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January 29, 2016

What Is 'Vuvuzela Texting'?

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Is privacy something you value on your smartphone? Most of us assume some level of inconspicuousness while using any number of electronic devices. From cell phones and Internet browsers to desktop computers and software, the information we send and receive on a daily basis is actually a lot less secure than you may realize. And that’s okay, for most of us.

Most of us don’t need super tight, military-grade security on our devices. For most people, security can be managed using encryption software, firewalls, passwords and so on. But even still, the security of our most basic communications, like texting, can be compromised. That is, until now. 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a text messaging system called Vuvuzela—a system they believe almost guarantees a user’s privacy and anonymity. 

 

How Does Vuvuzela Work?

Here’s how it works: the system sends different encrypted messages to three different servers designed to unwrap the encryption one at a time. For anyone attempting to intercept these messages the process is made far more difficult. However, successful interception of one of the three messages can still reveal information about the sender and the intended recipient. 

Vuvuzela takes the process one step further by sending out decoy messages from each server after a communication has been transmitted. These messages are encrypted and sent to other secure destinations. Moreover, this process repeats itself every time a message is received, creating a massive amount of traffic and noise. 

This noise is precisely what protects these messages—it also birthed the name Vuvuzela, which comes from popular noise-making devices used by fans at sporting events. The idea is pretty simple: make an online environment so loud no one can make sense of it.

 

Similar Technologies 

The new security system comes to light just as another recedes into the shadows. In Dec. 2015, Tor (the onion router), an anonymity tool used on the Dark Web, was hacked by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in alleged collaboration with the FBI. 

The nature of the research is still shrouded in mystery, but the online software that promised Dark Web users discreteness wound up getting a bunch of people arrested and several websites disbanded. 

Vuvuzela may be the anonymity tool that was promised by Tor—except, this time, it might actually work. 

It’s hard to say if technology like Vuvuzela is really necessary for everyday communications like texting—unless you’re Edward Snowden. Some people don’t even like the idea of complete anonymity on the web, period. And still others suggest it’s the only way to maintain a truly democratic online space.  

Either way, knowing more about where security breakdowns occur on our personal devices is a lot better than being completely in the dark. For people that text (which is pretty much everyone), unless you plan on using a security system like Vuvuzela, know that these messages can be intercepted rather easier by a person (or government agency) with the correct tools and wherewithal. 

 

January 05, 2016

Smartphones Helping Us Cut 180 Million Tonnes of Carbon Emissions

 

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Mobile technology is helping us drastically reduce our C02 emissions, according to a new study from the Carbon Trust. The research, jointly funded by international telephony companies and Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), claims 180 million tonnes of emissions are saved annually - five times greater than emissions caused by the operations of mobile networks and mobile tech developers.

The study examined 60 carbon-saving mechanisms in 10 different categories, and evaluated a variety of uses for mobile technology, including uses for machine-to-machine and Internet of Things applications.

In an impressive, wide-ranging report, smartphones are shown to have made significant savings in areas like building management, route planning and employee carbon footprints, as an increasing number of workers conduct the majority of their business from home. 

Furthermore, the research highlights a number of areas for future emissions reductions. In a  survey of 4,000 smartphone users from the USA, UK, Spain, Mexico and South Korea, more than half the respondents said they would be willing to reduce their emissions by using mobile technology to recycle more products and encourage insurers to lower premiums in return for more ecologically sound driving habits. Nearly half said they would be more likely to use public transport if they had an app to tell them when the next bus or train would arrive. 

But it’s the emissions savings already being made on a daily basis that is most encouraging. For example, 84% of smartphone users who drive a car regularly use satnav and other GPS apps to reduce congestion and generally plan and execute their trips in a more eco-efficient way; 40% would consider using a self-driving vehicle in the future. Nearly half of respondents said they purchased digital books and newspapers, rather than the more environmentally-costly print versions. 

Other carbon-cutting lifestyle changes that a majority of respondents said they would be willing to make include mobile apps that control home heating and cooling (68%) and mobile-accessed public services (63%). Around half said they would cease using cash and credit/debit cards if they could pay for goods with their smartphone, and 63% said they would consult with doctors remotely for non-urgent issues. 

The list of eco-efficient applications goes on. But what’s even more exciting is the potential for developing economies to completely bypass high-carbon infrastructures by using mobile technology. For a world facing critical climate change, that would be the most sustainable move we can make.

January 02, 2016

Does Ending a Text with a Period Make You Seem Cold-hearted?

