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There Are About 5.3 Billion People on Earth Aged Over 15. Of These, Around 5 Billion Have a Mobile Phone

There are about 5.3bn people on earth aged over 15. Of these, around 5bn have a mobile phone. Source: World Bank, GSMA, Apple, Google, CNNIC, a16z. The data challenge is that mobile operators collectively know how many people have a SIM card, but a lot of people have more than one. Meanwhile, ownership starts at aged 10 or so in developed markets, whereas in some developing markets half of the population is under 15, which means that a penetration number given as a share of the total population masks a much higher penetration of the adult population.

How many of these are online? These sources are all based on devices that connect to the internet regularly in order for them to be counted, but ‘connection’ is a pretty fuzzy thing. The entry price for low-end Android is now well under $50, and cellular data connectivity is relatively expensive for people earning less than $10 or $5 a day (and yes, all of these people are getting phones). Charging your phone is also expensive — if you live without grid electricity, you may need to pay the neighbor who owns a generator, solar cells or car battery to top up your battery. Hence, MTN Nigeria recently reported that 47% of its users had a smartphone but only 27% were active data users (defined as using >5 meg/month). Of course, some of these will be limiting their use to wifi, where they can get it. These issues will obviously intensify as the next billion convert to smartphones (or near-smartphones like KaiOS) in the next few years. There are lots of paths to address this, including the continuing cost efficiencies of cellular, cheaper backhaul (perhaps using LEO satellites), and cheap solar panels (and indeed more wifi). The fratricidal price wars started by Jio in India are another contributor, though you can’t really rely on that to happen globally. But this issue means that on one hand there are actually more than 4bn smartphones in use in some way, but on the other that fewer than 4bn are really online.

What platforms? The platform wars ended a long time ago, and Apple and Google both won (outside China, at least). As one would expect given the range of prices, these devices are not evenly distributed: surveys in the US suggest that over 80% of teenagers have an iPhone, whereas the situation in India is pretty much the reverse. The use of these devices also matters: people who buy high-end phones tend to use them more.

Phones Can Now Tell Who Is Carrying Them From Their Users’ Gaits

Most online fraud involves identity theft, which is why businesses that operate on the web have a keen interest in distinguishing impersonators from genuine customers. Passwords help. But many can be guessed or are jotted down imprudently. Newer phones, tablets, and laptop and desktop computers often have beefed-up security with fingerprint and facial recognition. But these can be spoofed. To overcome these shortcomings the next level of security is likely to identify people using things which are harder to copy, such as the way they walk. Many online security services already use a system called device fingerprinting. This employs software to note things like the model type of a gadget employed by a particular user; its hardware configuration; its operating system; the apps which have been downloaded onto it; and other features, including sometimes the Wi-Fi networks it regularly connects through and devices like headsets it plugs into.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an American analytics firm, has catalogued more than 4 billion phones, tablets and other computers in this way for banks and other clients. Roughly 7% of them have been used for shenanigans of some sort. But device fingerprinting is becoming less useful. Apple, Google and other makers of equipment and operating systems have been steadily restricting the range of attributes that can be observed remotely. That is why a new approach, behavioral biometrics, is gaining ground. It relies on the wealth of measurements made by today’s devices. These include data from accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors, that reveal how people hold their phones when using them, how they carry them and even the way they walk. Touchscreens, keyboards and mice can be monitored to show the distinctive ways in which someone’s fingers and hands move. Sensors can detect whether a phone has been set down on a hard surface such as a table or dropped lightly on a soft one such as a bed. If the hour is appropriate, this action could be used to assume when a user has retired for the night. These traits can then be used to determine whether someone attempting to make a transaction is likely to be the device’s habitual user.

If used wisely, the report says behavioral biometrics could be used to authenticate account-holders without badgering them for additional passwords or security questions; it could even be used for unlocking the doors of a vehicle once the gait of the driver, as measured by his phone, is recognized, for example.

