Unfiltered

Our security shouldn’t only be Huawei’s price to pay

The Chinese company is an unfortunate casualty in a war it shouldn’t be fighting alone 

Donald's Trumps tough stance on China leaves Huawei a casualty. MJ Jucutan / GadgetMatch

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It’s official. American companies can again do business with Chinese tech giant Huawei. 

This weekend, a confusing six weeks after the ban went into effect, US President Donald Trump reversed his own executive order following negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a leader’s summit in Japan. 

It means existing and future Huawei smartphones will continue to enjoy unfettered access to Android updates, as well as other Google services including the Google Play app store. 

It also means US companies like Qualcomm, Intel, and Micron can continue to supply the parts that Huawei needs to continue building phones.

But it doesn’t mean that Huawei can start selling devices in the US, at least not yet. 

The company’s entry into the US market is being left on the table as a talking point in the US’ ongoing trade negotiations with China. Speaking to journalists after the G20 Summit, President Trump said, “We’ll have to save that to the very end, we’ll have to see.”

The move is an interesting turning point in the continuing trade battle between the two superpowers,  where Huawei sadly and unfairly appears to be a casualty of war

Over the last few years, it has become harder for Huawei to do business in the United States following claims that its hardware is a threat to US national security. Claims that have, for the most part, gone unsubstantiated. Warnings have come from both the US Congress and the intelligence community. Mr. Trump himself has been quoted as saying, “Huawei is something that is very dangerous.”

But with Huawei’s access being used as leverage in trade negotiations, one can’t help but ask if there is – or was – any basis for these allegations. Or were fears and assumptions instead blown out of proportion, simply to put pressure on China? 

What’s clear is that consumer confidence in the brand has taken a major hit, so much so that it will be interesting to see how Huawei intends on bouncing back from this crisis. That’s unfortunate to see, considering the company’s massive contribution to the smartphone industry over the last two to three years. Where growth has slowed and many brands have merely iterated, Huawei has arguably pushed innovation hardest.    

Huawei Mate X

Huawei hopes to forge into the future with its foldable Mate X smartphone. Photo by Marvin Velasco / GadgetMatch

The tea leaves point to the company relying on its dominance in the 5G race, where it appears to be miles ahead of its competition. With or without Google, expect the Chinese firm to also push even harder in the smartphone space. Its foldable Mate X smartphone is nearing its release date and could possibly be a game changer. 

Still, I wonder, is it a little too late, and is the damage dealt beyond repair?    

As the story develops. It opens up a host of other questions and issues that beg to be considered.

Sure, concerns about China are not without basis. But how big of a threat is China (the country) to global consumers? And are all Chinese tech companies, solely by virtue of their origin or association, equally worth being wary of? 

While privately owned Chinese corporations like Huawei have insisted that they “will not build backdoors and hand over customer data,” experts fear that no Chinese company can be completely independent of its government. Looming over any such promise, the Chinese Counter-Espionage legislation mandates organizations to assist the government in intelligence work when deemed necessary.

But if this were the case, what about devices built with Chinese-made components? Chances are, you either own or are using one right now. Is it then even realistic to assume that we can live in a world without Chinese tech and manufacturing?

US government concerns about Huawei find ground in the company’s leadership in networking equipment and its potential dominance over 5G infrastructure. Anyone with that much power over something so vital can be a threat. But one can argue that the same can be said of any other company or country: the tech industry, after all, is built on a global supply chain. China does not have a monopoly on spying and hacking. Remember Russia? If China is a threat, so is every other technology superpower — including the US.

So what now? And how do we mitigate these risks in a way that doesn’t simultaneously deprive us of the next generation of industry advances?

By no means am I a security expert, nor do I have all the answers. But what’s clear to me is that restricting trade hinders innovation. And being technologically backward is a security threat in and of itself.     

It’s also clear that the means by which the US has chosen to engage with China hurts all of us. Not only does it set a bad precedent its ramifications also extend beyond innovation and geopolitics.

Our combined national security shouldn’t be only Huawei’s price to pay.

It’s 2019 and we live in a global village that is intricately interconnected. National security is our collective cross to bear because if these threats are otherwise unresolved, we all suffer.

This, even more than a trade issue, is a cybersecurity one. And while governments should be expected to step up to defend their citizens from potential holes in network security with progressive and ethical solutions, while utopic, I would love to see as a next step, the creation of an independent international body supported by us all. A group with no other interest in mind but that of consumers made up of great minds from both the West and the East.

Such a group would be responsible for testing hardware and software, and coming up with transparent solutions, separated from politics and uncolored by trade negotiations. Solutions that allow us to navigate this new world without paranoia, and with the freedom to choose the devices that we believe best match our needs. 

Want to read this post in German? Visit MobileGeeks.de to see a translation!

Lifestyle

I was in Facebook jail for 24 Hours

Banned unjustly without any chance to appeal

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It was a lazy Friday morning when I woke up to a 9GAG article. Chuckling on its narrative, I saved the article in hopes of reading it later again so I can decide if I will share it with a close friend of mine. However, saving the article meant posting and sharing it, according to Facebook. I was given a warning for violating their community guidelines.

Shocked and confused, I unsaved the link. To find out if it’s the real culprit, I saved the link once again and then boom! I was banned from posting, liking, and engaging in any posts on Facebook.

At first, I thought the ban would only affect my profile. Little did I know, the ban would extend to the pages I handle. I couldn’t post, not even the scheduled posts I prepared for the day were posted. It affected my job as a social media manager.

Locked up and grounded

Que horror, the only word I uttered after realizing I screwed up. I asked someone to cover for my work while I channel my frustrations on Twitter and Reddit. Mindlessly, I scrolled through Instagram and I repeatedly had the urge to switch apps and browse on Facebook so I can share memes, just like what I would do on a normal day.

“They know everything, they can see what’s happening, but they just can’t tell the world the situation they’re in.”

However, I couldn’t handle it anymore. Not being able to share or at least react, I felt disconnected from everyone. To free myself from the negative feelings circulating inside, I uninstalled Facebook and did the rest of my work for the day.

For 24 hours, I was impatiently waiting to get my ban lifted. Being in Facebook jail didn’t feel like being cut-off from the world, but it was more like being grounded. It’s like my parents decided to stop me from seeing and contacting my friends just because I sneaked out of the house past 10pm.

But more importantly, being in Facebook jail made me reminisce the prison life in the TV series I used to watch. How people — both criminals and victims of injustice alike — band together in a different, locked-up space, watching the world outside prison quietly. They know everything, they can see what’s happening, but they just couldn’t tell the world the situation they’re in.

Why me?

To make it through the day, I casually searched for people who experienced the same situation — unjustly banned for using a feature that isn’t directly hurting anyone. If I would have said something explicit or any form of hate speech, I would understand. But I didn’t.

“Facebook is just an authoritarian organization doomed for failure.”

If the article I wanted to save and read for later was violating the platform’s nudity policy, then why was 9GAG not reprimanded for posting it at all? Why did it have to be me? Up until today, I still can’t fathom the reason. Not even on Facebook’s useless Help center. It was reading stories that shared the same fate as I did that made me feel better. They made me feel that I’m not alone. “I’ll get through this,” was what I told myself.

It’s funny how being connected through the world’s largest social media platform made it both a good and a bad thing for everyone. It’s good in a way that Facebook helped us maintain the connection and relationships despite the distance. It’s bad in a way that we depend on Facebook to get updates from people through the posts they share and the stuff that goes viral; that we need to stay online and check on everyone through our news feed just so we don’t miss anything that might be discussed in real life.

What I learned

The ban was lifted after what felt like forever and I learned my lesson. It’s like being given a second lease on life. But what I learned, first and foremost, is to never use Facebook’s save feature. Without any strict, proper guidelines on what constitutes a ban according to their policies, Facebook is just an authoritarian organization doomed for failure — a dictator deciding what to censor without any justifications or proper explanations.

Of course, it’s their platform. They can do whatever they want with it, but Facebook is more than a platform. It’s a whole new way of connecting with everyone around the world. A lot of realizations dawned on me through this incident, and there is one more lesson to learn here: Life without Facebook can be a good one, too. One where we rely on real, physical, and intimate connections. One where we only catch up with the people that truly matter.

Now I know what people feel like when they claim they have found freedom after deleting their Facebook accounts. I’m still far from deleting my account, but slowly, I’ll figure it out. Maybe, for now, what I can do is step away and disconnect, and live a day or two without social media.

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Why Instagram is doing the right thing by removing the like count

We need to change this ugly culture we created

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Instagram used to be a space where you can get inspiration to nourish your creativity. It was also a place to connect with people through disappearing photos and videos called Stories. However, the platform took a different turn throughout the years and became an arena — a battlefield where people show off who has the most perfect life.

People started curating their feeds to make them stand out. The age of curation dawned upon Instagrammers, bearing unto the world themes and grids to reflect the user’s personality and aesthetics. Instagram fuelled perfectionism, too.

What used to be a space to share mundane moments of your everyday life became a place where you show your glamorous life which, frankly, only happens every once in a while for most users. Admittedly, I also succumbed to the perfectionism and the pressure. I would post only the photos where I looked like I was having the time of my life. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward, right?

