Reader suggestions for fixing an iMessage mess

Sunday’s USA Today Q&A about getting one’s mobile number untangled from Apple’s iMessage service looks to be one of the most-read columns I’ve done there. It’s also drawn more than the usual amount of reader feedback–including two reports of remedies that I had not discovered during the week or so I spent digging into this issue.

iPhone Messages settingsOne came from an AT&T subscriber in Minnesota:

A few days before the article I had the same problem and called AT&T.  They had me text the word ‘stop’ to 48369, to which I got the response: “FREE MSG: Apple iCloud ID Verification: You have been unsubscribed and will no longer receive messages. 1-800-275-2273″

I’ve since found one confirmation of that fix in a Reddit comment and a posting on Apple’s tech-support forum. There’s also an Apple tech support notice… which only describes this procedure as a way to stop Apple from sending AppleCare identity-verification messages to a wrong number.

A reader in Washington who said he works “at a major phone retailer” sent in a different suggestion that he said “always” works: Reset your Apple ID password.

Go to https://iforgot.apple.com/password/verify/appleid Enter your Apple ID in the space and just reset your Apple ID password. Even if you don’t have access to that email or security questions, it will remove all Apple registered devices from iMessage instantly.

In case you were wondering: Neither suggestion came up in the background conversations I had with Apple PR, even though one is allegedly endorsed by Apple support.
But that’s not nearly as important as whether either cure can earn an endorsement from you. If you’ve found either one successfully exfiltrated a number from iMessage–or if you have a different fix to share–please leave a comment with the details.
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Sorry, no iPhone review this week

PORTLAND–This may not be the kind of thing I should admit in public, but I am, uh, not reviewing the iPhone 5s or even the 5c for anybody. Things just didn’t work out: One client felt the new models would be covered to death everywhere else, another was holding out hope that Apple would loan a review unit to one of their staff writers, and then I ran out of time to conjure up other options in a week loaded with two conferences in two states.

PDX Apple Store iPhone sign

So that’s how my ambitions of repeating last year’s strategy–where I bought an iPhone 5 and wrote up my findings for two sites before returning it two weeks later–did not pan out. (Fellow tech journalists: Buying and then returning review hardware can be a wonderfully liberating workaround for slow or unresponsive PR departments. Try it sometime!)

I can’t say that I minded not having to run over to some PDX-area AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile store yesterday morning–and possibly find them already out of stock of the 5s–or wait hours at the Apple Store downtown. Even at 9:30 this morning, there was a line waiting outside that shop.

And it’s been pleasant to be able to focus on the XOXO conference here instead of mentally unplugging from it to crank out a review or two.

But beyond the feeling that I’m committing a tech-journalism foul by not holding forth on a new iPhone, I’m personally curious about the 5s. I want to see how the Touch ID fingerprint sensor works, and if the camera represents that big of an improvement over the iPhone 5 camera’s output. Fortunately, a friend on Facebook already made the mistake of bragging about how great Touch ID has been on his new iPhone. He’ll be hearing from me not long after I return to D.C.

Where T-Mobile provides 3G service for older iPhones

T-Mobile iPhone 3GT-Mobile announced today that it’s getting the iPhone. But in a practical sense, it’s “had”  that smartphone since it kicked off a network “refarming” effort last year to provide 3G and HSPA+ 4G service on the 1900 MHz frequencies used by the iPhone 5 and older AT&T-specific models, then started marketing itself as a better option for unlocked iPhones. Before today’s news, the carrier said it already had more than two million unlocked iPhones on its network.

T-Mobile’s Web site, however, doesn’t get around to identifying all of these iPhone-friendly markets–an important detail, since without it you’re stuck with slow 2G “EDGE” data service. (6:59 p.m. Engadget reports that new-production iPhones, T-Mobile’s own model included, will support a wider range of frequencies. I’ve revised the title to reflect that.) T-Mobile’s coverage map doesn’t break them out, and a FAQ page only says “Check at your local T-Mobile store for network status in your area.”

(The screen shot above comes from the iPhone of my friend Paul Schreiber, who’s been keeping me updated on where he’s seen 3G service.)

So I asked a company publicist and got this reply:

The following 49 metro areas currently have 4G service in 1900 MHz. This covers 142 million people.

