Why it’s a good idea to monitor email of a vulnerable adult

#1 got this email today:

Isn’t **** is one of your pass? My name is Aubert. 

Porn site you watched had my backdoor planted which taped a video of your greasy stimulating actions with the help of your cam and even taped the clip you were playing. In the video recording you happen to be appearing pleasing. 

Your current email and FB contacts were then sent to me by my malware. 

I’ll email your recording to your friends unless you pay me $1000 via B I T C O I N S in the next 36 hours to the below address: 
B I T C O I N Address: **** 
Make sure to Copy-Paste address because it is case sensitive. 

Once you have sent the money, I will destroy your video and every bit of information I have about you. 

If I do not receive the money, I will send your video to every contact of yours. Think concerning the awkwardness you will get. and likewise if you are in an important relationship, how it will eventually affect? 

If you want proof? Reply “Yes”, and I will email your recording to eight of your email contactsinstantly. 

Yours truly 

This is why it’s a good idea to monitor the email of a vulnerable adult. I’d probably wouldn’t notice this email, I’d delete it in my sleep. A vulnerable adult doesn’t think that way. They are prey.

Our Explorer emails forward incoming email to us, so we caught this one immediately. I deleted it before #1 read it, but I printed a copy to teach him about these scams.

Google’s Family Link for remote device management – puberty, adulthood, and Google Suites

Special needs teens and adults are a vulnerable population. As parents and guardians (Guides) we are obliged to protect them from threats as best we can. Some of those threats can come from smartphones.

Smartphones can promote independence, but they also create risks and harms. The hardest part of my ‘iPhone for all book project’ is writing about how to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms. Excessive screen time is one harm. Other problems include web content that triggers a problematic obsession [4], social media mistakes, scams, trolls and predators, and even legal semi-scams like costly game add-ons and subscriptions.

Guides need tools to manage these risks. We need tools that for teens who live with us, and for adults who may have a separate residence. Especially for the latter, we need remote management tools [1] we can use from our own smartphones or computers.

Apple has effectively no remote management tools [2]. The one small exception is ‘ask to buy’ functionality for Family Sharing — which only works for under 18. In theory third parties could fill this gap, but I’ve found problems with all of the solutions I’ve tested. Qustodio’s VPN can’t handle encrypted connectionsMMGuardian has several killer flaws, and their competition didn’t  even meet my minimal test standards [3].

Google, on the other hand, has multiple remote management tools. If you use Google Suite (but not the free version some of us have) you have a business class mobile device management tool that even supports iPhones. If you’re an educator you can use Google Classroom and G Suite for Education. Lastly, if you’re a parent, you can use Family Link.

Family Link includes:

  • app level blocks and permissions
  • screen time limits
  • web activity controls (!)
  • location tracking

Family Link isn’t quite perfect. It’s not available for G Suite users for example — so if you’re a geek family and have paid for G Suite Basic you’re out of luck [4]. 

There’s also a manageable problem with turning 13. Google considers this the “age of consent” for the US. They don’t seem to mean this in the legal sense of consenting to sexual intercourse (that’s currently 16 in most American states), it seems to mean consenting to parental control. At age 13 a family link member can opt out of the program. When this happens the “parent” will be notified and the child’s “devices will be temporarily locked and unusable”. Originally the program simply ended at age 13, so this is an improvement. The current behavior is annoying, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

I wondered if there was another transition at age 18 (adulthood in the US and most nations). It’s not currently documented anywhere, but Google’s Help service responded to my inquiry (!). They say 13 is the only transition, there are no further changes at age 18. That’s very good news for vulnerable adults.

Android’s multiple controls are enough to knock off Qustodio, MMGuardian and the rest for Android customers. That leaves only the iOS market now, and Apple has made it quite hard for third party vendors to support this range of services.

When it comes to protecting children and vulnerable adults, Android has pulled well ahead of iOS. We can only hope Apple will feel some pressure to match what Google has done.

– fn –

[1] These are known as ‘mobile device management’ tools. That term is most often used in the context of business and education, but it includes this use.
[2] iOS devices have remote management capabilities, but Apple doesn’t offer tools to work with them. They have left this for third-party vendors.
[3] This kind of software is quite hard to test, which may explain why there are so few serious reviews. The more I learn about how Apple mobile device management works the more I understand why vendors struggle to provide a good solution. This can’t be a very profitable niche, especially now that Google provides Family Link for free, and all vendors know there’s a risk that Apple will provide their own solution and wipe out the industry.
[4] G Suite users have G Suite mobile device management, but it’s designed for different kinds of concerns and is a poor fit to the family user.

Update 10/6/2018Gordon’s Tech: Only Apple can provide family mobile device management for iOS. Might require governmental pressure.

The state of the book – August 2018

When I started my book project a part of me thought it would take about 6 months. A little voice, however, said I would take years. Even then I knew the little voice was right. My only consolation was that I was pretty sure nobody else would be crazy enough to tackle this project.

I started in the fall of 2015, so it’s been about 3 years. When I began I was going to handle both Android and iOS smartphones in one book. I gave up on that idea over a year ago, it’s iPhone only now. Maybe one day I’ll do an Android version, but no promises on that.

During the past year I’ve chipped away at the project for a few hours on Sunday mornings and the odd vacation days (like today). I now have second and third drafts for the contents of these chapters (from Scrivener):

Book Chapters

It’s still a long way from done. My current goal is to get 1st edition out by spring 2019 (iOS 12) and a 2nd edition for iOS 13. I’ll be self-publishing of course.

With iOS 12 I have to rewrite the “Setting up” (includes restrictions/parental controls) chapter completely. That’s a good thing; the current version is too complex and detailed. I’m going to redo it focusing on the highest value basics and either give up on the fine points or move them into an appendix. Throughout the book I have screenshots to do and redo and, of course, lots of editing and proofreading and revising. I think I have the right topics and base material though.

One day, one way or another, barring catastrophe, I’ll finish the book.

iPhone independence – what if the phone dies?

The premise of Smartphones for All is that a carefully configured iPhone can support greater independence for teens and adults with cognitive disabilities (Explorers), just as an electric wheelchair supports independence for someone with a motor disability.

What happens when the wheelchair breaks? That’s when a phone is handy. Pull over and call for help. Just like when a car breaks down.

Likewise, what happens when an Explorer’s iPhone is lost, stolen, or broken? In this case an Explorer can just … umm … right. This is a hard problem, one I hadn’t considered until recently.

We haven’t had a dead iPhone crisis yet. Our Explorers are very careful with their iPhones, more careful than they are with anything else. “Bob” always carries an auxiliary power supply, he’s never close to losing power. He loses everything but his phone; we recently switched him to a wallet phone case so he won’t lose his bus pass and ID.

But even if Bob never loses his phone, it could certainly be stolen or dropped and broken. At that point his autism will intensify, he will lose language skills, he will become agitated and anxious. As an average size adult male he may make people around him fearful. He will lose memory access and be unable to recall our mobile numbers. He could draw police attention — and even though St Paul police are among the best anywhere (they do autism training!) it would be a risky situation. If he were in Minneapolis …

“Ted” wouldn’t be in quite as much trouble. If he were on his bicycle he’d simply ride home. If he didn’t have transportation he’d be happy to seek out police assistance. He’d be more comfortable asking a stranger for help; that’s a low risk option for a strong adult male and a stranger that he chooses. (It’s a riskier option for a vulnerable female if the stranger approaches them.) Even for Ted though, advance planning would be wise.

So what do we do about this? High quality, high visibility protective cases reduce the risk of loss and breakage. Replacing an older battery reduces the risk of unexpected power loss. We will have both Explorers practice reciting E’s mobile number from memory.

We’re also developing a script that goes something like this:

  1. If your iPhone is stolen or lost don’t try to recover it. We will replace it. (Bob will be particularly anxious about being blamed for the loss or breakage.)
  2. Find somewhere quiet to sit or walk alone and practice calming. This may take 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. If you are at work or school you can ask for help from an official. If you are in a retail store or restaurant ask for help from the manager. In other spaces look for help from a police officer or other official. If you approach a stranger choose a larger male rather than a smaller woman, they will be less nervous.
  4. Explain that you have autism, have lost your phone, and are in trouble. Ask if the person helping you can make a call for you to your mother.
  5. If you can’t reach Mom take a break and try again in 15 minutes. If you approached a stranger let them go, you’ll work with someone else for the second try.
  6. If you still can’t reach Mom or an official then ask a stranger to call 911 for police emergency and explain that you have autism to the dispatcher. Then wait for the police to arrive.

