October 24, 2014
Emergency dispatch centers are gearing up to handle communications beyond simple phone calls. Known as next-generation 911, it will roll out in some places as early as next year and is expected to be widespread within about three years. [via Spokesman]
People will be able to text 911 directly, with more advanced interactions to follow. Before long a witness to an unfolding disaster or a crime in progress will be able to send live video of the scene to a dispatcher, who can patch that through to first responders, giving them a glimpse of what to expect.
... But before the local dispatch center can begin receiving texts, photos and video, Washington must upgrade the statewide 911 network, which routes calls to the appropriate jurisdiction, Mizell said. The state is getting ready to make those improvements now.
Biologist work to bring down the number of human deaths from encounters with Asian elephants through mobile phones. AlJazeera reports.
Mobile phones are being increasingly used in one of India's southern states to reduce conflict between Asian elephants and the humans who live near their habitat.
Ananda Kumar of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) is leading this technological revolution to bring down the number of human casualties from these encounters by sending out mass text alerts to those in the rural areas, where mobile phones are fairly common these days.
Human-animal conflict is a growing problem with rapid urbanisation and clearing of land. A recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2009-2011, almost 1,000 people were killed in the states of Assam, Maharashtra and Odisha, in confrontations with wild animals, especially elephants.
Read full article.
October 21, 2014
A computer-controlled text message service could direct Ebola cases to appropriate medical facilities and track the spread of the disease in the process–provided it can raise the necessary funding. [MIT Technology Review]
Back in July, Cedric Moro started a crowdsourced mapping service to keep track of the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Moro is a risk consultant who has created several crowdsourced maps of this kind using the openStreetMap project Umap.
Anyone can enter information about suspected or confirmed Ebola cases while hospitals and other health facilities can tell people whether they are open and functioning and how many spare beds they have.
The site tracks other information to such as unsafe burials, hostility towards health workers and links to information about the disease. It even tracks the movement of infected individuals to see how the disease spreads.
Moro’s work has been hugely important in helping to link potential victims with appropriate healthcare facilities and giving a broader overview of the tragedy as it unfolds.
But it also has an important limitation. Anyone hoping to contribute must have access to a computer or smartphone to upload their information. That means the system is accessible only to a relatively small portion of the population.
Today, Mohamad Trad from Doctors Without Borders in Paris, France, and a couple of pals outline plans to build on Moro’s approach and make this kind of information available purely through ordinary mobile phones. “We propose building a recommendation system based on simple SMS text messaging to help Ebola patients readily find the closest health service with available and appropriate resources,” they say.
The system will be easy for locals to use. The idea is that they can report their symptoms via text to a toll-free number where the messages will be analysed by natural language processing algorithms to determine whether theirs is likely to be a case of Ebola. The system will take into account the spatial distribution of known Ebola cases to classify the disease as accurately as possible.
Read full article.
Canada, like many countries, has a prison contraband problem. Its inmates are sneaking in cell phones at an increasing rate, so, to stop them from running crime rings from the inside, the country is thinking about using cell phone jammers in its correctional facilities.
Documents obtained by Motherboard under the Access to Information Act suggest Correctional Service Canada looked into the use of cell phone jamming technologies in March 2012, after the agency reported over 200 illegal cell phones being confiscated from federal prisons in three years.
... With cell phones, and especially smartphones, Canadian inmates were being given "unfettered access to the internet and social media sites" that let them touch base with the online free world.
But potential jamming technologies would also raise some serious concerns on the outside.
Cell phone jammers can interrupt the communication of bees, could be powerful enough to disrupt nearby public services like police, firefighters, and ambulances, and could interfere "in national security investigations being carried out by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," the documents said.
Brazil tried and failed. Law enforcement agents couldn't jam the full cell phone spectrum in certain prisons and inmates found the "shadows" within cell coverage to continue their criminal activities from jail.
