This week in Tech: What’s happening in Dhaka

You might have noticed, we here at hifi public are quite keen on technology. We try to report the most prominent occurrences in tech on a regular basis. Focusing on some things inevitably leads to not focusing on others, given a person’s limited attention span. Therefore, here we shall try to bring some neat pieces of tech news that deserve your attention.

Disclaimer, not putting Google Stadia here because we’ve already talked about that. Also, that topic requires a larger amount of focus. Without further ado, here’s a list of tech things you should know.
Over 2.6 million SIM cards to be disabled

Over 2.6 million SIM cards to be disabled

You might be losing  your SIM card on April 26th, as over 2.6 million SIMs are to be disabled by the government. This step is being taken as a response to violations of the maximum limit of SIMs that can be registered against a single national ID. While the maximum is 15 SIMs for a single national ID, at least one hundred thousand National IDs are in violation of this rule.

According to reports, the government is going to provide mobile operators with information regarding the SIMs in violation. The operators will in turn reduce registered SIMs to 15 each ID. If you want to find out the number of SIMs registered by your ID, dial *16001# and push the last four digits of your national ID. But chances are it won’t do much good now.

2. Clash over “Haha” reacts on Facebook

Just….yeah.

Two groups of students engaged in chases and hurling stones, among other uber-masculine activities in a clash that had supposedly began over a Facebook react. This took place in Chittagong University, between two Facebook groups based on the university’s  Shuttle train bogeys. The clash began from a woman’s Facebook post receiving a “Haha” react from a student of another group. Reports suggest numerous people were wounded in the clash that began at noon and resumed on a start-stop basis every now and then. The University’s police claim that the situation is now relaxed, while student leaders who were involved blame the occurrence on a misunderstanding.

The world’s probably going to end because of an Instagram post.

3. First storm of the season disrupts Telecommunications and Internet

We had this year’s first big Kalbaisakhi storm last night. While it was soothing for most given the hot weather preceding it, the storm laid countrywide waste to telecommunication services. Network towers were damaged resulting in mobile services being unavailable in many places. In addition, the storm has detached electricity to many operator sites, leading to internet services being down as well. In fact, both broadband and mobile internet services are still down in parts of the country.

According to reports, about 2800 sites of Grameenphone are down as of the morning of 1st April. Robi has lost about 2000 sites, while Banglalink has lost close to 1500. While the services were briefly resumed by way of generators, said generators quickly ran out of fuel. However, operators say that refuelling is taking place.

Pretty impressive for a storm that lasted about a couple of minutes.

That was a brief list of the few things happening in the local tech scenario that deserve your attention. And your reactions. Perhaps not reactions that include laughter.

We’re gonna go fight some people laughing outside the office.

A year in review: 5 things that marked the local tech scenario in 2018

2018 has been an eventful year for Bangladesh. And the biggest milestones are from local tech scenario. Both Government and private projects have achieved outstanding feats this year and have made their marks. As we head into 2019, let us take a look at 5 things that have made the news in 2018.

1. Pathao goes global

In early September, Pathao became the first Bangladeshi ride sharing company to go global by launching services in Nepal. Expansion in Nepal was Pathao’s first step in their plan to expand business further.

2. bKash’s app redefines mobile banking

bKash launched its super simple app in 2018. And mobile banking in Bangladesh has never been easier. With its simple and sleek design and user friendly operation, bkash quickly became the go to name for cashless transactions.

3. Bangladesh goes to space

2018 will forever be remembered as the year Bangladesh went to space. The Government launched its first geostationary satellite, Bangabandhu-1. With the launch of its first ever satellite, Bangladesh became a member of the club of the elite nations who have their mark in space.

4. The year of Pathao’s controversial data stealing

Pathao made the news once again in 2018 after it was revealed that they have been breaching user data. Pathao later issued an explanation and went through some major updates to its app but the controversy was never fully cleared.

5. Shohoz raised $15M investment

A year in review: 5 things that marked the local tech scenario in 2018

Another ride sharing app, Shohoz raised a massive $15M investment this year. With this investment Shohoz plans to become a major competitor in the ride sharing market of the country

Google Pixel 3 Lite: Why bringing back the headphone jack is a good idea

There have been rumors of a possible budget variant of Google’s flagship Pixel smart-phone; it was only recently that we got a glimpse at what it might look like. It has been referred to as the “Pixel 3 Lite”, and it combines the design of the Pixels with a smaller 5.5-inch display and a mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor. Although the usual complaints about the antiquated design and large bezels persist in this phone, one of the issues that a significant portion of consumers have been clamouring for a long time might have finally been addressed. By far the most interesting aspect of this phone is Google’s apparent decision to include a headphone jack for the first time since their very first Pixel phone.

Phones and headphone jacks have complimented each other for the longest time. For most of us, our first feature phones had a 3.5 mm jack, and it was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the phone to each of us at the time—cue countless hours of ripping MP3 files and loading them onto tiny memory cards. With smartphones, the need of a headphone jack was even greater—smartphones aimed at being the convenience guarantor and having a 3.5 mm jack on your smartphone was the convenient way to listen to music or recordings. And while the industry has transformed from feature phones to flip phones to finally smartphones, the headphone jack has largely remained constant. In an industry as focused on innovation as the smartphone industry change is the only constant. Thus we had to part ways with our headphone jacks, while Bluetooth and USB-C ports look to be the future. However, is that a good thing?