1. Ann Arbor, MI

2. Atlanta, GA

3. Austin, TX

4. Baltimore, MD

5. Boston, MA

6. Cambridge, MA

7. Chicago, IL

8. Dallas, TX

9. Denver, CO

10. Detroit, MI

11. Fort Lauderdale, FL

12. Fort Worth, TX

13. Fresno, CA

14. Houston, TX

15. Kansas City, KS/MO

16. Las Vegas, NV

17. Los Angeles, CA

18. Miami, FL

19. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

20. Modesto, CA

21. Napa, CA

22. New York, NY

23. Newark, NJ

24. Oakland, CA

25. Orlando, FL

26. Philadelphia, PA

27. Phoenix, AZ

28. Providence, RI

29. Reno, NV

30. Richmond, VA

31. Sacramento, CA

32. Salinas, CA

33. San Antonio, TX

34. San Diego, CA

35. San Francisco, CA

36. San Jose, CA

37. Santa Ana, CA

38. Santa Cruz, CA

39. Santa Rosa, CA

40. Seattle, WA

41. Springfield, MA

42. St. Cloud, MN

43. Stockton, CA

44. Tampa, FL

45. Tucson, AZ

46. Vallejo, CA

47. Virginia Beach, VA

48. Warren, MI

49. Washington, DC

Does that match your experience? Let me know in the comments.

Why I don’t own an iPhone

I’ve written a couple of harsh evaluations of a new Android phone this week: a review of Samsung’s Galaxy Note for Discovery News and a rant for Boing Boing about how the same old vendor-inflicted problems surface on this device.This led to  predictable accusations from readers that I’m in the tank for iOS–that, as it were, I wrote those pieces while affectionately caressing my iPhone.

The problem with that scenario is that I don’t own an iPhone and never have. (My wife has a Verizon iPhone 4 from her office; sometimes she lets me borrow it to try out a new app.) My own phone is an Android device–the battered HTC Hero you see in the photo below, which has exhibited some of the best and worst qualities of Google’s operating system in the two years I’ve owned it.

hero_cyanogen_mod.jpgI didn’t buy an iPhone in 2007, even though I found a great deal to like about it, because I was in the middle of a contract with Sprint. And even if I’d been willing to eat an early-termination fee to defect to AT&T, I would have then had a phone that I couldn’t use anywhere in the subway parts of Metro.

When my contract expired in early 2008, switching to AT&T still would have left me offline for almost all of my commute. I could not wrap my head around the idea of having to use a pay phone to call my wife or the copy desk after work. So–boy, does this look embarrassing now–I took the cheapest adequate option, the Palm Centro Sprint offered for free.

The Centro was no prize, but I figured I could limp along until Android phones arrived for Sprint or Verizon. (AT&T did not wind up offering coverage underground until October of 2009–and still doesn’t work in the two stations closest to my home.)

At my next upgrade window in early 2010, AT&T had shown itself to be a poor steward of Apple’s device by supporting picture messaging months late and failing to upgrade its network in D.C. and elsewhere. On a personal level, I didn’t care to underwrite Apple’s inscrutable App Store curation/censorship–and after enduring two rounds of the “OMG, the iPhone’s here!” get-a-life-you-people media circus, I took perverse satisfaction in thinking differently.

I’d liked the Sprint HTC Hero I’d tried out a few months before, so that’s what I went with instead. In retrospect, that represented dubious judgment on my part; I could have switched to Verizon and gotten the Droid, or I could have suffered with the Centro for another few months and picked up an Evo. Instead, I got a decent phone that got old fast.

Much of that is Sprint and HTC’s fault for abandoning it. They delivered one Android update, an upgrade to Android 2.1 that arrived after I saw Google executives demo Android 2.2, aka “Froyo,” at a developers’ conference in San Francisco. Not long after, I had to root the phone to nuke the bloatware Sprint had welded to it.

After coming back from CES in 2011, thoroughly fed up with how sluggish the phone had become, I wiped the factory software to install an independently-developed build of Android, CyanogenMod. This brought the Hero up to Android 2.2 and, for a time, rejuvenated it. My phone was vastly more responsive, had better battery life, could run new software incompatible with 2.1 and, because I could park apps on its microSD Card, no longer kept flashing “phone is running low on storage” nags. I was all set to rave about the transformation wrought by aftermarket firmware when this thing started crashing a little too often.

