WhatsApp Has Shared Your Data With Facebook for Years, Actually
“I don’t trust any product made by Facebook,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “Their business model is surveillance. Never forget that.”
A pop-up notification has alerted the messaging app’s users to a practice that’s been in place since 2016.
Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, users have wondered and worried about how much data would flow between the two platforms. Many of them experienced a rude awakening this week, as a new in-app notification raises awareness about a step WhatsApp actually took to share more with Facebook back in 2016.
„I don’t trust any product made by Facebook.“
Evan Greer, Fight for the Future
None of this has at any point impacted WhatsApp’s marquee feature: end-to-end encryption. Messages, photos, and other content you send and receive on WhatsApp can only be viewed on your smartphone and the devices of the people you choose to message with. WhatsApp and Facebook itself can’t access your communications. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to expanding end-to-end encryption offerings as part of tying the company’s different communication platforms together. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a trove of other data WhatsApp can collect and share about how you use the app. The company says it collects user information „to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services.”
In practice, this means that WhatsApp shares a lot of intel with Facebook, including account information like your phone number, logs of how long and how often you use WhatsApp, information about how you interact with other users, device identifiers, and other device details like IP address, operating system, browser details, battery health information, app version, mobile network, language and time zone. Transaction and payment data, cookies, and location information are also all fair game to share with Facebook depending on the permissions you grant WhatsApp in the first place.
“WhatsApp is great for protecting the privacy of your message content,” says Johns Hopkins University cryptographer Matthew Green. “But it feels like the privacy of everything else you do is up for grabs.“Get WIRED for $5. SubscribeAdvertisement
Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014 and noted at the time that it and the company’s chat platform Messenger would operate as “standalone” products. The slow shift toward integration has been controversial internally, and may have contributed to the departure in late 2017 and 2018, respectively, of WhatsApp cofounders Brian Acton and Jan Koum. A few months after leaving, Acton cofounded the nonprofit Signal Foundation. The organization maintains and develops the open source Signal Protocol, which WhatsApp and the secure messaging app Signal, among others, use to implement end-to-end encryption.
“Today privacy is becoming a much more mainstream discussion,” Acton said at the WIRED25 conference in 2019. „People are asking questions about privacy, and they want security and privacy built into the terms of service.”
“I don’t trust any product made by Facebook,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “Their business model is surveillance. Never forget that.”
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Signal Is Finally Bringing Its Secure Messaging to the Masses
The encryption app is putting a $50 million infusion from WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton to good use, building out features to help it go mainstream.
Last month, the cryptographer and coder known as Moxie Marlinspike was getting settled on an airplane when his seatmate, a Midwestern-looking man in his sixties, asked for help. He couldn’t figure out how to enable airplane mode on his aging Android phone. But when Marlinspike saw the screen, he wondered for a moment if he was being trolled: Among just a handful of apps installed on the phone was Signal.
Marlinspike launched Signal, widely considered the world’s most secure end-to-end encrypted messaging app, nearly five years ago, and today heads the nonprofit Signal Foundation that maintains it. But the man on the plane didn’t know any of that. He was not, in fact, trolling Marlinspike, who politely showed him how to enable airplane mode and handed the phone back.
„I try to remember moments like that in building Signal,“ Marlinspike told WIRED in an interview over a Signal-enabled phone call the day after that flight. „The choices we’re making, the app we’re trying to create, it needs to be for people who don’t know how to enable airplane mode on their phone,“ Marlinspike says.
Marlinspike has always talked about making encrypted communications easy enough for anyone to use. The difference, today, is that Signal is finally reaching that mass audience it was always been intended for—not just the privacy diehards, activists, and cybersecurity nerds that formed its core user base for years—thanks in part to a concerted effort to make the app more accessible and appealing to the mainstream.
Since then, Marlinspike’s nonprofit has put Acton’s millions—and his experience building an app with billions of users—to work. After years of scraping by with just three overworked full-time staffers, the Signal Foundation now has 20 employees. For years a bare-bones texting and calling app, Signal has increasingly become a fully featured, mainstream communications platform. With its new coding muscle, it has rolled out features at a breakneck speed: In just the last three months, Signal has added support for iPad, ephemeral images and video designed to disappear after a single viewing, downloadable customizable „stickers,“ and emoji reactions. More significantly, it announced plans to roll out a new system for group messaging, and an experimental method for storing encrypted contacts in the cloud.
„The major transition Signal has undergone is from a three-person small effort to something that is now a serious project with the capacity to do what is required to build software in the world today,“ Marlinspike says.
Many of those features might sound trivial. They certainly aren’t the sort that appealed to Signal’s earliest core users. Instead, they’re what Acton calls „enrichment features.“ They’re designed to attract normal people who want a messaging app as multifunctional as WhatsApp, iMessage, or Facebook Messenger but still value Signal’s widely trusted security and the fact that it collects virtually no user data. „This is not just for hyperparanoid security researchers, but for the masses,“ says Acton. „This is something for everyone in the world.“
Even before those crowdpleaser features, Signal was growing at a rate most startups would envy. When WIRED profiled Marlinspike in 2016, he would confirm only that Signal had at least two million users. Today, he remains tightlipped about Signal’s total user base, but it’s had more than 10 million downloads on Android alone according to the Google Play Store’s count. Acton adds that another 40 percent of the app’s users are on iOS.
Identifying the features mass audiences want isn’t so hard. But building even simple-sounding enhancements within Signal’s privacy constraints—including a lack of metadata that even WhatsApp doesn’t promise–can require significant feats of security engineering, and in some cases actual new research in cryptography.
Take stickers, one of the simpler recent Signal upgrades. On a less secure platform, that sort of integration is fairly straightforward. For Signal, it required designing a system where every sticker „pack“ is encrypted with a „pack key.“ That key is itself encrypted and shared from one user to another when someone wants to install new stickers on their phone, so that Signal’s server can never see decrypted stickers or even identify the Signal user who created or sent them.
Signal’s new group messaging, which will allow administrators to add and remove people from groups without a Signal server ever being aware of that group’s members, required going further still. Signal partnered with Microsoft Research to invent a novel form of „anonymous credentials“ that let a server gatekeep who belongs in a group, but without ever learning the members‘ identities. „It required coming up with some innovations in the world of cryptography,“ Marlinspike says. „And in the end, it’s just invisible. It’s just groups, and it works like we expect groups to work.“
Signal is rethinking how it keeps track of its users‘ social graphs, too. Another new feature it’s testing, called „secure value recovery,“ would let you create an address book of your Signal contacts and store them on a Signal server, rather than simply depend on the contact list from your phone. That server-stored contact list would be preserved even when you switch to a new phone. To prevent Signal’s servers from seeing those contacts, it would encrypt them with a key stored in the SGX secure enclave that’s meant to hide certain data even from the rest of the server’s operating system.
That feature might someday even allow Signal to ditch its current system of identifying users based on their phone numbers—a feature that many privacy advocates have criticized, since it forces anyone who wants to be contacted via Signal to hand out a cell phone number, often to strangers. Instead, it could store persistent identities for users securely on its servers. „I’ll just say, this is something we’re thinking about,“ says Marlinspike. Secure value recovery, he says, „would be the first step in resolving that.“
With new features comes additional complexity, which may add more chances for security vulnerabilities to slip into Signal’s engineering, warns Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University. Depending on Intel’s SGX feature, for instance, could let hackers steal secrets the next time security researchers expose a vulnerability in Intel hardware. For that reason, he says that some of Signal’s new features should ideally come with an opt-out switch. „I hope this isn’t all or nothing, that Moxie gives me the option to not use this,“ Green says.
„Signal is thinking hard about how to give people the functionality they want without compromising privacy too much, and that’s really important,“ Green adds. „If you see Signal as important for secure communication in the future—and possibly you don’t see Facebook or WhatsApp as being reliable—then you definitely need Signal to be usable by a larger group of people. That means having these features.“
Brian Acton doesn’t hide his ambition that Signal could, in fact, grow into a WhatsApp-sized service. After all, Acton not only founded WhatsApp and helped it grow to billions of users, but before that joined Yahoo in its early, explosive growth days of the mid-1990s. He thinks he can do it again. „I’d like for Signal to reach billions of users. I know what it takes to do that. I did that,“ says Acton. „I’d love to have it happen in the next five years or less.“
That wild ambition, to get Signal installed onto a significant fraction of all the phones on the planet, represents a shift—if not for Acton, then for Marlinspike. Just three years ago, Signal’s creator mused in an interview with WIRED that he hoped Signal could someday „fade away,“ ideally after its encryption had been widely implemented in other billion-user networks like WhatsApp. Now, it seems, Signal hopes to not merely influence tech’s behemoths, but to become one.
But Marlinspike argues that Signal’s fundamental aims haven’t changed, only its strategy—and its resources. „This has always been the goal: to create something that people can use for everything,“ Marlinspike says. „I said we wanted to make private communication simple, and end-to-end encryption ubiquitous, and push the envelope of privacy-preserving technology. This is what I meant.“
WASHINGTON — Federal officials issued an urgent warning on Thursday that hackers who American intelligence agencies believed were working for the Kremlin used a far wider variety of tools than previously known to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was “a grave risk to the federal government.”The discovery suggests that the scope of the hacking, which appears to extend beyond nuclear laboratories and Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department systems, complicates the challenge for federal investigators as they try to assess the damage and understand what had been stolen.Minutes after the statement from the cybersecurity arm of the Department of Homeland Security, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned that his administration would impose “substantial costs” on those responsible.“A good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyberassaults on our nation.”
President Trump has yet to say anything about the attack.Echoing the government’s warning, Microsoft said Thursday that it had identified 40 companies, government agencies and think tanks that the suspected Russian hackers, at a minimum, had infiltrated. Nearly half are private technology firms, Microsoft said, many of them cybersecurity firms, like FireEye, that are charged with securing vast sections of the public and private sector.
“It’s still early days, but we have already identified 40 victims — more than anyone else has stated so far — and believe that number should rise substantially,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said in an interview on Thursday. “There are more nongovernmental victims than there are governmental victims, with a big focus on I.T. companies, especially in the security industry.”The Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the American nuclear stockpile, were compromised as part of the larger attack, but its investigation found the hack did not affect “mission-essential national security functions,” Shaylyn Hynes, a Department of Energy spokeswoman, said in a statement.“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only,” Ms. Hynes said. The hack of the nuclear agency was reported earlier by Politico.Officials have yet to publicly name the attacker responsible, but intelligence agencies have told Congress that they believe it was carried out by the S.V.R., an elite Russian intelligence agency. A Microsoft “heat map” of infections shows that the vast majority — 80 percent — are in the United States, while Russia shows no infections at all.
The government warning, issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, did not detail the new ways that the hackers got into the government systems. But it confirmed suspicions expressed this week by FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, that there were almost certainly other routes that the attackers had found to get into networks on which the day-to-day business of the United States depend.
Dealbook: An examination of the major business and policy headlines and the power brokers who shape them.
FireEye was the first to inform the government that the suspected Russian hackers had, since at least March, infected the periodic software updates issued by a company called SolarWinds, which makes critical network monitoring software used by the government, hundreds of Fortune 500 companies and firms that oversee critical infrastructure, including the power grid.Investigators and other officials say they believe the goal of the Russian attack was traditional espionage, the sort the National Security Agency and other agencies regularly conduct on foreign networks. But the extent and depth of the hacking raise concerns that hackers could ultimately use their access to shutter American systems, corrupt or destroy data, or take command of computer systems that run industrial processes. So far, though, there has been no evidence of that happening.The alert was a clear sign of a new realization of urgency by the government. After playing down the episode — in addition to Mr. Trump’s silence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has deflected the hacking as one of the many daily attacks on the federal government, suggesting China was the biggest offender — the government’s new alert left no doubt the assessment had changed.“This adversary has demonstrated an ability to exploit software supply chains and shown significant knowledge of Windows networks,” the alert said.“It is likely that the adversary has additional initial access vectors and tactics, techniques and procedures,” which, it said, “have not yet been discovered.”Investigators say it could take months to unravel the extent to which American networks and the technology supply chain are compromised.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Smith, of Microsoft, said the supply-chain element made the attack perhaps the gravest cyberattack against the United States in years.“Governments have long spied on each other but there is a growing and critical recognition that there needs to be a clear set of rules that put certain techniques off limits,” Mr. Smith said. “One of the things that needs to be off limits is a broad supply chain attack that creates a vulnerability for the world that other forms of traditional espionage do not.”Reuters reported Thursday that Microsoft was itself compromised in the attack, a claim that Mr. Smith emphatically denied Thursday. “We have no indication of that,” he said.Officials say that with only one month left in its tenure, the Trump administration is planning to simply hand off what appears to be the biggest cybersecurity breach of federal networks in more than two decades.Mr. Biden’s statement said he had instructed his transition team to learn as much as possible about “what appears to be a massive cybersecurity breach affecting potentially thousands of victims.”“I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he plans to impose “substantial costs on those responsible.”The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s warning came days after Microsoft took emergency action along with FireEye to halt the communication between the SolarWinds network management software and a command-and-control center that the Russians were using to send instructions to their malware using a so-called kill switch.
That shut off further penetration. But it is of no help to organizations that have already been penetrated by an attacker who has been planting back doors in their systems since March. And the key line in the warning said that the SolarWinds “supply chain compromise is not the only initial infection vector” that was used to get into federal systems. That suggests other software, also used by the government, has been infected and used for access by foreign spies.Across federal agencies, the private sector and the utility companies that oversee the power grid, forensic investigators were still trying to unravel the extent of the compromise. But security teams say the relief some felt that they did not use the compromised systems turned to panic on Thursday, as they learned other third-party applications may have been compromised.Inside federal agencies and the private sector, investigators say they have been stymied by classifications and siloed approach to information sharing.“We have forgotten the lessons of 9/11,” Mr. Smith said. “It has not been a great week for information sharing and it turns companies like Microsoft into a sheep dog trying to get these federal agencies to come together into a single place and share what they know.”
Encrypted messaging app Signal has added group video calls, and the famed NSA whistleblower says it’s a long time coming.
Signal has added encrypted group video calls to its iOS and Android messaging app.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an avowed Signal user, tweeted about the news.
Up to five people can now take part in an end-to-end encrypted video call.
Famed National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden knows a thing or two about the need for safe, secure communication, given his flight from the United States in 2013 following extensive leaks of classified information and his ongoing asylum in Russia.
Unsurprisingly, he’s a big fan of encrypted messaging app Signal, and the app’s website quotes him (“I use Signal everyday”) above all other testimonials. Today, Signal rolled out the ability to hold group encrypted video calls, and Snowden has already weighed in on the new addition: “I have been waiting for this for a very long time,” he tweeted.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a notorious fugitive to use Signal’s group encrypted video call feature, which lets up to five people join in for a shared chat. Group calls are encrypted end-to-end, “like everything else on Signal,” notes a blog post, and you can opt between viewing a grid of the up to four other participants or have the app focus on whoever is speaking at any given time.The feature is available now on both iOS and Android, and only in “new style Signal groups.”
Older groups on the app will automatically be updated to the new format in the coming weeks. According to the post, Signal is working to expand the number of participants beyond five, but there’s no ETA on when that might happen.
The addition of group video calls comes amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during which video chat services such as Zoom have become immensely popular. With many people working from home these days, schools doing remote e-learning, and gatherings of all sorts canceled, the ability to now hold those group video calls via Signal may provide some with additional peace of mind given the end-to-end encryption.“2020 has seen its fair number of challenges and changes,” reads the post. “We’ve all adapted to new ways of staying in touch, getting work done, celebrating birthdays and weddings, and even exercising. As more and more of our critical and personal moments move online, we want to continue to provide you with new ways to share and connect privately.”
The word grunge, which means grime or dirt, came to describe a music genre, fashion style and lifestyle exclusively attached to the Pacific Northwest and, specifically, Seattle. With the effects of this movement still relevant some 30 years later, it’s worth exploring how it all began – and how grunge entered the mainstream.
