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The Demise of Google+ and the Case for FOSS
Gael Duval, Father of User Friendly Linux, on Mandrake and /e/ Phone
The Two Solitudes of GNOME and KDE
February 13th, 2015

Samsung’s Spying TVs, Ubuntu Phone Sells Out & More…

FOSS Week in Review

Larry Cafiero is busy working for SCALE (pun intended), so you’re stuck with me for another week. Sorry.

Ubuntu Phone sale is gone in a flash

The sale of the first ever Ubuntu phone through a European flash sale was evidently a success. Of course, we wouldn’t know as the phone isn’t available yet to those of us who live on this side of the pond, so it hasn’t been getting much press over here. However, EU sites are all atwitter with headlines like “Ubuntu Sells Out!”

Ubuntu phoneThat was referring to the first flash sale, held Wednesday morning EU time, in which all devices being made available were sold out in “just a few hours,” according to Softpedia. In fact, it sold so quickly that a decision was made to hold another flash sale that same afternoon. The original flash sale was supposed to last for nine hours. The number of devices sold hasn’t been released.

In U.S. currency, the Ubuntu phone, officially the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, is going for $192, which would seem to be a bargain. Not necessarily, according to the Inquirer.

“As the price tag suggests, it hasn’t got too much going for it in the specs department. There’s a 4.5in screen, Mediatek A7 quad-core processor running at 1.3GHz, 1GB RAM and 8GB built-in storage. The camera on the rear of the phone is 8MP, and there’s a 5MP snapper on the front.

“The handset doesn’t run the latest ‘Snappy’ version of Ubuntu either. It does come with a UI called Scopes, however, which consists of subject-based visual home screens, rather than menus, and reflects the web-app basis of the phone.”

In other words, any resemblance to the Ubuntu Edge…doesn’t exist.

The George Orwell Show

When 1984 came and went without incident, I breathed a symbolic sigh of relief, thinking we’d dodged a bullet and had escaped 1984. I was wrong.

In Orwellian style, Samsung’s gee-whiz smart TV with voice control is listening to every word your family says while in the privacy of your living room, and sending your conversations home to Samsung through a live stream. Samsung says this is necessary for some reason or another and promises that they’re not paying attention to anything you say, that what happens in your living room stays in your living room, blah, blah, blah. Your TV is not only listening, it’s also sending other data back to Samsung Central, or wherever — technical stuff, evidently, about your set.

Samsung told The Daily Beast that consumers have absolutely nothing to worry about.

“‘Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use,’ the company said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Voice recognition, which allows the user to control the TV using voice commands, is a Samsung Smart TV feature, which can be activated or deactivated by the user. The TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network.'”

Disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network? That sort of defeats the purpose of spending big bucks for a smart TV, doesn’t it? As for simply deactivating the voice recognition feature — that may be fine, but how do you know it’s really off? Call me paranoid…

Of course, you could take more drastic measures and wield a pair of dykes to sever the feature from the rest of the set’s circuity. Wait — maybe you can’t. On Tuesday, Slate pointed out that doing so might be a felony under our old friend, the DMCA.

“To make matters worse, high-level users who want to take their smart TVs apart to see how they work or to attempt to disable or modify the underlying software—for example, to disable the eavesdropping software, or make modifications to make captions easier to read for the visually impaired—could face felony charges under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That’s because most smart TVs on the market have taken technological measures to prevent users from accessing or modifying firmware in order to prevent illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted material. But users could technically face felony charges for circumventing lockdown restrictions—even if the modifications they’re trying to make are legal under copyright law.”

So what’s a consumer to do? Me, I’m sticking with my old fashioned dumb TV, which works just fine without being connected to any network by using old fashioned rabbit ears. When I want to watch “House of Cards,” I’ll just sit in front of my desktop, which has no camera or microphone.

Marketing FOSS in the age of Snowden

An interesting read comes our way this week by way of the Brit site Computing, on which writer John Leonard asks in the title of an article, “why don’t more non-US and open source firms use the NSA as marketing collateral?”

Good question. With word out that U.S. based proprietary giants such as Microsoft have been quietly cooperating with the NSA’s dirty tricks, you’d think that there’d be more of a move by open source companies to push open source’s openness.

“Perhaps the lack of fanfare is merely a reflection of the relative sizes of the marketing budgets available to the US tech giants and local contenders; or perhaps the shock of Snowden has yet to translate itself into meaningful action, making such messaging premature.”

It’s a fairly lengthy article, but it’s worth taking the time to read.

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That does it for this week. Until next time, may the FOSS be with you…

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

3 comments to Samsung’s Spying TVs, Ubuntu Phone Sells Out & More…

  • Mike

    > “To make matters worse, high-level users who want to take their smart TVs apart…could face felony charges under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

    The DMCA needs to be challenged in court. It is pure evil and pure stupid rolled into a single entity.

    If I buy something, then it is mine and I can do any thing I want to it, DMCA be damned.

  • Abdel

    Well-said, Mike.

  • Eddie G.

    I don’t think I’ll be buying a TV that has the ability to listen to, and translate my conversations. A lot of the time people (not we fine folk here…but in general!) run out to buy something that’s promoted as making life easier, and then when the worms from said device start to seep out they have a hard time accepting it. The bottom line is, if we “show” these technology manufactureres and retailers what we “want” by NOT BUYING their PRODUCT then the company might take a hint. Need an example? here’s the biggest one I can think of: Microsoft. When they foisted that heap of harse manure called Windows 8 on the masses…the masses went elsewhere or stayed where they were refusing to purchase Windows 8 in its original iteration. Microsoft got the hint. That was why Windows 8 has as short a intro to the public as Vista did. The real “power” will always lie in the hands of the consumer, and the best way to refute these spying TV’s? DO NOT BUY THEM! I for one cannot fathom how society has gotten to the point where humnans are so…(lazy….reticent?…I don’t know what word would fit here!) that they want everything controlled with their voice, and its not like we live in the 70’s where you had no choice but to get up and turn the channels manually, you can just change channels using a remote…but I guess thats not good enough either huh? (sigh~!) Orwellian indeed.