Android plans to improve security update speed this year

Google has spent the past year working with third-party manufacturers and phone carriers to improve its update system for Android, which is often criticized for not being fast enough to protect users from known vulnerabilities. And while Google says it has made some progress in this area — Android issued security updates to 735 million devices from more than 200 manufacturers in 2016 — about half of Android users still aren’t receiving important security patches.

“There is still a lot of work to do to protect all Android users: about half of devices in use at the end of 2016 had not received a platform security update in the previous year,” Android security leads Adrian Ludwig and Melinda Miller wrote in a year-in-review post. Android issued monthly security updates during that time frame.

When phone makers discover vulnerabilities in their products — either through external reports from security researchers or through internal audits — it kicks off a race to patch the problem before it’s widely exploited. But in the Android ecosystem, which includes hundreds of carriers and manufacturers, pushing those updates out to every user is a complex process.

While Google-manufactured Pixel and Nexus phones and tablets receive automatic updates, hundreds of manufacturers that run Android on their devices don’t push security updates to their customers immediately. This practice can leave customers waiting for months to get updates, and their devices are vulnerable in the meantime.

Ludwig told TechCrunch that Google has been able to cut the wait time for security updates from six to nine weeks down to just a few days by working with carriers and manufacturers. “In North America, just over 78 percent of flagship devices were current with the security update at the end of 2016,” he explained. “It’s a good number in terms of the progress that it represents. We think we can do better.”

Sharing Google’s data on update speed with carriers and manufacturers is crucial in convincing them to issue quicker security updates. “It’s not about convincing them that it’s important — they already believe that — it’s providing visibility into the specific status, which often they don’t have,” Ludwig said. “Because the ecosystem has so many parties, everyone knew the update rate was low but they thought it was caused by someone else. Providing the information allowed them to take action.”

Carriers are starting to view security updates differently than feature updates, and are getting them into consumers’ hands more quickly, while manufacturers are also restructuring the way they release updates to devices. Google is also contributing to the process by shrinking the size of updates to ensure a faster download and by removing requirements for users to approve every update.

Updates aside, Android has made stronger progress in eliminating what it calls “potentially harmful apps” that sneak Trojans, phishing scams and hostile downloaders onto customers’ phones. Google automatically scans apps in the Play store for harmful content, performing “750 million daily checks in 2016, up from 450 million the previous year,” according to the year-end report.

The increase in daily scans has led to dramatic decreases in the percentage of harmful apps downloaded from Play:

 Installs of PHAs from Google Play decreased in nearly every category:

● Now 0.016% of installs, installed trojans dropped by 51.5% compared to 2015.

● Now 0.003% of installs, hostile downloaders dropped by 54.6% compared to 2015.

● Now 0.003% of installs, Backdoors dropped by 30.5%, compared to 2015.

● Now 0.0018% of installs, phishing apps dropped by 73.4% compared to 2015.

Despite this progress, Ludwig and Miller said that overall installations of potentially harmful apps rose in 2016. “While only 0.71% of all Android devices had Potentially Harmful Applications (PHAs) installed at the end of 2016, that was a slight increase from about 0.5% in the beginning of 2015,” they wrote, adding that they hope to cut that number this year using new tools developed in 2016.

Android also made encryption improvements in its latest operating system, Nougat, and improved sandboxing for audio and video files.

Facebook Messenger for Android Gets Multiple Account Support

Facebook Messenger for Android Gets Multiple Account Support

Facebook has redesigned its popular Messenger app so several people can use it on the same smartphone or tablet without relinquishing their privacy.

The update announced Friday initially will only be available on devices running on Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Facebook didn’t set a timetable for making similar changes to its Messenger app for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad.

The new feature will accommodate multiple accounts without allowing people sharing the more versatile app to get into each other’s queue of messages.

Facebook added the ability to switch accounts within the Messenger app after getting requests from people who share their smartphones and tablets with family and friends.

More than 800 million people currently use Messenger.

A recent report indicated that Facebook will soon be including paid advertisements in its Messenger app. Based off a a leaked document obtained by TechCrunch that the social media giant is purportedly being distributed, it appears Facebook is informing businesses they will soon be able to message customers directly via the Facebook messenger app starting Q2 of this year. However, the businesses will only able to message those customers who have voluntarily initiated the chat.

The document also notes that Facebook has quietly launched a URL short link that opens a chat thread with the business. Facebook too has confirmed the existence of the URL, says the report.