It all started with the Melvins. Formed in 1983 in Washington State, the band were part of a generation of musicians influenced by the likes of KISS, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Taking inspiration from the bands they loved, the Melvins were one of the first rock groups to mix elements of metal and punk in their sound.The city of Seattle at that time was just shedding its hippie image but still holding on to the hippie values of counterculture and nonconformity. In 1984, Seattle-based bands Green River and Soundgarden formed, followed by the Screaming Trees in 1985. The following year brought the founding of Sub Pop Records and saw Seattle-based record label C/Z Records’ first release, Deep Six. This compilation, credited as the first distribution of grunge, included the Melvins, Green River, Soundgarden, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard and The U-Men. Metal band Alice in Chains joined this faction of Seattle bands when they formed in 1987.
Editorial use only. Consent for book publication must be agreed with Rex by Shutterstock before use. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock (499068go) THE SCREAMING TREES PERFORMING ON THE ‚LATER WITH JOOLS‘ SHOW, BBC TV, LONDON, BRITAIN – NOV 1996 VARIOUS | Photo by Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Malluk/Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock (8627708a) Alice in Chains with Layne Staley Special Fees May 1991 Chains_em8 | Photo by Malluk/Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock
Between 1988 and 1990, the tight-knit group of Seattle bands went through many transformations. Green River split into two groups: the members who wanted to stay “underground” formed Mudhoney, while those who wanted to become famous rock stars formed Mother Love Bone (picking up the lead singer from Malfunkshun, Andrew Wood). Representing another shift in those values of nonconformity, Soundgarden signed in 1988 with a mainstream label, A&M Records, to the dismay of many of their fans.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock (8824657d) Soundgarden – Chris Cornell Soundgarden In Concert at Hollywood Live, Los Angeles, USA – 23 Sep 1989 | Photo by Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock
At the start of the new decade, Mother Love Bone was set to become the rock stars they intended to be when Wood unexpectedly died of a heroin overdose. Wood’s roommate, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, wrote a tribute to his late friend. A few songs played with the surviving Mother Love Bone members turned into an entire album, Temple of the Dog. When Cornell decided that one of the songs would be better as a duet, he invited a backup vocalist, Eddie Vedder, to join him for the singing of ‘Hunger Strike.’ The same year, Vedder joined the remaining Mother Love Bone members in creating a new band, first named Mookie Blaylock and eventually renamed Pearl Jam.
In 1990, Nirvana consisted only of singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, and were yet to find a full-time drummer. They were eventually introduced to Dave Grohl through their friends the Melvins, becoming another staple grunge band of the ’90s made possible through collaboration.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock (261411g) Nirvana – Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Chris Novoselic Nirvana – 1993 | Photo by Stephen Sweet/REX/Shutterstock
The bands became regulars at music venues across the city, performing at locations still open today such as The Crocodile and The Showbox. Before any of the bands really left Seattle, they described themselves in self-deprecating ways, referring to themselves and their music style as dirt, scum and – you guessed it – grunge. In 1991, when Nirvana reached number one on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, with Pearl Jam following closely behind, “grunge” turned from a joke into an actual descriptor of the rock music subgenre characterized by guitar distortion, feedback and heartfelt, anguished lyrics. That same year, Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees achieved indie success. Soundgarden didn’t catch up with the commercial success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam until 1994.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock (497745ka) Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder performing at Brixton Academy, London, Britain – Jul 1993 Various | Photo by Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock
As these bands developed a need for marketing, “grunge” changed from descriptor to ultimate promoter, especially in fashion. That industry, from Macy’s to Marc Jacobs, started creating items that mimicked the style of these bands and their Seattle audiences, namely flannel shirts, combat boots and wool ski hats, often worn with unwashed hair.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bei/REX/Shutterstock (5137575b) Eddie Vedder Singles Premiere 09/10/92 – Los Angeles, CA. Eddie Vedder (cast) of Pearl Jam wearing helmet Warner Bros.‘ premiere of ‚Singles‘ in Los Angeles, CA. Photo®Berliner Studio/BEImages.net September 10, 1992 | Photo by Bei/REX/Shutterstock
While the muses for these fashion statements may have started out too poor and cold to buy anything else, and didn’t care to look after or style their hair, the popularity of grunge inspired the style of the rich. The combat boots that were practical for traction in Seattle’s rain began hitting the catwalks. For the first time, instead of going from boutiques to last season’s department to Goodwill, clothes purchased from Goodwill were inspiring what got brought into the shops. Punks were anti-fashion: their outfits made a statement against it. Grunge rockers were fashion-indifferent: they made no statement at all. And yet grunge became a fashion statement in and of itself.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Photofusion/REX/Shutterstock (2253864a) Teenage boys wearing grunge gear, UK Youth | Photofusion/REX/Shutterstock
As the concept of grunge was increasingly used in the mainstream, it became increasingly rejected in anti-conformist Seattle. Grunge became a blanket term for Northwest bands of the ’80s and ’90s, even if they had completely different styles and sounds.Today, though, the term has been reclaimed. Seattleites still hold the same values that began the grunge movement and have learned to embrace the subgenre that, in a lot of ways, put their city on the map.
There’s a renaissance underway in structural battery research, which aims to build energy storage into the very devices and vehicles they power.
ELON MUSK MADE a lot of promises during Tesla’s Battery Day last September. Soon, he said, the company would have a car that runs on batteries with pure silicon anodes to boost their performance and reduced cobalt in the cathodes to lower their price. Its battery pack will be integrated into the chassis so that it provides mechanical support in addition to energy, a design that Musk claimed will reduce the car’s weight by 10 percent and improve its mileage by even more. He hailed Tesla’s structural battery as a “revolution” in engineering—but for some battery researchers, Musk’s future looked a lot like the past.
