The Week in Mobile: December 16-21, 2018

Google hit with FTC complaint over kids’ apps, Apple seeds developer beta for iOS 12.1.3, 3D printed heads unlock devices with facial recognition & more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content about the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry — all to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Consumer Advocates Target Kids’ Apps on Google Play

Nearly two dozen consumer advocacy groups have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google Play Store for inappropriate kids’ apps. According to TechCrunch, the complaint centers around children’s apps within the Play Store’s “Family” section introduced in 2015. It lobbies that some apps lure kids into making purchases or watching ads, exposes them to inappropriate content and even violates federal child privacy laws around geolocation sharing.

Google has policies to prevent these practices, but the groups say the company isn’t doing enough to police developers and has been aware of issues for some time. Curbing shady behavior on Play Store has been a major initiative for Google this year, and the company said it’s removed thousands of apps from the Family section. Engadget reports that Google also pulled millions of junk ratings from Play Store this week.

Google’s Mobile-First Indexing Used for Half the Web Pages in Search Results

Google has announced that mobile-first indexing is now used for more than half the web pages displayed in its search results. The milestone is a significant moment for the search giant, which first revealed its efforts to favor mobile websites over desktop pages back in 2016. The reason for the change was straightforward: the majority of Google searches now come from mobile devices and not desktop computers.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez (@sarahintampa) notes: “This, obviously, causes problems when the desktop site and the mobile site are not in sync.”

When the initial wave of websites shifted over to mobile-first indexing, the company said it wouldn’t directly impact how content was ranked. However, mobile-friendliness has long been a factor in Google search results. The company hasn’t said what will happen to websites that never update, but it’s becoming more likely their ranking will suffer.

Apple Releases iOS 12.1.3 Developer Beta

This week, Apple seeded the first developer beta for its upcoming iOS 12.1.3 update. The release comes just days after Apple launched iOS 12.1.2 earlier than expected to address patent infringement claims threatening iPhone sales in China.

9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) explains: “This new beta is actually considered beta 2 because it follows the same train of the previous iOS 12.1.2 beta, but since that version number was taken by the unexpected release, Apple had to increase the patch number.”

The latest version marks the fourth update to iOS 12 so far, and focuses on minor changes, bug fixes and operating system tweaks.

3D Printed Heads Dupe Facial Unlock on Several Smartphones

An experiment in 3D printing has exposed a new security vulnerability for some smartphones that use face unlocking systems. Forbes reporter Thomas Brewster (@iblametom) was able to break into four Android phones (LG G7 ThinQ, Samsung S9, Samsung Note 8 and OnePlus 6) using a 3D-printed model of his own head. The iPhone X was the only mobile device not to be tricked.

There are major repercussions for this discovery, reports TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker):  “It’s no secret that biometrics — your fingerprints and your face — aren’t protected under the Fifth Amendment. That means police can’t compel you to give up your passcode, but they can forcibly depress your fingerprint to unlock your phone, or hold it to your face while you’re looking at it.”

The same apparently goes for 3D-printing, according to experts. That means if you want to protect your data, it may be wise to forego facial recognition in favor of the classic passcode.

Snapchat Adds User-Created Lens Challenges

Snapchat has debuted a new feature that allows users to create and share their own custom lens-based challenges. The new challenges are made using Lens Studio, which allows anyone to make augmented reality filters for the Snapchat app. They can be anything from sing-alongs and dance challenges, to camera tricks that make it look as though the user disappeared.

Engadget’s Kris Holt (@krisholt) writes: “It seems Snap is hoping to tap into the success of popular challenges on TikTok here, particularly when it comes to song and dance challenges.”

Snapchat has struggled to promote user growth this year. After losing some two million monthly active users last quarter, a new customizable feature with viral potential could help the company turn things around.

AT&T Launches First 5G Network in 12 Cities

AT&T has now launched its 5G Network in parts of 12 cities. Barring a shaky claim from Verizon, AT&T becomes the first wireless carrier to deliver a mobile network with this new standard. But according to The Verge, the news doesn’t amount to much for consumers who won’t be able to access the network (or devices for that matter) until next year. However, the announcement does suggest that pricing between the new 5G data plans and old LTE ones will be different, and it will be interesting to see if other carriers follow suit. AT&T’s 5G Network launched on Friday in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco.