Saudi Arabia reportedly tracked phones by using industry-wide carrier weakness

A cell phone tower at dusk.

The Guardian says it has evidence that Saudi Arabia is exploiting a decades-old weakness in the global telecoms network to track the kingdom’s citizens as they travel in the United States.

The publication cited data provided by a whistleblower that suggests Saudi Arabia is engaged in systematic spying by abusing Signalling System No. 7. Better known as SS7, it’s a routing protocol that allows cell phone users to connect seamlessly from carrier to carrier as they travel throughout the world. With little built-in security for carriers to verify one another, SS7 has always posed a potential hole that people with access could exploit to track the real-time location of individual users. SS7 abuse also makes it possible for spies to snoop on calls and text messages. More recently, the threat has grown, in part because the number of companies with access to SS7 has grown from a handful to thousands.

The data provided to The Guardian “suggests that millions of secret tracking requests emanated from Saudi Arabia over a four-month period beginning in November 2019,” an article published on Sunday reported. The requests, which appeared to originate from the kingdom’s three largest mobile phone carriers, sought the US location of Saudi-registered phones.

The unnamed whistleblower said they knew of no legitimate reason for requests of that volume. “There is no explanation, no other technical reason to do this,” The Guardian quoted the source as saying. “Saudi Arabia is weaponizing mobile technologies.”

The whistleblower’s data appears to show Saudi Arabia sending an unnamed major US mobile operator requests for PSI—short for Provide Subscriber Information. Sunday’s report said there were an average of 2.3 million such requests per month for the four months starting in November. The data, The Guardian said, suggests that Saudi Arabian phones were tracked as many as 13 times per hour as their owners carried them about the United States. The Saudi operators also sent separate PSLs. US carriers blocked the requests, indicating that the requests were suspicious.

System-breaking potential

Les Goldsmith, a researcher with Las Vegas security firm ESD, told me the volume reported by The Guardian had the potential to break systems used by the mobile operator being queried.

“Performing so many send subscriber data requests on a carrier could, in fact, result in the carriers’ Visiting Location Register (VLR) or even Home Location Register (HLR) to potentially crash,” he said. “So in essence, excessive tracking by Saudi Arabia could have potentially knocked legitimate users off a US cellular provider as the HLR and VLR reset.”

The Guardian, meanwhile, cited one mobile security expert who reviewed the data and said the requests had the ability to track the owners on a map to within hundreds of meters in a city. Several other experts said the requests indicated systematic spying on the part of Saudi Arabia.

In a statement, AT&T representatives wrote: “We have security controls to block location-tracking messages from roaming partners.” Representatives of T-Mobile and Verizon didn’t respond to a request to comment for this post. It will be updated later if the companies respond.

SS7 largely works on an honor system, although some carriers are in the process of rolling out measures designed to better lock it down. Given the current way mobile networks operate, there is little cell phone owners can do to prevent tracking through the abuse of SS7. Users can turn off phones to temporarily prevent tracking, but even then, adversaries can learn the location just before the device was turned off and obtain the location when it is later turned on.

What you get for $500 — iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini versus Mac mini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

You can still buy Apple gear when you’re on a budget, but you need to make more careful choices —and also know exactly where to look.

Apple MacBook Air and iPad models can be found for under $500

Even for under $500, you have options for Apple gear —and decisions to make.

We’ve talked before about how best to buy Apple gear when you have a budget of $1,000, but plenty of us will often have less. Or regardless of our financial situation, we may have greater need to spend that money elsewhere, yet we still need a good computing device.

For under $500, you can buy a new iPad, or a refurbished Mac. Making this or any choice will always start with what you need the device to do, but thereafter it’s a tradeoff. You’re deciding between portability and performance, for instance, and you’ve got to think about the software that you’ll need to run.

Once you’ve figured out your needs, you need to look at the figures —and you’re best off starting with a decision between an iPad device and a Mac.

Choosing an iPad

Some people might scoff at the concept of choosing an iPad over a MacBook, but plenty of people have found that an iPad can do everything they need it to and slots into their lives much better than a traditional computer.

If you’ve owned an iPhone for a while, chances are you own plenty of apps that will transfer over to iPadOS, which is one of the best things about the Apple ecosystem. And these days, plenty of developers are creating iPad compatible versions of their desktop software. In essence, Microsoft has recently done this with Microsoft Office, and Adobe is porting some of their most popular programs to iPadOS, too.

Let’s not forget just how much effort Apple has put into bridging the gap between computers and tablets as well. The iPad is compatible with Bluetooth keyboards, and the Apple Pencil can be connected to a monitor via an adapter and is capable of supporting a mouse.

iPad (7th generation)

7th generation iPad

7th generation iPad

Your cheapest option for a brand new iPad is the seventh-generation, 10.2-inch iPad. This is an excellent option as an eReader and simple internet browser, though it does eschew some of the bells and whistles of the more expensive models.

