False Alarms From Apple Watches Are Stressing out a California Police Department

False Alarm

Apple’s Emergency SOS feature makes it incredibly easy for a person to call for help, but this ease of use could be causing problems for police departments.

In 2017, Apple added a feature called Emergency SOS to their Apple Watch. To contact emergency services, a Watch owner just holds the device’s side button and waits for the triggered countdown to finish. At that point, the device contacts local emergency services.

Wearable Technology
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Over the past few months, dispatchers for the Elk Grove, California, police department have answered nearly 1,600 emergency calls from a local Apple repair and refurbishment facility. Occasionally, the dispatchers hear the muffled sounds of repair technicians on the other end of the line.

“It started back in October, and we have been averaging about 20 calls per day,” Elk Grove Police Department Public Information Officer Jason Jimenez told Motherboard.

The timing of these calls lines up with the addition of the Emergency SOS feature to Apple Watches, and Jason Carroll, founder of Fruit Fixed, an independent Apple repair shop, believes the Watch’s screen size could be the reason the device is particularly susceptible to false calls. “It would probably [be easier] for a mistake [on the Apple Watch] because the screen is so much smaller,” he told Motherboard.

In a public statement to Mac Rumors, Apple confirmed they are aware of the problem: “We take this seriously and we are working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.”

Emergency SOS 2.0

Emergency SOS has already proven effective for its intended purpose – the feature may have even saved the life of a Pennsylvania woman and her child last year after a car accident. Unfortunately, accidental SOS calls could prevent others from receiving the same help when they really need it.

Elk Grove isn’t the only city on the receiving end of these calls. According to Newsweek, Watch owners in Michigan, North Carolina, and other parts of California have accidentally triggered the Emergency SOS feature.

Apple Watch and iPhone owners can adjust their Emergency SOS settings so that they have to drag a slider to make an emergency call, rather than the call going through automatically. This could prevent false calls, but it also creates an added barrier to getting help in a life-or-death situation, and device owners might not want to take that risk.

In the end, Emergency SOS is an incredibly valuable feature – Apple just needs to work out a way to reduce the number of accidental calls without affecting its usability.

“As far as safety goes, having that ability to press a button and reach us and have us be able to respond I think is very important,” said Jimenez. “Once that [issue] is resolved, still having the ability to have emergency help at a push of a button is important.”

Eventually, Apple could apply what they learn from the Watch false alarms to ensure future devices won’t have the same problem. The company is working on self-driving cars, and those are sure to include emergency features that will need to be easily accessible.

The post False Alarms From Apple Watches Are Stressing out a California Police Department appeared first on Futurism.


California Department of Public Health Issues New Warnings about Cellphone Radiation Exposure. Again.

I’ve written before about the potential dangers of exposure to cellphone radiation. Considering our collective addiction to cellphones and the known levels of radiation emissions coming from cellphones, I’ll likely write more about this topic again in the future, unless somethings change about both the ways in which we use our cellphones and the way manufacturers protect consumers from known levels of cellphone radiation emmission. Now the state of California Department of Public Health has reissued warnings and suggested guidelines for safe useage of these radioactive devices.

These new warnings from the CDPH are far from the first round of dire warnings that the state of California has issued about the dangers of cellphone radiation exposure. Far from it. It’s just the most recent in a long line of warnings that the California Department of Public Health has issued about our collective and continued exposure to cellphone radiation.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that despite California’s warnings, there are other scientific studies that do not reach the same conclusions that the state of California has. Nonetheless, it would seem to me that exercising an abundance of caution when dealing with potentially carcinogenic radiation is both wise and prudent, especially if you have children who use these devices, since they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of close range radiation exposure over time. Not to mention, even if you scoff at the warnings and guidelines issued by the state of California, it’s worth keeping in mind that despite the fact that Apple (and the other smartphone manufacturers) have their own clear and concise warnings and cautions when it comes to usage of their devices, relatively few of us follow even those minimal precautions.

For instance according to the manufacturers, cellphone radiation isn’t safe when you carry said radioactive device in your pocket or hold said radioactive device up against your skull, or let your children hold it against their significantly thinner skulls. And yet, most of us persist, as if oblivious to the manufacture’s own warnings that come with the devices in question.

The recent California state warnings about cellphone radiation exposure include taking the following precautions:

  • Keeping the phone away from the body.
  • Reducing cell phone use when the signal is weak.
  • Reducing the use of cell phones to stream audio or video, or to download or upload large files.
  • Keeping the phone away from the bed at night.
  • Removing headsets when not on a call.
  • Avoiding products that claim to block radio frequency energy. These products may actually increase your exposure.

