If you have been on Facebook, Twitter or any other social medium in the last few weeks then you must have noticed that the app called FaceApp is everywhere.
Launched in January 2017, the app suddenly received a new lease of life.
But as quickly as it has appeared, the worries about what the company is actually doing with photos and it’s users privacy have followed too.
What is FaceApp?
FaceApp is the hot new trend. It’s an iPhone and Android app that takes your photos and performs some digital wizardry to manipulate your face through a number of clever filters.
The old age filter has become particularly popular because it is available for use in the app for free. It’s pretty amazing too, and is able to produce highly convincing results.
How does FaceAppwork?
The app works by using the power of machine learning. This is a new technique that is increasingly ubiquitous in computing.
Essentially, rather than try to explain to a computer what it means to age – and describe using code what a wrinkle, grey hair or Werther’s Originals are – the computer will figure them out for itself by being “trained” with thousands of other photos of old people.
The results are pretty impressive – if not entirely accurate. Run a photo of someone who is old now from when they were young, and FaceApp is unlikely to produce an image which looks exactly like them now.
So this is the important question! As quickly as the app has gone viral, so have the privacy worries. So much so that US Senator Chuck Schumer has called for the FBI to investigate the app.
And there are many posts going viral on Facebook and other social media urging users to approach the app with caution.
The worry seems to hinge on the fact that in order for the app to work, the user must grant the app access to the photos on his phone – just like you have to with Instagram or a billion other apps.
What’s worrying people is two things: What this conceivably means is that the app has access to all of the photos on your phone, so if developers chose to do so, they could conceivably tell the app to upload all your photos to their servers, or pass them on to other organisations.
What’s amplifying this worry is that the company that makes the app, Wireless Lab, is based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Although large, mainstream apps routinely collect user data, many trendy-at-the-moment apps are guilty of mining user data as a primary purpose. Some personality quizzes on Facebook and similar services collect user information as a business, opening people up to breaches such as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
As for FaceApp, the app grabs a photo only if you specifically select it to see your face change, security researcher and Guardian Firewall CEO Will Strafach said.
The confusion comes from an iPhone feature that shows your photo library within the app. It is an Apple feature that lets you select a specific photo, but doesn’t give the app full access to the library, even though it may appear that way.
You have the option of granting access to your entire photo library, but even then, there is no evidence the app is uploading anything other than the photo selected.
‘‘I’m always looking for privacy concerns,’’ said Strafach, who used a network analyzer tool to track what was happening. ‘‘When it’s not happening, it’s not happening.’’
There’s a version of FaceApp for Android, but those phones don’t tap photo libraries the same way.
That’s not to say the app isn’t free of problems, Strafach said.
Despite the initial worries, at the moment the evidence suggests that the app is behaving responsibly and not uploading all of the user photos. Several other developers have analysed what is being transmitted, and have concluded that all the app is uploading are the photos that the user chooses to apply filters to.
This is because unlike, say, Instagram filters, the photo processing on FaceApp takes place in the cloud. In other words, all the app does is upload the photo and then download the completed stuff – all of the clever digital ageing takes place on servers elsewhere.
The reason for the app working this way could be two-fold: First, this sort of processing is very hard to do locally. The reason machine learning is so powerful now is because processing can take place using the processing power contained within entire server farms if necessary – rather than relying on the processor in your phone.
Even with those admissions, Strafach urged people to resist the pull of the app. He said the app should have been upfront and told users it was processing photos in the cloud rather than on phones.
‘‘Bottom line is they were handling sensitive data and they handled it cavalierly and that’s just not cool,’’ he said.
Five reasons Chromebooks are better than Windows laptops
When one of my compares recently wrote that a Best Buy salesperson assured him Windows laptops were better than Chromebooks, I was reminded of that old joke: “What’s the difference between a computer salesman and a used car salesman? The used car salesman knows when he’s lying.”
Now, there are Best Buy people who know their stuff, and there are Windows users who should stick with Windows. If, for example, you live and die by one or two native Windows applications, there’s no point in even considering going elsewhere. And, if you’re a die-hard Windows gamer, Best Buy will be happy to sell you a top-of-the-line Alienware gaming PC.
But there are also many good reasons to use Chromebooks. Here are the top reasons.
CHROME OS IS MORE STABLE THAN WINDOWS 10
WIndows, especially lately, has been prone to one update problem after another. The latest example: Microsoft broke Visual Basic programs for many users. I mean, how do you break the Visual Basic 6 code? The language has been part and parcel of the Microsoft family since 1998!
Windows updates have become a nightmare over the past few years. Today, Windows users hold off for as long as possible before “updating” their PCs. Chrome OS users, on the other hand, have their systems updated every six weeks without a hitch. And, I might add, these updates take a minute or two instead of an hour or two.
Chrome OS is also more secure than Windows. WIndows security violations pop up every blessed month. Sure, Chrome OS has had security holes, but I can’t think of one that’s been significantly exploited.
