A new Life of Tech


Google reverses decision to ban Pixel phone resellers

Users had been shut down after they were accused of taking advantage of tax loopholes to earn a profit reselling the phone.
Users had been shut down after they were accused of taking advantage of tax loopholes to earn a profit reselling the phone. Photograph: Kim Jin-a/AP

Google has reversed its decision to disable the accounts of customers who resold the company’s new Pixel phone, after a chorus of complaints over the company’s imposition of a “digital death penalty” for a minor infraction.

The company emailed users who had been banned, noting that it had reviewed their appeals and re-enabled their accounts. Users had been shut down after they were accused of taking advantage of tax loopholes to earn a profit reselling the phone.

In the email, Google said it “takes violations of our terms very seriously, and we ask that you review relevant terms and product policies to ensure that you understand them”. It added: “Repeated violations of our terms may lead to account termination.”

The bans were first reported on Wednesday by Daniel Eleff, the owner of money-saving site Dan’s Deals. Multiple members of his forum had found their Google accounts deactivated, after they’d taken advantage of a deal involving shipping the phone to a reseller in New Hampshire, a US state with no sales tax, who would then split the profit with them after the phone was sold on.

The scheme broke Google’s terms and conditions, and the company banned accounts which had ordered a Pixel phone to be shipped to the reseller (despite the fact that the rule hadn’t previously been enforced in similar situations involving the company’s Nexus phones). It even banned the account of one user which hadn’t ordered a phone, but was listed as the recovery account of an account which had.

Given the scale of Google’s business, however, many of the banned users felt that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Eleff wrote: “I’m not defending those who violated the terms of the sale, but I do think it is heavy handed for Google to block access to all of their services for doing so. Was violating Google’s phone resale policy really worthy of an effective digital death penalty?”

Banned users couldn’t access their emails, voicemails, or uploaded files; they lost access to the photos they’d stored in Google Photos, and any accounts linked to their email address as a password reset or login service.

After the initial reports of the bans, Google emailed Eleff a defence of its actions, saying: “We identified a scheme in which consumers were asked to purchase Pixel devices on behalf of a reseller, who then marked up the cost of those devices in order to resell them to other customers. We prohibit the commercial resale of devices purchased through Project Fi or the Google Store so everyone has an equal opportunity to purchase devices at a fair price. Many of the accounts suspended were created for the sole purpose of this scheme.”

The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Guardian, but its letter to Eleff concluded: “After investigating the situation, we are restoring access to genuine accounts for customers who are locked out of many Google services they rely on.”

Google is not the only company which is unrestrained in its use of the bans. Amazon has come under fire for similarly disproportionate responses, in one case banning a user from its site and all its digital services simply for returning too many items.

Eleff recommends that Google users, even those who think they may not be banned, get in the habit of using Google Takeout, the company’s data-exporting service, to perform weekly back-ups of their Google data. “Many others have moved their email to private servers and other hosts in order to diversify their online presence in case they ever run afoul of Google’s terms,” he adds.


Productivity Commission wants Australians to be given right to opt out of data collection

Data being accessed
The Productivity Commission says Australians need to be given the right to view information held on them, to request edits and corrections, and to be advised of disclosure of their data to third parties. Photograph: Juice/REX/Shutterstock

The Productivity Commission wants to revolutionise how personal data is collected and handled in Australia.

It is calling on the federal government to create a “comprehensive right” for consumers to give them far greater control over their personal data.

It has released a draft report, Data Availability and Use, calling for a new data framework.

It says Australians need to be given the right to view information held on them, to request edits and corrections, and to be advised of disclosure of their data to third parties.

It says they should also have the right to opt out of data collection in some circumstances and to have a “machine-readable” copy of their data provided that could be passed from one service provider to the next.

“Surprising though it may be to many, individuals have no rights to ownership of the data that is collected about them,” said Peter Harris, the chairman of the Productivity Commission.

“Data is increasingly an asset and when you create an asset you should have the ability to use it, or not, at your choice.

“We are proposing the creation of a comprehensive right to data control for consumers that would give people the right to access their data and direct that it be sent to another party, such as a new doctor, insurance company or bank.

“Plus an expanded right for people to opt-out of data collecting activities. And existing privacy laws would remain in place.”

Harris said a new comprehensive right was crucial because personal data was becoming more valuable by the day.

He said it would be a “big shift in competition policy” if Australians had the right to direct data holders, in both the public and private sectors, to transfer a copy of their information to a third party.

“This will give people and business who want to be active consumers genuine control over their data and will allow innovative businesses and governments the chance to offer those consumers better services,” he said.

“It will increase competition and give businesses and governments strong incentives to handle data better.”

The draft report also warns that Australia is falling quickly behind the UK and New Zealand in its use of data for research and it needs to allow broader and faster access to different datasets for important research and development.

“We saw a number of cases where health researchers were waiting years to access data,” Harris said. “This research led to important changes in treatment processes and literally saved lives.

“In one important research study they still don’t have the data they require and they have been waiting eight years.”

The draft report says regulatory frameworks and protections developed for data collection before sweeping digitisation now need reform.

It wants to introduce a new data sharing and release act, a national data custodian and accredited release authorities that will enable better, smoother access to important datasets.

Submissions on the draft report are due by 12 December.

The final report will handed to the federal government by 21 March, 2017.


Huawei Mate 9: do you really want a 5.9in phablet?

Huawei Mate 9 has a 5.9in screen, powerful processor, big battery and dual camera.
Huawei Mate 9 has a 5.9in screen, powerful processor, big battery and dual camera. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Huawei’s new smartphone has a massive 5.9in screen. But just how big do you really want your smartphone to be?

Phablets – smartphones with screen sizes over 5.5in – have become more and more popular, showing a trend migration from their Asian origins to the US and Europe. Even Apple, famous for smaller smartphones, launched a phablet in 2014 with the iPhone 6 Plus. But few phablets have stretched their screens beyond 5.7in.

The new €699 (£621) Huawei Mate 9 has a 5.9in full HD display, dual cameras on the back, is 7.9mm thick and runs the company’s latest version of its customised Android 7.0 Nougat called Emotion UI 5. It also has Huawei’s latest processor, which the company claims is 20% more powerful than its previous generation and more powerful in multi-core operations than Apple, Samsung or Qualcomm’s latest processors.

But the question remains whether buyers in the US and Europe want such a large screen. Previous iterations of the Mate line have not been sold en masse in stores, meaning the Mate 9 is the first of Huawei’s super-sized phablets to officially roll out in the UK.

huawei mate 9
Mate 9 has the next iteration of Huawei’s co-engineered with Leica dual camera on the back. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

With the failure of Samsung’s Note 7, which was expected to be the big seller in the phablet category, Huawei and others have an opportunity to fill the gap. While others have concentrated on the smaller end of the phablet scale, with Google’s Pixel XL having a 5.5in screen, Huawei has attempted to address poor battery life and the slowing down of phones over time.

To do that, the Mate 9 has a large 4,000mAh battery that’s about 500mAh larger than most mainstream phablets, including the Pixel XL, along with a learning-based system, which runs locally on the phone and detects usage patterns, preparing apps that are normally used at certain times of the day to launch faster without impacting battery life or performance.

Huawei claims the system will also be able to run maintenance routines overnight, clear out the cruft and keep the phone running like new two years down the line. Compared with previous versions of the company’s software, it is expected to run 80% faster after a year.