“We don’t comment on rumour or speculation. That said, our aim with Messenger is to create a high quality, engaging experience for 800 million people around the world, and that includes ensuring people do not experience unwanted messages of any type.”said Facebook to TechCrunch regarding Messenger ads.

Now, Free Video Streaming in Some Trains With PressPlay TV

Now, Free Video Streaming in Some Trains With PressPlay TV

Video streaming application PressPlay TV has started offering free video service in some trains, and is in talks to expand service to about 30 trains soon.

PressPlay TV has tied up with Northwestern Railways to offer free VoD service on Delhi-Bikaner bound Bikaner Intercity, and Delhi-Udaipur bound Chetak Express respectively.

“The company is in talks with Northwestern Railways to offer this service on 30 more trains in the next quarter. The service is absolutely free,” PressPlay TV co-founder and COO George Abraham said in a statement.

PressPlay TV offers content such as movies, songs, and news that users access through its Wi-Fi hotspots. To access the content, users need to install its free Android application. This content is hosted locally at PressPlay TV hotspot, so it does not need to connect to the Internet.

The PressPlay TV app automatically downloads when phone is connected to the hotspot, and users can start streaming movies and videos for free without using their mobile data, the company said.

Moto E (Gen 2) Reportedly Receiving Android 6.0 Marshmallow Update in India

Moto E (Gen 2) Reportedly Receiving Android 6.0 Marshmallow Update in India

Motorola back in December confirmed that it will roll out the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update to its Moto E (Gen 2) aka Moto E (2015) handset in select regions. The firm as per user reports has now started seeding the update to its budget device.

According to some users (via Android Police), the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update has started rolling out to Moto E (Gen 2) in India over-the-air (OTA). The update weighs roughly 454MB, so we recommend users to switch to Wi-Fi before downloading the OS version. Based on screenshots shared by users, the update besides the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow features also brings the February Android security patch as well. Users can manually check for the update via Settings> About Phone> System Update.

For those unaware, some of the new features of the core Android 6.0 Marshmallow update include revamped app permissions; Google Now on Tap feature; new Chrome feature that will change the Web experience for Android users; new ways to handle Web links; the Android Pay mobile payment system; new fingerprint APIs for developers to add into their apps,;New Silent feature for sound and vibrate mode as well as a ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode to block all sounds or only alarms and notifications, and battery saver features called Doze that will make Android devices smarter about managing power.

Apart from regular Marshmallow features, Motorola will be also pushing some Moto-specific changesthat users will see after updating to the new Android OS version. Some changes to Moto enhancements include removal of Moto Assist feature as part of upgrade to Android M. The company explains that the latest OS includes an option for ‘Do Not Disturb’ under the ‘Sound and notification’ settings that performs similar function what Moto Assist does.

Apple Unveils ‘Trade Up With Installments’ Programme for iPhone

Apple Unveils 'Trade Up With Installments' Programme for iPhone

Apple is making it cheaper for users to purchase a new iPhone. The Cupertino-based company has announced a new trade-in program to allow users to turn in their old iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone handset and get a new iPhone model for as low as $12.45 (roughly Rs. 850) a month.

Called Trade Up With Installments, the programme allows users to pay less than they currently have to pay when purchasing a new iPhone model in instalments over 24 months. The new iPhone won’t be locked to any carrier. Prior to the program, a user in the United States had to pay around $32 (roughly Rs. 2,200) a month for a 16GB iPhone 6S. This covers the AppleCare+ warranty program, but a user was still required to pay for wireless service. With the new plan, a customer could further curtail the monthly instalment fee to $15 (roughly Rs. 1,030) or less. Users, however, wouldn’t get AppleCare+ warranty program, which is worth between $99 (roughly Rs. 6,800) to $129 (roughly Rs. 8,800).

Apple says that under the new program, it is accepting older iPhone models and curbing the monthly instalment fee they have to pay. The value of your old iPhone (or Android, Windows Phone handset) is deducted from the total sum of the monthly instalment charge. Depending on the phone you’re trading in, and its physical condition, the value Apple estimates on it could vary. Apple says (via Cnet) that users can also trade in their Android smartphones, or handsets powered by Microsoft’s mobile operating system and get between $100 (roughly Rs. 6,880) and $300 (roughly Rs. 20,600).

