Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

iPhone age restrictions do not hide 17+ apps, just their screenshots

Monday, January 18th, 2010

“Tasty Pasties 18+ Amateurs” and “Boob Party” are currently on the Top 25 Free Apps in the Apple App Store. I know this because my 8 year old showed me. But let me back up a little.

I have purchased each generation of iPhone as they came out. When I bought my 3GS, I had two leftover iPhones and two clever young ladies who are equally enamored with technology. I set each of my daughters up with the deactivated iPhones working essentially as big iPod Touches. And they were happy. Ecstatic. I am the coolest Dad ever.

I took the expected precautionary approaches. In Settings: General: Restrictions: I turned off the following:

  • Safari
  • Mail
  • YouTube
  • Location
  • In-App Purchases
  • and at first, Installing Apps (App Store)

Since I would be the one managing any media on the device, I didn’t set any age restrictions on music, movies or apps. Eventually, I turned on the App Store so they could browse and choose an app as a reward for a good grade, helping around the house, etc. Standard parental incentive program.

This wasn’t really a risk at the time, Apple was not allowing apps that weren’t family appropriate. Since then, Apple has opened the flood gates of soft porn (but not Google Voice). Again, I know this because my 8 year old showed me. The app screenshots were the iPhone equivalent of a “Girls Gone Wild” TV commercial. All the naughty bits were covered with black dots, very small black dots. This set me into panic mode. I quickly exited the App Store and began trying to keep this kind of material out of reach.

I’m not a Puritan. I understand the market for these products. I also understand that I am responsible for what my girls have access to. As a responsible parent, I went back into Restrictions and limited apps to 12+. Sweet! That was easy. Thanks Apple!

Relieved at such a simple fix, I went back into the App Store and guiltily typed in “boobs” to see if I had successfully addressed the issue. Nope. There were plenty of apps willing to fill my request. A little disappointed, and still feeling uncomfortable about doing this on my daughter’s iPhone, I went searching for the screenshots. They were gone. I can find the apps, see their icons and read their full description, but the tiny black dots and the ladies underneath were gone. Not what I wanted or expected. I wanted the apps to be completely invisible. No app, no name, no busty icons.

This restriction also caused two more problems. First, it turns out that enabling Restrictions will include the catchall “Unrated”.  Any app that is unrated gets the same treatment as a 17+ app. Second, some apps are given 17+ ratings, not because of age-inappropriate material, but because of the ability of the app developer to push unfiltered content to the app (see example below).

An example: Horse Lover. A natural for my girls. They love horses. Eat, breath, play horses. This app is currently “Unrated”, probably because it fetches a daily photo from somewhere “out there”. That means that you can’t use it if you have ANY age restrictions on the iPhone.

My girls came to me immediately after enabling Restrictions for apps asking why I deleted some of their programs. They wanted all of their apps back. If I turned off restrictions, they would be exposed to the new wave of grownup apps in the store. So, there was only one choice left… the App Store is now turned off. I am no longer the coolest Dad ever. I guess the title wasn’t going to last forever, but it was fun while it lasted.

AT&T, The Bars Are a Lie

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I was at Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca yesterday because my son’s high school marching band was going to be in the parade. Since I help the band by taking photos & video, and I host their website, my plan was to stream the band live for those parents that could not attend. I had been wanting to try one of the new iPhone streaming apps anyway, and this was my chance. I did a quick test of the two major iPhone streaming applications, UStream Broadcaster and Qik. I settled on UStream as my app for the day.

There I am, ready to go with full bars, and 3G, when it happens. UStream can’t log in. Hmmm. I try just browsing and still nothing. I try various other data tests, and still nothing. I decide to reboot the phone and try again.

It boots…

It searches…

It has bars…

and, it has 3G.

I launch UStream and… nothing. The phone has no data ability at all. At this point, and for my final test, I bring up the handy AT&T Mark The Spot app to report the data failure. It won’t send the report at that moment because, well, I have no data (and it can’t get GPS coordinates). The cake was a lie (Portal reference), and so are the symbols telling users that they have full bars, and 3G. As for the video, I ended up recording it, via iPhone, and posting it to the site the next day.

Once I was back home, I brought up the Mark The Spot app and reported the failure. It allows you to specify the location of a problem by placing a pin on the map. I doubt it will have any affect, but it did make me feel better.

If you are wondering why I choose UStream, the audio was better. I will post some comparison clips, and a mini-review, when I get some time.

