On Wednesday, 6/21, Snap Chat rolled out a new feature called Snap Map, and it has some parents nervous.
Snap Map allows people on your friend list to see your photos superimposed over a map, which allows them to know your location, and possibly where you live, go to school, etc. Considering that many Snap Chat users are pretty young, some parents are understandably concerned about predators and stalkers being able to use the app to track their children.
How is Snap Map meant to be used?
Snap Chat has described Snap Map as “a new way to explore the world,” and with the popularity of real-world interactive media like Pokemon Go, it makes sense that other media companies would want to explore new formats. People are curious about how other people live, and what things are like in other locations, which is easy to see in the popular hobby of using Google Street View to explore remote locations. The company also describes Snap Map as an easy way to meet up with friends in a crowded location, and the trend of apps that encourage more activity and face-to-face interaction can’t be all bad. Facebook’s Live Location feature (available thorough Messenger) will likely be competing with Snap Map.
Snap Map could also help people see where an event (like a concert or festival) is happening by showing a “heat map”—a location where a lot of people are Snapping.
What privacy policies are in place?
The company stresses that the Snap Map feature does not activate unless the user goes into the settings and turns it on, and that even then, only people on the user’s friend list has access to their location. Users can also adjust their own privacy settings to further limit who sees their location. However, after the update, a tutorial will play when the app is opened to ask if you want to turn on the new feature. Someone pushing buttons without reading the details might accidentally broadcast their location without realizing it. The app notifies your friends of your location every time you open the app—not just when you send a Snap—so it’s like walking around with a bug in your pocket.
What can you do?
While this new feature has its perks, you may want to check in with your kids and have them check their settings just to be safe. Like all social media, it is worth your time to do a little research and regularly update your privacy settings, exercising reasonable caution, so that you aren’t giving away more than you thought.
Tomorrow at TedX Sydney’s Opera House event, high-profile neurosurgeon Charlie Teo will talk about brain cancer. Last Saturday Teo was on Channel 9’s Sunrise program talking about the often malignant cancer that in 2012 killed 1,241 Australians. During the program he said:
Unfortunately the jury is still out on whether mobile phones can lead to brain cancer, but studies suggest it’s so.
Teo’s name appears on a submission recently sent to the United Nations. If you Google “Charlie Teo and mobile phones” you will see that his public statements on this issue go back years.
The submission he signed commences:
We are scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices. These include – but are not limited to – radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures [sic] used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF).
That list just about covers off every facet of modern life: the internet, phones, radio, television and any smart technology. It’s a list the Amish and reclusive communities of “wifi refugees” know all about.
Other than those living in the remotest of remote locations, there are very few in Australia today who are not bathed in electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation, 24 hours a day. My mobile phone shows me that my house is exposed to the wifi systems of six neighbours’ houses as well as my own. Public wifi hotspots are rapidly increasing.
The first mobile phone call in Australia was made over 28 years ago on February 23, 1987. In December 2013, there were some 30.2 million mobile phones being used in a population of 22.7 million people. Predictions are that there will be 5.9 billion smartphone users globally within four years. There are now more than 100 nations which have more mobile phones than population.
So while Australia has become saturated in electromagnetic field radiation over the past quarter century, what has happened to cancer rates?
Brain cancer is Teo’s surgical speciality and the cancer site that attracts nearly all of the mobile phone panic attention. In 1987 the age-adjusted incidence rate of brain cancer in Australia per 100,000 people was 6.6. In 2011, the most recent year for which national data is available, the rate was 7.3.
The graph below shows brain cancer incidence has all but flat-lined across the 29 years for which data are available. All cancer is notifiable in Australia.
Brain cancers are a relatively uncommon group of cancers: their 7.3 per 100,000 incidence compares with female breast (116), colorectal (61.5) and lung cancer (42.5). There is no epidemic of brain cancer, let alone mobile phone caused brain cancer. The Cancer Council explicitly rejects the link. This US National Cancer Institute fact sheet summarises current research, highlighting rather different conclusions than Charlie Teo.
Another Australian signatory of the submission, Priyanka Bandara, describes herself as an “Independent Environmental Health Educator/Researcher; Advisor, Environmental Health Trust and Doctors for Safer Schools”.
Last year, a former student of mine asked to meet with me to discuss wifi on our university campus. She arrived at my office with Bandara who looked worried as she ran a EMF meter over my room. I was being pickled in it, apparently.
Her pitch to me was one I have encountered many times before. The key ingredients are that there are now lots of highly credentialed scientists who are deeply concerned about a particular problem, here wifi. These scientists have published [pick a very large number] of “peer reviewed” research papers about the problem.
Peer review often turns out to be having like-minded people from their networks, typically with words like “former”, “leading”, “senior” next to their names, write gushing appraisals of often unpublished reports.
The neo-Galilean narrative then moves to how this information is all being suppressed by the web of influence of vested industrial interests. These interests are arranging for scientists to be sacked, suppressing publication of alarming reports, and preventing many scientists from speaking out in fear.
Case reports of individuals claiming to be harmed and suffering Old Testament-length lists of symptoms as a result of exposure are then publicised. Here’s one for smart meters, strikingly similar to the 240+ symptom list for “wind turbine syndrome”. Almost any symptom is attributed to exposure.
Historical parallels with the conduct of the tobacco and asbestos industries and Big Pharma are then made. The argument runs “we understand the history of suppression and denial with these industries and this new issue is now experiencing the same”.
There is no room for considering that the claims about the new issue might just be claptrap and that the industries affected by the circulation of false and dangerous nonsense might understandably want to stamp on it.
Bandara’s modest blog offers schools the opportunity to hear her message:
Wireless technologies are sweeping across schools exposing young children to microwave radiation. This is not in line with the Precautionary Principle. A typical classroom with 25 WiFi enabled tablets/laptops (each operating at 0.2 W) generates in five hours about the same microwave radiation output as a typical microwave oven (at 800 W)in two minutes. Would you like to microwave your child for two minutes (without causing heating as it is done very slowly using lower power) daily?
There can be serious consequences of alarming people about infinitesimally small, effectively non-existent risks. This rural Victorian news story features a woman so convinced that transmission towers are harming her that she covers her head in a “protective” cloth cape.
This woman was so alarmed about the electricity smart meter at her house that she had her electricity cut off, causing her teenage daughter to study by candlelight. Yet she is shown being interviewed by a wireless microphone.
Mobile phones have played important roles in rapid response to life-saving emergencies. Reducing access to wireless technology would have incalculable effects in billions of people’s lives, many profoundly negative.
Exposing people to fearful messages about wifi has been experimentally demonstrated to increase symptom reportage when subjects were later exposed to sham wifi. Such fears can precipitate contact with charlatans readily found on the internet who will come to your house, wave meters around and frighten the gullible into purchasing magic room paint, protective clothing, bed materials and other snake-oil at exorbitant prices.
As exponential improvements in technology improve the lifestyles and well-being of the world’s population, we seem destined to witness an inexorable parallel rise in fear-mongering about these benefits.
There’s a big difference between a 4-digit PIN and a 6-digit PIN.
One consequence of the Apple vs FBI drama has been to shine a spotlight on the security of smartphone lockscreens.
The fact that the FBI managed to hack the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter without Apple’s help raises questions about whether PIN codes and swipe patterns are as secure as we think.
In fact, they’re probably not as secure as we’d hope. No device as complex as a smartphone or tablet is ever completely secure, but device manufactures and developers are still doing their best to keep your data safe.
The first line of defence is your lockscreen, typically protected by a PIN code or password.
When it comes to smartphones, the humble four-digit PIN code is the most popular choice. Unfortunately, even ignoring terrible PIN combinations such as “1234”, “1111” or “7777”, four-digit PIN codes are still incredibly weak, since there are only 10,000 unique possible PINs.
If you lose your device, and there are no other protections, it would only take a couple of days for someone to find the correct PIN through brute force (i.e. attempting every combination of four-digit PIN).
A random six-digit PIN will afford you better security, given that there are a million possible combinations. However, with a weak PIN and a bit of time and luck, it’s still possible for someone to bypass this using something like Rubber Ducky, a tool designed to try every PIN combination without triggering other security mechanisms.
Checks and balances
Fortunately, there other safeguards in place. On iPhones and iPads, for instance, there is a forced delay of 80 milliseconds between PIN or password attempts.
And after 10 incorrect attempts, the device will either time-out for increasing periods of time, lock out completely, or potentially delete all data permanently, depending on your settings.
Similarly, Android devices enforce time delays after a number of passcode or password entries. However, stock Android devices will not delete their contents after any number of incorrect entries.
Swipe patterns are also a good security mechanism, as there are more possible combinations than a four-digit PIN. Additionally, you can’t set your swipe pattern to be the same as your banking PIN or password, so if one is compromised, then the others remain secure.
However, all of these security controls can potentially be thwarted. By simply observing the fingerprints on a device’s display on an unclean screen, it is possible to discern a swipe pattern or passcode. When it comes to touch screen devices: cleanliness is next to secure-ness.
Speaking of fingers, biometrics have increased in popularity recently. Biometric security controls simply means that traits of a human body can be used to identify someone and therefore unlock something.
In the case of smartphones, there are competing systems that offer various levels of security. Android has facial, voice and fingerprint unlocking, while iOS has fingerprint unlocking only.
Generally, biometrics on their own are not inherently secure. When used as the only protection mechanism, they’re often very unreliable, either allowing too many unauthorised users to access a device (false positives), or by creating a frustrating user experience by locking out legitimate users (false negatives).
Some methods of bypassing these biometric protections have been widely publicised, such as using a gummi bear or PVA glue to bypass Apple’s TouchID, or using a picture to fool facial recognition on Android.
To combat this, Apple disables the TouchID after five incorrect fingerprint attempts, requiring a passcode or password entry to re-enable the sensor. Likewise, current versions of Android enforce increasing time-outs on after a number of incorrect entries.
These methods help strike a balance between security and usability, which is crucial for making sure smartphones don’t end up hurled at a wall.
Although these lockscreen protections are in place, your device may still contain bugs in its software that can allow attackers to bypass them. A quick search for “smartphone lockscreen bypasses” on your favourite search engine will yield more results than you’d probably care to read.
Lockscreen bypasses are particularly problematic for older devices that are no longer receiving security updates, but new devices are not immune. For example, the latest major iOS release (iOS 9.0) contained a flaw that allowed users to access the device without entering a valid passcode via the Clock app, which is accessible on the lockscreen. Similar bugs have been discovered for Android devices as well.
All of these efforts could be thrown out the window if you install an app that includes malware.
So lockscreens, PIN codes, passwords and swipe patters should only be considered your first line of defence rather than a foolproof means of securing your device.