The basic iPad model includes Touch ID with Apple Pay functionality. The iPad’s 8-megapixel rear camera can shoot in 1080p HD video, a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, and a battery with a lifespan of about 10 hours. Its 10.2-inch screen does have Retina display but does not feature True Tone adaptive technology. It also supports the first-generation Apple Pencil.

Pricing for the 10.2-inch iPad starts at $329 for the no-frills version, but you’ll get a bit of wiggle room to customize—or maybe for accessories.

For storage options, you can pick either 32GB or 128GB. The 32GB is significantly cheaper at $329 but assumes you won’t be storing much in the way of pictures, music, video, or apps on the device itself. This is an excellent choice for those who are planning on streaming most of their content through services like YouTube or Apple Music, but likely won’t be enough for those who want to play games.

The 128GB is $429 but offers plenty of storage for games and media. If you’re feeling unsure about which you should buy, we suggest bumping up to the 128GB one, as it’s always better to have extra storage rather than not enough.

If you do pick the 32GB iPad, you can add on cellular connectivity for an additional $130, bringing the price to $459. If you’re a frequent traveler, or if you’ve cut ties with a traditional cable provider in favor of getting your internet from your mobile service provider, this is a great option. However, not everyone needs it.

Unfortunately, if you choose the 128GB iPad, adding in cellular service will break the budget, bringing the total cost to $559.

iPad mini

Apple iPad mini 5

iPad mini 5

Initially released in November of 2012, Apple’s diminutive 7.9-inch iPad mini has undergone substantial changes since its inception. Designed to go wherever you go, Apple’s smallest tablet is great for cozying up with a book, jotting down notes, catching up on your favorite shows, and more.

It features a 7.9-inch screen, placing it securely in the phablet territory. The display features P3 wide-color display, True Tone technology, and supports the first-generation Apple Pencil.

This model also has Touch ID with Apple Pay functionality. The 8-megapixel rear camera can shoot in 1080p HD video, a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, and a battery with a lifespan of about 10 hours.

The iPad mini is a bit more expensive than its slightly larger sibling —the iPad —which means that if you want to stay within your budget, you’ll have to stick to the 64GB model, which costs $399. You can tack on cellular connectivity if you need to travel with it, but that will raise the price to $529.

iPad Air 3

Deals can be found on latest Apple iPad Air

2019 iPad Air

The iPad Air 3 is exceptional for anyone who is looking for a larger iPad. Still, its higher price point will put you right at your $500 budget without any additional ability to customize.

Available in space gray, silver, and gold, the iPad Air features a 10.5-inch Retina display screen with True Tone support. It’s incredibly light —only one pound —making it the perfect companion to travel with.

This model also has Touch ID with Apple Pay functionality, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot in 1080p HD video, a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, and a battery with a lifespan of about 10 hours.

The base Wi-Fi only model comes with 64GB of storage for $499, with any further customizations, like additional storage space or cellular connectivity, boosting the price to over $600.

iPad Accessories

If you haven’t broken your budget, or you’re willing to spend a little bit extra, we highly suggest taking a look at what accessories Apple has created to help unlock the full potential of your iPad.

Apple Pencil (first generation)

The Apple Pencil was introduced alongside the 2015 iPad Pro, and since has grown into a powerhouse in its own right. The first-generation Apple Pencil is supported on all current iPad models and can be used for a wide variety of features.

The Apple Pencil is fully pressure- and tilt-sensitive, making it a must-have for artists of all skill levels. Additionally, users can utilize it for jotting down quick notes, lists, and ideas the same way they would jot them down on paper.

The first-generation Apple Pencil can be purchased for $99. Remember, though, the iPads listed above are only compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil as the second generation is exclusively used for the more recently released lines of iPad Pro.

Smart Keyboard Folio

One of the best things you can do to make your iPad more natural to use is to pair it with a keyboard, and Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folios are some of the best. The keyboard is a joy to type on, and when it’s not in use, it folds over to create a slim, lightweight cover.

The Smart Keyboard Folio is available for the seventh-generation iPad and the third-generation iPad Air and retails for $159.

Buying a Mac under $500

The cheapest Mac that Apple sells new is the recently updated Mac mini, and while it’s still $799, that figure is now a much better buy. Previously it got you 128GB SSD storage and that’s simply not usable so you had to pay more —if you even knew just how difficult it is to manage on such a small drive.

Apple won’t go below that $799 with anything new, but if your $500 budget is a little flexible, you can sometimes get close to it through Apple’s refurb store. This is Apple’s official store for selling Macs as-new, that is ones that have been bought and returned for some reason.

If you can find the Mac you want there, get it. The machines have always been refurbished to be exactly as new, and they are invariably sold at a much reduced price. It’s just that the refurb store depends on what machines have been bought and returned, so you get little and sometimes no choice.

What you need

The refurb store also offers no build to order option, you can’t specify particular configurations, and actually you do need to. Even when you are buying secondhand or through other resellers than Apple, there are minimum requirements if you’re to get use out of your new Mac.

There are really two considerations. The first is storage space. If the machine you’re looking at comes with SSD instead of a hard drive, don’t get anything less than 256GB of it. If it does have a hard drive, you can practically ignore size limits because hard drives are so much cheaper that you’d have to work hard to get a Mac that didn’t have an adequate one.

The 2015 Mac mini, as advertised then by Apple, and as available now for under $500

The 2015 Mac mini, as advertised then by Apple, and as available now for under $500

Then there’s RAM. The minimum amount of RAM to go for in any Mac is 8GB. That will be enough that you can usefully do work on the Mac now, and that it will last you for a decent amount of time.

With both RAM and SSD storage, though, the more you can get, the substantially better.

There is also one more consideration, which is whether to go for a desktop Mac or a notebook one. Ultimately the decision is down to what you need to do with the Mac, what’s available, and what you can afford. However, there is one truism. A desktop Mac will always cost less than any kind of MacBook.

If you’re comparing similar models and similar years of release, the desktop Mac will always be more powerful than the MacBook, too. It’s because the desktop Macs don’t have to have specialized or just plain smaller components to fit their casing.

So purely on the basis of what you get for your money, a desktop Mac is going to be the best value —until you need to move around with it.

Buying a desktop Mac for under $500

Unlike Apple, other resellers will let you configure Macs to what you need, which means that as well as a cheaper price, you really can be getting a bargain. For instance, OWC currently has late 2012 Mac mini models in stock from $369, and they come with options.

As standard, these come with 8GB RAM, but even keeping within $500, you have the option to upgrade that to 16GB RAM, and get a 250GB SSD. For only $519, you can have both 16GB RAM and 500GB SSD.

OWC continually has offers on new and refurbished Macs of all descriptions. So, too, does Mac of All Trades.

While you should check out both of these for any type of Mac, there are two more options that are chiefly concerned with MacBooks.

Buying a MacBook for under $500

Just because of the nature of Apple MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros, and how much the cost new, you’re typically going to have to be looking at quite an older model to get it under $500. Even so, though, what is older now was still the cutting edge when it was released, and Apple devices keep their value much longer.

Keep an eye on Best Buy’s MacBook deals. With all such resellers, availability will vary enormously, but for example, right now $500 would get you a choice of 20 different MacBooks.

Those range from MacBook Air models through to 15-inch MacBook Pro ones, too, and they also range in the specifications of each of these.

The MacBook Air from 2015 is now routinely available for under $500

The MacBook Air from 2015 is now routinely available for under $500

The same rules about minimum specifications apply to notebook Macs as to desktop ones, except that through practicality, you may have to regard them as suggestions more than rules. Notebook Macs tend to come with less RAM than desktops. Just for example, of the 20 currently showing at Best Buy, only two come with 8GB RAM. The rest are between 2GB and 4GB.

It’s the same thing with storage. Four of this set come with 500GB drives, and they are hard drives rather than SSD.

You’ll find the same need to balance RAM, storage, and price, at Currently there’s an early 2015 MacBook Air with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD for $509 with coupon code EEWQAD9EGZ6G.

Naturally, they sell out very quickly. You’re going to be frustrated if you can’t be a little flexible on the specifications —and also the price. While you can come in exactly on $500, or even get Macs cheaper, being willing to stretch to something like $540 will help. It will mean you’re likely to get what you need faster.

It’s not just hardware, though

Your new iPad or refurbished MacBook is not going to be any use to you at all without software. This is one area where Apple gear scores highly over PCs, though. Right out of the box, all Macs come with bundled software —and it’s very good.

This isn’t some collection of cutdown Lite software that does barely anything until you buy the upgrade. And it isn’t some collection of shareware or apps by developers you’ve never heard from before and won’t hear from again.

Instead, all Macs and iPads come Apple’s own iWork suite, much better known as the word processor Pages, the spreadsheet Numbers, and the presentation software Keynote. If Keynote was good enough for Steve Jobs to use in his world-famous presentations, it’s good enough for all of us.

Ultimately, as important as the hardware is, it’s the software that is going to make it right for you buy an iPad or a Mac. It’s just a very good and fortunate fact that you can take it for granted that excellent software is either already installed —or can be downloaded for free from the App Store.

Price comparison shopping

While many of Apple’s retail prices were used throughout this guide, it often pays to shop at an Apple reseller thanks to aggressive deals offered on hardware. Cash discounts are readily available on everything from the latest iPad and MacBook Air models, to closeout configurations that offer upgrades for a fraction of the retail cost. The AppleInsider Apple Price Guides help you find the best bargains and compare deals quickly, with exclusive offers on nearly every model.

Apple Price Guides broken down by product line

Newborn Town Inc. (9911.HK) revenue grew by 40.8% YoY to RMB 389.7 million and gross margin reached 67.1% in FY2019.

Implementing ‘Traffic+’ strategy to accumulate global traffic; whilst exploring mobile applications to unleash the users’ values with support from AI technology

HONG KONG, March 31, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Newborn Town Inc. (HKG: 9911), a fast-growing mobile applications developer and mobile advertising platform services provider in China, is pleased to announce the audited consolidated results of the Company and its subsidiaries (collectively the ”Group”) for the year ended 31 December 2019 (the ”Year”).

Strategically constructing a global traffic ecosystem with unlimited monetisation

During the Year, Newborn Town has leveraged on its self-developed Solo X product matrix targeting at the mobile users (Customer, C-end), and the advertising platform targeting at the businesses (Business, B-end) to accumulate a large group of users persistently. It has strategically aim at constructing a global traffic ecosystem with unlimited monetisation, and made a number of outstanding achievements in terms of financials and operations.

Financial Highlights for FY2019

  • During the Year, the Group’s revenue was mainly contributed by three segments, namely, (I) Proprietary app traffic monetisation business, (II) Mobile advertising platform and related business and Value-added service (In-app purchase under Proprietary app traffic monetisation business). These segments contributed 59.5%, 37.5% and 3.0% of the total revenue respectively. (2018: 32.7%, 66.4% and 0.9% respectively).


  • Total revenue reached approximately RMB 389.7 million (2018: RMB 276.7 million), gross profit was approximately RMB261.5 million (2018: RMB141.4 million), profit for the year increased by 14.5% year-on-year to RMB68.4 million (2018: approximately RMB 59.7 million), adjusted net profit was approximately RMB109.4 million (2018: RMB60.0 million), with year-on-year increase of 82.3%.


  • Gross margin increased by 16 p.p. to 67.1%, primarily because the gross profit of our proprietary app traffic monetisation business, which records a much higher gross profit margin than our mobile advertising platform business, accounted for a higher proportion of our total gross profit. Net profit margin was 17.6%. Adjusted net profit margin excluding the influence from items such as share-based compensation expense, listing expense, Interest income from the application monies locked-up during the initial public offering was 28.1%.


Operation Highlights for FY2019

  • Expanding traffic ecosystem creating an outstanding platform effect with continuous increase in users and traffic on advertising platform. Total number of users of the Solo X product matrix increased from 670 million in 2018 to 967 million in 2019. Among them, the total users of game products and daily active users recorded a respective year-on-year increase of 275.6% and 198.5%. Solo Math programmatic advertising platform has reached an average of 281 million mobile devices per day. In 2019, we served 200,000 advertisers and integrated 1.82 million publishers. Our global traffic ecosystem was based on the combination of Solo X product matrix and the advertising platform, together with the continuous advancement of the Solo Aware AI engine, to create synergy effect at B-end and C-end, thus achieving growth in revenue and profit. 


  • Significant growth of product matrix enhanced proprietary traffic value. The depth of Newborn Town’s proprietary traffic pool has continued to ramp up, enhancing the traffic value and increasing the monetisation efficiency by 110.25% year-on-year. During the Year, we have achieved considerable progress in multiple segments, such as the multiplayer battle game squeezed into top 10 games in terms of daily downloads in Google Play over 17 countries and regions. The archery themed game Archery Go topped the App Store download list and game download list in 6 and 14 countries respectively.


  • Enhancement in programmatic technologies of advertising platform. During the Year, Solo Math has been basically converted into a programmatic platform. With steady development of the programmatic advertising business, the respective revenue of programmatic advertising as a percentage of our total revenue generated by mobile advertising platform has increased to 99.9% (2018: 94.1%). The Group has also been actively implementing the industry norms by improving the credibility of traffic and transparency of the traffic supply chain.


  • Continuous upgrade of Solo Aware AI engine. With enlarged user scale of Solo X and accumulated user behaviour data, Solo Aware’s tag database is gradually diversified and developing in-depth machine learning to make fast and targeted responses to users’ behavior, thus providing global users with customized experience.


Chairman’s quote

  • Chairman of Newborn Town Inc., Mr. Liu Chunhe said, In the end of 2019, Newborn Town has been listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to grasp a variety of business opportunities. We are under rapid development and constructing the Newborn Town mobile ecosystem, which consisted of a diversified, targeted mobile applications, and the fast-growing AI-supported advertising platform, Solo Math, in order to gather huge traffic and unleash the values of the users. Currently, our products serve almost 1 billion users in the world, covering over 200 countries and regions. In the future, we will further explore other mobile applications, such as games and social networking applications, as well as increasing the investment in the domestic market to achieve a larger scale global traffic ecosystem and long term, sustainable growth for the Group.’


Development strategies in FY2020

  • Implementing the ‘Traffic+’ strategy. Newborn Town expected that the growing number of global mobile internet users and further advancement of internet infrastructure will bring huge opportunities for the internet companies in exploring the overseas markets. Developers’ demand on acquisition of overseas users will increase along with the advertising budgets. The Group will implement the ‘Traffic+’ strategy, including strengthening the product portfolio and improving the technology to expand the global traffic ecosystem, increase the ways of monetization and hence achieve rapid growth. Such strategies include the followings,


  • Proprietary products will promote the expansion of traffic ecosystem. The Group will continue to dedicate to R&D and upgrades of products, focus on developing content-based products, creating high-frequency, high-stickiness and long-duration products in view of enhancing monetisation efficiency and gaining higher gross profit margin. As such, we will firstly deploy Traffic + Games and Traffic + Social Networking and intend to create large-scale, popular, diversified, and synergetic product matrix in these two segments.