 

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Conveying and registering a wide range of subtle emotions in face-to-face conversations is instinctive. A curl of the lip here, widened eyes there. Facial movements are just so expressive, and our ability to process them so sophisticated, that written communication is fraught with problems caused by their omission. 

Computer-mediated Communication (CMC) has given us plenty of answers to this problem, from emojis and emoticons to gifs and selfies (not to mention Facetime and Skype, which brings us back to picking up on real time facial tics), but one question still plagues texters: if you finish a message with a full stop, does it suggest a degree of callousness to the reader? 

 

Science says yes.

 

A new study led by New York’s Binghamton University has found that SMS messages ending with a period are perceived as less sincere. As part of a paper titled ‘Texting Insincerely: the Role of the Period in Text Messaging,’ researchers presented a group of 126 undergraduates with a series of 16 conversations framed in two different ways: as handwritten notes or as text messages. A typical exchange began with an invitation (“Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?”) which was followed by a variety of one-word responses (“Okay” and “Sure” etc) each one with or without a period. The results showed that, when the reply is sent via SMS and concluded with a period, subjects rate the response as less sincere than when no punctuation is used. No such effect was reported in the handwritten note samples. 

To slavish devotees of proper grammar, this may come as a surprise. After all, finishing a statement with a period is what was drummed into us at school. It’s the correct way to write english, isn’t it? 

According to the research team, the lack of social cues present in text message communication has imbued punctuation and other keyboard characters with fresh meaning. For a generation of texters, periods convey brusqueness, a sense of finality that seems to ask to be left alone. Without the full stop, the conversation is left open ended, inviting the recipient to continue the dialogue. 

We're not sure how we feel about the period-less sentence, even in a text message. But if you want to indicate an open-ending to your SMS messages and invite further discussion, it's three times quicker than an ellipsis...

December 27, 2015

What Will Happen to Mobile in 2016?

 

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What’s to become of the mobile market in 2016? Said market certainly isn’t going anywhere, and plenty of innovations and changes are expected. Overcoming various hurdles is also in the mix, and with that in mind, check out a few mobile predictions for the New Year: 

 

Messaging App Marketing

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are on their way to having 1 billion active users monthly. More services and marketing opportunities will be added to both messenger services in 2016, giving marketers the chance to further break from traditional advertising and come up with unique options. 

 

More Mobile Payments

Paying for, well, anything through smartphones is something that will likely continue in 2016. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and similar mobile payment possibilities are set to become standard smartphone features, however undoing years of paying with cash, debit cards, and credit cards as opposed to swiping a smartphone takes diligence. Mobile wallet incentives such as coupons, rewards and loyalty perks, and similar discounts will therefore be required if this form of payment is to really take off. 

 

Increased Data Release

Consumers are predicted to allow more personal data release in 2016, though whether they’ll do it willingly is up for debate. The “convenience and value” of the connected world is something consumers like a lot, so the release of more personal data to publishers and marketers is a distinct possibility. 

 

On-Demand Delivery and Small Businesses

Small businesses will get in on the on-demand delivery action in 2016, something that’s mainly been reserved for corporations and other big businesses. Food ordering, package delivery, and similar easy-to-use services are great for small businesses, and something more of them will utilize in the New Year. 

 

Facebook=Entirely Mobile

The days of checking out Facebook feeds through laptops are increasingly coming to an end, with the social media juggernaut set to become “entirely mobile.” In Q3 2015, 78 percent of Facebook’s $4.3 billion in ad revenue worldwide was due to mobile, and many of the site’s users log in through their phones anyway.

 

Stronger Cybersecurity 

The creation of more cloud-based services and more consumers relying on their phones to purchase goods and services means strong cybersecurity is a must. Small businesses should take note of cybersecurity options, as more cyber attacks are predicted for small businesses in 2016. 

 

Battle For “Mobile Moments”

In a blog for Forrester.com, analyst Thomas Husson called mobile moments the next “battleground” among marketers. 

“Mobile moments – a time when consumers picks up their mobile devices to get what they want in that moment of need – are the next battleground where to win, serve, and retain customers,” he writes. “Mobile experiences are too static today and leverage too little consumer context. As customer expectations of convenience escalate in 2016, the pressure will be on firms to tap new technologies to serve customers in context where they already are – not where brands find it convenient to serve them. Firms must look to use context both to assemble and deliver experiences dynamically on their own and third party platforms.

“In particular, we expect alternative ecosystems beyond Android and iOS to emerge. With consumers using fewer or more integrated apps, new mobile platforms that offer a more relevant experience such as WeChat in China or Facebook Messenger in the US are quickly accumulating power as the owners of vast audiences and rich data about those consumers.” 

 

December 15, 2015

Are Consumers Used to Bad Service?

 

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Consumers argue that customer service is important when deciding what products or services to purchase, however, according to new research from Arizona State University, customer service can’t keep pace with shoppers.

The latest version of the school’s ‘Customer Rage’ study suggests that customer satisfaction rates haven’t changed dramatically since the 1970s. People are not only dissatisfied with customer service, but some consumers don’t even expect it anymore.  

 

Customer Service and Millennials

Millennials in particular can rarely recall a time when automated phone messaging systems or online customer service wasn’t available—so they don’t know what better customer services feels like, said retail-industry consultant Jack Abelson. 

And it’s not that companies aren’t spending time or money on the prevailing issues. In fact, most companies spend plenty of resources on building a better customer experience, albeit on the wrong solutions.  

For example, according to a recent report conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 75 percent of consumers were most frustrated when they couldn’t get a live person to handle their phone calls. The same number of respondents also complained that rude or condescending employees (both in-store and on the phone) contributed to this frustration. Being disconnected from a phone call, long wait times, and poor menu options also topped the list of complaints.

So while companies with limited human resources are moving toward automation, it’s clear the money could be better spent on something else. 

Despite these alarming increases, there were decreases reported by the Better Business Bureau, which logged fewer complaints overall this year compared. Nine out of ten commonly reported industries also had notable declines; this unfortunately excludes cable and satellite services.

One explanation for this decrease in direct reporting may be because consumers have more power to help themselves. This is most apparent on FAQ pages, in How-To videos, forums, and customer review pages, where people can share their opinions freely with other customers. 

Another reason consumers seem apathetic about customer service is that they are more diligent about researching a product or service (particularly via mobile device) before they decided to make a purchase. This is like preventative medicine—they know more about what they’re getting into before they make the purchase. 

That being said, businesses should be wary of this consumer behavior and reconsider how they allocate time and money when trying to resolve customer-related issues. In particular, businesses should provide thorough and up-to-date resources online for clients who want to help themselves before making a customer service phone call. 

Are automated messaging systems and foreign customer reps really the way to go? According to the latest research, the answer is no. 

 

November 24, 2015

Saving Lives with Mobile Technology

 

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The thought of surgery being performed by a robot might be a bit too close to science fiction for folks to stomach. However, the healthcare industry is quickly approaching the intersection of once far-fetched medical technology and a global need for better healthcare. 

Mobile technology is a huge part of this growing trend in health sectors across the country, and the world. In fact, mobile advancements in healthcare are predicted to play a large role in saving lives, and influencing preventative medicine. Here’s a closer look at some of the specific mobile advancements on the cusp of this fast-approaching technological horizon:

 

Healthcare and Gamification 

Along with making medical technology more available, creating ways to empower and proactively engage patients for long-term success is just as important as medical prognosis. 

Gamification involves adding game elements to the outpatient process and preventative repertoire to help patients stay on track with a diet, take their medicine, and maintain healthy habits.

We’ve already seen great examples of this in mobile apps like Luminosity, for brain stimulation, and HAPIfork, which monitors healthy eating. By incorporating mobile technology into the medical paradigm, doctors can help patients well after they leave the hospital. 

 

Comprehensive Communications 

Mobile is also a unique tool in healthcare because of the communication access it delivers and its ability to spread information democratically. The Internet and digital resources play a large roll in this as well, but mobilizing these resources has added millions of new Internet users to the healthcare network.

In 2014, mobile Internet access surpassed desktop usage—in other words, the mobile community is farther-reaching than ever before, making it possible to share, crowdsource, store, and gather pieces of medical information on a globalized network.

 

Saving Lives 

Aside from these abstract healthcare improvements, mobile technology has the ability to save lives immediately. For example, UNICEF has implemented a mobile communication system in one of the most dangerous and densely populated areas in the world: the Gaza Strip. 

Using mobile technology, school children in these areas are able to attend school more regularly, and safely, by allowing school administrators to communicate with parents directly. School administrators can send out SMS messages warning parents of potential treats, as well as let them know when school will resume. Since 2011, 29 schools have used this program regularly, and more than 11,000 students are benefiting from the results. 

From 3D printing and robotic nurses, to wearable tech and live-streaming surgery, the future may be in fact be closer than we think, and mobile technology has found a relevant niche within this growth to do its part in making the world a healthier and safer place to live. 

November 20, 2015

Swrve Raises $30m

 

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Last week, mobile marketing software company Swrve raised $30 million in funding to further the company’s goal of global expansion and product development. To date, the company has raised more than $50 million, with this latest round led by Evolution Media Partners and Irish investment firm TPG Growth and Participant Media. 

The funding money was a huge victory for Swrve and its CEO Christopher Dean, who recently helped acquire adaptive.io, a data automation platform for mobile. 

With help from the latest round, Swrve and adaptive.io are positioned to roll out the latest produce line called Swrve Amplify, which allows clients to manage multichannel campaigns with real-time targeting data. 

“We’re excited about the simplicity of Swrve Amplify in allowing us to make real-time decisions based on all of our data sets,” said Dean. 

What he’s referring to is a combination of predictive analytics, which contain an evolving behavioral algorithm that predicts user behavior, segmentation, AB testing, and in-app messaging. The sum of these parts has resulted in the California-based company’s major success; today Swrve is considered the word’s leading mobile marking automation platform. 

In 2015, Swrve made considerable headway in terms of building out its client portfolio. Earlier this year, Swrve added The Guardian, Condé Nast, Glamsquad, Warner Brothers, and Microsoft to a growing client list.

 

Important Mobile Developments

“Mobile has reached a point where brands and games can’t ignore it,” said Dean. 

In addition to improving and simplifying omnichannel communications, Swrve is attempting to fully measure the app user’s collective behavior online as a distinct category of activity from the spectrum of devices and channels we choose (or don’t choose) to interact with every day. 

The end game is a more sophisticated advertising and marketing strategy for business, and what will hopefully result in more meaningful and relevant content for users. 

With the addition of $30 million, Dean and Swrve have found a bit of breathing room to let the innovation process begin. 

November 04, 2015

Can Smartphones Help Manage Bipolar Disorder?

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Bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by mood swings that vary from extreme elation to severe depression. Patients suffering from this mental illness experience extreme highs and hyperactivity, and at other times suffer devastating lows and lethargy. Because symptoms of most mental disorders can only be seen as changes in a person’s behavior, rather than a chemical or biological change, treating these mood changes can be extremely difficult. But recent studies indicate that phone apps may be able to help people with bipolar disorder manage their conditions so that they can live more productive lives.

 

Research

Italian researchers have found that smartphones can be used to diagnose and manage mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Thanks to their built-in sensors, sudden mood changes can be tracked easily. Just recently, computer scientist Venet Osmani of the Trento, Italy-based Centre for Research and Telecommunication Experimentation for Networked Communities (CREATE-NET) used data mining to study human behavior and health. He knew that people with bipolar disorder often demonstrated signature behavior patterns and used smartphones to measure these patterns. According to Osmani, the behavior patterns associated with bipolar disorder can be accurately detected by smartphone sensors, which allow changes in mood to be spotted as they occur. This is amazing news for patients, as it could lead to faster treatment and better outcomes for sufferers.

 

How the Smartphone App Works

How will the smartphone app work? The bipolar manic phase is often characterized by physical hyperactivity, which can be measured by an accelerometer and a GPS; symptoms like rapid speech could be measured by sound analysis software, and frequent conversations monitored through phone call patterns. Similarly, slow movements, fewer locations travelled, sluggish speech, and fewer conversations with others can be signs of the depressive phase. The app includes GPS information to localize the user in case of a manic crisis, and it can be used either as part of a treatment with a therapist or as a standalone app. There are currently a number of different apps on the market being used to detect mental and physical ailments as they occur. This is just the beginning of how innovation is changing medicine.

 

Patients 

All of this is good news for bipolar sufferers. Patients with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to stress events or changes in their routine. With a smartphone app, the possibility of early detection in a patient’s state could mean facilitating timely intervention and getting him or her the best treatment possible. 

For the most party, treating bipolar illness comes after the fact. Patients are usually given questionnaires after an episode has already occurred. An accurate way of diagnosing mood changes in real-time would be hugely useful, both for patients and their health providers to predict oncoming symptoms. 

With technology continuing to change, and innovation creating better and faster ways to communicate, many of today’s health problems might soon be more easily detected. 

 

Written by Jeremy Pollack

 

November 01, 2015

Mobile Helps Propel UK Adspend to Record Highs

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According to the Advertising Association/Warc, UK ad spending hit a record high in 2015. Spending increased by 5.8% to reach £9.42bn in the first half of the year, and mobile is predicted to exceed the billion-pound barrier for the first time. Digital channels remain the force behind this growth, as Internet spending is up 13.3% for H1 to £3.9bn. Mobile makes up 79% of this growth, with ad spending increasing more than 52% to £1.08bn. 

Growth is noticeable throughout the industry, including both television and cinema forms. Only print has seen a decrease in revenue. 

“Advertising’s resilience points to the strength of the broader economy in the first half,” said Tim Lefroy, chief executive at the Advertising Association. “The UK leads the world in eCommerce and the trend to mobile means serving the public better ads in the right place at the right time.”

Ad spending is expected to demolish the £20bn barrier in 2016, with the Advertising Association’s media breakdown is as follows:  

  • Radio: Radio ad spending decreased by 2.2% to £116m in Q2, branded content excluded. Full-year growth is expected at 3.0% in 2015, and 2.3% with branded content included.
  • TV: Spot advertising “recorded solid YOY growth of 2.9% to £1,144m in Q2, compared to a quarter in which the FIFA World Cup was held last year.” TV spot advertising also enjoyed a fantastic Q1 via ad revenues rising to 11.5%. An “increase of 6.7% is forecast for 2015 as a whole.” 
  • Out of Home: YOY growth was strong at the beginning of 2015 with an increase of 9.7% in Q1, though it decreased 3.6% to £249m in Q2. 
  • Regional Newsbrands: These newsbrands saw a decline of 7.2% in ad spend in Q2 2015 compared to 2014. This “represents a 12.1% drop for print (to £246m) and a 24.0% increase for digital revenues (to £55m).” 
  • National Newsbrands: Print ad revenue decreased by a staggering 19.2% Q2 2015 to £239m. Digital ad spending, in comparison, increased 5.9% to £51m.
  • Magazine Brands: Ad spending declined by 6.8% in Q2. Print advertising saw a 11.0% decline to £168m, while digital saw an increase of 5.2% to £70m. 
  • Internet: Internet ad spending included a 12.8% increase in Q2 2015, which was followed by “revised growth of 13.9% in Q1 (+1.1pp).” Mobile made up 79% of total internet growth during H1, resulting in ad spending of £1,079m (up 52.1%). 

Cinema and direct mail ad spending saw increases as well. Separate Advertising Association research indicated the UK as the biggest mobile advertising spenders in Europe, and the third-highest spenders in the world following the United States and China. 

October 17, 2015

SMS Can Help Suicidal Teens Seek Help

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Text messaging is an increasingly popular tool for public and essential services, forming a key part of their armories. Calling 911; reminding patients about doctor’s appointments; putting people in touch with mental health organizations - all these vital tasks can benefit from a communication technology now used more than any other.  

Now, teen suicide prevention has been added to that list.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. According to the American Association of Suicidology, close to 5,300 under-24s took their own lives in 2013. Organizations like the Samaritans and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operate contact centers offering 24/7 support to those in need, but many teens and young adults feel reluctant to make that call. Text messaging is a communication platform they’re comfortable with, at least as a first point of contact. It’s been successfully trialled by the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs for several years, and now the aforementioned suicide help lines are beginning to roll out their own SMS messaging services.

The Samaritans’ Massachusetts branch recently began a text messaging initiative to supplement the traditional phone line. At time of writing, it’s only available between the hours of 3pm-11pm - but it’s a start. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers SMS and online assistance at a number of its 160 crisis centers, and has so far found that nearly 40% of people reaching out for help via these channels have indicated they would not feel comfortable seeking help by phone.

Crisis center volunteers are generally young themselves, ranging from 16-30; they understand the language and quirks of text message communication, including grammatical idiosyncrasies and emojis. 

Many of us feel uncomfortable using the phone for even the most basic tasks, so something as important as expressing suicidal thoughts is enough to overwhelm people who are already under a huge amount of stress. Emotions that are hard to convey in a conversation can become clearer when written down. Additionally, text messaging offers a degree of privacy that a phone call cannot. Teens and young people who struggle to find a safe, private place to call a crisis center can turn to SMS messaging as a discreet alternative. If, for instance, a kid is being repeatedly bullied on the school bus, they can communicate with a volunteer even as they face bullies. 

The hope is that these organizations and others will make SMS messaging services as easily and widely available as phone help lines.