Entries in Cellphones (7)


FCC Urges FAA to Allow Gadgets During Takeoff and Landing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- You and Alec Baldwin aren't the only ones who get annoyed on a plane when you have to turn off your phone, or tablet, or laptop during takeoff or landing. Turns out the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would like flight attendants to stop saying "please turn off your electronics" before takeoff as well.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration's Michael Huerta, urging the agency to adjust its rules and allow for electronics usage during all phases of airline flight.

In the letter, a copy of which was sent to ABC News, Genachowski writes, "I write to urge the FAA to enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable electronics devices during flight, consistent with public safety."

In August, the FAA announced that it would be reviewing or taking a "fresh look" at the policy. It came after reports that electronics didn't cause interference with a plane's electronics.

Genachoswki writes that he supports the review. "The review comes at a time of tremendous innovation as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives. They empower people to say informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness."

When reached by ABC News, the FAA would not comment specifically on the FCC letter. It did point out its announcement of plans to conduct a six-month review with an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which includes the FCC and other representatives, including pilot and flight attendant groups, airlines, and passenger associations.

"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," Huerta said in a statement in August. "We also want solid safety data to make sure tomorrow's aircraft designs are protected from interference."

Ironically, it is the FCC that bans the use of the cellular signals on planes. According to the FCC's website, "Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit the use of cellular phones using the 800 MHz frequency and other wireless devices on airborne aircraft. This ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground." The FCC considered lifting the ban in 2007, but it ultimately didn't. The FCC and FAA allow the use of phones in "airplane mode" on flights, which turns off the cellular radio, but not during the takeoff, taxiing, and landing periods of the flight.

While in-fight Wi-Fi services have been in use on planes over the last several years, making calls using those services are also restricted by the airlines. The reason is not technical; airlines say they don't want callers bothering other passengers.

Virgin Atlantic began to allow very limited cellphone use on select airplanes in May. Other international airlines have experimented with picocell units, which bring cellular connectivity to the skies.

In June, the FAA did a study on the use of cellphones on planes by interviewing non-U.S. aviation authorities that had experience with cellphone usage on planes.

"No non-US civil aviation authority reported any cases of air rage or flight attendant interference related to passengers using cellphones on aircraft equipped with on-board cellular telephone base stations," the report says.

"The non-US civil aviation authorities who have approved the installation of onboard cellular telephone base stations on aircraft reported that the aircraft with these installations undergo extensive analysis, functional tests, ground tests, and flight tests to demonstrate that the cellphones and base stations do not interfere with aircraft systems," it adds. The report was not done as part of the current FAA review of the use of electronics during takeoff and landing.

The FCC declined to comment to ABC News on the use of cellular signals on planes.

The FCC's restriction of cellular capabilities aside, support for the use of non-cellular connected electronic devices during takeoff and landing seems to be growing, but it still appears passengers will be waiting for a while before they can keep their gadgets powered on.

While many pilots are using iPads during all phases of flight, and many experts say there is no evidence that electronics are interfering with planes' systems, significant testing would have to be done to make sure every device is safe. Each device and each of its different models (iPad 2, iPad Mini, 4th generation iPad, etc.) would have to be tested on each different plane model. That can take quite a long time -- up to two years, some experts say -- which means the FCC and the rest of us will be waiting for some time before we don't have to hear those announcements.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Why Many Didn't Get Wireless Emergency Alerts During Sandy

Google | Apple(NEW YORK) -- During the worst of Hurricane Sandy, just moments before the storm was about to make landfall, many in the affected states heard a noise over the wind and the rain -- it came from their smartphones.

For some, it was a loud buzzing with an emergency alert image, explaining that they should take shelter.  For others, it was actually a female robotic voice, informing them of an emergency.

Those notifications were what the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission call wireless emergency alerts, or WEAs.  They were designed to alert people via their phones about three types of emergencies -- imminent threats (including extreme or severe weather), AMBER alerts and presidential alerts (alerts issued by the president).  

The alerts were launched last year in many parts of the country and in May, came to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other carriers.

"We have close to 100 carriers that are providing the service," Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president, regulatory affairs for the CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, told ABC News.  "We purposely made it so people didn't have to sign up for the service.  We worked with FEMA and others to make sure it doesn't get abused.  That's when people will only really pay attention to it."

Guttman-McCabe said that users can disable the imminent and AMBER alerts, but not the presidential ones.  The alerts are not text message-based by design.

"WEA messages ensure that emergency alerts will not be delayed by network congestion, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services," a FEMA spokesperson told ABC News.

But that means that they are also dependent on the carriers and the phones.

"It's a technology upgrade," Guttman-McCabe said.  "As new phones come out, there is extreme likelihood that they can receive these."

Most of the phones that are supported are smartphones, not older-style flip or clamshell phones.

Currently, Verizon supports at least 35 phones, including the iPhone and some of the recent Android phones, like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III.  Verizon lists the phones on its website, though it's missing some of the newest phones that support the service.

The iPhone, for instance, is missing from that list, but ABC News confirmed that the iPhone 4S and 5 on Verizon's network got alerts during the storm.

AT&T, by comparison, only supports 11 phones.  Its iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 do not support the service.  An AT&T spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that AT&T's LTE network does not currently support WEAs.

Sprint, like Verizon, also has a wide selection of phones.  In fact, all the smartphones on the network released since 2011 support WEAs.

Apple also confirmed to ABC News that only Verizon and Sprint support the alert function at the moment.  Apple added the WEA alert option in iOS 6.  You can turn on the feature under the settings and then the notifications menus on the phone.

The feature is also supported on Android smartphones and is enabled automatically on many of them.  Google has even added alerts cards to its Google Now service.

But Guttman-McCabe made it very clear: The goal is to have this service on all phones.

"The goal is to get it out to as many people as we can," Guttman-McCabe said.  "The percentage of people with access to the alerts will climb dramatically."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Majority of Americans Have Used Mobile Devices While on the Toilet

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Mobile devices are used by people on the go, and also apparently by people who are going.  A recent survey of 1,000 people by the marketing agency 11mark found 75 percent of Americans have used their mobile devices to talk, text, shop, use apps or simply surf the Web while on the toilet.

Among those between the ages of 28 and 35, the percentage is 91 percent.  For those 65 and older, just 47 percent say they've used their devices on the toilet.

The survey also found:

-- 25 percent of Americans say they will not go to the bathroom without their devices.
-- 63 percent have answered calls while on the toilet, while 41 percent have called someone else.
-- 16 percent of the 28-35 age group have made online purchases while on the porcelain throne, compared to 8 percent of those 65 and older.
-- 20 percent of males and 13 percent of females have joined a conference call while on the toilet.
-- People with children are more likely to chat on the phone while on the john than those without kids.
-- Single people are far more likely than people with partners to text on the toilet.
-- If a person is taking or making a call while on the toilet, they are most likely doing so on a BlackBerry.
-- Using an app or playing on Facebook is most often done by someone on an iPhone.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cellphone Carriers Retain Customer Data for Up to 7 Years

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A leaked document from the Justice Department intended for law enforcement officials describes the length of time major cellphone companies retain sensitive customer data, including text message details and content.

Wired magazine reported that T-Mobile keeps a list of users’ text message recipients for up to five years and AT&T for up to seven years, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) document dated August 2010.

Wired lists the retention periods of other carriers’ data, such as who keeps call detail records the longest (AT&T: up to seven years) and post-paid bill copies the longest (AT&T and Sprint: up to seven years).

Verizon Wireless is the only carrier that keeps text contents, although for three to five days.

The document, entitled “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, said in an email to ABC News that the company would not comment on the details in the report.

But, he said, “Verizon Wireless keeps data for various periods of time in order to provide services to our customers, including responding to customer inquiries about their own accounts. We take the privacy of our customers very seriously, and have policies and procedures in place to safeguard customer information.”

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company addresses data retention in its privacy policy. AT&T’s privacy policy states the company retains personal information (including name, address, telephone number, email address, Social Security number and financial account number) “only as long as needed for business, tax or legal purposes, after which we destroy it by making it unreadable or undecipherable.”

Its privacy policy says it may provide personal information to non-AT&T companies or other third parties for purposes such as responding to 911 calls and other emergencies; complying with court orders and other legal process; assisting with identity verification, and to prevent fraud and identity theft; enforcing AT&T’s agreements and property rights; and “obtaining payment for products and services that appear on your AT&T billing statements, including the transfer or sale of delinquent accounts to third parties for collection.”

Jason Gertzen, a spokesman for Sprint, said the company “respects and protects the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers.”

“Responding to public safety or law enforcement requests is not unique to Sprint. We act as good stewards of our customers’ personal information while also meeting our obligations to law enforcement agencies,” he said in an email to ABC News. “Different categories of data are retained for varying lengths of time depending on the type and sensitivity of data, the applicable laws and regulations governing the retention of such data and the business purpose of the data.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NTSB Aims to Ban Cellphone Use by Commercial Drivers

Medioimages/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- In the moments before his tractor-trailer veered across the median on Interstate 65 in Kentucky, the 45-year-old driver of the big rig was on the phone.

The truck slammed into an oncoming passenger van, killing both drivers and nine other people traveling in the van. Two children in the van, who were in child seats, survived the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the March 2010 accident was the worst highway crash to occur in Kentucky in a generation.  The NTSB Tuesday recommended a ban on the use of cellphones by all commercial drivers.

The proposal is the most comprehensive ban on hand-held and hands-free devices that the board has issued. The NTSB, which cannot require a ban, sent its recommendation to both the states and the federal government.  

If enacted, the ban would affect 3.7 million drivers, according to the NTSB. “Changing behavior can start right now, for drivers of big rigs, but also for the rest of us,” NTSB Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “When you are at the wheel, driving safely should be your only focus.

“I can tell you that commercial vehicle drivers are not going to embrace this,” Hersman added, “but we are not here to be popular.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the real challenge with all cellphone bans is enforcement. And the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) suggests that a ban put in place by companies, not the government, would be met with more success. Both groups say any ban on mobile devices will be more effective if drivers know their jobs are dependent on not using phones while they drive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Teen Sexting Ring Busted in Vermont

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MILTON, Vt.) -- Vermont police said that 22 high school students, ages 14 to 17, took part in a teen sexting ring, using school-issued laptops to view photos of nude and partially nude adolescent girls.

The Milton Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that after investigating the sexting ring for six months, the case was now closed and that none of the juveniles would face criminal charges.

"We wanted to make it more of an educational experience than ... a punitive experience," said Detective Cpl. Paul Locke. "We don't want a mistake they made at 14 to haunt them their entire life."

Locke said that five male Milton High School students had set up a shared gmail account, They then asked female Milton students to send "indecent" pictures. Seventeen girls responded, sexting pictures to the boys who then forwarded the images to their individual email accounts and then to the group gmail account.

The investigation revealed 30 to 40 "indecent" images and three "indecent" videos of teenage girls. The five boys used netbooks issued by the school to view the images and email them to one another, Locke said.

"They thought it was a good idea at the time," he said. "They said that they didn't realize what they were doing was wrong."

Milton police were alerted to the sexting ring by the principal of the Milton High School and multiple female students on Feb. 18.

"A few of the girls heard rumors that they might be on this large email account," Lock said. "They got nervous and went to school officials. They thought it got out of hand."

Locke said that technically, these indecent images of underage girls "could be considered child pornography," although in this case they weren't because the pictures were not obtained by adults over 18.

Instead of facing criminal charges, the students, who all fessed up to the acts, have been referred to the Milton Reparative Board, a community board that will hold them accountable by requiring community service, counseling and education.

The decision was made in compliance with a 2009 Vermont law in which minors who are caught "sexting" for the first time can complete a diversion problem to avoid prosecution under the state's child pornography laws.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


BART Protests: Can City-Run Agencies Censor Your Cellphone Usage?

(SAN FRANCISCODavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images) -- San Francisco's BART -- the Bay Area Rapid Transit system -- has clashed with demonstrators again over a First Amendment issue: whether it can legally cut off cellphone service on subway platforms.

When protesters and hacking group Anonymous organized demonstrations by smartphone, urging people to gather at subway stops over the police shooting of a homeless man, BART responded by turning off cellular service to four underground San Francisco train stations.  The transit agency said the outage lasted for three hours and only affected subway platforms where paying customers got on and off trains.

Monday night, when demonstrators crowded around stations again, BART closed the stations but did not shut down cell transmissions. That was not the end of the issue, though. In an email to ABC News Tuesday, BART spokesman James K. Allison said, "This, however, does not preclude the future use of this tactic should it be deemed necessary to protect our customers from the potential of dangerous conditions."

Legal scholars said the transit system's decision to shut off cellular service raises tremendous First Amendment issues that may not be addressed adequately by existing laws -- a question of how cellphone service should be regarded. Is it a means of free speech, like a printing press or a bullhorn? Or, in a subway station, is it a convenience provided by BART -- a service it has a right to cut off?

The Federal Communications Commission said it was investigating BART's right to cut off cellular service. The ACLU of Northern California held off on filing suit against BART but sent an angry letter to the FCC, calling BART the "first known government agency in the United States to block cell service in order to disrupt a political protest."

"I think it's very dangerous territory," said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. "The right to protest is as American as apple pie."

"At sporting events, it's not uncommon to limit the number of people allowed on a train platform," he said. "But in this case, do they meet the very high test of imminent danger in a specific area?"

In a statement Monday, BART management said, "BART accommodates expressive activities that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution (expressive activity), and has made available certain areas of its property for expressive activity." But it said there are limits.

"Paid areas of BART stations are reserved for ticketed passengers who are boarding, exiting or waiting for BART cars and trains, or for authorized BART personnel. No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms."

A BART official, asking not to be quoted by name, said the shutoff was intentionally limited, and someone with an urgent call to make could simply walk up to street level.

But there was disagreement within BART itself. By cutting off demonstrators' ability to send a text message starting a protest, did it violate the rights of bystanders who might be using their cellphones simply to call family or friends?

"I'm just shocked that they didn't think about the implications of this," said Lynette Sweet, who serves on BART's board of directors. "We really don't have the right to be this type of censor. In my opinion, we've let the actions of a few people affect everybody. And that's not fair."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio