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5 Days After Release, Google ‘Pixel 3A / 3A XL’ Criticized For Poor Performance

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Google released new Pixel line, the 3a and 3a XL

Back in the days, when Google releases new hardware, the fascination towards these new product lines are apparent. Indeed, when it comes to devices, Google is the Picasso or the Michaelangelo of modern technology, who’s craftsmanship resonates into something spectacular.

Recalling the early days of the Google Pixel, and how demand strike due to the exceptional performance, Google was in the pinnacle of mobile success. The excellent taste of build quality, the incredibly smooth performance, and most importantly, the cameras. Every crisp detail witnessed on the Google Pixel sounded as if its the phone to beat.

Then came the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, which most of us concludes as the most solid Android device Google offered. The Pixel 2 and 2 XL is the perfect example of the common phrase don’t judge the book by its cover. The phone may not look like the future of smartphones, but it packs a beast that probably surpasses its successor, the Pixel 3.

Google Pixel Camera Feat
Google Pixel Camera. Photo: Maurizio Pesce | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The Pixel 2 sports a 5-inch screen while its larger variant, the Pixel 2 XL, shows off an edge-to-edge 6-inch display with 18:9 aspect ratio. Priced at an exceptionally budget-friendly range, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL now runs on Android Q beta for better photo quality, water resistant, and a much easy Google Assistant button.

At some point, these two previous Pixel phones were a testament to Google’s years of hard work and experimentation to offer top-tier mobile performance. And that transpire into incredible sales turn around with both Pixel and Pixel 2 running out of stock. In 2017, Google sold 3.9 million Pixel and Pixel 2 phones. Although the Pixel and Pixel 2 are no exception to any smartphone flaws, these devices maintained a steady reputation for Google.

Now, heading to Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL, Google’s most expensive Android device yet; this is where Google Pixel phones fall into a downhill slope. Aside from its high price point, the Pixel 3 made its predecessor, the Pixel 2, the juicier option. Without a doubt, the camera is Pixel phones’ creme-de-la-creme, and it got better in Pixel 3 via its machine-learning software that enhances photo quality. But, its weak battery life and sparse memory management (sporting 4GB RAM while others do 6GB) suck the life out of the Pixel 3. A report from 9to5google.com revealed that six months after the Pixel 3’s release, owners are still facing an ample amount of issues that Google failed to address.

Google Pixel 3 XL with the Google logo.
Google Pixel 3 XL. Photo: Tony Webster | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Continuing to its latest flagship, the Pixel 3a and 3a XL, Google’s budget-friendly alternative to the Pixel 3, the response towards the new Android device seem to fall short due to some shortcomings. Five days after its most awaited release, consumers in various forums and social media sites backlashed over the Pixel 3a’s poor performance.

Usually, Google is amassed of admirations and praises due to its unique and potent mobile craftsmanship. This time, however, as much as Google wants to mitigate the Pixel and Pixel 2’s success, it might have been the worst one yet.

Claims regarding Google’s Digital Wellbeing software slowing down Pixel 3’s performance is all over Reddit. A thread from Reddit user “ploewer” details that after turning the Digital Wellbeing feature off, the Pixel 3 runs like a real flagship. Hence, a software that should be meant as a helpful tool for the device turned out to be an off-putting feat.

Google Digital Wellbeing is a transparent tool that monitors your usage and maintains the balance between life and tech. In a sense, it’s Google’s response to the increasing number of smartphone addictions. Well, the Digital Wellbeing software should not turn your Pixel 3 into a sluggish device. It should be a useful feat that runs in the background and tracks your overall activity in both apps and device in general. These data are valuable, especially if you’re aiming for a more productive day instead of spending most of your time staring at the screen.

If more evidence proves that the Digital Wellbeing software, indeed, slows down the Pixel 3’s performance, it’s a total let down, especially for a feature that intends to be useful. As of the moment, Google is yet to respond with regards to these claims from some Pixel owners. And as per its temporary resolution, the only thing to do is to disable the feature.

Pixel 3 and its budget-friendly counterpart, the Pixel 3a, is leading Google to massive setbacks. Pixel 3a and 3a XL owners complain about weaker camera performance. And the most glaring issue faced by most users is the device’s slower performance, a speed that rivals its predecessor in an off-putting way.

Undoubtedly, Pixel 3a/3a XL price cuts may be appealing to some consumers. However, this comes for some spec cuts too. So, did Google unwilling shuts Pixel 3’s hopes after 3a’s release? Or, is Google becoming a weary smartphone maker?

Environmentalist. Consumer Tech Journalist. Science Explorer. And, a dreamer. I've been contributing informative news content since 2010. Follow me on all socials!

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‘Critical’ VLC Zero-Day Warning Raised

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Photo: VLC Website

Cybersecurity researchers have warned users of the popular multimedia player, VLC, of a “critical” vulnerability that could expose them to potential risks once exploited by threat actors.

The German cybersecurity firm, CERT-Bund, detailed in a cybersecurity warning that their researchers have flagged a vulnerability in VLC’s system, which can be used by hackers and other malicious entities to compromise a device where the media player is installed.

The researchers from CERT-Bund said that users could be hijacked into running malicious codes in their VLC-installed computers because a flaw enables remote code execution (RCE), unauthorized modification and disclosure of data/files, and overall disruption of service. This means that the user will unknowingly run the malicious codes in their device that could expose them to multilayered risks.

The vulnerability known as CVE-2019-13615 is found in the software’s latest version VLC Media Player version 3.0.7.1. The flaw has been rated 9.8 in NIST’s National Vulnerability Database, which indicates that the flaw is in ‘critical’ level.

While there is still no known exploitation happening in the wild, the researchers are warning users to avoid updating their software or downloading the new version of the media player.

“A remote, anonymous attacker can exploit a vulnerability in VLC to execute arbitrary code, create a denial of service state, disclose information, or manipulate files,” reads the CERT-Bund disclosure.

Interestingly, while the vulnerability is detected in many environments such as Windows, Linux, and UNIX versions, the macOS version of VLC seems to be unaffected by the vulnerability.

The VLC 3.0.7 Vetinari is the seventh version of the software in its Vetinari line which was released earlier last month. VLC Media Player is one of the most popular media players in the market, priding itself with more than 3 billion downloads. The popularity of the media player came from it is free, open-source, and portable.

The VLC Media Player, owned by VideoLAN, a non-profit organization, can run in different environments like Windows, macOS, and Linux, with versions created for Android and iOS. It is also one of the available media players that can read a variety of audio and video files, which makes it one of the most popular third-party media player in the market.

With the combined number of active users of VLC Media player and the total download it gets, an exploit in the discovered vulnerability can cause a massive cyber attack outbreak.

Last month, VLC patched two major vulnerabilities in their system with a similar implication. The vulnerabilities a remote user to create some specially crafted avi or mkv files that, when loaded by the target user, will trigger a heap buffer overflow into a targeted system.

The researchers said that successful execution of the malformed file in the target users’ device could cause, in the best case, VLC to crash, and in the worst, could provide hackers special privileges to exploit the user’s device. They warned that a hacker could simply trick a target or a potential victim into opening a seemingly unsuspicious video in the VLC for the hacker to carry out his plan.

The user should refrain from opening files from untrusted third parties or accessing untrusted remote sites (or disable the VLC browser plugins) until the patch is applied,” they said in a security advisory. This vulnerability was patched when VideoLAN released version 3.0.7, but apparently, a similar flaw would also affect the new version.

Last month, VideoLAN released the biggest single security update for VLC Media Player in the history of the program. The update included fixes for 33 vulnerabilities in total, of which two were marked critical, 21 medium and ten rated low. These fixes include:

  • Improvements for HDR support on Windows, including for HLG streams
  • Improvements on the Blu-ray support, notably for menus
  • Fixes for some 10bit and 12bit rendering on Windows 10
  • Fixes for UPnP discovery on MacBooks with a TouchBar
  • Numerous security issues: One high-security issue, 21 medium, and 20 low-security issues were fixed, ranging from integer overflow to buffer overflows, with out-of-read violations and stack overflows.

VideoLAN advised users that they have been working on a patch for the new flaw in version 3.0.7 for the past four weeks and they are currently 60 percent through it.

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Chinese Fugitive Caught By Police Using Facial Recognition

It’s part of China’s project called “Sharp Eyes.”

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Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

With a bunch of reports detailing the ills of facial recognition systems that have dominated the conversation around the unregulated technology, a breath of fresh air comes after a fugitive has been caught by a facial recognition system in China earlier this week.

Chinese police officers arrested an unnamed fugitive at a Cantopop star’s concert in Zhanjiang city at the southwestern end of Guangdong province. The arrest was highly attributed to the facial recognition system used by Chinese law enforcement in concerts and crowded gatherings to spot fugitives and wanted criminals. The said system has already been in used since late 2017.

The Zhanjiang public security bureau has released the video of the arrest in the law enforcement’s official TikTok account.

The suspect was reportedly a die-hard fan of the pop group, and as he was standing in line to get in the concert, his image was caught by the camera in the concert’s ticketing booth and was eventually matched to a fugitive in the database. The police apprehended him in the middle of the show.

Chinese police are using facial recognition to arrest suspects in concerts

This is not the first time that a suspect has been apprehended while attending a concert in China. Between December 28 and 30 in 2018, more than 22 wanted men were identified at a concert by Hong Kong Cantopop star Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai.

In May 2018, a man was also arrested when a facial recognition system identified his photo while he was attending a crowded concert in China. The suspect was identified with the surname Yu and was under investigation since 2015 for allegations of stealing more than $17,000 worth of potatoes.

“A few minutes after he passed through the security checkpoint, our system issued a warning that he was a wanted person,” said Shen Yueguang, an official from the Nanhu District Public Security Bureau referring the May 2018 arrest.

In the same month, another man wanted for “economic crimes” was arrested in Jiangxi province in southeast China after facial recognition cameras detected his presence at a Cheung concert attended by 60,000 people.

The arrests are emblematic of China’s growing eagerness to establish a nationwide surveillance system with plans from the government to integrate an array of camera systems that monitor roads, shopping malls, transportation hubs, and buildings.

The project, known as “Sharp Eyes,” aims to target criminals, arrest fugitives, predict crime and monitor the habits of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

The United States is doing it too

China isn’t the only one with this plan. The United States has long been working in establishing a surveillance network like this. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification system uses face recognition to match crime scene images to a national database of mug shots.

However, the academic sector still insists on the risks that come with using facial recognition in fighting crimes. They raise the concern of how inaccurate these systems are and the unregulated nature of how it is being used.

A study conducted by Clare Garvie from Georgetown Law Center revealed that police departments are feeding celebrity images, artists sketches, and unconventional photos to facial recognition system to generate a match. These images are called “probe photos” and are matched against the police mugshot and drivers’ license database.

“The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable—or wrong—inputs. It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelgänger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. It’s quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match. Unfortunately, police departments’ reliance on questionable probe photos appears all too common,” Garvie wrote in her study.

“NYPD officers arrested after texting a witness a single face recognition “possible match” photograph with accompanying text: “Is this the guy…?” The witness’ affirmative response to viewing the single photo and accompanying text, with no live lineup or photo array ever conducted, was the only confirmation of the possible match before officers making an arrest,” she added.

Along with the apprehensions on how the police and the government use facial recognition technology, they are also still insisting on focusing on regulating these systems. Garvie said that even if the FBI can potentially improve the accuracy of the algorithms in the systems they use, none of it will matter as long as regulation still lags in making sure that they won’t be abused.

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North Carolina Passes Bill To Stop Robocalls And Scammers

The law also applies to text solicitors.

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Photo by Rock'n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

Robocalls have become the target of recent legislation and regulations — both in the federal and state level after the House — and the Senate has both released their versions of a robocall deterrent law that would impose sanctions on illegal call practitioners. This time, tired of the slow progress of federal regulating bodies, the state of North Carolina has drafted their law targeting robocallers and scammers with fines and penalties.

On Monday, North Carolina passed a bill that would require callers to use their real name and number or the information of the business they’re representing. Primarily, the law aims to stop the practice of “call spoofing,” where companies are hiding their identities from their consumers to trick them into answering their robocalls.

In a unanimous 45-0 vote, the new law has been passed in Senate after passage by the House last month. Now, the new law is waiting for the decision of Gov. Roy Cooper on whether the law will be implemented or not — for the state to begin enforcing penalties the law has drawn against violators.

Under the new bill, call spoofers and robocallers who do not disclose their real numbers and the businesses they represent will be fined with a maximum of $5,000. While call-spoofing is already illegal on the federal level, this new bill will give North Carlina’s authorities to go after solicitors and robocallers.

Additionally, the new law will not only target callers but will also penalize those who use text messaging as their platform of soliciting or harassment.

According to State House Speaker Tim Moore, who sponsored the bill back in May, robocallers are priority concerns for his constituents, especially those who are elderly.

“When I went out campaigning this last year … I heard more about people getting scammed phone calls than any single thing else,” he said.

Rep. Chris Humphrey, a Lenoir County Republican also said that the new New Carolina bill would give the state and the authorities new tools to enforce a heavier crackdown against robocallers. “The penalties are civil at this point and will begin to make spammers reconsider when making these annoying calls,” he wrote in an email.

Humphrey said that the new law would not eliminate all spam calls that are plaguing North Carolina residents. Many of these calls originate from outside the country and is hard to trace, let alone to prosecute. However, he is optimistic that the new bill could lighten the load of calls his constituents get from scammers.

In the status quo, consumers can choose to be included in a state’s Do Not Call registry to prevent telemarketers and robocallers from calling them. However, amidst the law that prohibits companies from calling numbers in the DNC registry, North Carolina has received 168,022 “Do Not Call Registry” complaints in 2018 based on the numbers provided by the Federal Trade Commission.

For the past year, both the FTC and the Federal Communication Commission has been in a strengthened crackdown against call spoofers and robocallers. However, amidst their efforts, the nation’s robocalling problem still persists. Numbers reveal that consumers are receiving at least five million robocalls every month, and the problem has even affected basic services like the healthcare industry.

As a response, both the House and the Senate have drafted laws to penalize robocallers and to empower regulating bodies such as the FTC and the FCC in enforcing regulations against violators.

In a bipartisan bill called the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, the Senate aims to stop bad calling practices and impose penalties on violators. It will also empower the FCC and the FTC to impose more onerous regulations to halt the robocall problem.

Similarly, the House also voted the passage of the TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act which would put more onus on major telecom and cell service provider to address the problem and do a better job of authenticating calls.

As part of their efforts to stop robocalls, the Federal Communication Commission has also voted to allow service providers to block robocalls by default. A move which many of the service providers have already followed through by releasing free robocalling features in their services.

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