“He’s essentially doing something that we did 10 years ago,” says Emile Greenhalgh, a materials scientist at Imperial College London and the engineering chair in emerging technologies at the Royal Academy. He’s one of the world’s leading experts on structural batteries, an approach to energy storage that erases the boundary between the battery and the object it powers. “What we’re doing is going beyond what Elon Musk has been talking about,” Greenhalgh says. “There are no embedded batteries. The material itself is the energy storage device.”
Today, batteries account for a substantial portion of the size and weight of most electronics. A smartphone is mostly a lithium-ion cell with some processors stuffed around it. Drones are limited in size by the batteries they can carry. And about a third of the weight of an electric vehicle is its battery pack. One way to address this issue is by building conventional batteries into the structure of the car itself, as Tesla plans to do. Rather than using the floor of the car to support the battery pack, the battery pack becomes the floor.
But for Greenhalgh and his collaborators, the more promising approach is to scrap the battery pack and use the vehicle’s body for energy storage instead. Unlike a conventional battery pack embedded in the chassis, these structural batteries are invisible. The electrical storage happens in the thin layers of composite materials that make up the car’s frame. In a sense, they’re weightless because the car is the battery. “It’s making the material do two things simultaneously,” says Greenhalgh. This new way of thinking about EV design can provide huge performance gains and improve safety because there won’t be thousands of energy-dense, flammable cells packed into the car.
A lithium-ion battery inside a phone or EV battery pack has four main components: the cathode, anode, electrolyte, and the separator. When a battery is discharged, lithium-ions flow through the electrolyte from the negative anode to the positive cathode, which are partitioned by a permeable separator to prevent a short circuit. In a conventional battery, these elements are either stacked like a wedding cake or wound around each other like a jelly roll to pack as much energy as possible into a small volume. But in a structural battery, they have to be reconfigured so the cell can be molded into irregular shapes and withstand physical stress. A structural battery doesn’t look like a cube or a cylinder; it looks like an airplane wing, car body, or phone case.
The first structural batteries developed by the US military in the mid-2000s used carbon fiber for the cell’s electrodes. Carbon fiber is a lightweight, ultrastrong material that is frequently used to form the bodies of aircraft and high-performance cars. It’s also great at storing lithium ions, which makes it a good substitute for other carbon-based materials like graphite that are used as anodes in typical Li-ion batteries. But in a structural battery, carbon fiber infused with reactive materials like iron phosphate is also used for the cathode because it needs to provide support. A thin sheet of woven glass separates the two electrodes, and these layers are suspended in an electrolyte like fruit in an electrochemical jello. The entire ensemble is only a few millionths of a meter thick and can be cut into any desired shape.
Leif Asp, a materials scientist at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, has been at the forefront of structural battery research for the past decade. In 2010, Asp, Greenhalgh, and a team of European scientists collaborated on Storage, a project that aimed to build structural batteries and integrate them into a prototype hybrid Volvo. “At that time, I didn’t think it would have much impact on society, but as we moved along it struck me that this could be a very useful idea,” says Asp, who characterizes the conventional battery as a “structural parasite.” He says the main benefit of structural batteries is that they reduce the amount of energy an EV needs to drive the same distance—or it can increase its range. “We need to focus on energy efficiency,” says Asp. In a world where most electricity is still produced with fossil fuels, every electron counts in the fight against climate change.
During the three-year project, the Storage team successfully integrated commercial lithium-ion batteries into a plenum cover, a passive component that regulates air intake into the engine. It wasn’t the car’s main battery, but a smaller secondary pack that supplied electricity to the air-conditioning, stereo, and lights when the engine temporarily turned off at a stop light. This was the first proof of concept for a structural battery that was integrated into the body of a working car and was essentially a small-scale version of what Tesla is trying to achieve.
But sandwiching a bunch of conventional Li-ion cells into the body of a car isn’t as efficient as making the car’s body serve as its own battery. During the Storage collaboration, Asp and Greenhalgh also developed a structural supercapacitor that was used as a trunk lid. A supercapacitor is similar to a battery but stores energy as electrostatic charge, rather than a chemical reaction. The one made for the Volvo trunk consisted of two layers of carbon fiber infused with iron oxide and magnesium oxide, separated by an insulating layer. The whole stack was wrapped in laminate and molded into the shape of the trunk.
Supercapacitors don’t hold nearly as much energy as a battery, but they’re great at rapidly delivering small amounts of electric charge. Greenhalgh says that they’re also easier to work with and were a necessary stepping stone toward accomplishing the same thing with a battery. The Volvo was a proof of concept that structural energy storage was viable in an EV, and the success of the Storage project generated a lot of hype about structural batteries. But despite that enthusiasm, it took a few years to procure more funding from the European Commission to push the technology to the next level. “This is a very challenging technology and something that’s not going to be solved with a few million pounds thrown at it,” says Greenhalgh of the financing difficulties. “We got a lot more funding, and now it’s really starting to snowball.”
This summer, Asp, Greenhalgh, and a team of European researchers wrapped up a three-year research project called Sorcerer that had the goal of developing structural lithium-ion batteries for use in commercial aircraft. Aviation is arguably the killer app for structural energy storage. Commercial aircraft produce a lot of emissions, but electrifying passenger jets is a major challenge because they require so much energy. Jet fuel is terrible for the environment, but it’s about 30 times more energy-dense than state-of-the-art commercial lithium-ion cells. In a typical 150-passenger aircraft, that means you’d need about 1 ton of batteries per person. If you tried to electrify this jet with existing cells, the plane would never get off the ground.
Established aerospace companies like Airbus and startups like Zunum have been working on electrifying passenger aircraft for years. But even if they’re successful, packing a plane full of conventional cells has some major safety risks. A short circuit in a large battery pack could cause a disastrous fire or explosion. “The aerospace sector is very conservative, and they’re nervous about packing aircraft with these really high-powered batteries,” says Greenhalgh. Emerging battery chemistries, including solid electrolytes, could lower the risk, but meeting the massive energy requirements of a passenger jet is still a major challenge that could be solved with structural batteries.
As part of the Sorcerer project, Asp and his colleagues created structural batteries made from thin layers of carbon fiber that could conceivably be used to build parts of an airplane’s cabin or wings. The experimental batteries the Sorcerer team developed have significantly improved mechanical properties and energy densities compared to the batteries they produced during the Storage initiative a decade earlier. “Now we can make materials that have at least 20 to 30 percent of both energy storage capacity and the mechanical capacity of the systems we want to replace,” says Asp. “It’s a huge progression.”
But technical challenges are only half the battle when it comes to getting structural batteries out of the lab and into the real world. Both the automotive and aviation industries are heavily regulated, and manufacturers often run on thin margins. That means introducing new materials into cars and planes requires demonstrating their safety to regulators and their superior performance to manufacturers.
As a structural battery is charged and discharged, lithium ions are shuttling in and out of the carbon-fiber cathodes, which changes their shape and mechanical properties. It’s important for manufacturers and regulators to be able to predict precisely how these structural batteries will react when they’re being used and how that affects the performance of the vehicles they power. To that end, Greenhalgh and Asp are building mathematical models that will show exactly how the structure of vehicles built from these batteries changes during use. Asp says it will probably be more than a decade before structural batteries are deployed in vehicles because of their significant power demands and regulatory challenges. Before that happens, he predicts, they will become commonplace in consumer electronics.
Jie Xiao, the chief scientist and manager of the Batteries & Materials System group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, agrees. She thinks a particularly promising and often overlooked area of application is in microelectronics. These are devices that could comfortably fit on your fingertip and are particularly useful for medical implants. But first, there needs to be a way to power them.
“Structural batteries are extremely helpful for microelectronics, because the volume is very restricted,” says Xiao. While it is possible to scale down conventional batteries to the size of a grain of rice, these cells still take up valuable space in microelectronics. But structural batteries don’t take up more space than the device itself. At PNNL, Xiao and her colleagues have studied some of the fundamental issues with the design of microbatteries, like how to maintain alignment between electrodes when a structural battery is bent or twisted. “From a design point of view, it’s very important that your positive and negative electrodes face each other,” says Xiao. “So even if we can take advantage of void spaces, if those electrodes are unaligned they are not participating in the chemical reaction. So this limits the designs of irregular-shaped structural batteries.”
Xiao and her team have worked on several niche scientific applications for micro structural batteries, like injectable tracking tags for salmon and bats. But she says it’s still going to be a while before they find mainstream application with emerging technologies like electronic skin for prosthetics. In the meantime, however, structural batteries could be a boon for energy-hungry robots. In a laboratory on the Ann Arbor campus at the University of Michigan, chemist and chemical engineer Nicholas Kotov oversees a menagerie of small biomimetic robots he developed with his graduate students. “Organisms distribute energy storage throughout the body so that they serve double or triple functions,” says Kotov. “Fat is a great example. It has lots of energy storage. The question is: How do we replicate it?”
The team’s goal is to create machines that mimic animals, and so they require a power source that can integrate with their robotic skeletons, much like fat and muscle hem to ours. Some of their latest creations include robotic scorpions, spiders, ants and caterpillars that skitter around the floor. All of them are powered by a unique structural battery integrated with their moving parts. The battery sits on the back of the robot like a silver shell, and it both energizes and protects the robot’s mechanical guts. It’s taking a cue from nature to improve the unnatural.
Unlike the carbon-fiber and lithium-ion sheets being developed by Asp and Greenhalgh, Kotov and his students created a zinc-air structural battery for their automatons. This cell chemistry is able to store much more energy than conventional Li-ion cells. It consists of a zinc anode, a carbon cloth cathode, and a semi-rigid electrolyte made from polymer-based nanofibers that is nanoengineered to mimic cartilage. The energy carriers in this type of battery are hydroxide ions that are produced when oxygen from the air interacts with the zinc.
While structural batteries for vehicles are highly rigid, the cell developed by Kotov’s team is meant to be pliable to cope with the movements of the robots. They’re also incredibly energy-dense. As Kotov and his team detailed in a paper published earlier this year, their structural batteries have 72 times the energy capacity of a conventional lithium-ion cell of the same volume. For now, their batteries are being used to power robotic toys and small drones as a proof of concept. But Kotov says he expects they’ll be used in midsize robots as well as larger hobby drones in the not-so-distant future. “Drones and medium-size robots need to have new solutions for energy storage,” Kotov says. “I can guarantee you that structural batteries will be a part of that.”
The battery has always been an addendum, a limiting factor, and a parasite. Today it’s vanishing before our eyes, melting into the fabric of our electrified world. In the future, everything will be a battery, and stand-alone energy storage will seem as quaint as landline telephones and portable CD players. It’s a disappearing act worthy of a great magician: Now you see it—and soon you won’t.