Firstly, the reason the headphone jack stuck around for so long is that it worked. It was a solved problem; there wasn’t much reason to move forward. Yes, we always strive for quicker and more convenient ways to solve a problem; provided the problem is still solved with the amount of quality retained. And the bottom line is, Bluetooth just doesn’t do that. Bluetooth audio quality is nowhere near the quality offered by most cabled equipment, yet. They simply can’t play high bit-rate files, or at least at the same quality wired equipment can. However, it is convenience vs. quality here, with different people obviously valuing different things. Audiophiles will always value cabled equipment, while consumers who value the convenience and portability of Bluetooth will opt for it. But the thing is, it isn’t too much to ask for both options on a device, especially when the manufacturing cost is so small.

It isn’t fair to say Bluetooth is bad for listening to music. High-end Bluetooth equipment can dish out music that is only perceptively worse than wired equipment. But to achieve that quality with Bluetooth, one has to spend a lot more than one had to for a wired option of similar quality. There is essentially no way to listen to a raw, loss-less sound on Bluetooth earphones; they just aren’t capable of it yet. All sounds need to be encoded to the Bluetooth headset, then decoded back to play. This is essentially the same tech as it was in 2004 when the first stereo Bluetooth headset came out. So Bluetooth still has a long way to go to match the 3.5 mm jack in performance.

Bluetooth headphones, ironically, offer less diversity than wired headphones. Active noise cancelling, bass-heavy, treble-heavy, you name it. There are headphones offered specifically to gamers, joggers, for Skype calls, etc. There’s a ton of flexibility when it comes to wired headphones, mainly because they’ve been around for longer and have had the time to address each specific need in the market. Bluetooth simply doesn’t offer that kind of flexibility yet. Bluetooth is mostly aimed at an active lifestyle, being more portable. They tend to have minimal builds, make complete seals with ear cups for better noise cancellation, and mostly just need you to adapt to it rather than it adapting to you. That doesn’t work for a lot of people and as it has been said before, there is simply no reason not to have both wired and Bluetooth options.

The weight then falls onto the USB-C type ports and dongles to make the argument for no headphone jacks. And I’m just going to say this flat out—dongles are bad. A lot of DACs and amps simply don’t work with the USB-C tech, and using one port to both charge your phone and listen to music causes an unnecessary amount of wear and tear. It is also a sloppy thing to use, as it’s easy to lose and just adds a new point of failure, being an external accessory.

On the point of convenience, Bluetooth doesn’t necessarily become the convenience provider most distributors make it out to be. Having a Bluetooth device means having another device to charge. At the same time when smartphone companies are trying to offer quicker ways to charge your phone to maximize time utilization—like fast chargers and larger batteries—doesn’t having another device to charge actually feel less convenient (if not completely defeating the purpose)? Bluetooth might indeed be the future, as it can only be improved upon. The problem is it hasn’t been fixed yet. There was never anything added to the experience of owning a device without a headphone jack, options were only taken away from it. For this reason, the headphone jack coming back in a market leader’s next big device is a welcome change. I personally feel like this is a good decision by Google, and eagerly await the return of the 3.5 mm jack in all its glory.

Pathao, Uber and the need for greater scrutiny about data gathering activities

In November, Pathao was embroiled in controversy after allegations were made against the ride-sharing company for illegal data gathering activities. One month later, the situation remains unclear.

Ashik Ishtiaque Emon, a security researcher, uploaded a viral video explaining how Pathao was misusing user data. According to the video, Pathao forwards sensitive user information to a third-party server in California and this data is updated every time you open the app. Contacts and SMS information are also collected in addition to location data.

Pathao’s response

Pathao later issued a press release clarifying that its data gathering practices were in line with international best practices of similar technology companies. They stated that they did not violate any laws to do so, nor did they plan to. However, in the press release, Pathao also insinuated that the controversy was stirred up by parties jealous of Pathao’s recent success.

Such statements are in poor taste. Even if this is actually the case, such claims are not expected during an official press release of a globally recognized company.

Pathao is correct in saying that companies abroad engage in similar practices. However, this does not excuse the lack of transparency in dealing with consumer data. Security concerns remain since most users do not check user conditions and terms of agreements.

Misuse of user data: An Industry Norm?

Pathao, Uber and the Need for Greater Scrutiny about Data Gathering Activitie

Ride-sharing apps have a history of questionable data gathering practices. In 2017, Uber was investigated by the FBI for using a program to track their rival, Lyft’s activity. According to an expose by the Information, Uber used the program between 2014 and 2016. They tracked how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and the location. Uber created fake Lyft accounts and used it to trick Lyft into thinking that customers were seeking new rides in various locations around a city. This allowed Uber to see which drivers were nearby and what prices they were offering to customers, further, allowing Uber to undercut them.

The effort was part of a larger international strategy to monitor rivals like Ola in India and Didi Chuxing in China. Such practices were not essentially illegal, as the data was purportedly publicly available. Uber also monitored customers’ location data for up to five minutes after ending their trips. This was rollbacked after another controversy and media attention. Admittedly, laws protecting users do not exist yet and there is a lack of regulation.  However, the callousness with user privacy is not going unnoticed.

While Pathao, of course, is a different company, the fact remains that ridesharing is a very competitive industry. Firms may be tempted to leverage the large data they have access to, to gain an edge over its rivals. Data-brokering is a very lucrative and growing industry.

Vigilance is necessary

According to the BRTA, none of the ridesharing companies currently operating in Bangladesh has successfully complied with the guidelines introduced earlier this year. These include providing SOS services, updated driver data, call center and data center locations to the government.

Modern services such as Facebook and Pathao are here to stay. However, in light of data issues and scrutiny on social media apps, we need to be more vigilant about what kind of data we are sharing with these services, and how this data is being used. Perhaps, measures similar to GDPR may be required in the future for markets like Bangladesh as well.

See our video on how to change your app permissions to protect your data.