Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Beware of Google Chatbots

You are checking your email on Google when suddenly a chat request from some unknown email address appears in your Google Chat listing. Curious, you accept the invitation, wondering if it is perhaps someone you know. The user's profile pic shows a somewhat provocative female, but unrevealing, and has no face to allow easy identification. The chat starts off with "What's Up" or "How Ya Doing". You reply "Do I know you?" and she quickly replies about how "lonely" she is and is looking to have some "fun". You decline with a "Sorry I'm not interested" and get bombarded with more replies and requests, increasingly of a sexually explicit nature, and inviting you to visit a webcam for more interaction.

As you ask her about how she got your email and repeatedly explain that you are not interested, you are met with more and more of what seem to be "canned" answers. You start to suspect something odd about the interaction. It soon becomes apparent that the other person is not interacting or understanding you at all. You, my friend, are another victim of a "Chatbot", a clever artificial-intelligence program designed to simulate human chat and which is spamming unsuspected Gmail user accounts.

In our increasingly interconnected social-network-based world, sites such as Google (which integrate chat functionality and other features into email) can be targeted by clever "bots" or computer programs which spam other random Gmail users to start chats. The chats appear to be designed to entice users to cam sites which then ask for money. Fortunately, it is easy to block and disable each individual bots. Once you realize what is happening, it is easy to recognize the signature profile information before even opening the chat (which typically has no personal detail, and shows a faceless but provocative female figure). However, there is currently no way to block all external chat requests (as far as I know) so if you get asked to add an unknown email address to your chat listing, simply ignore it.

On the other hand, you can also have some fun with these chatbots. Next time you get a chat request on Gmail from an unknown person, enter into a conversation and see how long it takes you to realize that you are speaking to a computer. Try to outwit the computer or discuss something that you believe only another human should know. Be polite, don't offend (just in case it is a real person - which is unlikely), but do get a first-hand experience of how sophisticated these newer chatbot algorithms can be. And maybe if you are really lonely, you may actually enjoy the interaction. But don't blame me if you end up getting spammed more and more!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Easy iPhone 5 File & Music Transfer

I'm a long-time BlackBerry and Windows PC user and wanted to simulate the experience of managing all kinds of files easily on my newly received iPhone 5c, without the need for using iTunes at all and without any physical connection to my computer. I found an easy way to do what I needed without any Jailbreak, just trying out various apps.... I narrowed it down to 2 free apps that handle what I need (MyMedia and Remote Files Free). I wanted to share it with others who need some of this extra functionality in an easy way. See the video above, and read on below to see how it works!


I want to be able to copy music, documents, photos, PDF files and everything else I can imagine from my Windows PC to the iPhone, and back. The Remote Files Free app connects to a Windows Network share drive. As long as both devices are on the same WiFi connection, you can link... The addresses are all local 192.168.x.x format. The iPhone sees your PC folder and you can move files around. When you copy them to your iPhone, they end up in the "local" app's file store. If you have music, you can upload entire folders and organize tracks. When you play a song, it will play the entire folder if you want so the folder structure becomes your playlist. If you want to copy stuff from your iPhone to the PC, you can do the same thing to transfer files the other way.

The other feature I needed was the ability to download and save practically any file format on the web to the iPhone, either to review later, share or email, or transfer to my computer. I found a free app called MyMedia which has a browser modification allowing download. In the video I used an MP3 download site as an example, but you can do the same with PDF files, documents, photos, videos, or anything you want. When it downloads the file, it saves it to the MyMedia app's file store. 

So here is the kicker... In MyMedia you can "Open in Other Apps", and you pick "Remote Files Free" (RFF)... when that happens, the file gets copied to the root file store of RFF as well. I usually delete it from the MyMedia app, and use the RFF app to organize my files, and also copy if needed to my Windows PC. This is good because I can also email or share the files. I was used to being able to do all this on my BlackBerry effortlessly and one of the things that frustrated me on iPhone was the lack of a central file-store with all of these options. Hopefully people will find this combination of free apps useful for this.... I am sure there are paid apps which do everything (both functions) and jailbreaking options which do even more. However, for someone who just wants an easy way to add this basic feature, this seemed a good way.