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After India, US aims to crackdown on VPN service providers

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After India, the US lawmakers have now asked the Lina Khan-led Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address abusive and deceptive data practices by hundreds of companies providing Virtual Private Network (VPN) services for individuals.

A VPN is an online service that purports to give users more security when connecting to the Internet.

However, said the lawmakers, the consumer VPN industry is rife with deceptive advertising and abusive data practices.

The letter by Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) describe several abusive practices in the consumer VPN industry, including promoting false and misleading claims about their services, selling user data and providing user activity logs to law enforcement, despite promises of ‘total anonymity,’ and a lack of oversight of the industry in general.

“We urge you to use your authority to take enforcement actions against the problematic actors in the consumer VPN industry, focusing particularly on those that engage in deceptive advertising and data collection practices,” they said.

The VPN industry is extremely opaque, and many VPN providers exploit, mislead, and take advantage of unwitting consumers, the lawmakers added.

In India, a directive from the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) has also sought additional compliance requirements for all VPN providers whose users are in the country.

The new rules, to be effective from September 25, require VPN service providers along with data centres and cloud service providers, to store information such as names, email IDs, contact numbers, and IP addresses (among other things) of their customers for a period of five years.

Leading VPN service providers NordVPN, Surfshark and ExpressVPN have removed their servers from India over the new directions.

The US lawmakers said it is extremely difficult for someone to decipher which VPN service to trust, especially for those in crisis situations.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of VPN services available to download, yet there is a lack of practical tools or independent research to audit VPN providers’ security claims,” the letter read.

Many popular VPN services also spread inaccurate information on their websites.

In December 2021, Consumer Reports (CR) found that 75 per cent of leading VPN providers misrepresented their products and technology or made hyperbolic claims about the protection they provide users on their websites, such as advertising a ‘military-grade encryption’ which doesn’t exist.

Advocacy groups have also found that leading VPN services intentionally misrepresent the functionality of their product and fail to provide adequate security to their users.

“VPN services have also been exposed for collecting, and, in some cases, abusing, user data. In 2020 it was revealed that a leading analytics firm used personal data from over 35 million people who had downloaded one of their 20 VPN and ad-blocking apps to power their analytics platform without consent,” the letter said.

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Premium segment at highest spot, 5G phones at 32% market share in India

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 Premium segment (Rs 30,000 and above) contributed 11 per cent to India’s smartphone shipments and 35 per cent to overall market revenue in 2022, the highest ever.

Samsung led the market in 2022 in terms of shipment value share with a 22 per cent share, followed by Apple, in the country, according to Counterpoint Research.

However, in terms of shipment volume, Xiaomi led the market in 2022 with a 20 per cent share, closely followed by Samsung.

Xiaomi slipped to third position in Q4 2022 with Samsung and vivo capturing first and second spots respectively.

5G smartphones captured a 32 per cent share in 2022. Samsung became the top-selling 5G brand in 2022 with a 21 per cent share.

Apple continued to lead the premium smartphone segment, with the iPhone 13 emerging as the top-selling model. Apple also led the market in Q4 2022 in terms of shipment value.

“Consumer demand started declining from the second quarter when the global economy was crippled by multiple macroeconomic issues like all-time high inflation, rising unemployment and geopolitical conflicts, affecting India’s economy as well,” said senior research analyst Prachir Singh.

Inventory build-up across channels after the second quarter led to lower-than-expected shipments throughout the second half of the year.

“We believe that the inventory and demand situation will continue to affect the market in the first half of 2023 before improving in the latter half driven by the festive season and upgrades to 5G devices,” Singh added.

India’s smartphone shipments declined 9 per cent YoY to reach over 152 million units in 2022, according to the report.

The decline, which is the second ever in India’s smartphone market, can be attributed to the decline in entry-level and budget segments which faced supply constraints at the beginning of the year and then witnessed lower demand throughout the year.

“While entry-tier and budget segments were most affected, the premium segment remained immune and showed double-digit growth. OEMs’ increased focus, consumers upgrading for premium features and, most importantly, availability of various financing schemes,” said research analyst Shilpi Jain.

Overall, India smartphone market revenue remained flat despite a 9 per cent YoY decline in shipments.

OnePlus grew 50 per cent YoY in 2022 driven by the OnePlus Nord CE 2 series.

It focused on diversifying and expanding its product portfolio across different price points and increasing its offline presence to drive sales, the report mentioned.

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WhatsApp working on new software that uses Apple Mac Catalyst

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 Meta-owned WhatsApp is working on a new Mac app that uses the Apple Mac Catalyst development environment to make better use of system resources.

According to AppleInsider, WhatsApp currently provides a web-based Electron app for Mac users in addition to its web app via browsers.

Electron and Catalyst are software development frameworks that help developers create desktop apps.

The new app has been in a closed beta for a few months, but now anyone can download the file on macOS Big Sur or later on the WhatsApp website, according to the report.

Following installation, it will display a QR code that users can scan with their iPhone to link their accounts using the WhatsApp iOS app.

The Mac app’s three-panel interface provides access to archived chats, starred messages, phone calls, and settings.

The Catalyst app includes features not available in the Electron version, such as file drag-and-drop and a spell-checker, the report mentioned.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp has reportedly rolled out some new shortcuts for group admins to quickly and easily perform actions for a certain group participant, on iOS.

The new shortcuts simplify interactions with group members as now the platform supports large groups of up to 1,024 participants, reports WABetainfo.

The new update will help group admins quickly manage and communicate with such a large number of participants in private.

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Mumbai: No jumbo block on Western Railway on Sunday

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There will be no jumbo block on Sunday, January 29 over Western Railway’s (WR) Mumbai suburban section, the WR announced today.

Major block to dismantle Gokhale bridge

Earlier last week, the Western Railway had enforced a major 4.5 hour block on the down slow lines from 12.15am to 4.45am on the intervening nights of Jan 19-20 and Jan 20-21 to carry out dismantling work of the Gokhale road overbridge at Andheri.

As a result, a number of local train services were affected.

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