Despite US crackdown, Huawei ships a record 200 million smartphones in 2018

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) – The world’s largest supplier of telecommunications gear has shipped more smartphones than it ever has, announcing Sunday (Dec 23) that its 2018 shipments exceeded 200 million devices, despite a Trump administration crackdown and increasing scrutiny from other national governments.

Huawei, China’s largest privately held company and the world’s second biggest smartphone maker, said its phone shipments increased more than 30 percent from last year.

“In the global smartphone market, Huawei has gone from being dismissed as a statistical ‘other’ to ranking among the Top 3 players in the world,” Huawei said in a statement, according to CNET.

Earlier this year, Huawei topped Apple in the number of smartphone units shipped, and ranks behind only one other company, Samsung.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The announcement of record-setting phone sales arrives amid increasing tensions between the company and the US government and its allies. Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada this month at the request of the US government for allegedly committing fraud to evade sanctions on Iran.

Beijing has pushed for her release and suggested that her arrest was part of a US effort to gain an advantage in its ongoing trade battles with China.

Several US allies have followed the Trump administration in largely barring the use of Huawei devices. They cite a risk that the company’s technology could be used to inform Chinese intelligence officers aiming to spy on or disrupt foreign governments, military agencies and corporations.

Australia, Britain and New Zealand have joined the US in blocking Huawei from their next-generation 5G mobile network. And earlier this month, Japan effectively banned Huawei and another Chinese tech provider, ZTE, from government contracts to prevent potential leaks of sensitive data.

Huawei and the Chinese government have cast the blacklisting as politically motivated and denied wrongdoing.

Huawei has posted significant growth even as several governments have moved against it. The company said its record-breaking shipments were largely fuelled by the demand for its P20, Honor 10 and Mate 20 smartphones.

According to November data released by the research firm IDC, Huawei clams more than 14 per cent of the global smartphone market, behind Samsung’s 20 per cent, which is sliding.

The company’s head of consumer business has said it’s possible Huawei becomes the world’s top smartphone maker by the end of next year, pointing to strong growth in Europe and China.

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North Korean media warns of 'unhealthy ideas' spread by mobile phones

SEOUL (REUTERS) – North Korea’s main state newspaper warned on Tuesday (Dec 18) of the “negative impact” from mobile phone use around the world, as both legal and illicit communications devices proliferate in the isolated country.

Rodong Sinmun published an article citing a ban on phones in classrooms in France and reports of technology-enabled cheating in India and argued that mobile devices were spreading “decadent and reactionary ideological culture”.

“Erotic notices, fictions and videos, as well as violent electronic games, are spreading through the mobile phones without limits,” the newspaper wrote.

“This means that mobile phones are used as tools to instill unhealthy ideas in minors.”

North Korea’s authoritarian government maintains a tight grip on communications, with almost no ordinary citizens allowed to connect by phone or Internet to the outside world.

Still, since 2008, the government has rolled out tightly controlled cell networks for communication within the country, with an estimated three million subscribers.

South Korean officials estimate that there are about six million mobile phones in North Korea, a country of 25 million people.

Analysts say there are signs that the government is slowly allowing more communications technology, even if it remains restricted to networks within North Korea.

According to a report on Dec 3 by the 38 North website, which monitors North Korea, state media recently broadcast reports of the first outdoor Wi-Fi network in downtown Pyongyang.

Defectors who have left North Korea report that many people secretly watch foreign media, especially South Korean entertainment.

Several North Korea security agencies police communications devices, often randomly inspecting computers, phones, and other devices for banned foreign media or the capability to receive international signals, the US State Department said in a report on censorship and human rights in North Korea released last week.

“North Koreans caught with illicit entertainment items such as DVDs, CDs, and USBs are at a minimum sent to prison camps and, in extreme cases, may face public execution,” the State Department said in the report.

Some North Koreans living along the border with China have turned to smuggled Chinese devices to make international calls, but human rights activists say North Koreans caught with illicit phones risk being sent to prison camps.

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Your apps know where you were last night, and they're not keeping it secret

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – The millions of dots on the map trace highways, side streets and bike trails – each one following the path of an anonymous cellphone user.

One path tracks someone from a home outside Newark, New Jersey, to a nearby Planned Parenthood. Another represents a person who travels with New York’s mayor during the day and returns to Long Island at night.

Yet another leaves a house in upstate New York at 7 am and travels to a middle school 14 miles away, staying until late afternoon each school day. Only one person makes that trip: Lisa Magrin, 46, a math teacher. Her smartphone goes with her.

An app on the device gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than 1 million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times.

While Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.

The app tracked her as she went to a Weight Watchers meeting and to her dermatologist’s office. It followed her hiking and staying at her ex-boyfriend’s home, information she found disturbing.

“It’s the thought of people finding out those intimate details that you don’t want people to know,” said Magrin, who allowed The Times to review her location data.

Like many consumers, Magrin knew apps could track people’s movements. But as smartphones have become ubiquitous and technology more accurate, an industry of snooping on people’s daily habits has spread and grown more intrusive.

At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found. The database reviewed by The Times – a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company – reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.

These companies sell, use or analyse the data to cater to advertisers, retail outlets and even hedge funds. It is a hot market, with sales of location-targeted advertising reaching an estimated US$21 billion this year. IBM has gotten into the industry, with its purchase of the Weather Channel’s apps.

Businesses say their interest is in the patterns, not the identities, that the data reveals about consumers. They note that the information apps collect is tied not to someone’s name or phone number but to a unique ID.

But those with access to the raw data – including employees or clients – could still identify a person without consent. They could follow someone they knew, by pinpointing a phone that regularly spent time at that person’s home address. Or, working in reverse, they could attach a name to an anonymous dot, by seeing where the device spent nights and using public records to figure out who lived there.

Many location companies say that when phone users enable location services, their data is fair game. But, The Times found, the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading. An app may tell users that granting access to their location will help them get traffic information, but not mention that the data will be shared and sold. That disclosure is often buried in a vague privacy policy.

Mobile Surveillance

After Elise Lee, a nurse in Manhattan, saw that her device had been tracked to the main operating room at the hospital where she works, she expressed concern about her privacy and that of her patients.

“It’s very scary,” said Lee, who allowed The Times to examine her location history in the data set it reviewed.

Retailers look to tracking companies to tell them about their own customers and their competitors’. For a web seminar last year, Elina Greenstein, an executive at the location company GroundTruth, mapped out the path of a hypothetical consumer from home to work to show potential clients how tracking could reveal a person’s preferences.

“We look to understand who a person is, based on where they’ve been and where they’re going, in order to influence what they’re going to do next,” Greenstein said.

Health care facilities are among the more enticing but troubling areas for tracking, as Lee’s reaction demonstrated. Tell All Digital, a Long Island advertising firm that is a client of a location company, says it runs ad campaigns for personal injury lawyers targeting people anonymously in emergency rooms.

To evaluate location-sharing practices, The Times tested 20 apps, most of which had been flagged by researchers and industry insiders as potentially sharing the data. Together, 17 of the apps sent exact latitude and longitude to about 70 businesses. Precise location data from one app, WeatherBug on iOS, was received by 40 companies.

When contacted by The Times, some of the companies that received that data described it as “unsolicited” or “inappropriate.”

A Question of Awareness

Companies that use location data say people agree to share their information in exchange for customized services, rewards and discounts. Magrin, the teacher, noted that she liked that tracking technology let her record her jogging routes.

Brian Wong, chief executive of Kiip, a mobile ad firm that has also sold anonymous data from some of the apps it works with, says users give apps permission to use and share their data.

“You are receiving these services for free because advertisers are helping monetise and pay for it,” he said, adding, “You would have to be pretty oblivious if you are not aware that this is going on.”

But Lee, the nurse, had a different view. “I guess that’s what they have to tell themselves,” she said of the companies. “But come on.”

Lee had given apps on her iPhone access to her location only for certain purposes and only if they did not indicate that the information would be used for anything else, she said. Magrin had allowed about a dozen apps on her Android phone access to her whereabouts for services like traffic notifications.

But it is easy to share information without realising it. Of the 17 apps The Times saw sending precise location data, just three on iOS and one on Android told users in a prompt during the permission process that the information could be used for advertising.

Following the Money

Apps form the backbone of this new location data economy.

The app developers can make money by directly selling their data, or by sharing it for location-based ads, which command a premium. Location data companies pay half a cent to 2 cents per user per month, according to offer letters to app makers reviewed by The Times.

Google and Facebook, which dominate the mobile ad market, also lead in location-based advertising. Both companies collect the data from their own apps. They say they do not sell it but keep it for themselves to personalise their services, sell targeted ads across the internet and track whether the ads lead to sales at brick-and-mortar stores.

Apple and Google have a financial interest in keeping developers happy, but both have taken steps to limit location data collection. In the most recent version of Android, apps that are not in use can collect locations “a few times an hour”, instead of continuously.

Apple has been stricter, for example requiring apps to justify collecting location details in pop-up messages. But Apple’s instructions for writing these pop-ups do not mention advertising or data sale.

Apple recently shelved plans that industry insiders say would have significantly curtailed location collection. Last year, the company said an upcoming version of iOS would show a blue bar on screen whenever an app not in use was gaining access to location data.

The discussion served as a “warning shot” to people in the location industry, David Shim, chief executive of the location company Placed, said at an industry event last year.

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Samsung's foldable phone – at a glimpse

SAN FRANCISCO • Samsung Electronics has unveiled its much-anticipated foldable phone in San Francisco, urging Android developers to start writing apps for it.

The South Korean tech company needs to get the foldable phone right to reverse steep declines in profit for its mobile division and restore some of the cachet its brand has lost to Apple.

Foldable phones promise the screen of a small tablet in a pocket-sized device.

Mr Justin Denison, a senior vice-president of mobile product marketing, on Wednesday showed a prototype with a screen that he said measured 18.5cm diagonally.

Folded in two it looked like a thick phone, but the media and developers were not allowed to touch or see the device up close.

Mr Dave Burke, vice-president of engineering for Google’s Android software platform, told a Google conference in California that Samsung planned to introduce a new Android-based device early next year. “We expect to see foldable products from several Android manufacturers,” he said.

Google’s head of Android UX, Mr Glen Murphy, who was on stage with Samsung, said Google would work with developers to bring more features to the phone.

Samsung said it would be ready for mass production in the coming months.

Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said that while the bendable screen provided a wow factor, shoppers may not like the thickness of the folded phone or its price tag. “They’ll have to prove that it’s more than just a gimmick,” said Mr O’Donnell.

“But it’s smart to open it up to developers early to do different types of experiences.”

Ms Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, said the product would likely be quite expensive in the near term. “We’re talking about brand new materials that have been made for this and also a new manufacturing process,” she said.

Samsung is among a few developers working on foldable phones.

China’s Huawei Technologies has said it is planning to launch a 5G smartphone with a foldable screen in mid-2019.

Samsung and Huawei have been beaten to the market, however, by Royole, a Chinese display making start-up, which last week unveiled a foldable Android phone with a 7.8 inch screen, priced from around US$1,300 (S$1,800). Royole said it would start filling orders late next month.

REUTERS

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