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October 16, 2014
The BBC has launched an Ebola public health information service on WhatsApp, aimed at users of the service in West Africa. Te BBC reports.
The service will provide audio, text message alerts and images to help people get the latest public health information to combat the spread of Ebola in the region.
Content will be limited to three items a day, and the service will be in English and French.
To subscribe, send 'JOIN' via WhatsApp to +44 7702 348 651
To unsubscribe, send 'STOP' via WhatsApp to the same number.
As the biggest "chat app" in use in Africa, the platform is being used as a means of reaching people in the region directly through their mobile phones.
October 15, 2014
The operators of a text-message-based system used to advise people about Ebola in Sierra Leone aim to extend it to seven other West African nations. The BBC reports.
The facility allows the Red Cross and Red Crescent charities to send SMS messages to every switched-on handset in a specific area by drawing its shape on a computer-generated map.
It also automatically sends back appropriate replies to incoming texts.
The charities say they hope to complete the expansion within nine months.
However, they will first require the co-operation of local mobile networks and authorities.
Read full article.
October 14, 2014
An Australian doctor is raising funds to launch an SMS service in West Africa that sends people to the right medical facilities based on key words used, and crunches that data to look for the next outbreak spot. Wired reports.
Mohamad-Ali Trad who has a masters in public health and tropical medicine and has worked with MSF in under-resourced areas and conflict zones -- and his friend Raja Jurdak, who works in the telecommunications sector, the initial idea was to use a similar system to reduce A&E waiting times in Australian hospitals. Patients text code words such as "fever" or "cough" to a specific number, and immediately get an SMS directing them to the most appropriate service.
It would save on the lengthy recorded messages many establishments in the NHS favour, but also ensure patients go where there is a doctor or a bed free. It's the secondary element of the system Trad is proposing, however, that is perhaps most interesting. This, he tells us, "records geographical patterns of those code words.
"For example, we will be able to tell how many fever 'code words' have been sent from a particular area, and hence this could act as a warning system for the nearby healthcare centres." This is relevant in any situation -- be it a local flu outbreak in the UK, or the start of the malaria season elsewhere.
Read full article.
October 13, 2014
A new photo-sharing app uses a common optical illusion to make your sent snaps a lot harder for the receiver to screenshot. C/net reports.
Popular photo sharing app Snapchat may notify you when the recipient of your image takes a screenshot -- but it doesn't actually make it harder to grab that screenshot in the first place.
New iOS app Yovo is looking to make a change in that direction. Created by privacy software company ContentGuard, it uses a novel solution to protect your snaps from screenshots: because it can't do anything about controlling user behaviour, it uses an optical illusion on the images themselves.
The illusion it uses is simple -- the Barrier Grid illusion. This is similar to what you might experience driving past a picket fence: as you speed past, your eyes tend to see the stationary scene behind the palings, rather than the palings themselves.
Read full article.
October 12, 2014
A new service launched this week by Nati Roadway Services in Israel aims to allow hard of hearing people the possibility of calling for help via SMS.
The service, entitled SOS by SMS will allow the deaf and hard of hearing population in Israel roadside and towing assistance by allowing them to send an SMS from their cell phones to call for help. The service is available to the hard of hearing 24 hours a day and seven days a week at a cost of NIS 300 per year.
[via The Jerusalem Post]
October 11, 2014
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking the approximate locations of cell phone users in West Africa who dial emergency call centers in an effort to predict the onset and spread of Ebola outbreaks. Mashable reports.
The data is just the number of calls by cell tower but from that you can get a rough idea of the area that the calls are coming in from, and then derive census, neighborhood data from that," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told Nextgov on Thursday.
It's one of the high-tech approaches the U.S. government is piloting to stop the spread of the disease.
There is deep cell phone penetration in many parts of West Africa, where land lines sometimes are nonexistent.
