idea of the authors pitch: Check-Out the Video

Read Article (Staff | | 05/11/2016)

Now let’s do some serious shopping, here are rankings from 3 other review sites for “Best 5 Laptops Under $200”:

  • Wiknix – 1) HP Stream 11-r010nr, 2) Acer Aspire One Cloudbook, 3) ASUS VivoBook E200HA-US01-GD, 4) Lenovo IdeaPad 100s 11.6" Laptop, 5) HP 11-p110nr x360 Convertible
  • Best Laptop Advisor – 1) Acer Chromebook 11.6-inch HD, 2) HP Stream 11-r010nr, 3) Samsung Chromebook 2 XE500C12-K01US, 4) Acer Chromebook CB3-111-C670, 5) ASUS C201 11.6 Inch Chromebook
  • Best Buy – 1) Dell - Inspiron 11.6", 2) Dell - Inspiron 14", 3) Lenovo - Ideapad 100s 11.6" Laptop, 4) Lenovo - IdeaPad 100s 11.6" Chromebook, 5) Samsung - 11.6" Chromebook

Notice that the HP Stream 11-r010nr and Lenovo IdeaPad 100s 11.6" Laptop is ranked in 3 out of the 4 reviews. If you are seriously considering the purchase of an inexpensive laptop, I would start by checking-out these two. Although my personal choice would be the Asus E402SA but you need to check-out the video to see why.

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate, inevitably the day will come when even millennials will be unfamiliar with the latest technology. And ownership doesn’t always translate into Intuitively knowing how to fully use it to ones’ best advantage.

Master Level High-Tech Webinars