Mobile Internet Sets Milestone; IoT Devices at Risk With New Malware

Posted November 1st, 2016 at 1:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Indians use a mobile phone at a market area in New Delhi, Sept. 27, 2015, following a rare visit to Silicon Valley by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP)

Indians use a mobile phone at a market area in New Delhi, Sept. 27, 2015, following a rare visit to Silicon Valley by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP)

Study: Mobile Internet Use Passes Desktop for the First Time

The PC market has been struggling, largely due to the popularity of mobile devices. A new study from internet monitoring firm StatCounter found more people around the world are using mobile devices to access the Internet. In countries like India, mobile devices account for 75 percent of use, while in the U.S. and Britain, desktops still hold sway. But that margin is narrowing, according to the study.

Hackers Release New Malware Into the Wild for Mirai Botnet Successor

The recent take-down of major websites, thanks to Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS), driven by hijacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices, was just the beginning. Researchers have discovered a new malware strain similar to the one used in that attack. The new strain, Linux/IRCTelnet, is designed to turn unsecured IoT devices into slave components for more attacks.

Twitter Joins Bot Battle With Automated Messages in DMs

Twitter is trying to improve customer support. The next time you send a direct message to Twitter, you will receive an immediate response – faster than a human can send it. That means the fully-automated responses will be run by bots. Facebook has already been using customer service bots in its Messenger app.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Fake Bot Content Is Hard to Spot – and the Problem Is Getting Worse

Posted October 28th, 2016 at 11:05 am (UTC-4)
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(VOA/T. Benson)

(VOA/T. Benson)

Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t. But they are all over social media. Bots, short for robots, are automated applications – both good and bad – that either help with Web search and repetitive tasks or wreak havoc. And as more of them flood cyberspace, authenticating the content they push will be a major challenge.

Just this week, an alleged Facebook Live video went viral. The video purportedly showed a live feed of an International Space Station spacewalk. But there’s only one problem with the story. It isn’t real.

Neither NASA nor Facebook Live had any reference to this “event.” NASA typically announces spacewalks in advance and dedicates the day to them. No spacewalk was scheduled Wednesday, as NASA confirmed. Yet the story racked up mentions, views and likes across the internet. And by the way, did you notice the “2013” mention in the headline on the video?

In August, Facebook automated the descriptions for its Trending section. Then a story started trending that claimed Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had been labeled a “traitor” and was subsequently fired:

The story, one of many bot-curated suggestions, was false. As was this one:

Facebook is working to refine the computer algorithm that learns from its human creators how to determine which stories are trending. Before automating the Trending section, humans monitored content to filter out offensive or inappropriate material.

But “why couldn’t the machine tell what was real and what was false? Christo Wilson, Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University, Boston, asked.

Humans are prone to make similar mistakes, he quickly added, and they are already having problems figuring out which bot-driven content is real.

Efforts are underway to find a way to authenticate bot-driven content. But Wilson warned that this will not be an easy task, compared with the ease with which an individual can produce online content and then “buy or rent bot armies to promote it.”

“And it’s not that difficult to make it look realistic and sophisticated,” he added.

Getting bots is easy – and cheap. Thousands of bots can be leased or bought for a few dollars and used to promote your business or your point of view, buy followers or retweets, mine for data, spam social media users or hijack their accounts.

A screenshot from the 'Fake Bloomberg News' bot account, now suspended, on Twitter. (Twitter)

A screenshot from the ‘Fake Bloomberg News’ bot account, now suspended, on Twitter. (Twitter)

All it takes is for people to start writing bots to create numerous social media accounts and then “start spreading a certain narrative using these accounts,” said Distil Networks CEO Rami Essaid.

That includes false opinion polls that seek to “convey a false reality.”

“We don’t know just how many of these are influenced by subjective users going to certain polls or if it is influence by bots that are skewing the narrative,” he said. But that opinion, or this reality “is real to someone,” he added, and it is “being magnified by orders of magnitude that aren’t real.”

So instead of having one person with one opinion on social media, bots automate that opinion and simulate hundreds of people – “tens-of-thousands of people or more,” said Essaid, and then replicate the same opinion.

“It sways the conversation,” he added. “It really influences the narrative and kind of tilts the scale for what could be just this one person’s opinion.”

“It’s a very tough situation,” added Wilson. “There’s a lot more information. … The news cycle is so aggressive, it doesn’t leave that much time to vet things. But you have to be really careful because any one [post] can look authentic. You just have no idea what the veracity or the provenance of any of this information is.”