By collecting tower data from telecommunications providers, CDC officials can visualize the beginnings of an outbreak, explained Este Geraghty, chief medical officer at software mapping provider Esri. She's working with the agency on response efforts.
Read full article.
-- Commentary: Containing the Ebola Outbreak – the Potential and Challenge of Mobile Network Data - A Sept. 29 article in the online medical journal "PLOS Currents" outlined the potential of mobile network data to restrain Ebola.
October 10, 2014
The improved iPhone encryption built into iOS 8 ensures for the first time, that all the important data on your phone—photos, messages, contacts, reminders, call history—are encrypted by default. Nobody but you can access the iPhone’s contents, unless your passcode is compromised, something you can make nearly impossible by changing your settings to replace your four-digit PIN with an alphanumeric password. Wired reports.
Rather than welcome this sea change, which makes consumers more secure, top law enforcement officials, including US Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director James Comey, are leading a charge to maintain the insecure status quo.
They warn that without the ability to crack the security on seized smartphones, police will be hamstrung in critical investigations. John Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department, predicts the iPhone will become “the phone of choice for the pedophile.
Read full article.
October 7, 2014
An example today of how text messaging helps a community communicate directly and efficiently.
Greenpop is a social business that plants indigenous and fruit trees in schools and community centres and organises reforestation projects in deforested areas.
With over 400 beneficiaries, 100 VIP’s and loads of volunteers in Cape Town and Zambia, Greenpop needs to communicate with them as well as the beneficiaries of previous tree-planting excursions.
A challenge Greenpop faces is being able to send reminders and workshop invitations to people that live in rural areas that lack internet access. And because the majority of people do own cellphones, members, teachers, activists and volunteers can be informed thanks to a text messaging service provided by BulkSMS.
Greenpop has had great success in rallying local support to their projects in Zambia and they are relying on BulkSMS to keep their beneficiaries inspired, interested and engaged with their work.
October 6, 2014
According to Buzzfeed, tiny radio transmitters known as 'beacons' — devices that can be used to track people's movements — have been installed in hundreds of pay phone booths across Manhattan.
Titan, the outdoor media company that sells ad space in more than 5,000 panels in phone kiosks around the five boroughs, has installed about 500 of the beacons, a spokesman for the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), Nicholas Sbordone, confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
... One of New York's leading privacy advocates, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman, denounced the program after learning of it from a reporter Sunday.
Read full article.
October 2, 2014
Disused phone boxes in London are being put to a novel use - as solar-powered charging stations for mobile phones. The first of six boxes was unveiled on Tottenham Court Road this week.
The service is free to use although users will be shown adverts as they wait for their phone to charge.
[via the BBC]
October 1, 2014
A new smartphone app empowers deaf people to “hear” through coloured lights when a phone is ringing, and then have a conversation via sign language interpreters. The Telegraph reports.
The Convo Lights app works with Philips Hue, the Wi-Fi enabled light bulbs which can be made to change colour or turn off and on via a smartphone app. Hue is largely designed for aesthetics but Convo has given it new abilities by flashing the lights or displaying certain colours when an incoming phone call is detected.
Since the launch of Philips Hue last year third-party developers worldwide have created nearly 200 complimentary apps.
The new app from Convo, a deaf-owned and operated company providing video phone and translation services to the deaf community, allows users to create personalised ringtones of light to identify incoming callers, and adjust the brightness in a room to make sign language easier to see onscreen.
Convo also provides a service which allows deaf people to communicate over the phone with hearing people in real time via a sign language interpreter, which is built into the app.
September 29, 2014
A dumbphone-based SMS service makes it easy—and affordable—to study for Kenya's high-stakes tests. takepart reports.
Eneza, a tiny Nairobi-based social enterprise, has developed an SMS-based system that sends practice exams to kids whose families subscribe for the equivalent of 10 cents a week.
