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Government at Standoff with Mobile Encryption

Mobile EncryptionIn one of the few times an tech issue intersects with a political issue on this website, the Wall Street Journal reported today the United States Government is at odds with mobile device manufacturers and software developers over mobile encryption, saying it could lead to a “tragedy. ” The issue at hand is Apple, Google and other mobile software developers purposefully protecting users data, and preventing chances for law enforcement officers to unlock a locked device. In doing so, the software companies are combating the perception they are providing a “backdoor” for data to compromised by the government.

Law-enforcement officials, tone-deaf to the 4th Ammendment, believe this shift towards sheltering users data from government intrusion could lead to a tragedy. Even with a court-order it will now become more difficult for officials to gain access to a device’s data including pictures, messages, appointments or contacts. For instance, were Apple to be served with a court order, they wouldn’t even have the ability to decrypt the phone’s data.

While the government isn’t completely without recourse, as the majority of desired information can be obtained through wireless carriers, with regard to call logs and messages sent, coupled with files/information backed up to the computer. As a result of NSA information being leaked in how data collection on US Citizens is carried out, some might rightly call it spying, tech manufacturers and software developers are doing their part to avoid the blame. The WSJ article also reports WhatsAPP, owned by Facebook, is now encrypting text messages sent via the free data-driven service. Manufacturers and software developers aren’t alone, however, as telecommunications providers are starting to challenge the legality behind the government collecting data (spying) on citizens.

Under the guise of the Patriot Act, and “national security” the director of the FBI, James Comey, was quoted as saying “We need our private sector partners to take a step back, to pause to consider, I hope, a change of course.” Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, had this to say “Look, if law enforcement wants something they should go to the user and get it. It’s not for me to do that.”

The move to tweak software to encrypt data seems foolproof. As the government continues to overreach in “surveillance” rulings, there isn’t much (any?) legal precedence to force a manufacturer/developer to alter their Intellectual Property.

Photo from Wired‘s fantastic Article on iPhone encryption

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Google Classroom: Aiming to Overtake the LMS?

Google Classroom

Last week Jason Thomas tweeted a link about Google Classroom, an all-in-one solution for teachers and students create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and easily communicate within their classes. Classroom’s marketing materials even include it is designed to enable teachers to do “more teaching and less tech-ing” I kid you not, that’s on their webpage.

Google, the search giant, over the last several years has made strides to diversify its offerings, seemingly taking on every established sect of the technology industry from social networks to web based music players, mobile telephones to small web-based laptops and tablets. There isn’t a part of the technology market, with the exception of IT hardware, where Google isn’t currently attempting to be a competitor.

Google Classroom is the Mountain View, California based tech company’s foray into education; unifying the services offered as part of Google Apps for Business and tailoring it to meet the needs of education institutions. Google Classroom offers familiar services such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides staples of the Google Apps environment but also combines it with the ability for teachers to collect assignments through Google Classroom, easily distribute ‘handouts’ or allow students access to presentations and documents used and discussed in class.

Google Classroom offers an impressive amount of functionality to Google Apps users in education. Before technology managers get up in arms, Google Classroom isn’t ready, yet, to truly compete with or overtake traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS). There are still several key features traditional LMS powerhouses offer for which Google Classroom doesn’t yet have an answer- gradebook, lecture capture integration, online lecture posting/viewing, managed/monitored web discussions so on and so forth.

As it stands now, Google Classroom is a tremendous benefit for schools/colleges/universities not currently using a full-fledged LMS, but isn’t yet ready to overtake or even compete for the business of institutions using LMS already. It will be very interesting, however, if Google chooses to continue working on Classroom and expand it’s functionality, it could become a huge player and ultimately one of the highest used LMS companies, but that’s still 10 or more years away, if you ask me.

I just want Google Wave to come back.

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Google to develop modular smart phones in Project Ara

In September of 2013 Phoneblocks popularized the idea of modular mobile phone technology. I’m sure they weren’t the first to have the idea, but their marketing campaign was my first interaction with the idea of modular technology.

The idea of swapping, and upgrading, of components such as cameras, batteries, processors and storage instead of throwing away an old, or non-working phone allows consumers to have more flexibility and reduce electronics waste, one device at a time.

Google entered the modular mobile phone market, unveiling their plans for Project Ara; a device which would have different modules that would be secured into a metal frame by magnets. Each separate module would have a unique purpose and would offer consumers greater potential for customization, allowing them to choose the modules that best suit them.

Project Ara is taking customization to the next level, the unit could potentially employ eye tracking and heart-rate sensors to monitor the user’s level of frustration. As stress increases the configurator app will whittle down the choice to ease the decision making process, said Paul Eremenko, the head of Project Ara (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal).

There’s no telling what the true market would be for this product. Rajeev Chand, who is the head of the research at Rutberg & Co., an investment firm, says “there may not be consumer market for this.” I’m no prognosticator, but this seems like it could be exactly what the consumer smartphone market needs. Many people I’ve spoken with indicate they are seeking to upgrade their phone solely because it is slow, or the screen is cracked. Allowing them to swap out individual components could save the consumer hassle and money.

Modular smartphones also allow users to customize their device based on what’s important for them. “We want it to be like an app store,” Kingham Gabriel, Deputy Director of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group said “You may want a blood sugar monitor and a cigarette lighter on your phone. Why should you not have it?” I’d wager to guess this will be a hit, although I can’t yet envision a need for a cigarette lighter on a phone.

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