CHROME OS MAKES IT EASY TO MOVE TO NEW HARDWARE
Want a nightmare? Try migrating from an old Windows PC to a new one. Even if you’re jumping from Windows 10 to Windows 10, there are no easy ways to do it. If you have a Microsoft account, rather than a local account, you must manually move your local files from third-party programs such as Photoshop
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On Chrome OS, you log in to your new Chromebook and — ta-da! — you’re back in business. No fuss, no muss.
WITH CHROME OS, EVEN IF YOUR CHROMEBOOK BURST INTO FLAMES YOU LOSE NOTHING.
Say you drop your laptop, and then the screen cracks. If you’re running Windows, you’d better hope you have a good recent backup, and you’re able to restore it to a new one without too much trouble. Good luck with that.
When I did that with a Chromebook, I got a new machine, signed into it, and in three minutes I was ready to go again. Using a Chromebook means never losing your settings, applications, or data again.
CHROMEBOOKS WORK JUST FINE OFFLINE
One of the great myths about Chromebooks is that, without an internet connection, Chromebooks are just expensive door-stops. Wrong.
With an offline Chromebook, you can still read and write Gmail, use your calendar, watch movies, listen to music, edit photographs, or work in Google Docs. People who claim that Chromebooks are just a Chrome browser and nothing more are clueless and haven’t actually used one.
CHROMEBOOKS RUN FAR MORE THAN JUST CHROME OS
Although Google dropped its effort to dual-boot Windows in Chromebooks, also known as Project Campfire, you can still run Android applications and Linux programs on modern Chromebooks. And thanks to CrossOver Chrome OS, you can run some Windows programs on Chrome OS.
Chromebooks are the most versatile laptops around these days.
Are Chromebooks right for everyone? No. For some people, Windows and MacOS machines are still the best.
But, for most people, a Chromebook is ideal.
If you want a laptop that does all the bread-and-butter internet and office work, get a Chromebook. If you have a friend or relative who needs a safer machine, give them a Chromebook. If you need a flexible system that can juggle Android, Linux, the web, and a bit of Windows, get a Chromebook. You’ll be glad you did.
Samsung devices lead in fast download speed – Report
Users of Samsung devices experienced faster download speed than Apple and Huawei users in about 14 countries, a latest report by Opensignal has shown.
The 14 countries, according to the research firm, represented 35 per cent of the countries examined.
Opensignal in its Mobile Network Experience study across 40 countries found that Apple users were faster in 17.5 per cent of the countries and in the remaining 48 per cent, two or more of the brands tied in a statistical dead heat.
According to the findings of the study, none of the countries saw Huawei users experience the fastest download speed, but the smartphone brand had tied in download speed in 17.5 per cent of countries.
Analysts at Opensignal noted that in the United States, which is a strong iPhone market, Apple users experienced download speeds 8.2 Mega bytes per seconds slower than Samsung users.
“Perhaps most striking is the experience of Apple users. Given that Samsung makes a wide range of models from cheap to premium, while Apple only offers premium-priced models, this is an even more impressive result,” the report stated.
“In Brazil, Apple users experienced speeds of 2.3 Mbps faster than second-placed Huawei’s users. Samsung’s position here is more intriguing because it offers a similar range of models to Huawei, but Huawei’s users experienced speeds 3.5 Mbps faster than Samsung’s.”
The country differences, according to the study, represent other factors beyond the network capabilities of individual smartphone models.
It explained that Huawei users experienced notably slower speeds in the US and Japan because they were not strong markets for Huawei, and because users had chosen cheaper models with less-capable modems.
Opensignal said Apple’s success in markets like Brazil, Taiwan and Costa Rica was an indication that users preferred premium-priced devices and premium mobile tariffs than in other countries where iPhone adoption was more widespread and mainstream.
The study observed that smartphone models with a higher LTE category tend to be more expensive and support more network technologies.
“All 5G smartphone models support at least LTE Category 16 and would count as high-tier devices in this grouping. However, there are very small numbers of 5G smartphone devices in the market, at least for now,” the report stated.
When we compare the users of the three largest smartphone makers into three groups based on the network capabilities of their smartphone, the report said in the high-tier smartphone category, Samsung users experienced the fastest download speeds.
This, according to the study, is because their users enjoy 26.6 Mbps globally compared with 25.1 Mbps for Apple users and just 24.4 Mbps for Huawei users.
In the mid-tier smartphone category, the report said, “Apple users are slightly faster than second-placed Huawei users. iPhone users experience 16.5 Mbps, compared with 16.3 Mbps for Huawei and just 14.4 Mbps for Samsung users. This category makes up the bulk of Apple users, however, these iPhone models have often been priced at a similar level to Samsung and Huawei high-end models.”
In the low-tier smartphone segment, Opensignal said Huawei users experienced the fastest speeds with 12.1 Mbps, compared with 9.7 Mbps for Samsung users and 8.9 Mbps for Apple users.
This last category, according to the research firm, makes up 49 per cent of Samsung users and is the largest tier in Samsung’s user base.
Why 2019 is the best year ever to buy a smartphone
In late 2017, Apple released the iPhone X and while it was a joy to use it also raised the bar for smartphone prices, starting at $999. After seeing flagship sales stagnate over the past year and a half while companies like OnePlus push innovation forward at lower prices, 2019 is the year that smartphone buyers reap the benefits of pricing and technology.
It’s easy to find a great phone today. In fact, current flagship devices are so good you really don’t need to be replacing them every year.
While ZDNet’s Jason Perlow argued that 2019 is the worst smartphone year ever primarily due to price and minor updates, I argue it is the best smartphone year ever with more affordable flagships with stunning camera performance, reliable all-day long battery life, fast performance, and attractive designs that now mean buyers can keep their phones for two or more years without compromise. Chinese smartphone manufacturers continue to push innovation and smartphone technology forward, but that doesn’t mean others are standing by while the US government restricts sales of Chinese companies from the likes of Huawei and ZTE.
“All in all, this has shaped up to be a pretty unexciting year for smartphones. They lack significant innovation compared to the previous year, and quite frankly they all look dull and even downright ugly with the big camera bulges.”
I’m not sure which phones Jason has been looking at, but Samsung has lovely Prism and Aura color schemes on its S10 and Note 10 lines, Google provides a fun color with bright power buttons as an alternative to black and white colors, there are four color options for the iPhone XR in addition to black and white, and the OnePlus 7 Pro Almond and Nebula Blue colors are downright gorgeous. The rumored iPhone 11 appears ugly in pictures, but we’ll have to wait and see what it looks like in real life to pass judgement. You also cannot have amazing camera performance without space for sensors and other than the rumored iPhone 11 there’s nothing that obtrusive about current smartphone camera designs.
A month after Apple launched the XS and XS Max last fall, it rolled out the iPhone XR at $749. This is $250 less than the XS and $350 less than the XS Max, which is a significant amount. The Apple iPhone XR is the reasonably priced choice and it turns out it is a crowd favorite with colorful back options, the longest lasting new iPhone battery, and a big display to help you get work done.
Samsung launched the Galaxy S10 series in March with the Galaxy S10e currently priced in the $700 range ($750 was the launch price). The S10e is $150 less than the S10 and $250 less than the S10 Plus while still having nearly all the same specifications and functionality. The S10e fits well in small pockets and can even be plugged into an external monitor and power a PC-like experience with Samsung DeX.
Google went a long ways with carrier support with the new Google Pixel 3A launching on Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular at launch. The 3A starts at just $399.99 and has nearly the same camera as the higher priced Pixel 3 with a mid-level processor that still satisfies the needs of most people. It’s an affordable option that is guaranteed to get updates for three years while offering all the functionality you could want in an Android smartphone.
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OnePlus launched the OnePlus 6T on T-Mobile and followed that up with the OnePlus 7 Proon the carrier as well. While it would be great to see broader US carrier support from OnePlus, lining up a US carrier is a big win that has resulted in solid sales for OnePlus.
In addition to carrier support, OnePlus was the first to roll out UFS 3.0 support for internal storage while also providing buyers with a beautiful display with 90 Hz refresh rate. Warp Charge 30 provides one of the fastest charging standards available on a phone, beat out only by Huawei’s Super Charge system. It was also one of the first to launch with 12GB of RAM. OnePlus is not sitting idly by and there are rumors that an incremental update, possibly the OnePlus 7T, will launch with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus.
Apple rolled out the iPhone X with a large center display notch in 2017 and over the next couple of years manufacturers tried out different ways to include sensors and a front-facing camera while maximizing the viewable display area. OnePlus pushed the innovation forward even a bit more with a retractable front-facing camera that makes using the OnePlus 7 Pro a sheer joy for work and media experiences.
We have also seen wide adoption of multiple camera lenses on the back of phones so that nearly any phone you purchase today can serve as your only camera with little compromise. This is one area that is sure to continue innovating as sensor makers push things forward too.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one area that demonstrates the power and capability of today’s mobile processors, but hasn’t yet realized its full potential. We see AI primarily being used today for helping us frame and capture better photos. However, it’s an area ripe for further development as components improve and use cases evolve. Our phones today are smart enough to take care of regular tasks we perform daily. Samsung and Apple gave us a glimpse of what is to come with Siri Shortcuts and Samsung Bixby Quick Commands.
Although the first Galaxy Fold failed, Samsung is planning to release it again next month. Huawei also continues to work on its foldable phone which we should see in the next couple of months. Even though these first generation foldable phones are sure to be only for early adopters, it shows manufacturers are testing new technologies and methods to help us use our handheld computers in new ways.
I’m not sure what people expect their smartphones to do that isn’t being done now and as we look at prices and innovation in 2019 it’s pretty clear this was a fantastic year for smartphones with hints of greater things in 2020. We look forward to full 5G adoption, AI doing more for us without requiring direct user feedback, and so much more. With affordable options being offered by the major players we can also expect more for less in the years to come.
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