While broadband and smartphone technologies are out of reach of many rural Kenyan communities, “students who have less than $1 day [nevertheless] have access to SMS,” said the app’s developer, Nairobi programmer Kago Kagichiri.
Kagichiri said that in two years, Eneza has reached 35,000 subscribers throughout Kenya; they have access to practice exams and tutoring material in five subjects, as well as unlimited text messaging to complete the exercises and have results texted back to them.
The company claims children using the service saw their national exam scores improve by an average of 5 percent after one year. That figure rose to 11 percent when Eneza was used in cooperation with teachers, rather than individually at home.
Read full article.
Though only 10 percent of North Korea's population use Koryolink, the wireless carrier for the country that launched in 2008, the government has published guidelines on proper phone etiquette. As Slate points out:
It seems unlikely that North Koreans are loudly divulging personal information while riding on public buses or walking around, given the constant threat of being sent to work camps or even being killed for inappropriate behavior.
If the above seems extreme, remember that during the 100 day mourning period for Kim Jong-Il in 2012, citizens in North Korea were banned from using mobile phones, and those caught were to be treated as 'war criminals'.
September 27, 2014
Airline passengers will be able to use their mobile phones throughout flights after the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ruled that they do not pose a risk to aircraft safety. The Telegraph reports.
Under current rules all passengers have to switch their mobile phones to “airplane mode” during take-off and landing.
But the EASA has now offered new guidance which allows airlines to change their own rules and allow mobile phones to be used “throughout the flight”.
It will be up to each airline to decide whether or not to allow the use of phones on board and each company will have to go through its own assessment process to ensure that their aircraft systems are not affected in any way by the transmission signals.
Once airlines have completed this safety assessment they will have to install additional equipment in order to provide customers with a signal because mobile phone transmitters cannot be reached from the high cruising altitudes that modern airliners reach.
... Mobile phone use had now been conclusively proved safe throughout all portions of a flight.
It will take at least two months for the first airlines to pass the new safety assessments, he estimated.
Read full article.
September 26, 2014
The mobile revolution in Myanmar, a country that was once one of the most reclusive in the world, is kicking up a gear after Telenor confirmed it will launch its much-anticipated mobile service in the country this weekend. [via TheNextWeb]
The Norway-headquartered company is the highest profile operator to enter Myanmar (also known as Burma) since the country ended decades of military rule in 2012.
Telenor’s entry represents another important step towards democratizing mobile phones in Myanmar. SIM cards once cost $200 (or upwards of $1,500 during military rule) making them too expensive for most of the population. Qatari firm Ooredoo introduced $1.50-priced SIMs in August, prompting huge queues, and Telenor is following suit with the same low prices — meaning greater choice and increased availability.
Read full article.
September 25, 2014
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a nurse or doctor should see a maximum of 10 patients a day. But according to Tetanye Ekoe, the vice president of the National Order of Medical Doctors in Cameroon, “the doctor-to-patient ratio in Cameroon stands at one doctor per 40,000 inhabitants, and in remote areas such as the Far North and Eastern Regions, the ratio is closer to one doctor per 50,000 inhabitants.”
According to UNICEF, out of every 100,000 live births 670 women in Cameroon die. UNICEF figures also state that for every 1,000 live births, 61 infants died in Cameroon in 2012.
“Many women are dying from child-birth related issues. Women are dying while giving life. And this is something we are really concerned about, but we also know that with the coming of mobile technology, there is hope for women in Africa,” Okwen says. With this system, it suffices to send an SMS or a simple beep, and all the actors involved in saving lives are mobilised.
“Most of the women in Africa today have access to a telephone. It could be her own, her husband’s own, or a neighbour’s. So if we had a way in which women could reach an ambulance using a phone that would guide the ambulance, it could indeed present hope for African women,” he explains.
Okwen says the project has benefitted “close to one hundred women in terms of information, evacuation, arrangements of hospital visits, deliveries and caesarean sections.”
The project has been dubbed “Tsamounde”, which means hope in the local Fufuldé language.
Read full article.
September 23, 2014
The aim of their experiment, described in a paper presented at last week’s Ubicomp 2014 conference, was to see if autonomous data collection could help indicate depression, loneliness, and stress in college students.
The researchers gave smartphones loaded with an app they designed, StudentLife, to 75 Dartmouth students and collected their accelerometer, microphone, light sensor, and GPS data for 10 weeks. The data collection was totally passive and offered no feedback to the students; the phones acted as silent black boxes, constantly sucking in data and calculating the results.
By tracking the amount of sleep subjects got, how many social conversations they had (measured by tracking microphone activity and filtering out lecture hours), and how much they moved around during the day, the Dartmouth researchers found a significant correlation between the results garnered from sensor data and self-reported surveys on mental health, as well as clinical definitions of depression.
Read full article.
September 18, 2014
ComSonics, a Virginia-based company, is developing a radar gun-like device with which police officers will be able to detect drivers who are texting. The gadget uses the telltale radio frequencies that emit from a vehicle when someone inside is using a cellphone. [via Autoevolution]
According to Malcolm McIntyre of ComicSonics, the technology of the new radar is similar to what cable repairmen use to find where a cable is damaged, from a rodent, for instance. They basically look for frequencies leaking in a transmission, McIntyre said.
September 17, 2014
For those in countries where Internet Service Providers and cellular carriers play hide-and-seek with respect to offering broadband internet, the Cosmos Browser for Android lets you browse the Web using only text messaging (SMS). The need to connect to the internet via a cellular or Wi-Fi network is eliminated. [via IBTimes]
All you require is an Android cellphone, the Cosmos Browser, and an unlimited SMS tariff plan from your carrier.
How does the Cosmos Browser operate?
The Cosmos Browser concept is based on a service called Twilio, which acts as moderator between user and the web service they requested.
All you need to do is key in the URL of your desired website in the Cosmos Browser, which sends a text message to Twilio that in turn forwards the requested URL as a POST request to the backend service (developer program).
September 16, 2014
In August, a widely reported report from comScore, a measurement firm, concluded that the majority of smartphone users in the United States download precisely zero apps in any given month.
One possible explanation is that people just don’t need that many apps, and the apps people already have are more than suitable for most functions,” speculated Quartz’s Dan Frommer at the time. New data from Localytics, an app analytics firm which tracks 28,000 apps across 1.5 billion global devices, lends some evidence to this theory.
According to Localytics, the amount of time people spend within apps has shot up by a fifth over the past year, helping app use alone outpace all desktop computer use. Moreover, people are launching apps more often, up from 9.4 times to 11.5 times a month.
September 15, 2014
The Chinese city of Chongqing has created a smartphone sidewalk lane, offering a path for those too caught up in messaging and tweeting to watch where they're going.
"There are lots of elderly people and children in our street, and walking with your cell phone may cause unnecessary collisions here," said Nong Cheng, a spokeswoman for the district's property management company. However, she clarified that the initiative was meant to be a satirical way to highlight the dangers of texting and walking.
September 10, 2014
For many Americans living below the poverty line, getting adequate healthcare is nearly impossible, resulting in low-income communities being underserved by the health care system. Understanding how to better serve these neighborhoods is a point of concern for medical researchers and community organizers alike. motherboard reports.
Take Parkside, a public housing complex on the eastside of Detroit that houses about 750 people, 90 percent of whom are black. Nearly half of Parkside's residents live below the poverty line. Many of the people who live there can’t afford proper health care, and community organizations like Friends of Parkside (FOP), which aims to improve the Parkside community through a variety of services, are looking for effective ways to conduct surveys to find out how they can help.
Researchers from the University of Michigan teamed up with FOP to address the issue using an often overlooked technology: texting.