“A little too often” degenerated to “all the damn time.” I upgraded to the 7.0 release of Cyanogen, and that briefly fixed things while also bringing free WiFi tethering and an update to Android 2.3 Gingerbread. But this installation, too, became hopelessly afflicted with crashes as its battery life steadily decayed. Upgrading to 7.1 hasn’t improved things much. When this thing crashes for no reason–then crashes again before it can finish rebooting–I feel like throwing it at the floor. (If any of you have tips about what I could to fix this, please share in the comments.) It’s a good thing I happen to have some review phones around to lean on.

I’m now out of contract, and my options are more open than ever. I could get an iPhone 4S on Sprint or Verizon, or I could get another Android phone. As a platform, I like Android. Really. Free turn-by-turn navigation is a huge benefit that makes the iPhone look pathetic. The selection of apps is tremendous–I can’t think of any iOS-only software that I miss. Android’s onscreen widgets and (in 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich) multitasking have no parallel in iOS. I’m just afraid of what the manufacturers and the carriers might do to my next Android phone. It is reassuring that Android offers the escape hatch of third-party firmware–but would that prove as unstable as my current sorry software?

I hope I haven’t gotten myself stuck in yet another abusive phone relationship.

The privacy-scare story arc

Please don’t stop me, but you have read this before: A widely-used tech product is found to have a privacy flaw, spurring consternation among users and calls for action in Congress–as well as panicked “we need something on this” story-assignment e-mails from editors. And then we learn that the situation isn’t as horrific as first portrayed.

The latest version of this tech trope involves the discovery that Apple’s iPhones and 3G-equipped iPads regularly save your location, as determined from nearby wireless transmitters, in a hidden but easily-accessed “consolidated.db” file, and do so without your notice or consent. O’Reilly and Associates researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden summarized their “discovery” yesterday and posted an iPhoneTracker application that lets you see these records on a map.

That quickly led to numerous blog posts illustrated with iPhoneTracker-generated maps portraying their authors’ wanderings in fascinating detail. (That was not the case when I ran this app: Since it only shows data from the most-recently-synced iOS device, its map correctly indicated that the iPad 2 loaned by Apple PR had not left my house.) Congress and the FCC quickly began demanding explanations, while Apple engaged in its characteristic routine of not answering anybody’s questions. (FYI to Apple PR: That’s a good way to make your company look guilty.)

The massive Web traffic typically generated by pieces about Apple and the iPhone could not have hurt this story’s popularity among editors.

But… there’s no evidence that Apple is collecting this data from its users’ computers, an iPhone needs to save its location to help location-based apps function, iOS has always done this and people have known about the log in consolidated.db for months, as computing-forensics research Alex Levinson blogged today. Also, wireless carriers already track your location.

There are still serious issues: Why store this information in perpetuity instead of keeping only recent data? How does this conduct square with Apple’s insistence that third-party apps get your permission before tracking you? The answer to that first and most important question likely boils down to a programming oversight, perhaps fostered by the ever-lower price of flash memory–why bother automatically trimming a log file if you’ve got plenty of room for it?

That’s not nearly as outrageous as a headline like “Apple tracks your location” might suggest. Too bad.

I saw this kind of story arc play out repeatedly in my time at the Post. After two different Facebook privacy scares–each involving the Web’s standard “referrer” feature–turned out to be far less frightening on closer inspection, I wrote a column critiquing over-caffeinated coverage of data breaches.

The next time you see a story along these lines, remember two things. One, software development is rarely tidy. Two, companies exist to make money, preferably with less effort rather than more. Before you freak out over an alleged privacy issue, consider which factor provides a more plausible explanation for the problem.

4/22, 11:40 a.m. The Wall Street Journal’s Julia Angwin and Jennifer Valentino-Devries provide much more context in a story today. They write that both Apple and Google automatically collect data on nearby WiFi hotspots to build out databases that iPhones and Android phones can use to determine their locations faster than GPS would allow. But this doesn’t seem to be much of a secret: As I recall, the setup screens in Android clearly note that Google collects location information to improve its services, and Apple explained its conduct in a letter provided to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last summer and posted on his site.