Increasing cases of depression and anxiety

Apparently, not everyone thinks the way I do. In a study published in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom, social media — particularly Instagram — is a major contributor to the increasing cases of depression and anxiety among the youth today. The rise of influencers and other people with seemingly perfect lives made a lot of users feel inadequate.

“What used to be a space to share mundane moments in your everyday life became a place where you show your glamorous life which, frankly, only happens every once in a while for most users.”

RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer said, “it’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

Technology companies’ response

With this worrisome situation on the youth’s mental health, companies made an effort to help through technology. There’s Android’s Digital Wellbeing feature which tracks the amount of time you spend on social media, although it still requires a conscious effort to break your social media addiction.

In the crusade against depression and anxiety caused by social media, Instagram recently made a daunting move. The social media giant has started testing the removal of like counts in some countries, removing the user’s ability to see how many likes have been racked up by a certain person in their feeds.

People in dire need of too much validation, fret not. The feature will let you still see who liked your posts. Think of it as your usual form of public affirmation, but you get it in private.

Just like our stories, only we can see who viewed and reacted. In this scenario, only we can see who liked our posts. While this recent move can put a dent on someone’s ego especially when they crave external validation, this can have real benefits for some users’ mental health.

In a country like the Philippines, where social media consumes a chunk of Filipino’s time, Instagram is a big contributor in rising cases of mental illnesses plaguing today’s youth like the common cold.

The social media age has created a culture where people value their smartphones, social media accounts, and the content they create rather than socializing offline and establishing real-life connections. The youth measure their self-worth through likes and other forms of metrics that it’s taking a toll on their mental health.

If this is the ugly culture we developed, Instagram is doing the right thing of removing the like count. At the very least, they can stop other people from comparing their worth and relying on external validation to feel better.

“I personally don’t mind if the feature comes here or not, but I’m sure a few of my friends would care.” — Patricia Medina, a medical practitioner in the Philippines

However, some people won’t be able to accept the upcoming feature should it arrive in the Philippines, similar to how we all panicked when Instagram removed our ability to see the viewers of our stories after 24 hours. Despite the outcry, we adapted and got used to it.

Likes are not the only measure of influence

It may be hard to believe, but Instagram is on the right track. Aside from tackling mental health and fixing the problem their app posed in our society, they’re reshaping the marketing and advertising industry. Some influencers might be affected by the like count removal, particularly those who buy fake likes and followers, as well as those who became walking billboards for brands and agencies.

But for content creators like Ceej Tantengco, removing the like count won’t have much of an impact, rather it will reinforce her influence among her audience. “The brand partnerships I tend to get are with sustainable fashion and brands running women empowerment campaigns. These brands are less about pure numbers and more about connecting with brand ambassadors who truly share their cause and can speak about it with sincerity,” Tantengco said.

“The chase for likes has led to a sort of cookie-cutter templating of content based on what the algorithm rewards or what is easiest to generate likes. We live in a world where a selfie gets 800+ likes and a photo of what book the person is reading gets only 50. But like-bait content isn’t always the most thoughtful, and we need to be careful to not equate the number of likes to whether the brand message was communicated effectively,” Tantengco added.

On the other hand, Castro Communications PR Director Janlee Dungca is unbothered by the like count removal. Dungca, who works primarily with content creators and influencers, will still approach a campaign based on a brand’s goals and objectives. Likes aren’t the only form of visible metrics available since comments still count as a way to measure engagement rate.

Macro-influencers — accounts with more than 100,000 followers — tend to have higher reach but lower engagement, thus she opts for micro-influencers whose accounts range from 10,000 to 50,000 followers to get higher engagement for the brand.

“We live in a world where a selfie gets 800+ likes and a photo of what book the person is reading gets only 50.” — Ceej Tantengco

With this sudden change in the marketing landscape, people — not just influencers — might be more keen on engaging with other people through comments. People might start to make an effort to share their thoughts and interact, rather than just dropping an emoji of fire, heart, or a star-eyed face.

Additionally, people might not be as conscious of what they post anymore. Tantengco affirmed, “this move is great for people with advocacies because we can speak about them without worrying so much about ‘how do I package this to get the maximum number of likes’ and just say what we want to say. This feels very freeing.”

Moving forward, we might start to see posts of what people really care about again should Instagram proceed with removing the like count forever. There will be people though who will try to game the algorithm by leaving comments on each other’s posts and uploading video clips instead of still photos for validation as Instagram has not said anything about removing the view count.

Nonetheless, the future is bright for Instagram. I can’t wait to see moments where people embrace their natural selves and flaunt the things they’re passionate about again.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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Smartphone makers need to stop chasing numbers

How close are we to smartphone launch fatigue?

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Image by GadgetMatch

The year 2019 has to be one of the busiest for everyone in the mobile technology industry. A decade back, it was dominated by the likes of Nokia, BlackBerry, and Motorola. Samsung was just gaining momentum and Huawei simply existed in the consumer electronics space.

Back then, we saw one-year refresh cycles for phones. Apple would release a new iPhone every year, Samsung’s S and Note series were a huge hit and each got an upgrade every year, and all other brands started following a similar format. Then came a time when HTC, LG, and Samsung would compete to build the perfect flagship.

With the introduction of new players like Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO, and Realme, strategies and product launches have drastically changed. These new players rule the affordable and midrange segments and have managed to dethrone Samsung in terms of market share.

But this quick rise to fame has been on the back of repetitive launches. Earlier, a year-long cycle was maintained for each series and this was slowly brought down to six months. Now, we see a new phone launching every one to three months. And each new offering undercuts the previous product. Basically, even if they belong to a different lineup, they end up killing the previous one.

In an attempt to cover every possible price bracket, each of these new launches is also accompanied by a host of configuration options and limited editions. While there is no doubt that this has made the buyer a king in terms of choices, the market is headed in stormy waters from a long-term point of view.

Each of the new offerings come with incremental upgrades. It’s something you can definitely live without for a long time, but your purchase is bound to age quickly. And this brings to an even more important question, are smartphone makers blindly chasing numbers?

Should smartphone makers give up or should they just keep chasing numbers?

A couple of years back, every brand wanted to offer as much RAM as possible. We’ve reached a point where a full-fledged Windows 10 laptop comes with 8GB RAM and a “mobile” operating system like Android needs 12GB.

2018 was all about chasing the screen-to-body ratio figure. Just to get a few more points, brands tested out pop-up cameras, water-drop notches, and even cut-outs. Now, thanks to the rise in popularity of mobile gaming, the processor is a crucial part of the phone.

Recently, Realme’s CEO, Madhav Seth had an interview with the folks over at GSMArena and when asked about the quick update cycle between the Realme 3 and Realme 5 Pro, this is what he had to add:

Now if I say for 3 Pro and between 5 Pro, what would be the difference, mainly? I’d say there are two differences: the performance doesn’t compromise much because I don’t play this game of this processor – the 710 and 712. There isn’t much of a difference between your day-to-day usage. Even while you are gaming, there’s not much of a difference. There is a difference, but not that drastic.

Yes, the executive agrees there’s “not much difference”, but there is a difference. And the brands are able to cash-in on this. A difference of just two digits between the 710 and 712 has given brands an opportunity to launch a brand new product within just four months.

How many megapixels do we really need?

Similarly, another department where brands are going nuts is the camera. How many megapixels do you need? Apparently, as many as possible. You’ll always end up clicking a 12-megapixel picture with a 48-megapixel sensor on a normal basis unless you start the dedicated mode. But, on-paper, 48 is a larger value than 12. We’ll also ignore the fact that pixel size or software processing also matters. There’s a reason why Pixel 3 is the best camera phone with just a single 12-megapixel sensor.

While this thought process of amping up numbers has been fairly common in the Android ecosystem, OnePlus has been able to carve out a different niche for itself. Sure, it packs all the latest hardware. However, this doesn’t force it to focus just on specs and launch a new phone every now and then. They have a fixed six-month cycle for years and a secret weapon — their Android skin.

What sets a phone apart from the pack?

OxygenOS is a well-carved product that perfectly compliments the hardware. This is assuring for the user because they know a T-series phone will not practically affect them and the brand won’t forget about software updates after a few months.

Similarly, even Apple relies on a year-long refresh cycle. Their weapon is iOS. This single piece of software lets them completely omit figures like RAM, battery size, and even camera lens details. They don’t reveal the nitty-gritty details because the end-user doesn’t care. It’s an iPhone.

On the other end, even Android players are proud of their software. Xiaomi has MIUI, Realme has ColorOS, and Vivo has Funtouch OS. But the main question is, how long do they last? Software updates are quite often delayed, the UI is bug-ridden, and simply lacks a polishing touch. Not to forget, a few brands like Honor literally forget they’ve launched quite expensive phones and should ideally provide support.

From a long-term perspective, this confidence in products is what makes Apple a “brand”. Even OnePlus and Samsung have achieved a similar status among the masses and consistency and commitment should be the key focus. Samsung has transformed itself from being a TouchWiz meme master to deploying OneUI on every possible new phone.

In the affordable segment, Nokia-branded phones have done a fairly good job. They stick to stock Android and deliver on their promise of consistently supporting older phones. A reputation is formed, something that’ll last.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not favoring stock Android. I’m personally not a big fan. However, I’m stressing that brands keep aside the numbers game and focus on delivering an experience. If you’re just going to assemble hardware, there’s no difference between you and defunct players like Micromax and Karbonn.

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