This is a complicated script. My current thought is to print a modified version on one side of a business card. The other side would explain about our Explorer’s disability and have more extensive contact information. We’d print hundreds of these and regularly put them into pants pockets.

We could also buy a device that would print/label clothing and put E’s contact number onto clothing — along with a TinyURL for more information.

Perhaps one day our Explorers may carry a backup phone in the form of a smartwatch with SIM card. That’s a relatively expensive option for now but I’m considering it.

I’m going to have to work this into a book chapter.

Smartphones for All chapter excerpt: Music for iPhone Explorers

From Smartphones for All (draft):

In our family music has been problem-free entertainment. I think this is a general rule — music doesn’t show up on anyone’s list of smartphone concerns. Fifty years ago elders feared the corrupting influence of rock-and-roll, now that seems quaint. Music we can handle.

There are broadly speaking, 3 ways of getting music to an Explorer’s iPhone: iTunes sync, buying music from Apple Music, or using a streaming service. I’ll review each briefly with a focus on Guide support and costs, then I’ll briefly review Restrictions for music consumption.

The iTunes sync method of getting music to an iPhone is the oldest and potentially the least expensive — but it is now almost forgotten. It a Windows or Mac computer. With this approach a Guide assembles music files in Apple’s iTunes app, then the music can be copied (“synced”) to the iPhone, usually with a physical cable[1]. The music can from a CD (by “ripping” in iTunes) or from a file collection that is not copy protected.

This iTunes method has three disadvantages. It requires a personal computer — and those are slowly going away. It requires an Explorer’s iPhone be physically connected. Lastly “ripping” large number of CDs is pretty time consuming.

iTunes sync has advantages though. If a Guide already has the music files, and is willing to disregard copyright laws or to buy and rip used CDs, the music is inexpensive. Listening to this music doesn’t use up expensive cellular data since it’s already on the iPhone.

There’s a variation on iTunes sync that eliminates the need for access to the Explorer’s iPhone. For $25 a year Apple’s iTunes Match[2] service will provide internet access to an iTunes music library. In theory a Guide could use this to manage Explorer music without access to an Explorer’s iPhone. This is method may use up an Explorer’s cellular data though, and it’s more troublesome and complicated. If an Explorer is using iTunes Match a Guide will usually want to disable cellular data for Music.app, an Explorer will download the music over WiFi.

The second way to get music on an Explorer’s iPhone is to buy it from Apple using the Apple store. At $1.30 a tune this can be an expensive way to build a music collection[3]. The music may be available to other users by a shared Apple Store ID or “family sharing”. This method will use cellular data unless initial downloading is done over WiFi. Some Explorers do enjoy making purchases this way and Apple Store purchases can be combined with iTunes sync. I reviewed how to manage iTunes store dollars in Smartphone choice and managing costs. In my family we share one App Store account and track credits and debits in a spreadsheet.

The third way to get music to an Explorer’s iPhone is through a “streaming service” like Spotify or Apple Music. These services typically cost $100 to $120 a year for the non-student and about $60 for students. Shared “family” plans can be more economical, Spotify makes it easy for up to 6 people to share streaming costs. Spotify also has a “free” ad-supported service, but it burns cellular data quickly. I don’t recommend it for most Explorers.

Streaming services will use up expensive cellular data unless music is downloaded over WiFi. WiFi downloading is easier to understand with Apple Music but Spotify supports it as well. If cellular data use is disabled in iOS restrictions most Explorers will quickly learn how to download over WiFi.
Spotify’s paid version (Premium) with cellular data disabled is the easiest and most economical solution for most Explorers — particularly if they can share an account with friends or family. Apple Music streaming is a bit simpler to use, but cost sharing is more restrictive. It’s a good alternative to Spotify.

[1] Or by local WiFi, but that method can be quirky.
[2] iTunes Match is also bundled with Apple Music for $120 a year. Apple Music can be shared with family for a higher fee, but iTunes Match doesn’t do family sharing. It’s complicated! Also, I think Apple is eventually going to discontinue iTunes Match.
[3] Historically building a music library was expensive, but many people bought used CDs or records for less

iOS 12: Restrictions becomes Screen Time with “family” support, definition of “child” is a concern for vulnerable users

Two years ago Apple’s iOS had better family restriction options than Google’s Android. In the past year Google has forged ahead and Apple has stood still. In my testing third party apps that claim to manage iPhone use fail badly — due to lack of Apple support.

