Tag Archives: smartphones

ALERT! – Specter and Meltdown Security Flaw – ALERT!

Regardless of what computer you own, Apple or Windows, Spectre and Meltdown security flaws affect you. Security researchers recently revealed the details of these two microprocessor security flaws. Chips made by Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and others are in billions of devices making them sitting ducks for hackers.

Devices with these chips include phones, tablets, PCs, and computer servers. Exploiting the vulnerability opens the door for hackers to steal personal data, passwords, cryptographic keys, and other supposedly inaccessible information from device owners. While the average consumer should exercise caution the impact on business could be devastating. 

The Meltdown flaw only runs on Intel chips while the Spectre flaw can affect devices with virtually any modern processor.

Computer microprocessors handle data like a passwords or encryption keys. Normally these are kept from other apps. But both Intel and AMD pride themselves on the speed of their chips. To do this the chips use whats known as “speculative execution” to try to guess answers that may be needed if a chain of calculations came out a certain way. Since the delay in calculations can be predictable researchers found that a rogue app could guess where confidential data was located in a chip’s memory and steal it.

Regardless of your web browser, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, or any version of the Windows family, they all use Javascript code.  Hackers could introduce a data stealing Javascript program and post it on any chosen web site. Your browser app would automatically run the rogue code like it was an ordinary part of the site’s features resulting in your data becoming vulnerable or stolen. As you can see this is an extremely grave threat to business computing.

Although this vulnerability is now known there is no evidence anyone has used it…yet. And that is where the danger lies. The danger of these flaws is so great that tech companies  swung into action quickly to fix the problem. Perhaps too quickly.

According to various news sources the Microsoft patch to fix the flaw has been damaging some devices.  In some instances the computers are suffering performance problems while others have been bricked. A bricked computer is frozen and unusable. The problem has become so bad that Microsoft has halted issuing the patch for both Spectre and Meltdown for AMD equipped computers and devices.

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich addressed the Meltdown and Spectre issue as the keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “I want to thank the industry for coming together to address the recent security research findings reported as Meltdown and Spectre,”  said Krzanich. He called the response to the issues a “collaboration among so many companies.” Krzanich promised that “for our processors and products introduced in the past five years, Intel expects to issue updates for more than 90 percent within a week, and the remaining by the end of January.”

Browser makers have swung into action to combat the flaw. Users of Google Chrome should turn on a feature calledsite isolation.”  The feature prevents malicious Javascript from accessing sensitive data. Google will soon release an update to Chrome’s Javascript feature that will improve protection against Spectre attacks, however, browser performance may suffer.

Microsoft has already issued a Windows security update for its Internet Explorer and Edge browser apps labeled “KB4056890” to protect against Spectre. According to Microsoft the update will change the browser’s features to protect confidential information in a device’s CPU. But make sure you check if your device has an AMD chip before using this patch.

Firefox maker Mozilla said its newest apps changed several features to make Spectre attacks more difficult. Released on January 4th, Firefox version 57.0.4 includes the new protections. Mozilla said in a blog post that it is studying additional ways to strengthen security against the attacks. “In the longer term, we have started experimenting with techniques to remove the information leak closer to the source, instead of just hiding the leak by disabling timers. This project requires time to understand, implement and test.”

Apple is planning to release an update to Safari in “coming days” to protect against Spectre. Early tests of the Apple updates showed a minimal impact on browser performance. For additional information on Apple products click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Cyber Security Awareness Month – Children and Social Media

Social media is everywhere. Facebook alone has over two billion users. And the bottom line is that social media is how people in the world share their lives. Is that what you want your children to do? Share their lives with everybody in the world? Black people have a saying about this. Its called “putting your business in the street.”

Children and social media are a dangerous mix. Every year thousands of children and teens are contacted by sexual predators, marketers and information collectors of all sorts. These people are an extreme danger not only to your children but your household as well. Children can unwittingly give away your most sensitive information. Over sharing is a common problem on social media websites. And children can fall for social engineering where they are manipulated into revealing sensitive information. This information can seem harmless like “where do you go to school?” Or, “what time does mommy go to work?” To a child these questions may seem harmless but you can see how a predator can use this information. Other information revealed by a child or teen online add to the exploding  rate of child identity theft.

How do you protect your child on social media?

Black parents are warned that your child’s use of a computer, smartphone or tablet is not harmless. Especially if this activity is happening without your knowledge of supervision. Some parents think that children means your 8 and 10 year olds. But teens are especially vulnerable on social media. Teens are more secretive, especially black teens. So parents need to work harder to implement and enforce rules for their social media use.

  1. Learn about social media – As a parent of a child or teen you need to take the time to research and learn about the different social networks children and teens are using. Plenty of parents use Facebook or Twitter. But there are many other sites your child may be using you don’t know about. These include Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, YouTube, and Tumblr.  Two other websites that are about secrecy and anonymity are called Secret and Whisper. You can find the most popular teen social media websites here. Familiarize yourself with what teens are doing online and on social media. If you have a teen in the house you need to keep up with whats happening or be surprised by it. Doing the research will give you a better understanding of how each service works. You may wish to create your own profile on these sites and apps to understand how they work and what is happening. Monitoring your children for their own safety is a tough parenting skill. Spying can cause teens to withdraw further and become more secretive. Here is some information about talking to teens about social media.
  2. Establish some firm rules for social media useFirst set an age for social media use. Young children are enticed by children’s television programs to go online to connect with characters. You should be aware that this is often a marketing play to sell toys or children’s food products or gather information. As  such they should be closely supervised. Let your child know when they can use the computer and what age they can begin using social media websites. Most social media sites require users to be at least 13 years old to create an account. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents companies from collecting personal information about children under the age of 13 without their parents’ permission. Set times and time limits for your child’s social media use. Parents should go online with their young children and teach them social media safety early. Remember, the same rules apply online as on the sidewalk. Don’t talk to strangers.
  3. Keep the computer in a pubic area of your homeAs I said before, teens are notoriously secretive. Your teenager may be re-treating to the privacy of their bedroom to go online. Its not uncommon but it is also something to worry about. For younger children its a good idea to have the computer in a location where you can monitor your child’s activity. As for your teenager, this is where parenting gets tricky. Make sure your teenager understands the dangers of being on social media. Ask questions about what they are doing and who they are in contact with. Spying is not always the best idea but education can certainly give you some peace of mind. “Check out Teens Guide to Social Media.” Here a re few things you can do to protect your teen.
    1. A key question to ask is if they are in touch with someone they have not met personally, in person? This could be a danger sign.
    2. Make sure your teen understands that sexual predators are online. Make sure they know not to share personal information or pictures with people they don’t know.
    3. Make sure your teen understands the concept of “over sharing”.
    4. Make sure they know to never “friend the friend of a friend.”
    5. Sexting is strictly forbidden.
    6. Establish trust and honesty. Never make your teen feel he or she can’t come to you with problems and ask for advice. Finally, perform regular checks of your child’s privacy settings. Make sure your child’s social media account is as secure as possible. Block advertisers, and name and profile searches. Restrict who can see your child’s pictures, personal information and how to contact them.

Now you know.

 

 

 

National Cyber Security Awareness Month – Smartphones

African-Americans have embraced mobile technology.  According to Pew Research African-Americans are more likely to use mobile technology, smartphones and tablets, to access the Internet than whites. So we should be more aware of how to secure these devices.

I don’t have to tell you that your smartphone is the most valuable and sensitive piece of technology you own. To put it simply; it contains your life. Everyone you know is inside that device. All your passwords are probably saved there along with other sensitive data such as payment information, pictures, banking information and apps, social media apps, email, calendars and schedules and sensitive text messages. Because of all this data your phone is an attractive target to hackers.

Know Where Your Phone is at All Times.

Use the technology available to you to locate you phone or tablet if it should come up missing. Apple users make sure you use theFind My iPhone/Find My iPadfeature of the device. This feature can show you on a map exactly where you device is within a few feet. If you have an Android phone then Google offers  theFind My Deviceservice that can also pinpoint the location of your phone. There are also numerous app that can be used to track your device.

If you realize that your phone is gone for good then you can erase all the data on the device using the “Find My iPhone/Find My iPad” feature and lock the device from anyone using it. The same can be done for Android devices. Lets hope this is never the case but be prepared by knowing how to use these features and backing up your data so it can be easily downloaded to your new device.

The first most important thing you need to do is to keep control of your device at all times. No doubt you have experienced the feeling of losing it if only for a few minutes. Make sure you keep track of it at all times. “Nuff said there.

Be Paranoid!

Did you know that your phone can be hacked? As a matter of fact you probably already have been. First of all, anything that can connect to the Internet can be hacked…period! What makes your phone so vulnerable is that it has the capability to connect to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. You need to fear this capability. Be paranoid!

Most phones are hacked by connecting to a wi-fi network. Do you know your phone settings? Is your phone set to connect to any open wi-fi network? If so then you are vulnerable to a hacker. Make sure your phone is set to “Ask” to join an open wi-fi. Think about that when you walk into a Starbucks or Panera Bread or anyplace that offers free wi-fi. Those places are hangouts for hackers. Be paranoid!

Should you have to connect to an open wi-fi avoid doing any sensitive business such as banking. This is what the hacker is waiting for. Any password or credit card information transmitted over an open wi-fi is fair game. Anyone close enough to pick up that open wi-fi signal can be a hacker. Be paranoid!

If your phone is out of date it is vulnerable. Keep your iOS and Android operating system up to date. This means your apps too. Apps and programs that have not updated are a vulnerable. Be paranoid about apps that request unusual permissions. These suspicious apps could ask for access to your camera or your email. Ask yourself why? Keep your phone updated. Do not download apps offered to you via email or text massage. Avoid third party app stores. Don’t respond to unknown text message or click on any links you are not absolutely sure of. This is a form of  social engineering where someone convinces you to do something you shouldn’t.  Be paranoid!

Don’t let strangers use your phone. There is an attack that occurs just by dialing a certain number. Here is the scenario; a stranger approaches you and claims his or her phone is broken or the battery is dead. They have a child or elderly parent waiting to hear from them and they ask to use your phone for a minute. Being the angel you are you allow them. They dial a number and then punch in a code and download malware or app that takes over your phone, monitors your activity and steal your data. Hey, it happens. Don’t be a victim. Be paranoid!

Now you know, October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). In recognition the African-American Cyber Report will be participating with the Department of Homeland Security to promote awareness of cyber security issues and personal safety online.

Each week the AACR will publish articles that promote cyber security at home, at work and for your children. The AACR is dedicated to bringing the message of cyber security to African-Americans who use the Internet in their daily life. We are focused on protecting you, your home and your children from cyber fraud, hacking, viruses, malware, personal data theft and other cyber threats. 

African-Americans are full participants in the technology revolution from smartphones, to mobile banking to e-commerce to social media. As such we must become more aware of what is happening in cyberspace. We need to understand the dangers and the opportunities that the Internet presents. 

As part of NCSAM the Dept. of Homeland Security is offering all Americans the Stop.Think.Connect. Toolkit. The Toolkit is a series of information pamphlets designed to educate various audiences on cyber security awareness and online safety. The targeted audiences include;

  • Students K-8, 9-12, and Undergraduate
  • Parents and Educators
  • Young Professionals
  • Older Americans
  • Government
  • Industry
  • Small Business
  • Law Enforcement

The educational material covers 22 topic areas that include social media awareness, mobile banking, and educating children about going online. 

We invite you to join us as we focus on the safety and security of all people but especially our brothers and sisters who use the greatest communication technology ever invented, the Internet.

How to Safely Buy a Used Smartphone

African-Americans rely heavily in their smartphones. We use these devices for everything from email to banking to reinforcing our faith.  So buying used technology like a smartphone, laptop or tablet could be a disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing. Saving money is the objective for African-Americans but saving yourself some headaches ranks right up there as well.

How should black people buy used technology? What should we be looking for? How do we avoid scams and just outright junk?

First of all stay away from Craigslist.  I am not saying you can’t get some good deals but Craigslist is crawling with scam artists. Why take the chance? Look into refurbished products. The refurbished technology market is a great place to shop and many of the tech devices are factory refurbished. This means that they are repaired and re-conditioned by the maker to their standards. And many come with the proper guarantees and warranties to ease your fears. Some products you find on the refurbished market are simply returns that have never been used. Others had minor damage from shipping or were flawed and repaired for re-sale.

You probably know that a new smartphone could run you as much as $750 for the new top of the line models.  As a matter of fact Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 8 smartphone will break the bank at over $900. You can sometimes get a discount on a new phone by signing a contract but you still pay in the long run.

As I said, the best kind of used smartphone is a refurbished phone. They are fully tested, factory reset, and certified. Buying a refurbished phone, usually last year’s model, is close to the experience of buying a new phone. Let’s be real, there are often minor upgrades to this years model over last year’s. But the price difference can be hundreds of dollars. And do you need all the fancy tricks, bells and whistles anyway?

Buying a refurbished iPhone from Apple is a great move. Apple takes great care and pride in it’s used products.  For example, your used iPhone will have a new battery, the outer case will look and feel brand new and probably is. It will come in a brand new box with all the needed accessories. All that and a one year warranty. Try that on Craigslist!

If possible always buy directly from the manufacturer or certified re-seller. These companies are highly motivated to sell problem free used products.

So where do you buy factory refurbished smartphones? Try Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Samsung, or Walmart.   Also check eBay and Blinq.com.

If you buy a used phone from another source make sure you follow these tips.

  • Check the device throughly for damage and functionality. Make sure it works as it should. Sort of take it for a test drive.
  • Check for tell tale signs of it being stolen like being unable to unlock it or not having accessories like the charging cord.
  • Check for contacts, messages and photos on board. This may indicate the phone was lost or stolen.
  • Apple iPhone comes with several apps that can only be deleted through jail breaking. These apps are camera, photos, music, clock, settings, messages, phone, mail, Safari, App Store, weather, reminders, calculator, calendar, iTunes, Newsstand, videos, Compass, Game Center, contacts, stocks, voice memos, Notes, Passbook and Maps. If any of these are missing don’t buy!
  • Search the iPhone for “Cydia.” This application is present on almost all jailbroken iPhones as it gives access to Cydia apps.
  • Connect your iPhone to your computer and use the iTunes “Restore” function. Once the restore process is complete, you can be certain your phone is not jailbroken.
  • Never buy a phone that is not fully charged.
  • Finally the U.S .wireless industry trade group, CTIA, has launched a tool called the Stolen Phone Checker, which lets you look up whether a phone has been reported lost or stolen. You simply go to the website and enter the IMEI, MEID or ESN number. Keep in mind that these companies keep a database of stolen phones and will not allow the phone to connect to any service if it is reported stolen.
If you want to buy an unlocked phone capable of being used on any service then you may want to check into Amazon. The ‘sell you anything’ company is expanding its unlocked phone marketplace.  Unlocked phones are a growing market because people want to save money and have the flexibility to go with any service they desire. And let’s not forget that many carriers are no longer offering the subsidies and free phones with a contract like they used to.
 
 Now you know.
 
 

 

 

Online Holiday Shopping 2016 – Fake Apps & Online Stores

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Courtesy Stuart Miles

Holiday shopping for the best deal is a chore. Like most smart shoppers you use whatever tools you can find to get that great deal. But avoiding holiday scams is a real job and you have to be alert. Fake shopping apps and online stores are making your job a lot more difficult.

The holidays offer cyber criminal a great opportunity to fool customers into downloading malware . Once this malware is on board your computer, laptop or smartphone it can easily steal your personal and banking information. Criminals can and do create perfect replicas of popular brands and websites that draw unsuspecting customers to their site or mobile app.

A recent FBI press release warns consumers about fake app scams. These scams are often disguised as games. But don’t be fooled by fake apps that mimic well-known brands like Nordstrom’s and Nordstrom’s Rack, Dollar Tree, Dillard’s  and other popular stores and websites. Smartphone users can be fooled into downloading the app and then connecting it to their Facebook account or email. Like most things connected to Facebook the victim willingly  gives away personal information. These apps can also infect your phone or tablet with malware.

Just because you downloaded an app from the Apple App store or Google Play do not assume that you are safe. Recently Apple found and removed hundreds of fake shopping apps from its app store.

Chris Mason, co-founder of Branding Brand warns consumers to look for red flags before downloading shopping apps.  Warning sign of a fake app include typos and run-on sentences in app descriptions. Mason says to look beyond a brand’s logo when you download an app from Google Play or the Apple Store. Don’t download the first one you see. Check customer reviews for poor or one-star reviews or numerous user complaints about excessive advertising. All these could be a red flag that the app is fake.

There are also FBI warnings about fake deals from unfamiliar sites. The holidays are prime season for fake pop-up websites. And these sites are not so easy to spot. Cyber criminals are extremely clever at making these stores look legit. According to Inc.com these fake sites price most products competitively, but you can also find ridiculous deals designed to entice shoppers. Regular priced items mixed with the unbelievable deals make them look like a real store. But remember two things; “If it looks to good to be true it probably is,” and just because a store shows up in Google search doesn’t mean it’s legit.

 

Cellphones and Streaming Media Capture Police Shooting of Black Men

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Philando Castile

Philando Castile was shot and killed by police. It took only minutes for the images of the aftermath of the shooting to be come real world news thanks to Facebook’s live streaming function.  Welcome to the age of new, instant, media.

Diamond Reynolds captured the horrifying aftermath of the shooting using her cellphone as her boyfriend lie dying next to her. According to Reynolds Castile warned the officer he was in possession of a licensed firearm. “He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm,” cried Reynolds in the video.

 

 

Phlando death

Philando Castile lay dying after being shot by police.

In the video Castile can clearly be seen struggling to breath and bleeding profusely while the police officer continued to hold the gun on him.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana Alton Sterling another black man was shot and killed by police during a struggle. This too was recorded by smartphone camera.

 

 

According to witnesses Sterling was known as the “CD Man” and regularly sold CD’s and DVD’s outside the convenience store where he was shot. The store owner had given Sterling permission to do so.

 

 

Alton Sterling

Alton Sterling

In this incident there are actually two cellphone videos (Video 1, Video 2) that recorded the shooting while Sterling was on the ground wrestling with two police officers. In the video police officers are wrestling with Sterling when one yells “gun!” The second officer then removes his gun from its holster and eventually shoots Sterling several times. After the shooting the police can be seen removing the gun from Sterling’s pocket.

Never before in the history of broadcasting has such an events been seen so instantly.

 

 

 

 

Breaking It Down

Once during an interview I heard the rapper Tupac predict, rather matter-of -factly, that we will watch him live and die live on your television. Andy Warhol said “In the future we will all be famous for fifteen minutes.” In the age of technology and instant communications it seems to have all come true. And this changes everything.

We are witnessing the reality of being able to tell our story to the world from a tiny handheld device that no one could have dreamed of just twenty years ago. Technology has ripped away any possibility that a person could be misunderstood or doubted when they tell their story be it good or bad. We as a society are left now to only interpret what we have seen or heard. And this changes everything.

We no longer have the luxury of exchanging stories. “Your word against mine,” is a thing of the past. Black people have long complained of police brutality. What we are witnessing is not new just recorded and the story is being told .You are left to interpret the facts not the” he said she said” aftermath. And this changes everything.

We can thank technology for this moment. These shootings have ignited searing anger in society. We are seeing our lives and the lives of others recorded and streamed to anyone and all who want to see, hear and know. And this changes everything.

The killing of black men by the police is no longer a question of how of or if it happened a certain way. You can see for yourself what happened sometimes while it s happening. And this changes everything.

We are in a new era where the investigation into police actions, violence, use of force, and death are no longer focused on what happened. We saw what happened. No we must investigate why it happened. Why was another black man killed by the police? That is the question we must ask and answer. And that changes everything.

See also: App of the Week-Driving While Black

 

 

 

Tax Season 2016 – Tax Prep Apps of the Week

The Internet rapidly automated so many things including filing your taxes.  Because of technology and software advances as many as 80 percent of Americans can and do prepare their own taxes using various software and web services.  

Many African-Americans access the web using smartphones. Because of this we need to examine some very good apps that can help you if decide to do your own taxes using your smartphone. These apps are designed to allow you to record and prepare financial records and even file taxes directly from your smartphone. These are the Apps of the Week.

 

IRS2GoIRS2Go – This is the official app of the Internal Revenue Service. Although you cannot actually file your taxes using this app you can check the status of your tax refund, make tax payments, and get updates from the IRS. IRS2Go also offers important numbers and times to call and ask questions. You can also sign up for tax hints through the app. For those of you who filed e-taxes you can check on their status with the app within 72 hours.

IRS2Go is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

myblock-mobile-app-dMy BlockUnlike IRS2Go the H&R My Block app is a bit more rich in features. My Block, one of two apps offered by the tax prep giant, allows the user to check their refund status. My Block also offers a robust help section that defines terms and answer basic tax questions. It also offers a checklist that helps the user create a tax filing to-do list along with tools that allow you to estimate the size of your refund. If you have additional questions My Block allows you to set up an appointment at a local H&R Block office.  You can also use My Block to upload documents so your tax pro will have them available during your appointment.

My Block is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Prtaxprep-mobile-app-deparation – H&R Block’s Tax Preparation is different from its sister app because it actually allows the user to prepare and file tax returns.  Tax Preparation does a neat trick by collecting and importing information directly from a photo of your W-2. The user can select from various versions from free, basic, deluxe to premium editions. The app shows the user what causes their refund to fluctuate, offers cross-platform syncing and status updates on your return. The app also offers advice and free, in-person audit support. 

Tax Preparation is free ad available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 

expensify-logoExpensify – Expensify wasn’t exactly made for preparing taxes. But if you own a business or are self-employed this app can help you get the most from your deductions. Using the app allows the self employed business person or any business owner to capture receipts, track billing hours and travel miles. Expensify allows the user to record any expenses or operating costs. It also automatically imports credit card transactions and scan receipts for expense reports that can later be converted to IRS-approved e-Receipts minimizing paper usage and hopefully any tax-related discrepancies.

Expensify is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

Ask a cpaAsk A CPA – Ask A CPA is an app with a host of basic tips encompassing the latest changes in tax law. These tips cover a variety of different categories, from alimony and dividends to adoption expenses and charitable deductions. Ask A CPA also gives the user the opportunity to ask specific questions it hasn’t already covered within the app’s archives. However there have been complaints about the text space available for questions. The coolest feature is that local CPAs in your area answer these questions. Ask A CPA is a powerful resource for owners of small businesses who need answers to common tax questions but also for individual taxpayers.

Ask A CPA is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

Turbo taxTurboTax Preparation – TurboTax Preparation works very similar to its online counterpart. The app offers a wealth of tax-related information and tools for preparing and e-filing your taxes. Like H&R Block’s Tax Preparation  app the TurboTax app can also pull information from a photo of your W-2. It provides step-by-step instructions while seeking out as many as 350 tax deductions and credits intended to maximize your refund.  The app double checks your return and the information you provided as you go.  Once loaded on your different devices the app syncs so you can switch between your iPhone, iPad or computer. 
 

Turbo Tax Preparation is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax ActExTaxACT Express –  TaxAct Express is another full service app for filing taxes. It can help with most common tax situations and, like other apps, automatically imports information from a photo of your W-2. The app will track the status of your IRS refund and notify you when it’s been processed. The app also offer free e-filing of state and federal taxes for free. 

Tax ACT Express is free and available for Apple and Android

 

 

 

 

BNABNA Quick Tax Reference – BNA Quick Tax Reference provides some valuable reference material but is not exactly easy to use but then again it is meant for the more financially savvy user.  The user can find tables showing mileage rates, corporate tax rate schedules, individual tax rate schedules, standard deductions, retirement plan limits, and more. If you looking to file back taxes the tables can take you back to 2012. 

BNA Quick Tax Reference is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

turbotax-taxcasterTaxCaster – This app is also offered by Intuit makers of the TurboTax products.  TaxCaster is designed for filers with relatively simple taxes and a single job, much like the 1040EZ and 1040A tax forms and you don’t have to sign up to use it. The user simply enter their wages, marital status, earnings, and deductions.  TaxCaster can quickly give you a good idea of what kind of refund you might receive. This fairly simple app won’t  prepare your taxes, but it can give you a good idea what to expect when you do.

TaxCaster is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

Technology’s Dirty Secrets Series- Mining Coltan

Congolese miners dig at a gold mine in Montgbawalu, Ituri district, eastern Congo, September 8, 2005. The Democratic Republic of Congo's government will renegotiate the existing gold exploration venture it has with AngloGold Ashanti, the world's number two gold producer, the head of Congo's state mining agency OKIMO said on Thursday. Picture taken September 8, 2005. REUTERS/Jiro Ose

Young miners digging coltan

Technology makes for a convenient life. Easy communications. Easy shopping. Easy at home and easy at work. We depend on technology for our new electric and hybrid cars, more efficient appliances and dependable access to information. Technology makes life easy…for most people.

The world we live in has hidden corners where others suffer for our easy life. They are exploited, poisoned then buried under mountains of technology trash. These people are resigned to accept it as the way life is. This is the dirt and blood that coats the billions of dollars made manufacturing, selling and disposing of technology. In this series the African-American Cyber Report will expose the dirty secrets of the technology industry starting with the mining of the raw materials.

Modern technology manufacturing begins with the extraction of certain raw materials from the earth. Cellphones and computers have inside them rare and hard to come by minerals and metals. These are often mined in African countries by people working in conditions and for wages that are simply inhuman.

The mineral coltan is found almost exclusively in Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Refining coltan creates a metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. This electrical charge is crucial to the tiny circuit boards that power our iPhones, laptop computers, tablets and many other high-tech devices. The men who mine this rare and vital mineral dig using simple picks and shovels and sometimes their bare hands sometimes for 12 hours a day.  Workers often carry the heavy sacks of raw coltan out of the mine on their backs. Working conditions are abysmal and dangerous and there is no safety equipment or procedures.

Even though this mineral is vitally important to the technology industry wages are shockingly low for this crippling labor.  We may pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for our electronics.  Yet these miners toil under the hot sun daily earning just $5 a day for a 12-hour day. The minimum wage is $3 a day. Living in the horrific poverty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo these men have no choice but to endure these grueling and dangerous conditions. But it is not always men suffering in these conditions. Children as young as ten are employed in the mines and deaths are a regular occurrence.

Not only are people suffering for our technology products but the land is suffering as well. Mountains are often ripped apart to mine coltan leaving the land scarred and polluted. Rivers are often filled with silt from mine runoff  that sometimes contains mercury, cyanide and other dangerous chemicals. Large tracts of forests are wiped out in search of the minerals destroying wildlife habitats.

To compound the dangers and back breaking labor is the fact that these mines are often the prize among warring groups. The wealth created by the mines have fueled repeated wars not only among rebels and warlords but also with the government of the Congo for more than 20 years.

The National Congress for Defense of People or CNDP militia have used revenue from the sale of coltan to buy weapons and ammunition in their armed struggle against the army of the DRC. Thousands of innocent miners and civilians have been killed or driven from their homes as a result of these wars. As with all wars atrocities are frequent including rape, mutilations and the use of child soldiers.

A searing 2001 United Nations Report on the ‘Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources’, laid blame squarely on the sale of coltan and other precious minerals to multi-national corporations as the “engine of conflict in the DRC.”

Apple, Samsung and other electronics manufacturers admit they use coltan from these mines to make the smartphones we depend on everyday.  Without shame, these companies say they will will continue to do so.

In 2015 Apple reported to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission “that it is committed to driving economic development and creating opportunities to source conflict-free minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries.”’

The company went on to say that its suppliers must adhere to its code that; “every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

In a statement Samsung said it “recognizes the seriousness of human rights violations and environmental pollution problems of mineral mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The U.S. Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act has led to a crack down in the use of so-called “conflict minerals.” The law requires western corporations to certify the origins of suspicious resources used in technology manufacturing such as coltan thus shutting off the cash financing warlords.

Apple, aware of the hardships suffered by those mining the mineral,  says it is dedicated to using only conflict free minerals in their products.

An Apple spokeswoman added: “The simplest path to calling Apple products conflict-free would be to redirect our demand through a small subset of smelters that are either conflict-free verified, or aren’t sourcing from Central Africa. But this approach would do little to influence the situation on the ground, something we care deeply about. That’s why we have been working to expand the number of verified sources in this region, so that more people can earn a good living, in better conditions.”

Samsung Electronics also supports the ban on conflict minerals saying,; “As a global manufacturer of consumer electronics, we understand the moral and ethical responsibility we have to our consumers and broader society. We remain committed to proactively participating in conversations and actions around the world to ban the use of conflict minerals and ensure responsibly source, conflict-free products.”

Now you know.

 

 

 

 

Cellphone Plans; Which One is the Right One?


cinchIts the holiday season and someone is going to get a new cellphone. Most people already have a cellphone. Make that 96 percent of the U.S. population has a cellphone. African-Americans are more likely to have a smartphone than a computer. Among all Americans we do more business and shopping using mobile devices than all other groups.  You have no doubt seen all the commercials from all the cellphone companies with all the incredible promises of great services, plentiful data and great prices. The ads can be confusing. The question black people want answered is; which cellphone plan is right for you?

Cinch is a new online tool that allows you to answer a set of questions that guides you to the right phone plan. The phone plan search is the latest product from Cinch Financial, a company that helps consumers you find the right banks, credit cards and other financial products that best meets their needs.

The cellphone market is a vicious place that has cellphone companies at each other throats for customers. Why? Because everyone has a cell phone and few new customer can be found. So companies have to steal customers from each other. Not only are the big companies fighting for customers but they have to compete with smaller cell service providers that are nibbling away at specialized market segments. For example, Defense Mobile is specializing in serving current and former military members.  Consumer Cellular has targeted the market of older people with cell phones and has the backing of the AARP.

Cinch’s new tool assesses your needs and then suggests a cellphone plan from the many major and smaller carrier services competing for your business. According to Cinch the tool is designed to consider all the cell phone plans on the market including the fine print. Then, after you answer the questions, it customizes recommendations based on your specific situation. For people who do not wish to answer the questions they can send their bill to Cinch using the ‘BillSnap‘ feature of the website and they will do the comparison for you. Cinch clams to be totally unbiased and companies cannot pay to have their plan featured.

Cinch claims the tool uses the data collected from the various plans. The company said people tend to buy plans with too much data.  Cinch believes the easiest way to save money on phone plans is to reduce the monthly data customers pay for.

Now you know.

See also:

Big Four Wireless Carriers Get Poor Scores in Consumer Reports Rankings

T-Mobile is now America’s best wireless carrier (of the big four, at least)

What to Expect When You Switch Cell Carriers