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September 2017
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Beyond the Great [App] Wall of China: AppsFlyer's Guide to Understanding China's 724 Million Mobile Users

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The Chinese mobile market is like no other. The numbers are staggering: 724 million mobile users, 469 million users making payments with their phones, $1.7 billion quarterly revenue in the Chinese iOS App Store - more than any other country in the world. The list goes on. When you combine the scale and the quality [...]

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posted at: 12:00am on 02-Sep-2017
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Stupid Patent Of The Month: JP Morgan Patents Interapp Permissions

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We have often criticized the Patent Office for issuing broad software patents that cover obvious processes. Instead of promoting innovation in software, the patent system places landmines for developers who wish to use basic and fundamental tools. This month's stupid patent, which covers user permissions for mobile applications, is a classic example. On August 29, 2017, the Patent Office issued U.S. Patent No. 9,747,468 (the '468 patent) to JP Morgan Chase Bank, titled "System and Method for Communication Among Mobile Applications." The patent covers the simple idea of a user giving a mobile application permission to communicate with another application. This idea was obvious when JP Morgan applied for the patent in June 2013. Even worse, it had already been implemented by numerous mobile applications. The Patent Office handed out a broad software monopoly while ignoring both common sense and the real world.The full text of Claim 1 of the '468 patent is as follows:

A method for a first mobile application and a second mobile application on a mobile device to share information, comprising:the first mobile application executed by a computer processor on a mobile device determining that the second mobile application is present on the mobile device;receiving, from a user, permission for the first mobile application to access data from the second mobile application;the first mobile application executed by the computer processor requesting data from the second mobile application; andthe first mobile application receiving the requested data from the second mobile application.
That's it. The claim simply covers having an app check to see if another app is on the phone, getting the user's permission to access data from the second app, then accessing that data. 
The '468 patent goes out of its way to make clear that this supposed invention can be practiced on any kind of mobile device. The specification helpfully explains that "the invention or portions of the system of the invention may be in the form of a 'processing machine,' such as a general purpose computer, for example." The patent also emphasizes that the invention can be practiced on any kind of mobile operating system and using applications written in any programming language. How was such a broad and obvious idea allowed to be patented? As we have explained many times before, the Patent Office seems to operate in an alternate universe where the only evidence of the state of the art in software is found in patents. Indeed, the examiner considered only patents and patent applications when reviewing JP Morgan's application. It's no wonder the office gets it so wrong.What would the examiner have found if he had looked beyond patents? It's true that in mid-2013, when the application was originally filed, mobile systems generally asked for permissions up front when installing applications rather than interposing more fine-grained requests. But having more specific requests was a straightforward security and user-interface decision, not an invention. Structures for inter-app communication and permissions had been discussed for years (such as here, here, and here). No person working in application development in 2013 would have looked at Claim 1 of the '468 patent and think it was non-obvious to a person of ordinary skill.JP Morgan's "invention" was not just obvious, it had been implemented in practice. At least some mobile applications already followed the basic system claimed by the '468 patent. In early 2012, after Apple was criticized for allowing apps to access contact data on the iPhone, some apps began requesting user permission before accessing that data. Similarly, Twitter asked for user permission as early as 2011, including on "feature phones", before allowing other apps access to its data. Since it didn't consider any real world software, the Patent Office missed these examples.
The Patent Office does a terrible job reviewing software patent applications. Meanwhile, some in the patent lobby are pushing to make it even easier to get broad and abstract software patents. We need real reform that reduces the flood of bad software patents that fuels patent trolling.Reposted from EFF's Stupid Patent of the Month series.

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Officers With Personal Body Cams Taking The 'Public' Out Of 'Public Accountability'

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America's largest sheriff's department is rolling towards an accountability train wreck. Despite years of discussing the issue, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department still has no cohesive policy on body cameras, nor has it taken steps to outfit its officers with the devices.This less-than-ideal situation is being made worse by deputies purchasing their own body cameras with personal funds.

An estimated 20 percent of Los Angeles County's 10,000 deputies have bought cameras for themselves, according to the county's inspector general. Sheriff Jim McDonnell concedes some deputies have their own cameras but disputes that as many as 2,000 wear them on duty.Whatever the number, not a single frame of any video from these cameras has ever made it into the public domain.
And therein lies the problem. Body cameras owned by law enforcement officers serve zero public purpose. Any recordings remain the personal property of the officers, who can delete and edit footage as they see fit. The only footage likely to make its way into the hands of the sheriff's department are recordings clearing officers of wrongdoing.While it may be possible to subpoena this footage for civil suits and criminal prosecutions, there's no guarantee the footage will arrive unaltered, or even arrive at all. Personal body cams are unlikely to be bundled with unlimited storage. Footage will be overwritten often (depending on how heavily the camera is used while on duty) and remains in the control of officers, rather than the department and its oversight.As is pointed out in the AP article, the use of privately-owned body cameras contradicts DOJ guidance on the matter. A 2014 DOJ report noted private cameras on public employees is an all-around bad idea.
"Because the agency would not own the recorded data, there would be little or no protection against the officer tampering with the videos or releasing them to the public or online," the report said. "Agencies should not permit personnel to use privately owned body-worn cameras while on duty."
The LA sheriff's department makes this worse by allowing the practice to continue without official policies on body camera use. Even the barest minimum of discipline for deleting footage is impossible, as the department is powerless to take action against deputies who vanish away footage containing alleged misconduct.The head of the local law enforcement union pretty much says the only people benefiting from personal body cameras are the officers that own them.
"It's really a personal preference," [union president Ron] Hernandez said. "The guys we have spoken to have said they thought it would be beneficial for them. They see the value in covering themselves."
Sorry, but that's not what body cameras are for. They may provide evidence clearing officers of misconduct, but body cameras aren't there to create law enforcement highlight reels. While it's great some officers may find the cameras useful for clearing themselves of charges, they are public employees, not private entities engaging in personal enforcement of laws. The footage should be as public as their positions. But this will never happen if their employer is unwilling to craft a solid body cam policy that addresses private ownership of cameras.As it stands now, the department is allowing its existing policies on evidence handling to act as a stand-in for its non-existent body camera policy. According to these rules, all evidence must be held for two years and turned over on request to the sheriff's department. Supposedly, this will encompass privately-held body camera footage. But it would be much better for body cam evidence to be stored on site where it's immediately accessible and less prone to tampering.Body cameras are already problematic. They have the potential to be great tools of accountability, but this has been continually stunted by legislators and law enforcement agencies, many of which have done all they can to keep this footage out of the public's hands. In this case, the LASD's lack of forward momentum on the camera front has turned a portion of its workforce into sole proprietors with badges, guns, and a collection of home movies starring residents of L.A. County.

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