With iOS 12 Apple is redoing “restrictions” as “Screen Time”. Reports claim support for remote management of “child” users.

This could be real progress for special needs iPhone users — or it could be a disappointment. It all depends how Apple defines “child”. I’m afraid Apple will arbitrarily set “child” as someone under age 18.

I say that because there’s a worrisome precedent in iOS 11 family sharing. In iOS 11 a family sharing manager can require purchase authorization for family members — but only for family members under age 18.

If Apple adopts this same rule, without consideration of vulnerable adults, Screen Time won’t be as useful as it could be. A month ago, for what it’s worth, I wrote Tim Cook about this — though I think it’s too late now to make changes for iOS 12. There might be a chance to make changes for iOS 13.

It’s not all bad of course. Screen Time will be an improvement for Explorers under age 18, and maybe Apple will provide better support for third parties to extend Screen Time.

There’s an important context to this problem. In our culture there’s some popular support for persons with disabilities that fall within the scope of the ADA. Apple, for example, has often done a good job, particularly in iOS, of supporting limitations in vision and hearing. That support doesn’t extend to persons with cognitive disabilities. There is no cognitive disability section in iOS Accessibility settings. If Apple thought about cognitive disabilities the way they thought about visual limitations, there would be a “vulnerable adult” toggle that would eliminate the “over 18” rule. There would be a “simplify interaction” toggle that would support one-tap activation of the dozens of simplifications I describe in “Smartphones for All”. There would be explicit support for a “Guide” user that managed two-factor authentication issues.

I haven’t seen any signs of either Apple or Google engaging with the cognitive disability community. These are corporations that value intellect; perhaps they find cognitive disability distasteful. Government regulation and/or ADA litigation may be needed.

Chapter Excerpt: Maps and Transit

I was surprised that these apps haven’t been more useful for our Explorers. I’d love to hear of different stories. Email me at jf@sphone4all.com and share!

Location tracking has been a big win for our Explorers. To my surprise the map and transit apps we’ve tried have been less valuable … so far! I’ll try to explain why.

First, a little background. There are exactly two 1 map and navigation apps for the iPhone, Apple Maps.app and Google Maps.app. They are both very good at managing auto navigation, but most Explorer’s don’t drive cars 2. Aside from auto navigation they can be used for walking, transit (bus, light rail, etc), bicycling, and sharing a location. I’ll discuss each of these — and my guess on why we’ve seen limited use over the past 5 years.

Our Explorers walk of course, but they don’t walk alone to unfamiliar places. When they walk in familiar locations their needs vary. One Explorer is exceptionally good at navigating a location after even one visit — so he has no need of walking directions. Another could benefit from walking directions, but smartphone pedestrian navigation is not a great experience. Google Maps.app walking navigation is particularly weak, 3 but both Apple maps.app and Google Maps.app are limited by today’s location tracking technology. It’s just not well suited to a slow moving person. I think walking directions will be more important in the future. Today I’d suggest using Apple Maps.app for walking rather than Google Maps.app

Transit (bus, light rail, etc) directions have also been less useful than I’d once expected. In practice transit directions are complex to plan and follow; they require careful attention to time. One Explorer regularly uses public transit, but he uses only a few routes he knows well.  If an Explorer needs a Transit app I’d recommend Apple Maps.app if it covers your region, otherwise consider either Google Map.app or Transit.app 4.

Some Explorers ride bicycles in urban areas, but our bicycling Explorer doesn’t use Google Maps. He only travels routes he knows from prior rides. In my own bicycle riding I have found Google Maps better for route planning than for turn-by-turn directions, and even then I’ve gotten some ill-advise route directions. This is another area where there’s room for improvement.

Lastly there’s the option of an Explorer using Apple or Google maps to identify their current location and share it by text message or a phone call. In practice however we’ve never needed that, we know where our Explorers are using location tracking.

Map and Transit apps turned out to be less useful than I’d expected. It’s an area we’re continuing to work on.


1 There used to be more but most have been abandoned. These two are both excellent.

2 Our Explorer #1 does watch my Google Maps.app when I drive. He warns me when it looks like I’m going to ignore a map prompt.

3 When I use Google Maps walking directions I lock the map so the compass icon doesn’t rotate, then I lock the phone screen so the phone doesn’t rotate, then I find North using Compass.app and orient the Map arrow to point north. Then it’s useable. I really wonder what Google was thinking.

4 I’m not sure how this app stays in business though.



Two factor authentication and managing a dependent’s iPhone (technical!)

Warning: This is geekier than most of my Smartphones for All posts. I wrote it to help me think through some chapter revisions.

The short version

Two factor authentication is inevitable (see below for why), but by design it makes it harder for a Guide to support an Explorer’s (dependent person’s) independence through ethical identity assumption (surrogacy).

The potentially good news is that as of May 2018 Apple’s 2FA supports a “trusted browser” option for access to iCloud.com. If an Explorer’s iPhone has enabled 2FA, a Guide can use the Explorer’s iPhone to “authenticate” the browser they are using [5] to manage the Explorer’s iCloud.com data.

To authenticate a browser (really, a “browser-identity” or “user” in Chrome-speak) the Guide will need the Explorer’s iPhone at hand. In my testing I first enabled 2FA on my test device. Using Chrome on my MacBook I then switched to the Chrome User assigned to my test iPhone, accessed iCloud.com, and entered my test device (“Explorer”) credentials. The iPhone responded with a verification query and provided a passcode. Once I entered the passcode into an iCloud.com dialog I was able to “Trust this browser”.

Trust this browser chrome

After enabling this Trust relationship I could connect to the “Explorer” iCloud account without providing any credentials.

Behind the scenes a token (“cookie”) was stored on my local browser-managed storage area (more on that below). I believe the cookie is X-APPLE-WEBAUTH-HSA-TRUST [6]:

Webauth cookie

I set this cookie on 5/25/2018 and the expiration date is shown as 8/22/2018 — three months from now. So three months is likely the upper limit on how long a browser identity can be “trusted”; physical access to an Explorer device will be needed at least every 3 months to reenable Trust.

I suspect there are other ways a browser identity can become “untrusted” but none of this seems to be documented. I’ll update this post as I experiment and learn more. 

For now life is easier if you avoid 2FA for Explorers. After all, Explorers don’t need to know or type their strong password iCloud credentials, so they can’t accidentally expose them! If 2FA has been implemented you can disable it. 2FA is probably inevitable though, so it’s good to know there might be a practical way to continue identity assumption and digital life support.

Some (optional)background on how we got here, and the problems ahead

Two factor authentication (2FA, also known as two factor verification), practically speaking, is the use of something besides a password to prove someone’s identity. We need it because humans are bad at creating and managing passwords [3], because even secure passwords are often harvested by malware, and because the typical secure password is impossible to tap or type reliably.

Given the failure of passwords the alternative to 2FA has been the (not) “Secret Question”. The Secret Question is known among security specialists as “security theater” or “Potemkin protection”. The less said about the “Secret Question” the better.

So it’s easy to see why 2FA is being aggressively promoted by Apple and Google. 2FA has problems, however. Different vendors have different standards for 2FA, and the approaches are changing quickly. For a while some used SMS messages [4], until some genius discovered that mobile numbers get reused (yes, this was obvious). Then we seemed to have a standards based approach, but Apple never adopted it and even Google seems to be moving to a proprietary solution [1].

The differing standards have consequences. Every vendor has a different approach to 2FA recovery when a device (typically a smartphone) is lost or unavailable, or a user is disabled or dead, or a device is replaced. Not one person in a thousand can keep track of all the options (ex: one-use bypass passwords) for all their services, and fewer still can manage it for all their family devices. Just imagine the directions that need to be written for one’s estate!

These consequences are going to be felt by everyone, but there are unique issues for Guides and Explorers (vulnerable persons with cognitive disabilities). Recovery options setup for children may not be available to vulnerable adults, even for Guardians. Most of all, two factor authentication is specifically designed to defeat identity assumption (aka identity assignation or surrogacy). So 2FA defeats the ethical identity assumption Guides use to manage an Explorer’s digital life.

