Jan 032012

Happy New Year to all my beloved readers. May all your resolutions be rationally thought-out, and not something absurd like “post to blog every day”. Don’t know what I was thinking with that one.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 4S with the Siri personal assistant, you could almost hear the photocopiers warming up in Redmond and Mountain View. After all, when your business models are based on cloning someone else’s superior offering, a feature like Siri was never going to go uncloned. While we wait for Android’s official duplication (despite Andy Rubin’s insistance that Siri was “no big deal” when it was released), Android’s developer community of copyright and trademark destroyers ecosystem will have to step up in the meantime. Because the Android Market is moderated with the efficacy of an inner-city public school restroom, suckers who actually bought into this “Siri on Android” bong water were sure to be treated to something that may have looked a lot like Apple’s interface, but sure as hell didn’t do as much. Here’s the most egregious copy, Speerit, from a Korean developer courtesy of 9to5Mac:

Note the liberal use of the Siri icon complete with text bubbles. The other current entrant, the understated “Siri for Android”, rips off a whole bunch of iconography, complete with ads because we are talking about Android here:

Is it really that surprising that the earliest knock-offs of Apple’s Siri IP would come from the country Samsung calls home? I submit that it is not.

Nov 302011

One of TMA’s favorite slagging themes is all about Google’s general dismissal of your demands for privacy. Their stance is summarized neatly in the episode of “Shit My Schmidt Says” where the lead character is interviewed by CNBC on the issue of user privacy: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” This flippant statement about one of the things that most Americans value as citizens above all else underscores Google’s attitude on the issue. If you want to use a knock-off shartphone OS, you’re not entitled to anything being kept from others. In addition to a justification for ripping off Oracle, that’s what “open” means to Google. It feigns a position on the philosophical high ground, boasting unfettered access without responsibility for anyone who wants to abuse that access.

Think this is hyperbole? Take a trip over to Trevor Eckhart’s blog and watch the video about the information gathered by a program called Carrier IQ, which is carrier-installed and appears on all Android (with the possible exception of the Galaxy Nexus), Nokia and Blackberry shartphones. The video below shows the data taken from a stock, factory-restored HTC Evo 4G. It’s 17 minutes long, and I generally “TL/DR” every YouTube video before the 2:00 mark, but this shit is staggering.

Let me address a couple of points I’ve seen vomited onto the comment sections of other blogs discussing this issue. First, it doesn’t matter where this compiled information is sent. The fact that it exists at all is reprehensible. Second, the evil carriers using a 3rd party to scrape this information aren’t the only ones who share the blame. Every party in the chain has responsibility – including Google, Nokia and RIM. I don’t give a shit if your OS is “open” or not: you’re allowing a party to your product to surreptitiously collect data with no option for them not to do it unless you’re some kind of hyper-nerd. I guarantee you less than .001% of those 200 million activation number that Andy Rubin beats himself off to have either the knowledge required to root their devices or the inclination to endure the hassle.

Want a device that’s free of malware? That doesn’t allow carriers to install crapware and shit like Carrier IQ? Want to use a device from a company that accepts the responsibility you place on it to defend your personal information from the assholes who think they’re owed it?

And for God’s sake, write a letter to your congressman or senator. Every time I read something like this, I think of Stuart Smalley’s marble-mouthed back-and-forth with one of Google’s shysters at the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee meeting.

Your democratic right to elect your representation. Enjoy.

Whenever there is a means to do so, there will always be people looking to take advantage of the loopholes provided by others to exploit you without your knowledge. Elect people that understand that – preferably ones that have some functional literacy about technology issues.

Nov 282011

One of Google Android’s most well thought-out differentiators between its mobile OS and Apple’s is the fact that anyone can submit an app to their Market. Total freedom. No “walled garden” impinging on your enjoyment of the Android app ecosystem with iOS’s pesky “screening” or “approval process”.

Calling peoples’ attention to how truly shitastic Android’s hodgepodge of an ecosystem is feels like a part-time job, but the hilarity never wants to stop rearing its head. Take the discovery (by someone other than Google, natch) that some enterprising developers are trying to use a variation of Angry Birds’ Rovio company name to cash in on people not knowing the difference. Google’s been notified, so this should all be resolved…whenever – well, except for the suckers valued Android customers who already bought the apps in question. My favorite part of the TechCrunch article is where they caution people to be “extra careful” and read through “reviews, descriptions and check out the developers’ site before just hitting install” for their apps.

My advice for those considering the merits of a buy-one, get-one on the most recent Android expectoration is much more succinct: just buy a fucking iPhone.