“Used unwisely, however, the system could become yet another electronic spy, permitting complete strangers to monitor your actions, from the moment you reach for your phone in the morning, to when you fling it on the floor at night,” the report adds.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Our phones make us feel like social-media activists, but they’re actually turning us into bystanders

On April 9, 2017, a video of a man being dragged off a United Airlines flight was posted on the internet and went viral. But I don’t need to tell you that. Each of your most outspoken Facebook friends probably posted about the event, highlighting the aspects of it that best reinforced their worldview. The incident was covered all over American media and even sparked outrage in China.

The collective focus may have now moved on to its next source of outrage, but there was something that only a few people noticed in the moment: a plane full of quiet passengers. Other than one woman screaming, hardly anyone else on the plane seemed bothered enough by what was happening to raise a ruckus. This calm scene is a rather unlikely precursor to the uproar that unfolded hours later on Facebook and Twitter.

Instead of intervening in the assault, the passengers stoically took out their cameraphones and pointed them toward David Dao, whose body was dragged along the aisle of the airplane, glasses askew, face bloody, and belly exposed. Their immediate response was not to speak out against the outrageousness of what was going on, but to create an instant digital record of the incident.

The act of recording a violent event but staying silent is a modern manifestation of the bystander effect. The bystander effect occurs when people refrain from intervening in an emergency situation because there are other people around. Psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley, who first demonstrated the bystander effect, attributed this phenomenon to two factors: a perceived diffusion of responsibility (thinking that someone else in the group will help) and social influence (where observers see the inaction of the group as evidence that there is no reason to intervene).

Our cameraphones may make us feel like social-media activists, but when we’re recording an event instead of intervening, we’re actually just real-world bystanders. There is a gulf of dissonance between what we publicly declare as our values—online or otherwise—and how we act.

In the past few years, there have been scores of videos depicting abuse that have been recorded and then disseminated online. In New Jersey in 2014, people watched and recorded as a woman was punched and kicked by a co-worker. (The only one who said anything was her 2-year-old child, who knew, naturally, to help.) In Philadelphia in 2016, a man was beating and punching a woman in the streets while an observer videotaped the event. Even without violence, the temptation to be a recording bystander prevails. Take the case of a 2013 fire in Pincourt, Canada, where observers recorded the house burning to the ground from all angles—but nobody called the fire station.

To prevent a culture of disembodied bystanders, we must learn to better asses the appropriate actions when we’re in a situation that demands immediate attention. In doing so, we hopefully transcend the idea that recording an event is a replacement for action.

Sam Gregory is a program director at WITNESS, a global organization that incorporates video technology into human-rights advocacy. The goal of Gregory’s primary project, Mobil-Eyes-Us, is to find ways to translate “co-presence” in to action. “In these types of events, people do freeze,” Gregory says. “The goal is to get over the freeze reaction.”

Filming events doesn’t relinquish our moral responsibility to intervene, but Gregory believes it’s “a step up from the Kitty Genovese incident,” which was an infamous 1964 stabbing in Queens, New York that 38 neighbors observed over a half hour, but none of them called the police or stepped in to intervene. If those 38 people lived in an age of smartphones, you can safely bet what a large portion of them would be doing.

Gregory says the idea of his project is to develop “witnessing literacy:” a repertoire of actions people can take in order to prevent unethical witnessing. To that end, the WITNESS website has abundant resources and guides, from teaching observers how to capture and preserve video as evidence to how to protect your identity on Youtube. The organization has also produced a mini-guide to capturing ethical footage and a video showing how to share the United Airlines video in a way that would protect the victim, David Dao:

This said, documenting an event is only a viable contribution to an inclement situation if it is then used in an ethical manner; it’s not the recording that matters, it’s what you do with it. For example, a video of an assault on your phone helps no one if it’s not formally filed to the police or uploaded to the internet in an effective, ethical manner. And with all that effort, wouldn’t it have been better to try and pipe-up in the moment? (If all else fails, you might also try to sing, which is what this one brave woman did to fend off a man harassing a woman on public transport.)

Viral videos that incite outrage and prod at our sense of justice demonstrate both the difficulty and necessity of acting in accordance with our values. We argue so much online about the actions of people who we do not know and will never meet, and this takes time away from looking at our own actions and preparing ourselves to act better in similar situations. As we thank the one woman on the plane who dared to speak up on the United flight, we should consider what else productive protest looks like so that each of us has a repertoire of counter-violent actions to take.