Unlike the iPhone Upgrade programme, the Trade Up With Instalments programme doesn’t allow users to trade in their phone every year for the next model – users will have to finish paying all remaining instalments before that can be done. An iPhone 4 could cut your monthly instalment fee to $15 a month while the iPhone 5s could make it to as low as $14.58. The iPhone 6 will set your monthly total to $14.54 per month. The best deal is on an iPhone 6s (16GB), when traded in with a iPhone 6 Plus – $12.45 a month. Apple says that it is also happy to give you an instant credit for your old phone that is valid to be used in an Apple Store. For iPhone 4, you can expect about $100, for an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s, $200 for an iPhone 5, or iPhone 5s, or iPhone 5c, and $300 for an iPhone 6.

The program is currently valid only in the United States, and via Apple Stores.

New App Turns Android Smartphones Into Earthquake Detectors

New App Turns Android Smartphones Into Earthquake Detectors

Researchers have developed an app that can turn smartphones into a worldwide seismic network that could eventually warn users of impending jolts from a nearby earthquake.

With the help of a smartphone’s accelerometer – the motion-detection instrument – the app, called MyShake taps a phone’s ability to record ground shaking from an earthquake.

The android app, which can be downloaded from Google Play Store, runs in the background with little power, so that a phone’s onboard accelerometers can record local shaking any time of the day or night.

For now, the app only collects information from the accelerometers, analyses it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a quake, relays it and the phone’s GPS coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, for analysis.

However, once enough people are using it, the seismologists plan to use the data to warn people miles from ground zero that shaking is rumbling their way.

“MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks like those run by the US Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and Caltech, but we think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network,” said the leader of the app projectRichard Allen from the University of California, Berkeley.

A crowd-sourced seismic network may be the only option today for many earthquake-prone developing countries, such as Nepal or Peru, that have a sparse or no ground-based seismic network or early warning system, but do have millions of smartphone users.

“In my opinion, this is cutting-edge research that will transform seismology,” UC Berkeley graduate student Qingkai Kong, who developed the algorithm at the heart of the app, said.

Smartphones can easily measure movement caused by a quake because they have three built-in accelerometers designed to sense the orientation of the phone for display or gaming.

While constantly improving in sensitivity for the benefit of gamers, however, smartphone accelerometers are far less sensitive than in-ground seismometers.

But they are sensitive enough to record earthquakes above a magnitude 5 — the ones that do damage — within 10 kilometres.

And what these accelerometers lack in sensitivity, they make up for in ubiquity. There are an estimated one billion smartphones worldwide, the researchers said.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers described the algorithm in the mobile app that analyses a phone’s accelerometer data and distinguishes earthquake shaking from normal vibrations, such as walking, dancing or dropping the phone.

In simulated tests, the algorithm that the researchers developed successfully distinguished quakes from non-quakes 93 percent of the time.

Skype Group Video Calling Starts Rolling Out to Android and iOS

Skype Group Video Calling Starts Rolling Out to Android and iOS

Skype last month introduced the group video calling feature for Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile. The firm at that time said the feature will roll out to users over the coming weeks. The company on Thursday finally started rolling out group video calling on Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

The company adds that the feature is limited to Western Europe and North America region for now but will soon be rolled out in other regions as well. It plans to make group video calling feature fully available worldwide by next month. It is worth mentioning that Skype already supported group video calls but only for those who opted for Skype for Business. The feature is now available to non-subscribers too.

Users will now be able to make Skype full-screen immersive video calls in HD quality and optimised for the devices callers are using. The person calling is displayed front and centre. The feature also makes use of the company’s native SILK Super Wide Band audio codec for ‘crystal clear’ voice. “To achieve this, we’re proud to have worked with one of Microsoft’s biggest partners, Intel, which helped enable us to optimize SILK Audio specifically for Azure running on Intel processors,” said Microsoft.

In addition, users can switch between a grid view or a switch to focus view where Skype automatically focuses on the active speaker, or lets callers choose which participant to ‘Pin’ to the stage. Users can also call others to join Skype simply via a link via email, WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, or Facebook.

Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge Officially Start Receiving Android 6.0 Marshmallow Update

Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge Officially Start Receiving Android 6.0 Marshmallow Update

Samsung on Monday officially announced that it is rolling out Android 6.0 Marshmallow update to theGalaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge globally, starting Monday. The company said the update other Galaxy devices will follow.

The company, in a blog post added that it will be making separate announcements on the details of OS schedule for each market for the other eligible models. The update roll out will however, vary based on market situation and carrier requirements.

Samsung added that the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update brings enhanced edge screen and new edge features for the Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone. After the update, users can widen the edge panel from 260 pixels to 550 pixels, enabling more content to be displayed. Users will be able to customise up to nine panels including the People edge and Apps edge panels.