Jun 172011

I just made up a maxim about online security firms. How do you know a computer security expert that is offering advice is pimping his own products? His lips are moving. While the majority of PC security alarmists are correct that people need to lock up the silverware when they announce the latest catastrophic Windows or Flash vulnerability, they’ve been a little more “cry” than “wolf” when it comes to pronouncements about the insecurity of Apple’s platforms. Case in point: Kaspersky’s CTO Nikolay Grebennikov, who thinks Apple needs to open up iOS to allow the “security pros” to handle locking down threats that are coming any day now.

“The Android platform, which is growing its market share, is much more open than the Apple iOS and it’s easier to create new applications for Android, including security software”. Ah yes. The beauty of “open”. Want to know why security software is required for Android? It’s a platform that allows average users to approve an app’s access to processes on their shartphone about which they don’t have a clue. It’s a platform that doesn’t vet apps submitted to its market, allows apps downloaded from shadow markets to be sideloaded onto its devices, and relies on the hobbyist community to report malware to Google for apps in their own Market. But please, Nikolay, continue…

“Apple is the only protector of its iPhone and iPad users but they don’t know the real situation with threats. It’s not possible to create the products they create, and be a world leader in security too; that expertise is elsewhere.” That’s why Apple has an actual approval process to get an app in their App Store, doesn’t allow apps to be sideloaded onto their devices and sandboxes its apps’ access to system resources. You say “closed”; I say “secure”.

I know it sucks to be relegated to the business equivalent of fogging up the glass of the App Store from the outside, licking your chops at the billions in potential revenue you’re missing out on because iOS doesn’t need your voodoo. But if you check down a couple of doors and go to the Android storefront, you’ll find they’ve had 3 instances of malware in their Market in the last month alone. I’m sure you two have plenty to talk about.

Apr 042011

Some of you may recall that not too long ago Google had a small problem with its Android Market: malware representing a developer’s entire portfolio was downloaded over a quarter million times before Google yanked it after an Android hobbyist website discovered it. Now step back for a moment and imagine the fireball of rage that would have broke the internet if this was a problem discovered in the Apple’s App Store. The beauty of Google’s customer base is that it’s comprised of two polar opposites that together don’t really care about Google’s hilarious non-stance on protecting consumers in their own marketplace. One the one hand, you have freetard hobbyists; on the other people who believed the pre-iPhone Verizon salesman when he said that an Android phone is every bit as good as an iPhone. The hobbyists’ “free as in freedom” mentality that allows them to tinker with their kit without harassment classifies downloading malware as a small price to pay for the ability to steal apps. The customers who were bamboozled into thinking their shartphone was “just as good” as an iPhone probably don’t know how to download an app in the first place and don’t know this issue even exists.

If I were Google, I would actually be pursuing Amazon to take on the role of exclusive curator of the Android Market. Why?

1. The pay isn’t that good. I think people overestimate the rewards and downplay the responsibilities of running an app store. In exchange for 30% or so of an app’s cost, Google has to host all the content, manage (however reactively) the presence of apps that blatantly violate copyright, are malware, promote bad things like hate speech – whatever. This kind of management saps resources that significantly cut into that 30%. And let’s not forget that in the Market, free apps outnumber paid apps by a much greater margin than the App Store, which means that 30% is drawn from a much smaller pie. Here’s a business reality that may not resonate very popularly with the freetard community: when you destroy the value that a good or service is meant to have (“meant” as defined by the market, not necessarily what the developer wants you to pay), you’ll end up with an ecosystem devoid of value for the people providing the goods or services. Google has to realize this.

1a. This isn’t how Google makes its money. The Market is one of those “nice to have” things that allow clueless salespeople to claim that Android is competitive with the iPhone. It’s not Google’s core business – not even close. On some level, Google has to realize they’re not doing this very well. Amazon, on the other hand, possesses the infrastructure – and apparently the desire – to do this at least as well as Google does now.

2. Freedom to be a hypocrite. Check out the reaction to Google circling its wagons and telling manufacturers and carriers that they can’t mess with Android too much or they’ll risk getting shoved out of the ecosystem. Even as Android apologists are arguing (poorly) that this is the right move for Google, a lot of freetards aren’t too happy about it – basically because it’s the complete opposite of what folks like Andy Rubin and Vic Gundotra have been talking up about their ecosystem. Imagine what will happen if Google starts to aggressively bounce crapware from its Marketplace? If you look at its content, you have to wonder how much longer Google can not purge it. Between the “ringtones apps” that rip off Top 20 pop singles and movie wallpaper, It’s amazing to me that Google has been allowed to operate an appstore environment that turns a blind eye to flagrant copyright and trademark violations for this long. Where is the RIAA? The MPAA? Bueller? With Amazon, Google has a chance to offload the responsibility for the mess that the Market has become. With Amazon’s credibility on the line, it’ll take at least some care in screening which apps appear on their site and give Google plausible deniability. Lord knows they hate to come off looking like hypocrites.

So as much as I’d like to see Google continue to mismanage its app store so TMA can continue to point and laugh at it, I also feel like this is pointing out the obvious. The best place for the Android Market is with Amazon.

Mar 292011

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If you were to write TMA off as a one-dimensional shill, you’d be right 95% of the time. Then again, if technology companies made stuff people wanted, made stuff easy to use, and made their motives for why they did things clear to consumers, TMA wouldn’t have a blog. So what does it take to hit that 5%? Continue reading »

Mar 032011

For most people passionate about the Android platform, “free as in freedom” isn’t just an OS you don’t have to pay for – it’s a way of life. The Android Marketplace is the Amsterdam of app stores: chances are you’ll find anything illegal you’re looking for, be it ringtones based on copyrighted music or wallpapers based on copyrighted film properties. The latest addition to the Marketplace also allows you to pick up some nasty STD’s, but I digress. Apparently some developers are making a decent living selling such wares there, but such an existence can be fleeting.

Take the case of a certain Android developer who, among other things, makes an app called Rapid Download! that allows one to “search and download from filehosting (sic) sites like RapidShare”. Yes, I know you can use RapidShare for non-copyrighted material, but seriously: cut the shit. It certainly makes the developer appear much less aggrieved when the screenshot of his app features a search for songs by Lil Wayne and search results that I’m guessing aren’t exactly kosher with his label.

Anyway, this developer had his Rapid Download! app unceremoniously kicked from the tit by Google without so much as an email explanation. I would assume for the flagrant middle finger the app chucks in the face of artists and their labels, but you never know. That the developer wonders why it was removed is almost as funny as him expecting a meatbag at the Googleplex to correspond with him personally. He claims his “over $14,000 in “service fees” as part of their 30% tax on all sales” qualifies him for better treatment and is demanding that Android developers unite to confront such shoddy treatment. The proletariat is pissed at Mountain View. Everything about Android you need to know is summarized by their logo:

Android developers and those favoring the use of software that allows you not to pay for copyrighted material: unite!

Mar 022011

One of the most popular movie and TV genres in this country revolves around its frontier period. Up until the 70’s, most representations were quaint pieces that brimmed with childlike wonder at the infinite possibility and untapped resources of America’s West. When the genre that became known as “Westerns” matured (i.e. acquired ‘R’ ratings) with classics like “A Fistful of Dollars”, “The Outlaw Josie Wales” and later “Unforgiven”, more realistic portrayals of the West gave people a sense of the downside of “open”. Indiscriminate murders, human trafficking, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, random raping and pillaging – turns out that in ecosystems where you got to do whatever the fuck you wanted, people pretty much did whatever the fuck they wanted. Who knew?

So you can imagine TMA’s shock and horror (actually more of a shrug and “took long enough”) when he read that Android users who have been downloading free apps from a company named Myournetm – up to 200,000 of them – have been downloading “free as in freedom” malware to their devices right on Google’s own Android Marketplace. From the Android Police report:

“We asked our resident hacker to take a look at the code himself, and he’s verified it does indeed root the user’s device via rageagainstthecage or exploid. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: it does more than just yank IMEI and IMSI. There’s another APK hidden inside the code, and it steals nearly everything it can: product ID, model, partner (provider?), language, country, and userID. But that’s all child’s play; the true pièce de résistance is that it has the ability to download more code. In other words, there’s no way to know what the app does after it’s installed, and the possibilities are nearly endless.”

So these apps pull every piece of information that isn’t nailed down and have the ability to receive instructions for to-be-determined devastation. There must be a “price of freedom” joke in there somewhere. Thank god for the Android Police though. They would be the Google employees tirelessly monitoring app submissions to protect the users of their OS, right? Actually, the Android Police is the hobbyist website that reported the malware to Google after a reader “stumbled” across it. The good news is that Google pulled the apps 5 minutes after the malware was reported to them, so if you were one of the unfortunate 200,000 to download one of these apps – well I guess it doesn’t mean shit to you. You may, however, now have a couple of Russian brides carrying your Social Security number into the country as we speak. And I hear they’re sometimes attractive.

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