For now, those of us who wish to believe in a world where people look out for each other will have to take it upon themselves to lead by example. We should learn how to translate our digital frustrations to analog action.

Are Phone-Addicted Drivers More Dangerous Than Drunk Drivers?

After crunching data on 4.5 billion miles of driving, road-safety analytics company Zendrive concludes there’s a new threat which just last year claimed the lives of 6,227 pedestrians: drivers “under the influence of a smartphone.”

The study points out that drunk driving fatalities peak after midnight, while distracted driving happens all day, conluding that distracted driving is now a bigger threat than drunk driving.

“Phone addicts are the new drunk drivers,” Zendrive concludes bluntly in its annual distracted driving study. The big picture: The continued increase in unsafe driving comes despite stricter laws in many states, as well as years of massive ad campaigns from groups ranging from cell phone carriers to orthopedic surgeons. “They hide in plain sight, blatantly staring at their phones while driving down the road,” Zendrive says in the study.

And it’s a growing problem. Over just the past year, Zendrive, which analyzes driver behavior for fleets and insurers, said the number of hardcore phone addicts doubled, now accounting for one in 12 drivers. If the current trend continues, that number will be one in five by 2022.

The report concludes drivers are 10 percent more distracted this year than last — and that phone addicts have their eyes off the road for 28% of their drive. Yet when asked to describe their driving, 93% of phone addicts said they believed they were “safe” — or “extremely safe” — drivers.

One even insisted that they never texted while driving, “but I like to FaceTime my friends while driving since it makes time go by faster.”

Several Popular Apps Share Data With Facebook Without User Consent

Some of the most popular apps for Android smartphones, including Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and MyFitnessPal, are transmitting data to Facebook without the consent of users in a potential breach of EU regulations.

In a study of 34 popular Android apps, the campaign group Privacy International found that at least 20 of them send certain data to Facebook the second that they are opened on a phone, before users can be asked for permission. Information sent instantly included the app’s name, the user’s unique ID with Google, and the number of times the app was opened and closed since being downloaded. Some, such as travel site Kayak, later sent detailed information about people’s flight searches to Facebook, including travel dates, whether the user had children and which flights and destinations they had searched for. European law on data-sharing changed in May with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation and mobile apps are required to have the explicit consent of users before collecting their personal information.

My devices are sending and receiving data every two seconds, sometimes even when I sleep

blockquote>When I decided to record every time my phone or laptop contacted a server on the internet, I knew I’d get a lot of data, but I honestly didn’t think it would reveal nearly 300,000 requests in a single week.

On average, that’s about one request every two seconds.

Are your devices sending and receiving data when you’re not using them?

They sure are. The quietest times fall — predictably — overnight. But even while I’m sleeping my devices are pretty busy talking to various companies. For example, here are the 841 times my devices made contact with 46 different domains between 10pm and 6:30am on the second night of the experiment. Most of these requests are background updates for things like my email and calendar or synchronisation that various apps like Dropbox or iCloud perform.

But exactly what each of them is doing is quite difficult to tell.

Digital India: Government Hands Out Free Phones to Win Votes

In the state of Chhattisgarh, the chief minister, Raman Singh, has promised a smartphone in every home — and he is using the government-issued devices to reach voters as he campaigns in legislative elections that conclude on Tuesday.

The phones are the latest twist in digital campaigning by the B.J.P., which controls the national and state government and is deft at using tools like WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts to influence voters. The B.J.P. government in Rajasthan, which holds state elections next month, is also subsidizing phones and data plans for residents, and party leaders are considering extending the model to other states.

Scope creep with Australia metadata retention

Telecommunications industry group Communications Alliance has revealed details of dozens of state and federal departments and agencies it claims are accessing so-called communications ‘metadata’.

The 2015 legislation that introduced the data retention regime authorised a list of “criminal law-enforcement agencies” to obtain warrant-free access to metadata. Those agencies included federal, state and territory police agencies, a number of anti-corruption bodies, Border Force, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission; and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

However, last month at the hearing of an inquiry into the government’s bill aimed at enhancing police access to encrypted communications services, Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said that a significantly larger number of organisations were accessing information kept by telcos to meet their data retention obligations.