Even if people can't afford to pay for their medication or buy things that we perceive as them needing, they will definitely pay for their cell phones and text messaging plans," Tammy Chang, lead author of the study, told me. "Why are we not using this resource? It's a low-tech, basically ubiquitous technology that we can use to tap into their thoughts and opinions about issues going on in their community."
... Chang explained: "What text messaging allows people to do is give their feedback in their time, in their own language—in a language they use to communicate in every other aspect of their lives."
Text messaging, in this context, has a democratizing effect in more arenas than just language. For one, it’s extremely cheap for both surveyors and survey takers. The University of Michigan researchers estimate that it would cost just $50 for a community organization like FOP to launch a text message-based survey campaign.
Read full article.
Motorists popped for texting-while-driving violations in Long Island could be mandated to temporarily disable their mobile phones the next time they take to the road. arstechnica reports.
That's according to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who says she is moving to mandate that either hardware be installed or apps be activated that disable the mobile phone while behind the wheel. The district attorney likened the texter's punishment to drunk drivers who sometimes are required to breathe into a device before turning on the ignition.
Newsday sayd Rice has already brought 82 texting-while-driving cases.
Across the country, 44 states ban text messaging for drivers. At least 12 states bar drivers from using mobile phones at all.
The vast majority of popular apps are guilty of basic failings over user privacy, a report has warned. [via the BBC]
The Global Privacy Enforcement Network(Gpen) looked at 1,211 apps and found 85% were not clearly explaining what data was being collected, and for what reason.
Almost one in three apps were requesting an excessive amount of personal information, the report said.
The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has backed the findings.
Privacy International told the BBC that users being left in the dark on data collection was "completely unacceptable".
"Sadly this type of smash and grab is now becoming an industry standard, where apps are taking as much information as possible and hoping users don't notice.
Read full article.
September 8, 2014
A gadget for text messaging without cell service sees a spike in interest from the pro-privacy crypto and Bitcoin communities -- even though that wasn't its creators' intention. c/Net reports.
goTenna -- a small Bluetooth-enabled rod packed to the brim with modern radio innards -- lets you create your own private, secure communication network for sending messages without cell service using your smartphone. Though marketed toward outdoors and emergency situations like hiking and disaster relief, GoTenna is getting a boost from the cryptography community. Levy, whose neighborhood gets little to zero reliable cell service, happens to represent both. He's among the more than 25 percent of GoTenna preorder customers who paid for the product with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Read full article.
September 3, 2014
The family of Z3 devices can be combined with a PS4 controller to play console games. Owners will be able to attach the new devices to an existing PS4 controller via a special mount to play titles powered by the console's processors. Until now this "remote play" facility had only been offered to the firm's PlayStation Vita handheld console.
[via The BBC]
September 2, 2014
InSTEDD's iLab Southeast Asia (SEA), an innovation lab located in Phnom Phenh, takes on the illiteracy challenge. Joseph Agoada, Communications Advisor, InSTEDDc explains how they do it, for the Huffington Post.
... In Cambodia, programs delivering critical information via mobile texts to citizens were disrupted by scripting of the local language, Khmer. Many of the second hand phones that the vulnerable population used did not have the ability to type or show words in the Khmer script language, making texted information unreadable and unproduceable.
Through initial interviews with both end users and program implementing organizations, assumptions about the problem were generated about the illiteracy and readability problem, contexts became intimately understood, and potential solutions around use of voice systems were proposed, tested and improved upon. Out of that iterative process came VerboiceTM an adaptable open-source tool that made it easy for anyone, speaking any language, to create and run their own customized interactive voice response systems for mobile phones.
Since its inception in 2011, Verboice has been used to make over 2 million calls worldwide, and is being deployed by dozens of organizations across sectors, cultures and countries for projects ranging from health related reminder calls for maternal n in East Africa to an election information hotline in Southeast Asia. The technology acts an innovation building block that can be plugged-in or build on top of existing work and tools while operating in the background.
Read full article.