Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–November 17, 2014

Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program
The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program. Planes are equipped with devices which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information. Story by Delvin Barrett for The Wall Street Journal.

New Study Links Wireless Phone Use and Malignant Brain Cancer
The link between cell phones and brain cancer could ring true after all. Swedes who talked on cell or cordless phones for more than 25 years had three times the risk of one type of brain cancer, compared with people who used those phones for under a year, a new study in the journal Pathophysiology suggests. The longer someone talked on their phone–in terms of hours and years–the more likely they were to develop glioma, a deadly form of brain cancer. The new evidence contradicts the biggest study so far on the topic: The international Interphone study, funded in part by cell phone manufacturers, didn’t find strong evidence that cell phones increased brain tumor risk. Story by Meredith Engel for the New York Daily News.

Apple Releases New Fix for Lost iMessage Texts
Apple has a released a new fix to its iMessage app that’s supposed to solve a problem that has long irked cellphone users who switch to non-Apple phones: trouble getting text messages. Users who have replaced their iPhones with Android or Windows phones can now deregister their phone number with Apple on the Apple website, according to a customer support page. Or, they can continue to follow an existing work-around for ex-iPhone users who still have their iPhones. That is, place their SIM card back in the old iPhone, go to settings and turn off iMessages. Then wait. Story by Laura Mandaro for USA Today.

Who’s Catching Your Cellphone Conversations?
With the right equipment, people can hijack your cellphone, listen to your calls and read your texts, alarming privacy rights advocates and tech experts alike. The devices, known as IMSI catchers or by a brand name, Stingray, used to be expensive, bulky and hard to purchase. Now they can be bought online for as little as $1,800 and can be as small as a briefcase. IMSI catchers trick cellphones into thinking they’re connected, as normal, to a network like Verizon or AT&T. But the devices hijack the phone’s signal, and in some cases, intercept the contents of calls and texts. Story by L. Carol Ritchie for NPR.

Verizon, AT&T Tracking Their Users with ‘Supercookies’
Verizon and AT&T have been quietly tracking the Internet activity of more than 100 million cellular customers with what critics have dubbed “supercookies”, markers so powerful that it’s difficult for even savvy users to escape them. The technology has allowed the companies to monitor which sites their customers visit, cataloging their tastes and interests. Consumers cannot erase these supercookies or evade them by using browser settings, such as the “private” or “incognito” modes that are popular among users wary of corporate or government surveillance. Story by Craig Timberg for The Washington Post.

Ex-Apple CEO Launches His Own Smartphone Line
Former Apple CEO John Sculley has entered the smartphone market, launching a new brand of low-priced phones called Obi Mobiles. Obi Mobiles are priced between $70 and $200, so they don’t really compete with Apple. They do take on makers like Xiaomi and Lenovo that have made a name for themselves in the low-end phone market. Story by Lynn Oldshue for SaveOnPhone.com.

Showrooming Dips, But Webrooming Surges
The complex interplay between online and in-person shopping in the US has tilted slightly in favor of bricks-and-mortar retailers, according to GfK’s 2014 FutureBuy global study of shopping habits and preferences. Incidents of smartphone “showrooming”–seeing a product in a store, then buying it online from another retailer using a smartphone–dropped from 37 percent in the U.S. last year to 28 percent in 2014. But “webrooming,” in which consumers buy in a store after researching a purchase online using a smartphone, was reported by an even higher proportion of respondents, 41 percent. Story in Retail Customer Experience.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.