In addition to police agencies and other organisations listed in the data retention legislation, it includes Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, Australia Post’s Corporate Security Group, Workplace Health and Safety, Work Safe Victoria, the Taxi Services Commission and a number of local councils.

With 5G, you won’t just be watching video. It’ll be watching you, too

What happens when movies can direct themselves? Remember the last time you felt terrified during a horror movie? Take that moment, and all the suspense leading up to it, and imagine it individually calibrated for you. It’s a terror plot morphing in real time, adjusting the story to your level of attention to lull you into a comfort zone before unleashing a personally timed jumpscare.

Or maybe being scared witless isn’t your idea of fun. Think of a rom-com that stops from going off the rails when it sees you rolling your eyes. Or maybe it tweaks the eye color of that character finally finding true love so it’s closer to your own, a personalized subtlety to make the love-struck protagonist more relatable.

You can thank (or curse) 5G for that.

When most people think of 5G, they’re envisioning an ultra-fast, high-bandwidth connection that lets you download seasons of your favorite shows in minutes. But 5G’s possibilities go way beyond that, potentially reinventing how we watch video, and opening up a mess of privacy uncertainties.

“Right now you make a video much the same way you did for TV,” Dan Garraway, co-founder of interactive video company Wirewax, said in an interview this month. “The dramatic thing is when you turn video into a two-way conversation. Your audience is touching and interacting inside the experience and making things happen as a result.” The personalized horror flick or tailored rom-com? They would hinge on interactive video layers that use emotional analysis based on your phone’s front-facing camera to adjust what you’re watching in real time. You may think it’s far-fetched, but one of key traits of 5G is an ultra-responsive connection with virtually no lag, meaning the network and systems would be fast enough to react to your physical responses.

Before you cast a skeptical eye at 5G, consider how the last explosion of mobile connectivity, from 3G to 4G LTE, changed how we consumed video. Being able to watch — and in YouTube’s case, upload — video on a mobile device reimagined how we watch TV and the types of programming that are big business. A decade ago, when Netflix was about two years into its transition to streaming from DVD mailings, its annual revenue $1.4 billion. This year it’s on track for more than 10 times that ($15.806 billion).

5G’s mobility can bring video experiences to new locations. Spare gives the example straight out of Minority Report, of entering a Gap retail store and being greeted by name. But taken further, the store could develop a three-dimensional video concierge for your phone — a pseudo-hologram that helps you find what you’re looking for. With 5G’s ability to make virtual and augmented reality more accessible, you could get a snapshot of what an outfit might look like on you without having to try it on.

Where things get crazy — and creepy — is imagining how 5G enables video to react to your involuntary cues and all the data you unconsciously provide. A show could mimic the weather or time of day to more closely match the atmosphere in real life.

For all the eye-popping possibilities, 5G unleashes a tangle of privacy questions. 5G could leverage every piece of visual information a phone can see on cameras front and back in real time. This level of visual imagery collection could pave the way for video interaction to happen completely automatically.

It’s also a potential privacy nightmare. But the lure of billions of dollars have already encouraged companies to make privacy compromises.

And that may make it feel like your personalized horror show is already here.

Now Apps Can Track You Even After You Uninstall Them

If it seems as though the app you deleted last week is suddenly popping up everywhere, it may not be mere coincidence. Companies that cater to app makers have found ways to game both iOS and Android, enabling them to figure out which users have uninstalled a given piece of software lately—and making it easy to pelt the departed with ads aimed at winning them back.

Adjust, AppsFlyer, MoEngage, Localytics, and CleverTap are among the companies that offer uninstall trackers, usually as part of a broader set of developer tools. Their customers include T-Mobile US, Spotify Technology, and Yelp. (And Bloomberg Businessweek parent Bloomberg LP, which uses Localytics.) Critics say they’re a fresh reason to reassess online privacy rights and limit what companies can do with user data.