Yes, Houston, we have a problem. Passwords are no longer sufficient [2], but 2FA defeats ethical identity surrogacy. In theory vendors could build in a surrogacy solution, but it’s easy to understand why they don’t want to do this. It’s a complex problem [2], though there is some hope. It’s not only the relatively powerless Explorer community that’s impacted, the children of aging adults are going to start running into the same problem with managing their parent’s digital life. Sooner or later vendors will have to come up with solutions for this bigger population. Unfortunately that is going to take a while.

– fn –

[1] Facebook, weirdly enough, might give the standard new life. Years ago there was serious discussion about using the Post Office as part of identity management, that could have helped with a standards approach. I’m sympathetic to that idea, but it seems unlikely these days.
[2] Problems like this are part of the reason my “Smartphones for All” book is taking so long to publish. I keep running into major landscape changes.
[3] Apple’s keychain approach to password management deserves more credit than it gets. It almost works as a password manager and it’s much more likely to be used than geek-centric products like 1Password. This is one area where on-device “AI” may help.
[4] Apple, worryingly, still uses SMS during part of their authentication. They also still use Secret Questions. Given where we are in managing validation this might be a necessary compromise.
[5] Chrome’s multi-user identity switching support is essential for managing an Explorer’s digital data. Safari doesn’t have native identity switching.
[6] Chrome’s browser dev tool inspectors are amazing. Incidentally, a search for X-APPLE-WEBAUTH-HSA-TRUST turned up very few references today.

Chapter excerpt: Location Sharing for Explorers – techniques

Location sharing is one of the most important benefits of iPhone use for our Explorers. I previously posted an excerpt about the ethics of location sharing, this is about methods.

We use Apple location sharing to track the locations of our Explore’s phones. It’s enabled one to ride his bicycle across a large metropolitan area and another to travel by bus to and from school. We rely on it.

There are two ways to track the location of an Explorer’s phone — and, indirectly, to track an Explorer’s location 1. I’ll review the two options and why to use one or another, then I’ll say something about privacy and independence.

The simplest way to track an Explorer’s iPhone is to use Apple’s “Find iPhone” service. You can use it on an iPhone or use the iCloud web version of Find iPhone.  Either way a Guide will need to know the Explorer’s iCloud credentials, but most Guides will have these so they can manage an Explorer’s iCloud data 2. The iCloud web method is the easy to use; just login to the Explorer’s account and click on Find iPhone. You’ll see a map with the iPhone’s location.

The other way to track an Explorer’s iPhone is to use “Find Friends”. If you have setup Family Sharing 3 on your iPhone there’s a shortcut to share locations with other members of the Family, but typically a Guide would use an Explorer’s iPhone to setup Find Friends. (The Find Friends web app can show Friends, but it cannot add them.) Launch Find Friends.app on the Explorer’s iPhone then tap Add Friends, enter your Guide email address, and specify “indefinitely”. The Guide’s iPhone will receive an invitation to likewise share the Guide’s location with the Explorer, your choice won’t affect the Explorer’s location sharing.

Once location sharing is setup a Guide can launch Find Friends.app on their personal iPhone and see the Explorer’s location (and the Guide’s location as well as anyone else who has shared their location). A Guide can also ask to be notified when your Explorer leaves or arrives at a location and can ask for directions to reach an Explorer’s location.

An Explorer can turn off location sharing in Find Friends.app unless you enable a Restriction setting that blocks changes. An Explorer can’t disable Find iPhone location sharing unless they know their iCloud credentials. Putting an iPhone in Airplane mode with WiFi off, or turning off the iPhone 4, will always prevent location sharing.

Location sharing isn’t perfect. In our experience it works better if an Explorer is using a high quality mobile carrier with good signal strength. The Find Friends location alerts (“geofencing”) don’t always work for unclear reasons. Despite these limits location sharing has been a huge benefit to our Explorers; for our family it justifies iPhone use all by itself.

– fn –

1 It’s easy to forget the aren’t the same thing — we track the location of the Explorer’s iPhone, not the location of the Explorer.

2 As discussed in earlier chapters most Explorers do not need to know their iCloud passwords.

3 See User Guide or https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201088

4 One of our Explorer is very protective of his iPhone power reserve. He turns off his iPhone when he’s not using it. This was a problem for his bike rides, so leaving the iPhone powered on became a prerequisite for independent riding.