March 25, 2021

Snippet: Area-Codeless Local Calls Will Largely Go Away in October—But For a Good Reason ☍

Mitchell Clark for The Verge:

In many places, you can call up a neighbor or local pizza parlor just by dialing seven numbers, as long as you have the same area code — but that ability will soon be going away, in order to make the National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Lifeline easier to reach. If you live in one of the areas where the change is taking place, you’ll soon have to dial 10 numbers whether you’re making a local call or not.

Each cellular carrier has a support page explaining the change (we’ll link to all of them below, and a list of the area codes will be included at the end of the post), but the basic gist is that, starting October 24, 2021, anyone trying to call a local number using only seven digits will be met with a recording telling them to hang up and try again with the full area code. The change will apply to landlines, cell phones, and VoIP systems.

While most people would argue that we don’t really even think about phone numbers if they’re stored on smartphone contact lists or found via a favorite mapping app, there’s still plenty of office jobs that dial numbers by hand. Either way, phone numbers have ten digits, have for a long time, and anyone still thinking in terms of seven digits needs to get with the times.

There will probably be a handful of people grumpy about this, but it’s for a good reason and also means that phone numbers that use the 988 prefix (i.e. (###) 988-####) won’t need to be changed or reassigned. In many other places, ten-digit dialing has become the norm due to new area codes overlaid on top of existing ones (or having a phone number from an area code that’s different where you live).

Snippet: Amazon Denies Stories of Workers Peeing in Bottles, Receives a Flood of Evidence in Return ☍

James Vincent for The Verge:

Amazon is trying a new tactic in its endless PR battle against stories of its exhausting and exploitative working conditions: outright denial. It’s not working.

When replying to a tweet from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) complaining about the company’s union-busting tactics and the fact that some of its workers are forced to “urinate in water bottles,” Amazon’s official Twitter account responded: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

But people do believe these stories and for a very simple reason: there are numerous accounts of it happening, documented by employees and journalists around the world.

Snippet: T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T Stop SMS Hijacks After Motherboard Investigation ☍

Joseph Cox for Vice/Motherboard:

All of the major carriers made a significant change to how SMS messages are routed to prevent hackers being able to easily reroute a target’s texts, according to an announcement from Aerialink, a communications company that helps route text messages. The move comes after a Motherboard investigation in which a hacker, with minimal effort, paid $16 to reroute our text messages and then used that ability to break into a number of online accounts, including Postmates, WhatsApp, and Bumble, exposing a gaping hole in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

I didn’t get a chance to post Cox’s initial report, but basically for $16, someone could easily get access to intercept any SMSes inbound for your number. Unlike port-out and SIM swap hacks, you’d still have working service on your phone. I think it’s a good thing that this was addressed so quickly (less than two weeks), but highlights the fragility of some of these behind-the-scenes systems that so much of our lives are tied to.

March 3, 2021

Snippet: Apple Confirms It Does Not Hold Your Apple ID Hostage Due to Missed Apple Card Payment ☍

Benjamin Mayo for 9to5Mac:

Yesterday, we covered a story regarding Dustin Curtis’s experience with his Apple ID getting disabled when a payment to his Apple Card failed. Apple has today shared a statement with 9to5Mac clarifying the situation. The company says that Apple Card and Apple ID are not linked in the way that the blog post alleged, and the company does not disable Apple ID services because of missed Apple Card payments.

The situation arose because the trade-in process was left unresolved, and Apple was following its standard procedures in matters of money owed; this is not anything specific to the Apple Card. When an account is marked as in bad standing, use of Apple ID services is restricted; things like Apple Music or App Store purchases. iCloud is wholly separate and is not disabled at all…

Something didn’t feel right about the original story, especially for anyone who knows how credit cards work and how the parties involved (Apple, Goldman Sachs) play different roles in the whole situation. That nonetheless led to a lot of piling on with “big tech is bad” rhetoric without all the facts. I wanted to wait and see once the dust settled, and a few specific things were confirmed. Apple certainly could’ve had a better resolution and explanation process, but I doubt we’ll see much follow-up from anyone immediately critical of the issue.

I wonder if the card in question was issued by Chase, American Express, or a small local credit union and the same issue happened (which it sounds like it would’ve) if it would’ve been covered as widely or viewed as a “look, we finally got them!” story. The point is, if you’re doing a trade-in process with anyone, watch the process like a hawk and make sure things are returned in a timely manner. If you’ve got things set up with autopay, that’s not an excuse to completely ignore things and assume it’ll be fine either.

Snippet: What Did It Cost? Everything ☍

Karl Bode for The Verge:

Last week, AT&T announced it would be spinning off its TV business — including DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse — in a deal it claimed would greatly benefit the company’s customers, employees, and shareholders. The deal provides AT&T with a $7.8 billion cash infusion to pay down debt and recent wireless spectrum purchases, and a 70 percent stake in the “new” DirecTV. But it also values the entire operation at around $16.25 billion, a massive loss from the $67 billion AT&T paid just a few years earlier for just DirecTV alone. […]

The end result of AT&T’s ambition wasn’t entirely fruitless: HBO Max, the latest in a long line of attempted streaming TV brand refreshes, could still challenge other rising streaming services like Disney Plus or Comcast’s Peacock. But however successful HBO Max winds up being, it’s a product that shouldn’t have cost $200 billion and 55,000 jobs to create.

After last week’s news, I was thinking about some of the things AT&T has had happen in the past 20ish years, and it seems it’s a cycle of bad decisions mixed with debt and little innovation. While the current company is mostly the former SBC under the surface (SBC bought and took the AT&T name in 2005), the idea of loading up the debt and not properly reading trends is nothing new. They overpaid for DirecTV when it was already headed towards a decline, squandered DirecTV Now with price hikes and bugginess years later, and even made mistakes in wireless. Trying to buy T-Mobile in 2011 failed and they had to pay a breakup fee, which arguably gave T-Mobile a kickstart to overtake Sprint, then buy Sprint, and now overtake AT&T in customers.

While ancient history, the pre-SBC AT&T wasn’t much better. After buying a few regional cable systems, they were the largest cable provider in the United States. Panicking to pay down debt, the entire operation of “AT&T Broadband” was spun off and later sold to a much-smaller Comcast, which helped create the Comcast we know today. Another spun-off division, AT&T Wireless, was known to have poor service in many areas and the newly-mandated number portability was the final nail in its coffin. The division was sold to rival Cingular Wireless and mostly dismantled. The AT&T name was brought back to replace Cingular a few years later due to both of Cingular’s owners merging.

I often think about what would have happened if something went differently. T-Mobile and Comcast would not have become as large as they are, Cingular and Sprint would still exist, and NBCUniversal and Time Warner would have different owners.

HBO Max being successful is a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder if it was worth it.