Uninstall tracking exploits a core element of Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile operating systems: push notifications. Developers have always been able to use so-called silent push notifications to ping installed apps at regular intervals without alerting the user—to refresh an inbox or social media feed while the app is running in the background, for example. But if the app doesn’t ping the developer back, the app is logged as uninstalled, and the uninstall tracking tools add those changes to the file associated with the given mobile device’s unique advertising ID, details that make it easy to identify just who’s holding the phone and advertise the app to them wherever they go.

At its best, uninstall tracking can be used to fix bugs or otherwise refine apps without having to bother users with surveys or more intrusive tools. But the ability to abuse the system beyond its original intent exemplifies the bind that accompanies the modern internet, says Gillula. To participate, users must typically agree to share their data freely, probably forever, not knowing exactly how it may be used down the road. “As an app developer, I would expect to be able to know how many people have uninstalled an app,” he says. “I would not say that, as an app developer, you have a right to know exactly who installed and uninstalled your app.”

Child Drownings In Germany Linked To Parents’ Obsession With Mobile Phones

The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice. More than 300 people have drowned in Germany so far this year.

“Too few parents and grandparents are heeding the advice: when your children and grandchildren are in the water, put your smartphone away,” Achim Wiese, the DLRG’s spokesman, said. “We’re experiencing on a daily basis that people treat swimming pools like a kindergarten and simply don’t pay attention,” added Peter Harzheim of the German federation of swimming pool supervisors. “In the past, parents and grandparents spent more time with their children in the swimming pool. But increasing numbers of parents are fixated by their smartphones and are not looking left or right, let alone paying attention to their children,” he told German media. “It’s sad that parents behave so neglectfully these days.”

The organization also put some blame on the school system for not making swimming lessons required from an early age. “Budget cuts have also led to swimming pools shortening their opening times,” adds The Guardian.

Banks and Retailers Are Tracking How You Type, Swipe and Tap

When you’re browsing a website and the mouse cursor disappears, it might be a computer glitch — or it might be a deliberate test to find out who you are.

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

The data collection is invisible to those being watched. Using sensors in your phone or code on websites, companies can gather thousands of data points, known as “behavioral biometrics.”
 


A phone’s touchscreen sensors can track where and how you swipe your device to help determine who you are.

 


The angle at which you hold your device is one of the many biometric markers that can be measured.

 

Behavioral monitoring software churns through thousands of elements to calculate a probability-based guess about whether a person is who they claim. Two major advances have fed its growing use: the availability of cheap computing power and the sophisticated array of sensors now built into most smartphones.

The system’s unobtrusiveness is part of its appeal, Mr. Hanley said. Traditional physical biometrics, like fingerprints or irises, require special scanning hardware for authentication. But behavioral traits can be captured in the background, without customers doing anything to sign up.

BioCatch occasionally tries to elicit a reaction. It can speed up the selection wheel you use to enter data like dates and times on your phone, or make your mouse cursor disappear for a fraction of a second.

“Everyone reacts a little differently to that,” said Frances Zelazny, BioCatch’s chief strategy and marketing officer. “Some people move the mouse side to side; some people move it up and down. Some bang on the keyboard.”

Because your reaction is so individual, it’s hard for a fraudulent user to fake. And because customers never know the monitoring technology is there, it doesn’t impose the kind of visible, and irritating, roadblocks that typically accompany security tests. You don’t need to press your thumb on your phone’s fingerprint reader or type in an authentication code.
 


Biometric software can also determine the pressure you tend to apply to your phone when you tap and type.

“We don’t have to sit people down in a room and get them to type under perfect laboratory conditions,” said Neil Costigan, the chief executive of BehavioSec, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that makes software used by many Nordic banks. “You just watch them, silently, while they go about their normal account activities.”

Google tracks you even if you tell it not to

Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used privacy settings that say they will prevent it from doing so.

An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements. Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History. Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.” That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account. The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible

Alex Glover is a recently retired geologist who has spent decades hunting for valuable minerals in the hillsides and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains that surround Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The wooded mountains surrounding it, though, are rich in all kinds of desirable rocks, some valued for their industrial uses, some for their pure prettiness. But it’s the mineral in Glover’s bag — snowy white grains, soft as powdered sugar — that is by far the most important these days. It’s quartz, but not just any quartz. Spruce Pine, it turns out, is the source of the purest natural quartz — a species of pristine sand — ever found on Earth.

This ultra-elite deposit of silicon dioxide particles plays a key role in manufacturing the silicon used to make computer chips. In fact, there’s an excellent chance the chip that makes your laptop or cell phone work was made using sand from this obscure Appalachian backwater. Most of the world’s sand grains are composed of quartz, which is a form of silicon dioxide, also known as silica. High-purity silicon dioxide particles are the essential raw materials from which we make computer chips, fiber-optic cables, and other high-tech hardware — the physical components on which the virtual world runs.

Chinese city gets ‘smartphone zombie’ walkway

A city in northern China has introduced a special pedestrian lane on one of its roads, exclusively for slow-walking smartphone users, it’s reported.

According to the Shaanxi Online News, the pavement along the Yanta Road in Xi’an has now got itself a special lane for “phubbers” – people who stare at their phones and ignore everything else around them.

The lane is painted red, green and blue, and is 80cm wide and 100m long. Pictures of smartphones along the route distinguish it from an ordinary pedestrian lane.

Screen watching at all-time high

With Netflix and Amazon Prime, Facebook Video and YouTube, it’s tempting to imagine that the tech industry destroyed TV. The world is more than 25 years into the web era, after all, more than half of American households have had home Internet for 15 years, and the current smartphone paradigm began more than a decade ago. But no. Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television.

In fact, television viewing didn’t peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the ’00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you’ll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.

Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things — Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix — have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Social media copies gambling methods to create psychological cravings

Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.

These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.

“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.

“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”

Recreating the slot machine

The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.

“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.

We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.

“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.

“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

For instance, phone dependency, driven by high social-media usage, can lead us to think our phone is vibrating, or that we have received a message, even when we haven’t.

“Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,” said Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, from the University of Michigan. “These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”

“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”

Tech insiders have previously said “our minds can be hijacked” and that Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones, while some have confessed they ban their kids from using social media.

However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year, up 14% from a year ago. Despite the furore around its data privacy issues, the social media monolith posted record revenues for the first quarter of 2018, making $11.97bn, up 49% on last year.

A key reason for this is because Facebook has become so entrenched in our lives: we can’t put it down.

Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has conceptualised how people become attached to social media.

“It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.”

Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed, Eyal remarked.

It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.

“The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.”

‘Living laboratories’: the Dutch cities amassing data on oblivious residents

Stratumseind in Eindhoven is one of the busiest nightlife streets in the Netherlands. On a Saturday night, bars are packed, music blares through the street, laughter and drunken shouting bounces off the walls. As the night progresses, the ground becomes littered with empty shot bottles, energy drink cans, cigarette butts and broken glass.

It’s no surprise that the place is also known for its frequent fights. To change that image, Stratumseind has become one of the “smartest” streets in the Netherlands. Lamp-posts have been fitted with wifi-trackers, cameras and 64 microphones that can detect aggressive behaviour and alert police officers to altercations. There has been a failed experiment to change light intensity to alter the mood. The next plan, starting this spring, is to diffuse the smell of oranges to calm people down. The aim? To make Stratumseind a safer place.

We get that comment a lot – ‘Big brother is watching you’. I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’

All the while, data is being collected and stored. “Visitors do not realise they are entering a living laboratory,” says Maša Galic, a researcher on privacy in the public space for the Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society. Since the data on Stratumseind is used to profile, nudge or actively target people, this “smart city” experiment is subject to privacy law. According to the Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, people should be notified in advance of data collection and the purpose should be specified – but in Stratumseind, as in many other “smart cities”, this is not the case.

Peter van de Crommert is involved at Stratumseind as project manager with the Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety and Security. He says visitors do not have to worry about their privacy: the data is about crowds, not individuals. “We often get that comment – ‘Big brother is watching you’ – but I prefer to say, ‘Big brother is helping you’. We want safe nightlife, but not a soldier on every street corner.”