Apple told some developers that it will delay the enforcement of an anti-tracking feature that’s being implemented in iOS 14, reports The Information.
In iOS 14, Apple is requiring apps to seek customer consent before the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) can be used to track user behavior and preference across apps and websites for ad targeting purposes.
Major app developers and ad networks like Facebook have spoken out against the feature, with Facebook warning advertisers on its platform that the new feature could cause a more than 50 percent drop in Audience Network publisher revenue due to the loss of personalization from ads within apps.
Facebook and other advertisers expect that customers will not want to share their IDFA’s for ad targeting purposes and will therefore decline consent for the ad blocking popups that Apple has implemented in iOS 14.
Mobile developers that spoke to The Information said that they’ve had little time to prepare for Apple’s change, which was announced in June alongside iOS 14. Apple has also not provided a way for them to target ads without using the IDFA.
If Apple does end up delaying the anti-tracking features in iOS 14, customers who upgrade to iOS 14 will not see the prompts to decline sharing their device IDFA with third-party apps.
According to The Information, if Apple does decide to delay, the anti-tracking features could be held until next year.
Eric Seufert, an ads industry analyst, said it „simply wasn’t possible for developers to adapt their advertising infrastructure“ to Apple’s proposed IDFA change in time for the public release of iOS 14, which Apple usually makes available in September. He called delaying enforcement of the new IDFA prompt „the right thing for Apple to do, even if those privacy restrictions are well intentioned and ultimately best for consumers.“
Apple’s App Store team has apparently been asking gaming firms for details on how the change might impact their businesses, as these kinds of targeted ads are important to free-to-play games, and their responses may determine Apple’s plan to implement or delay the feature.
Update 10:02 a.m.: In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple confirms that it is pushing back the change to „early next year.“
We believe technology should protect users’ fundamental right to privacy, and that means giving users tools to understand which apps and websites may be sharing their data with other companies for advertising or advertising measurement purposes, as well as the tools to revoke permission for this tracking. When enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis. We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.
As iOS 14 betas continue to roll out and the software’s full release grows near, more people are noticing just how revolutionary some of its privacy and security features appear to be.
There’s some exciting stuff there, but one of the most interesting – and, until recently, overlooked – features is called “Approximate Location.”
It means enormous changes for location-based services on iOS, and could affect many third-party apps in ways that aren’t entirely clear yet. Here are the significant points all iPhone users should know.
Approximate Location Will Hide Your Exact Location
Based on the details that Apple has given, Approximate Location is a new tool that can be enabled in iOS. Instead of switching off location-based data, this feature will make it…fuzzy. Apple reports that it will limit the location data sent to apps to a general 10-mile region.
You could be anywhere in that 10 miles, doing anything, but apps will only be able to tell that your device is in that specific region. This is going to change several important things about apps that want to know your location, but is a big boon for privacy while still enabling various app services.
Limited Data About Movement Will Be Shared
Not all the details are certain yet, but we do know that apps will be able to track when a device moves from one region to another. Apps will probably be able to extrapolate on that data and know that you were somewhere along a particular border between one region and another.
However, companies still won’t be able to tell what exactly you were doing near the border, or how long you stayed near the border before crossing over. If you cross over the same borders a lot, then apps will probably be able to make some basic guesses, like you’re commuting to work, dropping kids off at school, or visiting a preferred shopping center, but that’s basically all they will be able to tell.
Some Apps Won’t Have a Problem with This
For many third-party app services, these new 10-mile Approximate Location Regions won’t pose much of a problem. Apps that are recommending nearby restaurants you might like, parks you can visit, available hotels, and similar suggestions don’t need to know your exact location to be accurate – the 10-mile zone should work fine. The same is true of weather apps, and a variety of other services.
But not all third-party apps are interested in location data just to offer services. They also want to use it for their own ends…and that’s where things get more complicated.
Location-Based Advertising Is up for a Challenge
A whole crowd of third-party apps want to track your exact location, not for services, but to collect important data about their users. Even common apps like Netflix tend to do this! They are tracking behavior and building user profiles that they can use for advertising purposes, or provide to advertisers interested in building these profiles themselves.
Apple has already changed other types of tracking to require permission from app users. But turning on Approximate Location is another hurdle that blocks apps from knowing exactly what users are doing. Not only does this make it more difficult to build behavioral profiles, but it also makes it hard or impossible to attribute a user visit to any specific online campaign.
There are solutions to this, but it will be a change of pace for advertisers. Apps can use Wi-Fi pings, check-in features, and purchase tracking to still get an idea of what people are doing, and where. That’ll require a lot more user involvement than before, which puts privacy in the hands of the customer.
It’s Not Clear How This Will Affect Apps That Depend on Location Tracking
Then there’s the class of apps that needs to know precise locations of users to work properly.
For example, what happens when an app wants to provide precise directions to an address after you have chosen it? Or – perhaps most likely – will alerts pop up when you try to use these services, requiring you to shut off Approximate Location to continue? We’ve already seen how this works with Apple Maps, which asks you to allow one “precise location” to help with navigation, or turn it on for the app entirely.
Then there’s the problem with ridesharing and food delivery apps. They can’t offer some their core services with Approximate Location turned on, so we can expect warnings or lockouts from these apps as well.
But even with this micromanaging, more privacy features are probably worth it.
While it may have slipped the attention of many consumers, online businesses around the world were rocked by Apple’s June 2020 decision to make the IDFA fully opt-in. What does that mean exactly?
Well, IDFA stands for Identifier for Advertisers, and it’s a protocol that creates an ID tag for every user device so that device activity can be tracked by advertisers for personalized marketing and ad offers.
While IDFA made it easy to track online behavior without actually knowing a user’s private info, the practice has come under some scrutiny as the importance of online privacy continues to increase.
While Apple still provides the IDFA, it’s now entirely based on direct permission granted by users. In other words, if an app wants to track what a device is doing through an IDFA, a big pop-up will show up that says, roughly, “This app wants to track what you’re doing on this device so it can send you ads. Do you want to allow that?” Users are broadly expected to answer no.
So, what does that mean for advertisers and for your personal user experience going forward? Continue reading to learn what it means for you.
You Will Still Get Online Ads
Apple’s change is a big one for mobile advertisers, but it doesn’t mean that ads will disappear from your iPhone. Consumers will still get ads in all the usual places on their phones. That includes in their internet browsers, and in some of the apps that they use.
The big difference is that those ads will be far less likely to be 1) personalized based on what you like doing on your phone and 2) retargeted based on the products and ads you’ve looked at before. So the ads will still appear, but they will tend to be more general in nature.
Big Platforms Will Need to Get More Creative with Tracking
IDFA option, advertising platforms face a need for more innovation. Advertising
lives off data, and Apple’s move encourages smarter data strategies.
What’s that going to look like? We’ll have to wait and see, but one potential solution is “fingerprinting” a device, or making a device profile, a lot like marketers make buyer personas. This involves gathering ancillary data about a device’s IP addresses, location, activity periods, Bluetooth, and other features, then combining it into a profile that shows how the device is being used and what that says about the user.
option is to develop more ways to track “events” instead of devices. An app
event could be anything from logging on for the first time to reaching the
first level of a game, etc. By looking at events across the entire user base,
advertisers can divide users into different groups of behavior and target ads
based on what that behavior says about them.
Developers and Advertisers Will Design New Ways to Monitor Apps
still need app data from iOS to make effective decisions about ads. Since
individual device data is now largely out of reach for them, we’re going to
start seeing more innovation on this side, too. Companies are going to start
focusing on broad data that they do have to make plans based on what they do
know – in other words, what users are doing directly on the app itself, instead
of on the entire device.
Apple is helping with this, too: The company has announced a new SKAdNetwork platform that is essentially designed to replace some of what the IDFA program used to do. It doesn’t track individual device activity, but it does track overall interaction with apps, so creators will still know things like how many people are downloading apps, where they are downloading from, and what features are getting the most use, etc. The key will be finding ways to make intelligent ad decisions from that collective data, and looking for synergistic ways to share it with partners – something advertisers traditionally haven’t done much in the past.
Retargeting Will Refocus on Contact Information
is the ad tactic of showing a user products and ads they have already viewed in
the past, which makes a purchase more likely. It’s a very important part of the
sales process, but becomes more difficult when device activity can’t be
directly monitored. However, there’s another highly traditional option for retargeting:
Getting a customer’s contact information. Depending on how active someone is on
the Web, something like an email address or phone number can provide plenty of
useful retargeting data. Expect a renewed focus on web forms and collecting
contact information within apps.
Online Point of Sale Will Become Even More Important
The online shopping cart is already a locus of valuable information: Every time you add a product, look at shipping prices, abandon a shopping cart, pick a payment method, choose an address, and complete an order – all of it provides companies with data they can use for retargeting, customer profiles, personalized ads and discounts, and so on.
Nothing Apple is doing will affect online POS data, so we can expect it to become even more important. However, most POS data currently stays in house, so the big question is if – and how – large ad platforms might use it in the future. Which brings us to another important point: auctioning data.
Auctioning Mobile User Data Is Less Viable Than Ever
A big secondary market for mobile advertising is selling device data to other advertisers (it’s also technically a black market when it happens on the dark web with stolen data, but there’s a legitimate version, too). Now bids for iOS data don’t really have anywhere to go – how can you bid on a list of device use information when that data isn’t being collected anymore? And if someone is selling that data, how do you know if it’s not outdated or just fake?
These secondary auction markets and “demand-side platforms” (DSPs) have been facing pressure in recent years over fears they aren’t exactly healthy for the industry. Apple nixing the IDFA won’t end them, but it will refocus the secondary selling on top-level data (the kind we discussed in the points above) and less on more personal user data.
This Is Just the Beginning
The era of
device tracking has only begun to change. Apple’s decision about IDFA was expected,
and is only the beginning of the shift away from this tactic. Google is also expected
to make a similar change with its own version of the technology, GAID (Google
Ad Identifier). Meanwhile, major web browsers like Safari and Chrome are
dropping support for third-party cookies as well.
This is great
for customer privacy, which is clearly a new core concern for the big tech
names. It’s also ushering in a new age of marketing where advertisers will have
to grapple with unseen data – and find new ways to move ahead. In some ways, it’s
an analyst’s dream come true.
As exciting as boundary-pushing, hyper-premium phones are, they’re less important to everyday users than those special devices that check all the right boxes for a price folks can actually afford. It’s the cheaper iPhones that destroy the barriers of entry to new technology, and therefore matter to the widest majority of people.
The iPhone 12 Pro will captivate the imagination of the public, no question. But rest assured, Apple’s success or failure with this upcoming swath of phones is dependent on whether the company can hit its marks with the 5.4-inch version.