  • The efficiency of AI and middle platform will continue to improve. The Group will continue to devote to the R&D and application of AI technology, such as providing different game content and scene settings for game players based on their historical operation data, and will keep upgrading the AI technology and middle platform to draw up an efficient and standardised process in matrix R&D, data testing, rapid screening and resource reconfiguration, thereby greatly enhancing the overall work efficiency


About Newborn Town Inc. 

Newborn Town Inc. is a fast-growing high technology company in China, which operates a global AI information distribution platform, develop mobile applications and provide mobile advertising platform services. As at 31 December 2019, the services have covered over 200 countries and regions, with the total number of users reaching 967 million.  



SOURCE Newborn Town Inc.

Broadband speeds fall in dozens of big US cities during pandemic

A US map with lines and dots representing broadband access.

Getty Images | imaginima

Home-Internet download speeds have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic in dozens of the biggest US cities as millions of Americans stay home due to school and business closures. However, typical download speeds remain high enough to support normal broadband-usage patterns, with the vast majority of cities still above the Federal Communications Commission’s 25Mbps standard.

In 88 of the 200 most populous US cities, Internet users “experienced some degree of network degradation over the past week compared to the 10 weeks prior,” BroadbandNow said in a report released Wednesday. Of those, 27 cities suffered speed reductions of at least 20 percent.

New York City speeds fell by 24 percent, with median download speeds down to 51.93Mbps—still enough for bandwidth-intensive services like streaming video. While New York City has been hit hard by the spread of the novel coronavirus, the city’s broadband experience isn’t replicated everywhere. Seattle, where the virus is also rampant, hasn’t suffered a drop in download speeds, though Seattle’s speeds were already below New York City’s. Seattle’s most recent median-download speed was 27.1Mbps, while Seattle’s median results ranged from 20.8Mbps to 29.1Mbps in the previous 10 weeks.

“Three cities—Austin, Texas; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Oxnard, California—have experienced significant degradations, falling out of their ten-week range by more than 40 percent,” the report said.

The report compared median download speeds between March 15 and March 21 to the range of median speeds observed each week since January 1. A city’s download speeds were only considered to have fallen out of range if the most recent week’s median was lower than the lowest measurement from the previous 10 weeks. Check out the report to see the results from all 200 cities.

Despite big speed drops in some cities, BroadbandNow offered a positive takeaway: “Users in most of the cities we analyzed should be experiencing normal network conditions, suggesting that ISPs (and their networks) are holding up to the shifting demand.”

BroadbandNow is a company that provides an online tool for checking broadband availability. The company’s analysis relied on speed-test data from M-Lab.

DSL and upload speeds may face problems

Since BroadbandNow focused on the 200 biggest cities, the report mainly covers cable and fiber connections. The report said “it remains to be seen if rural communities reliant on legacy technologies such as DSL will continue to enjoy the same relative stability” measured in major cities.

Another limitation in the report is that it only provided download speeds. While fiber-to-the-home telecoms generally offer symmetrical upload and download speeds, DSL and cable networks provide upload speeds that are much slower than downloads. Increased use of video conferencing from more people working at home could cause problems on networks with low upload speeds.

Verizon, which offers home and mobile Internet service, said yesterday that it is “seeing tremendous amounts of usage across our networks as our customers are finding new and important ways of staying connected.” For example, Verizon said usage of collaboration tools rose 47 percent in one week. But the ISP said its network has enough capacity to meet the demand.

Netflix and YouTube both started reducing video-streaming quality in Europe last week after facing pressure from a European government official, even though ISPs said their networks were holding up well. Netflix hasn’t done the same in the US, but Bloomberg reported that YouTube has since extended its policy worldwide. When I tested this today, YouTube videos streamed in 720 by default, but it was still possible to manually change the quality of individual videos to 1080p or 4K.

Another sign that networks are mostly holding up well came from ThousandEyes, a network-analysis-software vendor. The company said on Monday that it has seen only a slight increase in outages over the past three weeks and some performance degradation. “Despite massive traffic increases—particularly across consumer last-mile networks—we have not seen a significant corresponding spike in Internet outages, which can occur when traffic levels strain network capacity,” the company said.

Pixelmator Pro 1.6 adds new selection and color tools, boosts performance


A new update to Mac image editing app Pixelmator Pro revamps how colors are chosen, adds an improved selection tool, and increases performance.

The old Apple-based color picker, the crayons in the middle, are still available. But Pixelmator Pro 1.6 has added more color control and (right) positioned them more conveniently, too.

The old Apple-based color picker, the crayons in the middle, are still available. But Pixelmator Pro 1.6 has added more color control and (right) positioned them more conveniently, too.

Long-time image editor Pixelmator Pro has been updated to version 1.6 Magenta, with a revamp to selected controls, plus new features, bug fixes, and an overall performance boost. The Mac app now further exploits Apple’s Metal technology to bring that added performance, which is specifically engineered to utilize multi-GPUs, and the Mac Pro.

The Pixelmator Pro developer has not released precise figures for the performance improvement, but claim that adding a stroke to a layer is now 10 times faster. As part of the performance, certain other graphics-intensive features have been reworked to use less memory. The Denoise and Super Resolution features which rely on Machine Learning, will now use up to 10 times less memory.

Pixelmator Pro 1.6’s more immediately visible changes include an improvement to the selection of colors. Previously, clicking on the color picker button would solely open a separate window that displayed Apple’s own color selection tools. In AppleInsider‘s use, we found that window would typically display at the edge of the screen, and so far from where we were applying color.

Now while that Apple color selection tool is still available, Pixelmator Pro 1.6 adds a dropdown version right in the control. So now accessing a new color requires less mouse or trackpad movement. The dropdown also offers much finer control over picking colors, including a new ability to enter hexadecimal codes directly.

These hex codes are displayed whenever any color is selected, so when you need to precisely match colors across objects, layers, or even other documents, you can copy and paste the codes as you need.

Pixelmator Pro's new color picker and greater performance improves color adjustments too.

Pixelmator Pro’s new color picker and greater performance improves color adjustments too.

There is a similar time-saving improvement to how fonts are displayed, with the most recently-used ones shown first. The makers say that a new tool lets you identify and replace any missing fonts within an image.

Bug fixes include ones correcting problems users were having exporting Pixelmator Pro images to Photoshop, particularly when using layers that previously might not be preserved.

Pixelmator Pro 1.6 Magenta is a free upgrade to existing users, and is available on the Mac App Store now for $39.99.

Telit Completes Successful 5G Sub-6 GHz Connection on Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) Network in Russia

LONDON, March 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ –Telit, a global enabler of the Internet of Things (IoT), today announced that its FN980m data card module has successfully completed a 5G connection on Mobile TeleSystems’ (MTS) 4.9 GHz (sub-6 GHz) network in Russia. Featuring the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ X55 5G Modem-RF System, the Telit FN980m is ideal for bandwidth-intensive applications such as branch office connectivity, professional video broadcasting, digital signage and industrial IoT. For more information, visit

MTS has achieved several 5G firsts in Russia, where it is the largest mobile operator, with over 80 million subscribers. In 2019, for example, it launched the country’s first continuously operable mid-band 5G pilot zones in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Both zones also use mmWave and 4.9 GHz spectrum.

The Telit FN980m supports up to 6.5 Gbps downlinks and 3 Gbps uplinks with 5G. MTS used the Telit FN980m to complete its first successful 5G data call in sub-6 GHz spectrum.

“As a worldwide leader in mobile broadband technology, Telit offers our customers 5G solutions that are reliable, secure and easy to integrate into designs,” said Marco Contento, vice president of 5G technologies, Telit. “We’re honored to play a key role in MTS’ latest step toward making 5G a commercial reality across Russia.”

“MTS is actively experimenting with 5G technology solutions. The test with Telit is a key milestone because it used sub-6 GHz spectrum, which is ideal for wide area 5G coverage. Those bands will be critical for rapidly rolling out 5G, so it can quickly become the foundation for smart cities, IoT, telemedicine, autonomous vehicles and other advanced applications,” said Denis Panasenko, head of the 5G Center, MTS.

Launched in October 2019, the Telit FN980m supports all major frequency bands, from sub-6 GHz through mmWave, giving service providers and their customers maximum deployment flexibility. The FN980m’s other key features include:

  • M.2 (NGFF) 30x50mm, double-sided form factor
  • 5G Sub-6 and mmWave, SA and NSA operations
  • 4G Cat 20, up to 7CA, 256 QAM DL/UL, 2CA UL
  • 4×4 MIMO for 4G and 5G (sub-6 bands)
  • GNSS gpsOne Gen9 L1/L5 bands

About Telit
Telit (AIM: TCM), is a global leader in Internet of Things (IoT) enablement, with an extensive portfolio of wireless connectivity modules, platforms, virtual cellular IoT operator services, and professional services, empowering hundreds of millions of connected ‘things’ to date, and trusted by thousands of direct and indirect customers, globally. With nearly two decades of IoT innovation experience, Telit continues to redefine the boundaries of digital business, by delivering secure, integrated end-to-end IoT solutions for many of the world’s largest brands, including enterprises, OEMs, system integrators and service providers across all industries, enabling their pursuit of enterprise digital transformation.

Copyright © 2020 Telit Communications PLC. All rights reserved. Telit, Telit OneEdge and all associated logos are trademarks of Telit Communications PLC in the United States and other countries. Other names used herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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>4,000 Android apps silently access your installed software

Closeup photograph of hands holding an Android phone.

More than 4,000 Google Play apps silently collect a list of all other installed apps in a data grab that allows developers and advertisers to build detailed profiles of users, a recently published research paper found.

The apps use an Android-provided programming interface that scans a phone for details about all other apps installed on the phone. The app details—which include names, dates they were first installed and most recently updated, and more than three-dozen other categories—are uploaded to remote servers without permission and no notification.

IAM what IAM

Android’s installed application methods, or IAMs, are application programming interfaces that allow apps to silently interact with other programs on a device. They use two methods to retrieve various kinds of information related to installed apps, neither of which is classified by Google as a sensitive API. The lack of such a designation allows the methods to be used in a way that’s invisible to users.

Not all apps that collect details on other installed apps do so for nefarious purposes. Developers surveyed by the researchers behind the new paper said the collection is the basis for launcher apps, which allow for the customization of the homescreen and provide shortcuts to open other apps. IAMs are also used by VPNs, backup software, notification managers, anti-malware, battery savers, and firewalls.

But the data grab can also be used by advertisers and developers to assemble a detailed profile of users, the researchers reported in their paper, titled Leave my Apps Alone! A Study on how Android Developers Access Installed Apps on User’s Device. They cited previous studies such as this one, which found that a single snapshot of apps installed on a device allowed researchers to predict the user’s gender with an accuracy of around 70 percent. Follow-on findings by the same researchers expanded the demographics that could be deduced to traits such as religion, relationship status, spoken languages, and countries of interest. A study by different researchers said user demographics also included age, race, and income. The research also found that a user’s gender could be predicted with an 82 percent accuracy rate.

“As other privacy-sensitive parts of the Android platform are protected by app permissions, forcing developers to explicitly notify users before attempting access to these parts, [it] begs the question on why IAMs are treated differently,” the researchers, from the University of L’Aquila in Italy, Vrije University in Amsterdam, and ETH in Zurich, wrote in the latest paper. “Indeed, the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), generally regarded as the forefront in privacy regulations, considers ‘online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools, and protocols’ […] as personal data, for all purposes and means.”


The new report said that Google is considering several changes to Android that have already been added to a beta version of version 11 (general release has been scheduled for the third quarter, but it’s not clear if that timeframe will be pushed back as a result of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic). Under the considered change, for an app to interact with other apps, the developer must either (1) explicitly declare in the app manifest—a file that describes essential information about the app—the apps they want to inspect or (2) require a new permission called QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES, whose precise function remains unclear to some developers.

The change, the researchers said, still doesn’t address one of the chief shortcomings of the IAMs abuse, which is the lack of notice to users that an app requires a potentially privacy-invading permission. Under the considered change, apps still wouldn’t be required to disclose their collection of details about all other installed apps. Google representatives didn’t respond to an email inquiring about planned changes in Android and requesting a more general comment for this article.

App spying

The researchers studied 14,342 free Android apps in the Google Play Store and 7,886 open source Android apps and analyzed the apps’ use of IAMs. The researchers found that 4,214 of the Google Play apps, representing slightly more than 30 percent of those studied, used IAMs. Only 228 of the open source apps, or a little less than 3 percent, collected details of other apps. With more than 3 million apps available in the Google-hosted service, the actual number of prying apps is almost certainly an order of magnitude higher than the 4,214 found in the study.

In descending order, the top five Google Play app categories that most frequently collected the data were: Games (73 percent), Comics (71 percent), Personalization (61 percent), Autos and Vehicles (54 percent), and Family (43 percent). The figure below lists the use of IAMS across all categories.

Soccia et al.

The paper didn’t identify any of the apps by name.

The vast majority of the Google Play apps that collected app data—84 percent—did so using third-party code libraries. The researchers identified 56 ad libraries that collected the data and found that a “small number” of them accounted for more than a third of all IAMs usages by bundled libraries. Other bundles identified were utility libraries, custom libraries, and analytics and app-promotion libraries. Below is a table listing the top 20 most common libraries:

Soccia et al.

“In the discussion of results, we assumed that [the] vast majority of the IAMs calls performed by advertisement libraries are for profiling purposes, and we therefore suggested some potential changes to the Android platform accordingly,” the researchers wrote. Chief among the recommendations was that users receive notification that an app is requesting permission to access other installed apps. Like other permissions requests, it should give users the ability to refuse.

The researchers said Apple’s iOS uses methods similar to IAMs to allow apps to track other installed apps. The researchers went on to say that in recent versions of the OS, “applications of interest have to be preemptively declared inside the app… manifest file, and thus are reviewed by app store moderators before publication.”

As noted earlier, there are legitimate reasons for apps to collect details of other installed apps. But there’s also reason for concern. This latest research only reinforces the advice I’ve long given that Android apps should be installed sparingly and only when they provide a clear benefit. It also helps to favor fee-based apps over free ones, since the latter category is more likely to depend on advertisements for revenue. Open source apps are also shown to collect less app data, but they also require users to allow installations from third-party marketplaces.

Two iPhones and iPad used for NBC ‘Today Show’ outside broadcast


The iPhone has shown its usefulness in one unusual work-from-home situation, with NBC Today Show host Al Roker revealing the use of two iPhones and an iPad as part of his remote broadcasting setup.

Al Roker's iPhone setup for outside broadcasts (via @alroker/Twitter)

Al Roker’s iPhone setup for outside broadcasts (via @alroker/Twitter)

The coronavirus has forced many businesses and organizations to keep their employees at home where possible, with those affected being set up to do their jobs remotely. While many office-based roles can easily traverse to home-working environments, broadcasters are having to work out alternate ways to get their stars on-air, and sometimes broadcasting live.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Al Roker revealed his setup to broadcast for NBC’s “The Today Show,” filming live from outside his home. Roker appeared on-air live during the show, which appeared to operate as a typical outside broadcast to onlookers, but the tweet showed it was not a normal setup.

Roker advised he used a pair of iPhones to film his segments, with one iPhone 11 Pro used as the main camera while the other was a “return.” Using applications such as LiveU, the live feed from the iPhone’s camera was sent directly to NBC’s server, with the return iPhone showing selected video streams and clips provided by production, allowing Roker to have visual contact with other members of the team.

As well as the dual iPhones, pictured on stands, Roker also used an iPad as a prompter, an LED light panel, and a combination of a Sennheiser microphone and iRig hardware to provide audio.

LiveU is a live video transmission and streaming platform, one that NBC has extensive experience using. After becoming a shareholder of Euronews in 2017, NBC News and Euronews discovered they both used LiveU systems, and have since started to share video files between the organizations on the platform.

Given the video quality afforded by the iPhone’s camera, as well as services like LiveU, it is probable that NBC has used similar iOS-based setups for outside broadcasts in the past, or at the very least, will consider doing so in the future.

As for home users who may live-stream on services like Twitch or film vlogs for YouTube, the tweet demonstrates that a relatively small collection of consumer-grade hardware can achieve high video production values.

Pharma wrap: Telemedicine guidelines to help standardise care, give fillip to online consulting apps

The much-awaited Telemedicine Practice Guidelines, released by the government this past week, comes at a time when India is battling its worst public health emergency and people started seeing the potential of telemedicine.

The guidelines will help towards standardising care and inspiring confidence among doctors and healthcare providers, who are not inclined to use technology to reach out to patients in a major way.

“The guidelines provided norms and protocols relating to doctor-patient relationship; issues of liability and negligence; evaluation, management and treatment; informed consent; continuity of care; referrals for emergency services; medical records; privacy and security of the patient records and exchange of information; prescribing; and reimbursement; health education and counselling,” the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines said.

For instance, earlier there was no clarity on informed consent. As per the guidelines if a patient initiates the telemedicine consultation, then the consent is implied.

Telemedicine isn’t just confined to a phone call but covers a gamut of applications such as video, chat platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, among others, or Mobile App or internet-based digital

platforms like Skype, email and fax.

The telemedicine guidelines took years, but finally, came at the most opportune time when people are in COVID-19 lockdown, and the only way to get a follow-up or medical advice is to call family doctor or use the online doctor consultation apps.

Opportune time

We have also seen an explosion of online self-assessment apps to check for symptoms of COVID-19. Moneycontrol reported how online doctor platforms are seeing a surge of patient queries.

This is serving in two ways. One it is helping doctors from directly getting exposed to a possible infection of COVID-19, and enable them to treat patients and keep their livelihoods intact. Most importantly telemedicine is helping reduce the spread of the virus by reducing footfalls at clinics and hospitals. Based on symptoms, doctors can find which patient needs hospitalisation – thereby reducing people walking into hospitals.

Telemedicine will also be beneficial as it saves commute cost, especially of rural patients.

There is a higher likelihood of maintenance of records and documentation, hence, it minimalises the likelihood of missing out advice from the doctor other health care staff.

Conversely, the doctor has an exact document of the advice provided via tele-consultation. Written documentation increases the legal protection of both parties. Telemedicine provides patient’s safety, as well as health workers safety especially in situations where there is a risk of contagious infections.

Dozens of tech start-ups are already offering doctor consultations on digital platforms but each of them have their own protocols.

“Lack of clear state guidelines on telemedicine has often been recognized as a hindrance in its growth,” said Dr Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare.

“We strongly believe that this time in history will serve to institutionalize and mainstream the role of telemedicine in healthcare,” Narang added.

“Clarity in regulations around telemedicine & digital healthcare was the need of the hour, especially, in the light of Covid-19,” said Shashank ND, Co-Founder & CEO, Practo.

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Apple releases new COVID-19 app and website based on CDC guidance

Apple today released a new screening tool and set of resources to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health during the spread of COVID-19, based on the latest CDC guidance. The new COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 app available on the App Store, were created in partnership with the CDC,1 the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA to make it easy for people across the country to get trusted information and guidance at a time when the US is feeling the heavy burden of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms for themselves or a loved one. In turn, they will receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended at this time, and when to contact a medical provider. This new screening tool is designed to be a resource for individuals and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities.

The app and website also offer access to resources to help people stay informed and get the support they need. Users will receive answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19, including who is most at risk and how to recognize symptoms. In addition, they will learn the most up-to-date information from the CDC like best practices for washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and monitoring symptoms.