When we think of smart cities, we usually think of big projects: Songdo in South Korea, the IBM control centre in Rio de Janeiro or the hundreds of new smart cities in India. More recent developments include Toronto, where Google will build an entirely new smart neighbourhood, and Arizona, where Bill Gates plans to build his own smart city. But the reality of the smart city is that it has stretched into the everyday fabric of urban life – particularly so in the Netherlands.

In the eastern city of Enschede, city traffic sensors pick up your phone’s wifi signal even if you are not connected to the wifi network. The trackers register your MAC address, the unique network card number in a smartphone. The city council wants to know how often people visit Enschede, and what their routes and preferred spots are. Dave Borghuis, an Enschede resident, was not impressed and filed an official complaint. “I don’t think it’s okay for the municipality to track its citizens in this way,” he said. “If you walk around the city, you have to be able to imagine yourself unwatched.”

Enschede is enthusiastic about the advantages of the smart city. The municipality says it is saving €36m in infrastructure investments by launching a smart traffic app that rewards people for good behaviour like cycling, walking and using public transport. (Ironically, one of the rewards is a free day of private parking.) Only those who mine the small print will discover that the app creates “personal mobility profiles”, and that the collected personal data belongs to the company Mobidot.
‘Targeted supervision’ in Utrecht

Companies are getting away with it in part because it involves new applications of data. In Silicon Valley, they call it “permissionless innovation”, they believe technological progress should not be stifled by public regulations. For the same reason, they can be secretive about what data is collected in a public space and what it is used for. Often the cities themselves don’t know.

Utrecht keeps track of the number of boys and girls hanging in the streets, their age and whether they are acquaintances

Utrecht has become a tangle of individual pilots and projects, with no central overview of how many cameras and sensors exist, nor what they do. In 2014, the city invested €80m in data-driven management that launched in 80 projects. Utrecht now has a burglary predictor, a social media monitoring room, and smart bins and smart streetlights with sensors (although the city couldn’t say where these are located). It has scanner cars that dispense parking tickets, with an added bonus of detecting residents with a municipal tax debt according to the privacy regulation of the scanner cars. But when I asked the city to respond to a series of questions on just 22 of the smart projects, it could only answer for five of them, referring me to private companies for the rest of the answers.

The city also keeps track of the number of young people hanging out in the streets, their age group, whether they know each other, the atmosphere and whether or not they cause a nuisance. Special enforcement officers keep track of this information through mobile devices. It calls this process “targeted and innovative supervision”. Other council documents mention the prediction of school drop-outs, the prediction of poverty and the monitoring of “the health of certain groups” with the aim of “intervening faster”.

Like many cities, Utrecht argues that it acts in accordance with privacy laws because it anonymises or pseudonymises data (assigning it a number instead of a name or address). But pseudonymised personal data is still personal data. “The process is not irreversible if the source file is stored,” says Mireille Hildebrandt, professor of ICT and Law at Radboud University. “Moreover, if you build personal profiles and act on them, it is still a violation of privacy and such profiling can – unintentionally – lead to discrimination.” She points to Utrecht’s plan to register the race and health data of prostitutes, which came in for heavy criticism from the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

Another unanswered question regards who owns data that is collected in a public space. Arjen Hof is director of Civity, a company that builds data platforms for governments. “Public authorities are increasingly outsourcing tasks to private companies. Think of waste removal or street lighting,” he says. “But they do not realise that at the same time a lot of data is collected, and do not always make agreements about the ownership of data.”
‘A smart city is a privatised city’

Hof gives the example of CityTec, a company that manages 2,000 car parks, 30,000 traffic lights and 500,000 lamp-posts across the Netherlands. It refused to share with municipalities the data it was collecting through its lamp-post sensors. “Their argument was that, although the municipality is legally owner of the lamp-posts, CityTec is the economic owner and, for competitive reasons, did not want to make the data available,” Hof says. This was three years ago, but for a lot of companies it remains standard practice. Companies dictate the terms, and cities say they can’t share the contracts because it contains “competition-sensitive information”.

When I interviewed the technology writer Evgeny Morozov in October, he warned of cities becoming too dependent on private companies. “The culmination of the smart city is a privatised city,” he said. “A city in which you have to pay for previously free services.”

Morozov’s fear about public subsidies being used for private innovation is well illustrated in Assen, a city of 70,000 people in the north of the country. Assen built a fibre-optic network for super-fast internet in 2011, to which it connected 200 sensors that measure, among other things, the flow of cars. There was an experiment to steer people around traffic jams, even though traffic in the city is relatively light. The city also connected its traffic lights, parking garages and parking signs to this grid. The cost of €46m was split between Brussels, the national government, the province and the municipality. Companies such as the car navigation firm TomTom have used the sensor network to test new services.

The project, called Sensor City, filed for bankruptcy a year ago. Now the publicly funded fibre-optic network, sensors and all, will be sold to a still-unidentified private company. The municipality will have to strike a deal with the new owner about the use of its public traffic lights and parking signs.

Nearly half of parents worry their child is addicted to mobile devices

Parents berate themselves for staying glued to their smartphones. But they’re even more worried their kids can’t detach from the small screen.

A survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey found 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they’re addicted themselves.

Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids’ mental health. Nearly one in five say they’re “extremely” or “very” concerned.

“For as much attention as technology addiction receives among adults, parents — particularly those with teenagers — are far more concerned about their children’s device usage than their own,” Jon Cohen, chief research officer with SurveyMonkey, said in a statement Thursday.

According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it’s up to them to curb their children’s smartphone usage.

The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data.

Recently, tech giants including Facebook, Google and Apple have been pushed to come up with solutions to prevent kids from growing addicted to technology.

This month, Common Sense Media and the non-profit Center for Humane Technology launched a campaign to explore the mental health consequences of technology.

The Truth About Tech campaign will be funded by $7 million from Common Sense and money raised by the new non-profit. At the time the campaign was launched, Common Sense said it would also use donated airtime from Comcast and DirecTV. The nonprofit now says its earlier statement is not accurate. Comcast said it is not supporting the Truth in Tech campaign. DirecTV would not comment.

“Parental concerns about technology addiction and the content children are exposed to on devices is very real, yet parents feel that they alone are responsible for managing these issues,” Common Sense Media CEO James P. Steyer said. “It would be nice if the tech companies would partner with parents in this effort.”

Former employees of Facebook and Google are among those leading the charge to urge tech companies to act.

Last month, two major Apple investors implored the company to explore ways to fight smartphone addiction among children. The investors collectively control about $2 billion in Apple shares. In response, Apple said it was adding more “robust” parental controls to its devices.

Common Sense and other children advocacy groups have particularly criticized Facebook for recently rolling out a Messenger Kids app aimed at kids under 13. Facebook has defended its decision to go ahead with it, pointing to the advice it received from a team of child experts and efforts it took to make sure parents had control over the app. But a recent Wired report detailing Facebook’s financial support of these experts, which Facebook says covers logistics costs for their time, added more momentum to the controversy over whether tech companies are trying to get kids hooked too early.

Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube — which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos — offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before.

That’s a problem as YouTube often is the go-to entertainment platform of choice for kids, who have made creators such as Logan Paul superstars.

Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it’s the parents’ job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.

For parents who worry their kids spend too much time on their smartphones, here are some tips:

*Set time limits and enforce them. Block out time during the day where your kids can use a smartphone or tablet. And don’t give in when they might beg for “one more minute.”

*Explore parental controls. Most services such as YouTube offer them, but your smartphone has its own suite of tools to tailor the experience to your kids.

*Try zones where tech is not allowed. Want a phone-free dinner? Or no gadgets before bed time? Consider creating areas in your home where technology is completely off limits. Just remember parents have to follow these guidelines, too.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Apple says it looks out for kids, as investors cite phone ‘addiction’

Apple Inc said it “has always looked out for kids”, defending its technology policy for children, after two major investors urged it to address what they said was a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple’s iPhones.

Shareholders Jana Partners, a leading activist shareholder, and California teacher pension investor CalSTRS, one of the nation’s largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents more options to limit children’s phone use.

The issue of phone addiction among young people has become a growing concern in the United States as parents report their children cannot give up their phones. CalSTRS and Jana worry that “even” Apple’s reputation could be hurt if it does not address those concerns. Their letter was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal.