Apple Proposes Standard to Automate One-Time Passcodes Via SMS

Apple’s WebKit web browser engine team has proposed a new standard for SMS-based two-factor authentication (2FA) that would allow the process to be automated, requiring no extra user interaction when logging into a web site on a mobile device. Currently, SMS-based 2FA requires that users receive and view a text message containing a one-time passcode (OTP) that is typically a six-digit number, then enter that number on a special login page. In some cases, the process can be automated, but it is not standardized. Mobile OSes have attempted to semi-automate the process by offering one-tap copy-and-paste options for OTPs. Apple’s proposed standard would include a special login URL in the text message body. This would allow mobile browsers and/or OSes to complete the login automatically, as well as provide protection against phishing attempts. Google’s web browser engine team is also on board with the proposal.

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Apple Completes Maps Revamp in US

Apple today announced that it has completed the US roll-out of revamped, more-detailed map data for its Maps app. Apple claims the new map data offers “faster and more accurate navigation and comprehensive views of roads, buildings, parks, airports, malls and more”. Apple also today added real-time transit information for Miami. The new map data will begin rolling out across Europe in the coming months.

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Unicode Reveals New Emoji for 2020

The Unicode Consortium has approved 63 official new emoji characters for 2020, plus 55 new gender or skin tone variations. They are expected to be added to major OSes and apps later this year. The new emoji include Smiling Face with Tear, Disguised Face, Pinched Fingers, Person Feeding Baby, People Hugging, Ninja, Anatomical Heart, Lungs, Black Cat, Mammoth, Beaver, Dodo, Feather, Seal, Beetle, Cockroach, Fly, Worm, Potted Plant, Blueberries, Olive, Flatbread, Tamale, Teapot, Bubble Tea, Rock, Wood, Hut, Pickup Truck, Roller Skate, Magic Wand, Piñata, Nesting Dolls, Sewing Needle, Knot, Thong Sandal, Military Helmet, Accordion, Coin, Boomerang, Carpentry Saw, Screwdriver, Hook, Ladder, Elevator, Mirror, Window, Plunger, Mouse Trap, Bucket, Toothbrush, Headstone, Transgender Symbol, and Transgender Flag. The new emoji are part of Emoji 13.0.

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DoJ Takes Action to Shut Down Robocall Companies

The US Department of Justice is seeking temporary restraining orders against five US companies responsible for connecting hundreds of millions of scam robocalls originating from India. The US companies provide VoIP services that allow overseas scammers to cheaply place millions of automated calls each hour, with spoofed caller-ID info. One of the companies carried 720 million calls during a sample 23-day period. “The calls facilitated by the defendants falsely threatened victims with a variety of catastrophic government actions, including termination of social security benefits, imminent arrest for alleged tax fraud and deportation for supposed failure to fill out immigration forms correctly.” The owners allegedly ignored repeated warnings that they were carrying large volumes of calls that were fraudulent, including government- and business-imposter calls. The five companies are owned by just three people. The DoJ is pursuing legal action against the companies and their owners.

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Byte is the new Vine

The Byte app is now available to everyone, for both iOS and Android. Byte is a social network based on short video clips, with comment features similar to Instagram, and a “rebyte” feature similar to retweets on Twitter. Byte was founded by Dom Hofmann — one of the original creators of Vine — and is similar to Vine in many ways. (Vine was purchased by Twitter, which then shut down the service at the end of 2016.) The Byte app includes a search/explore section that lets you explore content by category, such as animation, pets, fitness, music, comedy, travel, and experimental, as well as latest and most popular content. The camera section lets you string together multiple short clips at once, recorded from either the front or back camera, and/or include sections of previously-recorded video. An onion-skinning feature helps you visually align the start of a new clip with the last frame of the last clip.

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FCC Reveals New Details of Unannounced Folding and 5G Samsung Phones

Two interesting new approvals for unannounced Samsung phones appeared on the FCC web site this week. The limited info available in the FCC filings indicate that they are flagship-level phones, which will presumably be announced at next month’s Unpacked event in San Francisco. One model appears to be a new foldable, while the other is a 5G model in the flagship Galaxy S series that will replace the current S10 series. The SM-F700 is the foldable, as indicated by the model number as well as text in the approval that says the phone is “capable of operating in folded closed and unfolded open configurations”. (The Galaxy Fold had model number SM-F900.) The only variant approved by the FCC so far does not appear to be US-specific, although it does support 4G LTE in bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 13, 25, 26, 29, 30, 41, and 66. It does not include any 5G in any US frequency bands. Rumors suggest this model may be called the “Galaxy Z Flip”. The other model just approved is the SM-G981U. The model number suggests that this is a US-specific variant of a new Galaxy S-series flagship phone, but not a top-end “plus” model. (The Galaxy S10+ had model number SM-G975.) It supports 5G, but only in sub-6 GHz bands, not mmWave (which is faster but has limited coverage). It supports 5G NR in bands 2, 5, 41, 66, and 71; and 4G LTE in bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 14, 25, 26, 29, 30, 38, 41, 46, 48, 66, and 71. It also includes CDMA for Sprint’s network. That translates to excellent support for all 4G and sub-6 GHz 5G networks launched or announced in the US to date. The SM-G981 also supports NFC, MST (Samsung Pay), and two-way wireless charging, according to the FCC docs. Rumors suggest this model may be called the “Galaxy S20 5G”.

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Sprint Offering Everyone Cheap Samsung Screen Repair for Two Weeks

Sprint is holding an unusual sale: $49 screen repair for many recent Samsung Galaxy phones, regardless of whether you’re a Sprint customer. The offer excludes the most recent S10 series and newer Note models, but includes the Galaxy S7, S8, S8+, S9, S9+ and Note 8. The same repair from Samsung costs well over $200. If the screen is unrepairable, Sprint is offering a trade-in deal of $150 toward a new Sprint phone. The offer is limited to one device per customer and the sale ends February 9th.

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Seattle District is First in US to Let Anyone Vote by Phone in Election

In a first for the US, King County, WA is offering all residents the option to vote in an official election entirely using their smartphone. King County includes Seattle. The election is for the county Board of Supervisors. Such elections usually have very low turnout; election officials hope that the new option will boost voter turnout. The system is web-based. Residents log in using their name and birthdate, vote, and submit a signature using their touch screen. On the back end, these submissions are then printed out on paper before being tallied. Voters also have the option to fill out the ballot on their phone but print it out and submit a physical ballot themselves. The US has seen electronic mobile voting options before, but only for certain populations, such as military, disabled, and voters living overseas. The Seattle-area pilot program is being funded by Tusk Philanthropies. Founder and CEO Bradley Tusk told NPR that he hopes to fund between 35 and 50 mobile-voting pilots over the coming five years and then campaign for even wider use based on the data compiled from those programs.

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Motorola razr Ships February 6th

Verizon has pegged February 6th as the new launch date for the Motorola razr. Pre-orders open up at 12:01am ET on January 26th. The $1,500 phone is available exclusively from Verizon in the US. Verizon is offering special deals for new customers who switch to Verizon and pre-oder a razr: a $200 prepaid MasterCard, plus up to $500 when customers trade in an existing phone and sign up for a specific Unlimited plan. Existing Verizon customers upgrading to the razr can save up to $300 with a phone trade-in. Verizon is also offering the razr for $62.49 a month for 24 months. The razr was originally slated to ship January 9th, but was delayed. The 2020 razr resembles the original RAZR V3 launched in 2004, with its thin metal clamshell form factor. The new model features a 6.2″ flexible, folding OLED main display and runs Android.

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