When all is said and done, it’s up to each of us to decide how we choose to use our technological devices, just like it’s up to each of us to decide whether or not to smoke cigarettes, or spend hours on end in the summer sun without sunscreen. Personally I’ll choose to listen to the science and words of warning coming out of California, and err on the side of caution.

Top image credit: JKstock / Shutterstock.com

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California Health Department Warns Against Keeping Phones Close to You

For many of us, our smartphones are a constant companion. They’re in our pockets, in our purses, or just generally kept close to us. But according to the California Department of Public Health, that could be a problem.

The CDPH issued a warning last week cautioning against keeping smartphones close to your body. That’s due to the electromagnetic radiation that smartphones and cell phones put off. For its recommendation, the CDPH suggests that people keep their distance from their smartphones and limit their usage of said devices.

Of course, that’s no easy feat in the age of the smartphone. But it might be smart to heed the CDPH’s warnings. While the science is far from settled, there are studies that suggest a slightly increased risk of brain cancer or tumors of the salivary gland and acoustic nerve. Other issues include adverse effects on learning, memory and sleep, as well as headaches.

The California Health Department has released these guidelines in part due to a lawsuit levied at it. A researcher at the University of California, Joel Moskowitz, sued the department for not making the guidelines public. Earlier this year, a judge ruled in his favor, which led to the drafted CDPH guidelines released this week.

Phone manufacturers have generally recommended that people use hands-free devices or a device’s built-in speakerphone when making calls. But those suggestions are usually buried pretty deeply within a user manual. (Which, let’s admit it, most of us don’t read through entirely.) There’s also the issue that there isn’t currently a national standard for safety limits. The FCC does state that it requires phonemakers to ensure that devices comply with “objective limits for safe exposure.”

The CDPH recommends users refrain from keeping their devices in a pocket or bra, using a smartphone next to their ear for a prolonged period, and or sleeping with it near them at night, among other things.

But despite the guidelines, Moskowitz says that most health agencies haven’t kept up with the research — which he says suggests that smartphones pose a “major risk to health.”

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Department of Justice files lawsuit to block AT&T-Time Warner merger

The US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to block the anticipated merger of AT&T and Time Warner this Monday. It has been speculated that The White House under Donald Trump would force the merger to go through, particularly because CNN is owned by Timer Warner, and everyone knows what Trump thinks of CNN – a network often targeted by Trump, calling it (and any other network who doesn’t cover his administration with praise) #FakeNews #FraudNewsCNN #FNN pic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017 Trumpy shenanigans aside, a DOJ (Department of…

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Justice Department Sues to Block AT&T-Time Warner Merger

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Monday to block AT&T from purchasing Time Warner in an $ 85.4 billion deal that’s bound to become one of Washington, D.C.’s biggest antitrust cases in decades.

The DOJ is expressing concern that the combined company could charge competitors a premium to distribute Time Warner’s content. That, the department contends, could provide an unfair advantage to AT&T and its subsidiary company, DirecTV. A DOJ official told reporters Modnay that this arrangement could have a “negative impact” on American TV viewers, and could slow the adoption and development of online video and other distribution models, Politico reported.

“This merger would greatly harm American consumers,” said Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief. “It would mean higher monthly television bills and fewer of the new, emerging innovative options that consumers are beginning to enjoy.”

On the other hand, the case comes in the midst of a political storm. Some have expressed concerns that the Trump administration could be hoping to block the deal because of CNN, a Time Warner-owned media organization that the administration has been highly critical of. The DOJ and the White House, for their part, have denied that CNN plays a role in the decision.

According to the Washington Post, the move is also unusual because the merger involves two different types of companies: a telecom giant with over 100 million cable and wireless subscribers and an entertainment firm that has a vast catalog of films, live TV programming and other media content. This is known as vertical merger, because it doesn’t involve removing a competitor from the market.

“Today’s DOJ lawsuit is a radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent,” AT&T’s head attorney David R. McAtee II said. “We see no legitimate reason for our merger to be treated differently.” In other words, AT&T has made it clear that it would oppose the suit in court.

It’s not just the DOJ that opposes the merger, either. Some anti-consolidation consumer groups, such as Free Pass, have also argued against the deal, siding with content competitors like Starz, Recode reported.

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The Department of Justice is using AT&T’s own argument for buying Time Warner to try to stop the deal


The Comcast-NBCUniversal deal was bad. So the AT&T-Time Warner deal is worse — because it’s even bigger.

That’s the gist of the argument the Department of Justice made today, in a background briefing with reporters and in its press release announcing its lawsuit aimed at stopping the deal.

AT&T says that’s a bogus argument.

But here’s the thing: AT&T and Time Warner officials have given the DOJ rhetorical ammunition here, by arguing that merging a content company with a distributor made sense — because the distribution company’s reach was so vast.

I know, because every time I’ve asked a Time Warner or an AT&T exec to explain the rationale for the deal, they point out that AT&T’s wireless service reaches the whole country (and so does AT&T’s DirecTV service, even though that service is steadily losing subscribers).

This usually comes up after I point out that Time Warner used to own a distribution company — what used to be called Time Warner Cable — but got rid of it because it didn’t see the benefit of owning both kinds of companies.

“Time Warner Cable was regional” — limited to territories where it had a license to operate — “and AT&T is national,” they would explain.

And now the DOJ is making the same argument itself — pointing out that Comcast is also a regional pay TV distributor, and federal regulators were worried enough about its acquisition of NBCUniversal* to create a long document full of restraints regulating Comcast’s behavior. (Those constraints expire next year, by the way …)

So if it’s worrisome for a regional distributor to buy a big content company, it’s an even worse one for a distributor with a national footprint. That’s the DOJ argument, in a nutshell.

We’ll see. I find the arguments that, say, AT&T would charge other distributors more to carry networks like HBO and CNN unconvincing — since the whole point of those businesses is to be distributed as widely as possible.

But that’s a different argument, and it’s not one the DOJ is making today.

* NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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Toshiba sells its electronics department to Hisense

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Toshiba is struggling hard after its US nuclear department filed for bankruptcy in March. It has sold other parts of its business to stay afloat, including its dishwasher and washing machine appliance branch to China’s Midea Group. The Visual Solutions subsidiary, in particular, had reported a net operating loss of $ 54.1 million in the last fiscal year.

The company that will buy Toshiba Visual Solutions has a bit of a rumored checkered past as well. Hisense happens…

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The Department of Defense’s Bug Bounty Program Has Flagged Thousands of Vulnerabilities

The Noble Hack

Historically, the U.S. government has kept hackers at arm’s length, even if their intentions are benevolent. However, over the last 18 months, the Department of Defense (DoD) has run an expansive bug bounty program, which has apparently been a massive success.

In June 2015, it was discovered that the Office of Personnel Management had been subject to a massive hack, exposing the records of as many as 4 million individuals. In the wake of these revelations and other similar breaches, plans began to formulate for the DoD to investigate the potential of a bug bounty program.

The initial trial for “Hack the Pentagon” ran in 2016 from April 18 to May 12. A total of 138 unique, legitimate vulnerability reports were submitted over this period, prompting a total bounty payout of $ 75,000 in increments of between $ 100 and $ 15,000.

That November, the DoD also ran “Hack the Army” to tackle issues with websites facilitating army enrollment. Then, this May, “Hack the Air Force” sought to secure online assets pertaining to another branch of the military. The total payout of these programs has climbed to around $ 300,000.

After the Bounty

These limited-time efforts were accompanied by an open-ended program dubbed the Vulnerabilities Disclosure Policy (VDP). This doesn’t award any bounties, but offers a legal method for individuals to flag issues with public-facing websites and web apps, which hadn’t previously been available. In just a year, 650 people have submitted a total of 3,000 legitimate vulnerabilities.

“The VDP has just really taken off and started providing value in a way that I don’t think anyone was anticipating when we first launched it,” said Alex Rice, CTO of HackerOne, the company that collaborated with the DoD on the program, in an interview with Wired. “It was some learning. DoD realized that…if someone was still working on something there was no legal channel for them to get it to the government.”

Technology and Privacy Forecast 2017
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The bug bounty program and its associated initiatives account for only one part of a larger process – once these vulnerabilities are flagged, they still need to be addressed. According to HackerOne, the DoD has been able to establish infrastructure that allows for these problems to be resolved relatively quickly, compared to private companies that have run similar programs in the past.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act once made it difficult for hackers and other independent experts to raise issues with the U.S. government. These extensive bug bounty programs seem to indicate that there’s been a change of approach when it comes to this kind of activity. As most of the cybersecurity industry has understood for some time, malicious entities are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities to exploit, so there are distinct advantages to having hackers take stock of any potential weak spots.

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