In the People edge panel, contact names will be shown below the user photographs unlike before where it only showed a small photo icon. A shortcut to the settings menu has also been included. As for the Apps edge panel, the update will let users add ten apps instead of five. Users can even add entire folders for maximum smartphone organisation, instead of apps.

The update introduced a Tasks edge panel that provides shortcuts to often used app features and tasks, like creating an event in S Planner, setting an alarm or composing a text message. A Quick tools panel has also been introduced that includes a ruler, compass, and customisable flashlight. Customising the Edge handle is also possible after the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update.

“Additionally, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Sports and Yahoo! News come pre-equipped with the OS upgrade, delivering the latest stock reports, the scores of the big games and the biggest headlines right to the edge screen,” said Samsung in the post.

For those unaware, some of the new features of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (previously just Android M) include revamped app permissions; Google Now on Tap feature; new Chrome feature that will change the Web experience for Android users; new ways to handle Web links; Android Pay mobile payment system is now official with Android M; new fingerprint APIs for developers to add into their apps, New Silent feature for sound and vibrate mode as well as a ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode to block all sounds or only alarms and notifications, and battery saver features called Doze that will make Android devices smart about managing power. Some of the other additions include new RAM manager, adoptable storage devices, new app drawer, auto backup and restore for apps, and support for USB Type-C ports.

Telegram Update Brings Improved Voice Messages, Secret Chats, and More

Telegram Update Brings Improved Voice Messages, Secret Chats, and More

Telegram, a popular instant messenger, has started rolling out an update to its Android and iOS apps. The update adds several new features along with some improvements and tweaks.

The update on Android (v3.5.1) and iOS (v3.5) brings Voice Messages v2.0, which now has a new interface with waveform visualisations. It also has a new player, enabling users to listen to long voice messages and switch to other media or chats at the same time.

The update makes it easier for Telegram users to record and listen voice messages with raise-to-speak and raise-to-listen functionality. This means that now when a chat window is open, users can simply pick up their handsets and bring it close to their ear (as if taking a phone call), and hear the new voice messages or record a new one after the signal. “This feature involves plenty of behind-the-scene magic with proximity sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers. It works well with most modern devices, but is still experimental. Some phones may require arcane intervention from our devs,” adds the company blog post.

Furthermore, time-bound Secret Chats feature has also been updated. The Secret Chats 3.0 now includes detailed link previews, reply option to a specific message in group chat, adding photo and video captions, sticker sharing, inline bots, and gif image support. “We’ve also improved key visualisations to make secret chats immune to potential alien invasions.”

In addition, a bunch of updates have been added in different sections inside Telegram. Users can now decide who can add them to groups and channels with granular precision. Supergroup creators can now change admins who can add new members in a group. A Supergroup can include up to 1000 members. New animations have been added to attachments and the ‘Image Search’ option now sits in the ‘Photo or Video’ section.

For iOS devices, users can now share any photo, video, audio, document or location to any Telegram chat or channel directly from default apps like Contacts, Maps, Voice Memos and Photos. They get the ability to share content to multiple chats or channels at once. iPad users with external keyboards get hotkey support as well. For Android, the updated Telegram app introduces additional photo-editing tools – rotate, fade, tint and curves. “We’re not done with updates this month – more features and good news are coming very soon to a Telegram Messenger near you,” says the blog post.

The updated app is already available to download from Google Play and App Store.

Instagram Finally Adds 2-Factor Authentication

Instagram Finally Adds 2-Factor Authentication

Facebook-owned Instagram has begun rolling out two-factor authentication (aka two-factor verification) feature for users. The process will prevent hackers to log in to a user’s account even if they have the ID and password. The feature is not visible in Android or iOS apps in India for now.

The two-factor authentication confirmed by Instagram to TechCrunch, will work just like it does for any other app. The optional feature will send a one time password (OTP) to a registered handset number when users are trying to log in with their email and password.

Although the company has added an extra layer of security for its users, it still has to roll out a fix for the privacy notification bug Instagram for Android users have been facing lately. The company last week began the rollout of multiple account support, which now said to face a major bug, one that lets people access other user’s Instagram notifications. The bug is restricted to the Android app only for now.

If two users are for instance accessing account A and B, and account B and C respectively (account B is the shared account), the bug lets both users view notifications from each other’s personal accounts (account A and account C) as well. Instagram has confirmed the bug and is working on a fix.

The photo-sharing service in December announced that its user base in India doubled over the last year. Instagram passed the 400 million-user mark in September and had also claimed that it had over 80 million pictures shared daily.