Online Banking – An Opinion

Friday, October 30th, 2009

In my post on Cloud Computing, I mentioned using online banking “if you have the guts”. I had originally gone so far off the subject of that post that I almost forgot what I was writing about. I realized that I had too much to say on the subject and decided to spin-off this post instead.

Online banking is the process of connecting to your financial institution, and performing transactions, from a computer or mobile device. No line for the ATM or teller. Sounds great doesn’t it? Think again.

The question my clients often ask me is “Is online banking secure?”. That’s like asking if logging into your computer, with your password, is secure. It is, but there are environmental issues that can lower that security. I am not a security expert, but for the sake of this debate, let’s say the technology being used for the connection between your computer, or device, and the bank is secure. It is, by the way, but I am trying to prevent some security nut from arguing the point beyond my pay-grade. The problem is, even with the connection security, there is an analog security hole. There is the possibility that someone is watching as you type your credentials. At that point, all electronic security is useless because they can now log in as you. What do ya do?

Making sure you are not being watched during any form of authentication is a start. You can’t always be alone with your computer, but you can simply be aware of what, or who, is around you. Are security cameras recording you? Is someone waiting for you to log on? I ask people all the time to turn around when I log in. It is easy to plug the analog hole.

Now is it safe? It depends. The end user is still one of the most important parts of any good security. In my business, I have seen too many infected Windows based machines. Malware keystroke loggers, like Hellz Little Spy, are the electronic version of someone watching over your shoulder. The connection from your browser, or banking application, can be as secure as Fort Knox, and it means nothing if your computer is infected. If it is capturing everything you type, and transmitting it to a far-away land , then all bets are off. For that reason I will never do online banking from a PC. Yep, I said it. Here comes the Windows defenders. Before you hate me, let me make something clear. I don’t hate Windows. I use Windows daily. I have worked with Windows based networks since Windows 3.1 and Excel 2.0. I use the right tool for the job, period. I don’t care if it is made by Microsoft, Apple, or a community of developers. I recommend what best fits the need. Yes, I use Macs at home, but with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Server running virtually. And, I know my Windows installs are clean, but there’s no way I would risk my accounts to test it. To me, for online banking, a Mac is the right tool for the job, and even then you should practice basic safe computing.

Cloud Computing – The debate

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I listen to a lot of tech podcasts and lately there seems to be a recurring theme. Someone suggests cloud computing is bad, dangerous or just plain useless, while someone else tries to defend it. It’s like trying to defend vaccines to someone who is fixed in their belief that vaccines are bad. People who think there is too much risk in taking a certain action will never agree with those that think there is too much risk in not taking the action. I want to take a different approach here and look at cloud computing as a tool. Like other tools, it’s use comes with some risk. When you use any tool you are responsible doing so safely, protecting yourself and others from physical harm. When using cloud computing similar issues exist. With cloud computing however it’s your data that needs protecting. Lets start from the top.

According to Wikipedia, Cloud Computing is defined as:

“…the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet on a utility basis.”

There is a lot more if you want to read it, but basically the ‘Cloud’ refers to the Internet and the ‘Computing’ refers to the services companies provide there. Many of these services are free. Most of Google’s services or Twitter are examples. Some are pay services, such as hosted email solutions or the remote access products provided by Citrix. In a broad sense, Cloud Computing encompasses the computing services we use over the net as an alternative to using applications installed on our local computer hardware. If you want a bit more detail, Infoworld has an article describing the various types of services provided under the cloud computing banner. However, lets discuss whether cloud computing is a good or bad thing. We will start with some of the disadvantages to cloud computing and then we’ll touch on some of the advantages.


Google Voice: One Number & More

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

In Mike’s post, “Google Voice: One Number to Rule Them All“, he went through what Google Voice is, and why he likes it. If you don’t understand what Google Voice is, I would suggest that you read that post before continuing here. I won’t be going into all the features here. I am going to focus on the features that, for my specific use, I think could use a bit more discussion.

Incase you still did not read Mike’s post, and are not clear on Google Voice, let me do the short version. First thing is, it’s in BETA. You can request an invite to the BETA on the Google Voice Site. Google Voice is a free service where you are given a phone number. Yes, another phone number. But this phone number is special. To start with you have a say in what number you get. Using wild cards you search for a number pattern of your choice. Let’s say your name is Joe. You could search for ‘*4JOE’. That might return 555-555-4JOE. A free vanity number. Cool.