At some point, Essaid said checks and balances will be necessary, and social media companies that take the number of bots in their networks seriously will need to be part of the discussion around what is real and what is not.

A screenshot from 'Dear Assistant,' a self-declared Twitter bot account. (Twitter)

A screenshot from ‘Dear Assistant,’ a self-declared Twitter bot account. (Twitter)

“When you have a wide open network like Twitter, where … up to 30-50 percent of somebody’s followers are bots, in those cases, we should be more aware of it,” he said. “Even if you want to reference it as a journalist, you should reference it but also caveat it so just the legitimacy and the precaution used by each network or each poll – or whatever – should be part of the conversation so that people are more aware.”

Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and Instagram have all been waging a war against millions of fake bot accounts, “Twitterbots” and Instagram spam bots. While some accounts are suspended, others escape or crop up again.

Social media services that are serious about news content “could probably be doing a better job and try to fight these things more aggressively,” said Wilson. But they have a “difficult socio-technical challenge in front of them,” he said, as they balance ease of use and increasing their subscriber base with “trying to very tightly control all these accounts and determine what is real and what is fake.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Twitter Goes After Trolls – Again; the Devices That Crippled the Internet

Posted October 27th, 2016 at 12:10 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen at the New York Stock Exchange, New York City, Sept. 28, 2016. (Reuters)

The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen at the New York Stock Exchange, New York City, Sept. 28, 2016. (Reuters)

Twitter Promises ‘Meaningful’ Safety Updates Next Month

Twitter has a huge problem with trolls, online bullies and people who are using the platform for hate speech and even threats of violence. But since that not-so-friendly environment has scared off potential buyers of the micro-blogging platform, Twitter is now promising “meaningful” changes. The company hopes the new changes to its safety policy will give users more control over their experience. It remains unclear though if this will be enough to rein in enough hate spammers.

Apple’s Amazing Strip Show Reinvents the Laptop Keyboard

Nipping at the heels of Microsoft’s big Surface Desktop reveal. Wednesday, Apple’s big event took aim at the company’s aging MacBook line, particularly the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. Among other announcements, the San Francisco event launched a new MacBook Pro laptop with a Touch Bar on the keyboard that changes functions depending on the programs you are using.

Friday’s DDoS Attack Came From 100,000 Infected Devices

Internet security experts are still shaking their heads after a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack took down major websites on the U.S. East Coast last Friday. Now, DNS provider Dyn, which was a direct target, says hackers used an estimated 100,000 devices for the attack. Many of the devices that included cameras and DVRs were infected with the Mirai malware. And some security experts are warning things are about to get a lot worse. Are your gadgets vulnerable?

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

The Race to Reinvent the PC; NASA Denies Facebook Viral Spacewalk

Posted October 26th, 2016 at 1:06 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Panos Panay, Corporate Vice President for Surface Computing demonstrates the new Microsoft Surface Studio computer at a live event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Oct. 26, 2016. (Reuters)

Panos Panay, Corporate Vice President for Surface Computing demonstrates the new Microsoft Surface Studio computer at a live event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Oct. 26, 2016. (Reuters)

Microsoft, Apple Look to Reinvent the Desktop PC

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event Wednesday in San Francisco officially added the Surface Studio all-in-one Desktop PC – what CEO Satya Nadella calls “a new category” – to its line of hybrids.  Perfect or not, writer Tom Warren argues that Microsoft has succeeded in reinventing “the ideas of what a tablet and a laptop should be” and inspire other manufacturers with its Surface Pro line of tablet/laptop hybrids. Now, Apple is also refreshing its old line of MacBooks, with expectations high for this Thursday’s big event for some upgrades and a new MacBook.

NASA Confirms Facebook Live Viral Videos From Space Are Fake

NASA has denied the authenticity of a Facebook Live video allegedly showing a live feed of a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The fake video, which went viral, was circulated by several media outlets. NASA typically announces spacewalks in advance. In this case, the agency did not have a scheduled spacewalk.

Tinder Invites 15 More Countries to Join US in ‘Swiping’ for Best Presidential Match

The U.S. presidential election is getting closer, and many internet sites, services and organizations are pushing people to go out and vote on November 8. This effort has now been expanded to include users of the dating app Tinder in 15 countries. Tinder users swipe left or right to voice their opinions on a variety of issues before being matched with a suitable political candidate.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

More IoT-based Cyberattacks Coming; AR, VR Help With Low Vision

Posted October 25th, 2016 at 12:25 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

This photo shows Dyn, a New Hampshire internet service company, in the old mill section of the city, Oct. 21, 2016 in Manchester, N.H. (AP)

This photo shows Dyn, a New Hampshire internet service company, in the old mill section of the city, Oct. 21, 2016 in Manchester, N.H. (AP)

Friday’s IoT-based DDoS Attack Has Security Experts Worried

Many experts believe cyberattacks that exploit Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices are just getting started. The massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that took down major websites last Friday reportedly exploited Internet-enabled webcams and digital recorders. Experts have been warning for some time that always-on, Internet connected IoT devices are not secure and can be hacked in minutes. The hackers who carried out the DDoS attack exploited manufacturer passwords on the webcams. A Chinese manufacturer who provided the exploited parts – Hangzhou Xiongmai – has issued a recall in the U.S. Beijing, however, is blaming users for not changing their passwords.

IoT, Mobile Tracking Devices for iPad, iPhone Riddled With Critical Flaws

Researchers from Internet security firm Rapid7 have uncovered a slew of critical security vulnerabilities in Internet of Things devices for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems. The devices include TrackR Bravo, iTrack Easy and Nut tracker. Rapid7 says some devices store passwords without encryption in their apps and allow unauthenticated access to GPS data.

VR, AR Can Help Restore Sight

A professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, is working on a lower-cost solution to help people with low vision. Frank Werblin’s app – IrisVision – uses Samsung’s virtual reality headset to magnify whatever wearers are looking at. The aim is to help improve the way low-vision people see the world.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Hate Speech Plugin Gives Internet Trolls a Chance to Pause

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 11:00 am (UTC-4)
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The winning team pitch their plugin, 'Hate Speech Blocker,' during the Peacehack 2016 hackathon in London, England. (International Alert)

The winning team pitch their plugin ‘Hate Speech Blocker’ during the Peacehack 2016 hackathon in London, England. (International Alert)

Hate Speech Blocker is a new browser plugin that tackles the complex problem of online hate speech without blurring the line between freedom of speech and censorship.

Call it a spellchecker, of sorts – for hate. Typically, online hate spammers that get caught venting their anger on unsuspecting victims could end up with their social media accounts suspended or blocked. But Hate Speech Blocker doesn’t do that.

“It doesn’t prevent you posting. It just suggests that the words you’re using could be construed as hateful,” said David Marsh, Head of Technology at UK-based nonprofit, International Alert, a peace building organization.

The Chrome plugin analyzes text as it is being typed. If it recognizes a particular hate speech term, “it just flags it out to you,” explained Marsh in an interview. “It doesn’t stop you posting, but it suggests why that maybe a term that some people might not necessarily want to use online and how that could be construed as hate speech in that particular context.”

When potentially offensive words are entered into a Chrome browser with the plugin installed, Hate Speech Blocker checks the terms against Hatebase, a nonprofit online service that collects data about hate zones and derogatory terms in various parts of the world and “has the ability to reference the terms across different countries.”

“It looks across the whole gamut of hate speech – it could be religious intolerance, it could be more general online bullying,” he said.

“We all liked Hate Speech Blocker because it was so simple and direct, challenging hate speech before it is even posted. I look forward to finding out how successful it has been in practice,” said tech evangelist and digital skills expert Sue Black, who was on the panel of judges for a series of hacking competitions in London called Peacehack.

Hate Speech Blocker won the hackathons earlier this October. This year’s theme focused on hate speech and how technology and developers can help address it.

In some instances, hate groups have argued that blocking their rhetoric violates their right to free speech. But Marsh stressed that International Alert is “very careful” to avoid engaging in censorship.

“What we want to be very careful about is not closing down that space for people to debate things,” he said. “And we realize that there may be a very thin line between freedom of speech and censorship.”

Hate speech sometimes happens “on the spur of the moment,” perhaps in response to something people see online, for example. Marsh said International Alert understands that. “We just want to give people that gentle nudge to say ‘is that really what you want to say?’”

The winning team at Peacehack 2016 celebrate after their plugin, ;'Hate Speech Blocker' was announced the winner, in London, England. (International Alert)

The winning team at Peacehack 2016 celebrate after their plugin ‘Hate Speech Blocker’ was announced the winner, in London, England. (International Alert)

The hackathons have produced “all sorts of interesting ideas in our peace building work,” said Marsh, “be that around hate speech, be that around countering violent extremism and beyond.” And he hopes the continuation of the event will provide a real way of “engaging two communities that don’t necessarily work together that well – the technology and peace building sectors.”

Along the margins of the event, another potential “winner” emerged. While working with young people to give them the tools and confidence to combat hate speech online and offline, International Alert discovered that some of them were experiencing online abuse from offline friends who would later claim their accounts were hacked. The participants suggested developing a tool to help prove or not prove that an account was hacked at the same time online abuse was taking place.

“It was a real eye-opener,” he said. “… It gave us an inside track to fix the problems that they really face rather than the ones that we perceive that they are facing.”

Marsh hopes the Hate Speech Blocker plugin can be at least part of that conversation and a simple tool to make people stop and think before posting potentially harmful language online. And there are plans to customize it further for countries where International Alert works in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Myanmar.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Stephen Hawking Warns of AI Risks; India Suffers Massive Cyberattack

Posted October 20th, 2016 at 11:35 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

British scientist Stephen Hawking arrives to attend the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, eastern England, on Oct. 19, 2016. (AFP)

British scientist Stephen Hawking arrives to attend the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, eastern England, on Oct. 19, 2016. (AFP)

Stephen Hawking: AI Could Be ‘Worst Thing to Happen to Humanity’

Renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking again warned against the dangers of advancements in artificial intelligence. Speaking at the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) in Cambridge, England, Hawking said more advanced AI could lead to “powerful autonomous weapons” or new ways “for the few to oppress the many.” Depending on how AI is managed, he said the technology could save humanity or destroy it.

Study: US Women in Computing to Decline to 22 Percent by 2025

A new study from the nonprofit Girls Who Code and research firm Accenture projects the number of U.S. women in computing will drop from 24 percent to 22 percent by 2025. Researchers say if steps are taken now to encourage more women to study computer science, then their number in computing could triple within the projected period to 3.9 million.

India Cyberattack Compromises 3.2 Million Debit Card Accounts

At least 3.2 million debit card details were stolen Thursday from several financial institutions in one of India’s worst data breaches. The malware that was used to compromise the country’s Hitachi Payment Services platform, which powers financial transactions, went on to infect other banks, including the State Bank of India.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Instagram Adds Mental Health Support; Teen App Helps Isolated Kids

Posted October 19th, 2016 at 12:49 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A screen displays the Instagram logo during a presentation in New York. (Reuters)

FILE – A screen displays the Instagram logo during a presentation in New York. (Reuters)

Instagram Introduces Support Tool to Anonymously Help Those in Distress

Social networking service Instagram is rolling out a new tool that will allow users to reach out to help people suffering from mental health issues who might be in danger of harming themselves. The new feature allows users to alert Instagram to any posts about self-harm. The service then lets the person know there are people out there who would like to help and offers a local helpline and a support page with additional resources.

Bullied Teen Creates App So No Kid Ever Has to Sit at Lunch Alone Again

“Sit With US’ is a new app designed to help ostracized or isolated kids find new people to sit with. It was created by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton, who had a tough time with isolation at school. The app includes a club feature that lets kids sign up as ambassadors and post open lunches that anyone who has the app can join and hopefully, make new friends in the process.

Endorse a Presidential Candidate on Facebook (What Could Go Wrong?)

Facebook now lets users publicly endorse a particular candidate in this year’s U.S. presidential election, if they don’t mind declaring that to the world. All you have to do is go to the candidate’s Facebook page. Once there, Select “Endorsements” and click the blue “Endorse” button to write a few words about the reason for your support. Be prepared to see your endorsement on candidate’s timeline if you make it fully public.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

UK Snooping on Citizens for Years; Bill Gates, Tim Cook for VP?

Posted October 18th, 2016 at 12:56 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

People sit at computers in the 24- hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, UK, Nov. 17, 2015.

People sit at computers in the 24- hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham in Cheltenham, UK, Nov. 17, 2015.

UK Spies Have Been Snooping on Citizens Since 1998

Britain’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal found that intelligence agencies have been running bulk data-collection programs for the last 17 years, in violation of EU privacy protections in many cases. Web traffic, location and device data, biographies, and financial activities were all collected for years without the knowledge or consent of their owners

Bill Gates, Tim Cook Were on Hillary Clinton’s Possible VP List

Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft’s former CEO Bill Gates, and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, were on Hillary Clinton campaign’s shortlist for vice president. The revelation in an email from Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, is part of a batch of documents released by WikiLeaks.

Study Suggests Selfies Are the New Prozac

Computer scientists at the University of California-Irvine believe selfies can make people happier. A limited study documented the moods of 41 students for a week, then asked them to take pictures and record their emotions for the following three weeks. The assignment involved taking pictures, including selfies, that make the students happy. After collecting more than 2,000 mood measurements, the scientists found that all participants experienced increased positive moods.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

These Apps Could Save Your Life – If You Give Up Your Privacy

Posted October 14th, 2016 at 10:53 am (UTC-4)
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'I.AM. Here' is a GPS-based app that discourages texting while driving. Once downloaded, users can set up the app to automatically alert friends about their whereabouts when they are driving so they can keep their eyes on the road. (SIMpalm)

‘I.AM. Here’ is a GPS-based app that discourages texting while driving. Once downloaded, users can set up the app to automatically alert friends about their whereabouts when they are driving so they can keep their eyes on the road. (SIMpalm)

Mobile apps are weaving their way into the fabric of our lives, branching into health and fitness and social networking, to name a few. Some lend a hand in cases of emergency and could even help save your life.

I.M. Here

Developed by mobile and web app developer SIMpalm, I.M. Here is an Android texting app that encourages safer driving. Using Google Maps and geolocation services, it tracks your location while driving and automatically alerts family and friends five minutes before you arrive at a preset location. The user can enter an address for Google Maps to find, import contact information, and populate the map as needed. Only the user needs to download the app.

Klique, part of an initiative to end sexual assault, lets people find safety in groups and matches them with like-friends. (Klique),

Klique, part of an initiative to end sexual assault, lets people find safety in groups and matches them with friends who might share their interests. (Klique),

In the United States, several telecommunications companies have similar apps to encourage safer driving. Drivesafel.ly and Key2SafeDriving are just two of them, and there are several others here.

Klique

Part of an initiative to end sexual assault, Klique helps people make new friends in the safety of a group. The Android and iOS social networking app, launched in partnership with the nonprofit It’s On Us, can match groups of friends using a swiping interface, meaning users can accept or turn down suggested newcomers to their circle. Klique uses proximity and location services to scan for local social groups, but also includes a social rating system to help users err on the side of safety before joining any new groups.

If you need other options, there’s Skout, ChitChat Pro, Happn, Grouper and a host of others for both iOS and Android.

WiFox is a global map airport WI-Fi and lounge passwords. It is updated in real time and and now has four times as many hot spots as when the screenshots were taken. (Anil Polat)

WiFox is a global map of airport WI-Fi and lounge passwords. It is updated in real time and now has four times as many hot spots as when the screenshot was taken. (Anil Polat)

WiFox

If you are a frequent traveler, navigating your way around airport Wi-Fi networks can be tricky. To help smooth the process, blogger and computer security engineer Anil Polat came up with WiFox, a current global map of free wireless access points for up to 80 airports. The map, updated in real-time, provides airport and lounge passwords and helps users work around time-limited access points. Users can submit information they find out about airport networks as they travel. Once verified, the information is added to the map and updated on a regular basis. The app is available for both iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

One X

One X tracks users' health by keeping an eye on stress, nutrition and various habits to give them more control over their health. (One X)

One X tracks users’ health by keeping an eye on stress, nutrition and various habits to give them more control over their health. (One X)

One X, the latest in the crowded health tracking market, combines a smartphone app with a real-time biosensor that measures skin antioxidant levels and how they affect the user’s habits and lifestyle.

The app helps users keep a watchful eye on nutritional balance as it monitors sleep patterns, exercise, stress, alcohol consumption, pollution and sun exposure, and other indicators. If you have no qualms about parting with your privacy, the data collection allows the app to provide personalized recommendations about your health.

There are many other apps to help you exercise and stay fit, including Digifit iCardio, Map My Fitness, MyFitnessPal, FatSecret and others.

Ryan’s Angels

This Android app alerts close friends if the user is involved in an accident or is in danger. Ryan’s Angels uses sensors and a smart algorithm to constantly monitor the user’s location, movement speed, surroundings, and other data. The information is then used to determine if the tracked individual has been in an accident. In such an event, the user’s last known location and vital information are automatically transmitted to five “guardian angels” designated as contacts when the app is set up. These friends then attempt to contact the individual. If there is no response, they then alert first responders to the situation. In the case of a false alarm, the user has the option of tapping a button labeled “I am OK.”

There’s a growing list of apps that help in emergencies, including SOS – Stay Safe, Alert by HelpAround, HelpAround Diabetes, among others.

A word of caution: All of the apps featured here rely on geolocation and tracking technologies to do their job. So be prepared to swap privacy for functionality if you want to use them.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.