Dissertation (Literature Review)

Writing a literature review for a dissertation requires extensive reading of relevant literature in order to capture the central themes, trends in contemporary discourse relating to the subject matter, and controversies surrounding the topic in question. Identifying research gaps is also a major objective of writing a literature review. The sample literature review presented below is 17 pages long, and the writer had to review over 14 sources to provide the required analysis of the topic. Read on and learn about privacy of data on smartphones and how it is being invaded.

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Question:

Privacy of data on smartphone devices

Write a literature review about invasion of privacy on smartphones. Include:

  1. Real-life examples about invasion/stalkers/hackers.
  2. Examples about police tracking without a warrant that started after the USA Patriot Act.
  3. Worldwide laws about privacy on smartphones

Answer

Contents

Overview of data privacy concerns in the use of smartphones. 2

Privacy of smartphone data in the era of the USA Patriot Act 3

Real-life examples about invasion, stalkers, and hackers. 5

Examples of police tracking smartphones without a warrant that started after the USA Patriot Act 10

Worldwide laws about privacy on smartphones. 13

Conclusion. 17

References. 19

Overview of data privacy concerns in the use of smartphones

Today, smartphones have become very popular among users of mobile devices around the world. By July 2012, some 114 million Americans were in possession of these versatile communication devices (New York Times, 2012). One of the reasons why smartphones have become extremely popular is the ability by users to perform numerous tasks using various software applications installed in these smartphones. For this reason, developers of mobile applications have in recent years achieved tremendous success in contributing to the continued success of the smartphone industry. However, these developers have failed to shrug off criticism of violation of rules governing access to the personal information of consumers.

Today, one of the most serious challenges facing smartphone users is the privacy of their data. Mobile devices such as smartphones are increasingly become prime targets for companies that are keen to access users’ personal data. This threat occurs mainly because of the gap between the privacy that consumers expect from the applications installed on their smartphones and the experience they actually get. In many smartphone applications, software developers often fail to give effective notices regarding the data they are going to collect from the users of mobile devices. They also fail to obtain consent from the users of these devices before collecting their personal data.

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Some of the personal information that is readily accessible by many applications includes internet browsing habits, contact lists, and geographic location. A study done in 2012 showed that 19 percent of applications installed in Apple iOS 5 accessed the address books of users without their consent or knowledge, while 41percent of these devices tracked users’ locations Mayer, 2013). Moreover, 40 percent of these devices were found not to have encrypted the user data that they collected, potentially increasing the vulnerability of this data to hackers (Mayer, 2013).

The concerns regarding privacy of data have led to the introduction of the Application Privacy, Protection and Security (APPS) Act 2013. This bill is intended to ensure that the privacy of consumers is not compromised through mobile devices. This bill, if enacted, would impose a requirement on all developers of applications to maintain privacy policies, inform consumers and obtain their consent before collecting their data, and secure all the data that they collect. The introduction of this bill is a culmination of a growing clamor for federal authorities to take stern action to safeguard the privacy and security of consumers who use mobile devices such as smartphones.

Privacy of smartphone data in the era of the USA Patriot Act

It is imperative to explore  some past measures that federal authorities in the US have undertaken with a view to influence the privacy and security of its citizens in one way or the other. One of these measures is the enactment of the USA Patriot Act. The passage of this act effectively overhauled the country’s surveillance laws by vastly expanding the authority of the government to spy on its citizens. At the same time, the Act drastically reduced all checks and balances on those powers, notably public accountability, judicial oversight, and the ability by citizens to challenge searches by authorities in court.

In many ways, the revisions made through the Patriot Act were part of long-standing attempts by Congress to reform the US surveillance law. In some cases, these efforts had been rejected repeatedly. However, Congress reversed course primarily through ‘coercive tactics’ used by the Bush administration in the weeks that followed the September 11 attack. The Bush administration gave the implication that members of Congress who voted against the bill would be blamed for further attacks on the US soil.

The USA Patriot Act and the manner in which it was passed matters a lot in the current debate regarding privacy of data on smartphone devices and the attempts to seek solutions through the APPS Act 2013. During the enactment of the Patriot Act, both Congress and the Bush administration did not undertake a systematic effort to highlight all weaknesses in the country’s surveillance laws. They did not systematically determine whether the changes introduced would help the country prevent further terror attacks. If anything, most of the provisions of the Act are not related in any way to terrorism. In the same way, care should be taken to ensure that the provisions made in the APPS Act 2013 address the challenges of privacy of data on mobile devices.

Concerns relating to the USA Patriot Act have particularly increased in today’s smartphone era. Public officials and civil liberties groups continue to air concerns about the privacy rights of citizens since the enactment of the Patriot Act. It is now more than a decade since the enactment of this law and many changes have occurred in the world of technology. More information relating to private citizens has gone into the public domain today than at any other time in the world’s history. 

The Patriot Act allows the government to conduct surveillance that is not founded on any suspicion. Moreover, wireless tapping has become law and phone companies have been accorded legal immunity whenever they share consumers’ personal information. Moreover, the Act allows the government to obtain court orders to tap into conversations and correspondence between US citizens and persons located in foreign countries.

Leading telecommunication companies have largely been cooperating with US authorities in surveillance efforts both domestically and internationally. These companies seem to appreciate the fact that the Patriot Act has ushered far-reaching changes in the counterterrorism strategy of the US. However, on the part of the citizens, an environment of confusion seems to prevail regarding the extent to which the privacy of their data is guaranteed. Such concerns tend to increase whenever news about authorities’ attempts to access information on consumers’ smartphones emerges. For example, in 2009, news surfaced about a decision by the Michigan state police to purchase and deploy devices for use in collecting data from smartphones (Serwer, 2012). The police were accused of failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (Serwer, 2012). In response, authorities in Michigan claimed that the gadgets were only being used in very special cases where a warrant had been issued (Serwer, 2012).

The USA Patriot Act significantly expanded the ability by third parties to access personal records of US citizens. Indeed, one of the most contentious provisions of this Act is the one that allows authorities to have access to records held by third parties, giving information regarding citizens’ activities. This concern is worth pondering over given that it comes in an era of computerization where more and more records of citizens’ personal information is being stored in computers and mobile device such as smartphones. Moreover, when this information becomes readily available, the risk of expose to unauthorized persons, hackers, invaders, and stalkers increases considerably.

Real-life examples about invasion, stalkers, and hackers

Smartphone users tend to use these mobile devices in so many ways that they literally become an extension of their lives. The devices contain personal information of different varieties, including phone numbers, email addresses, personal photos, and calendar appointments. However, for many users, the greatest concern is that these highly versatile mobile devices contain shopping apps (applications) and bank account apps that store crucial personal financial information. Moreover, the smartphone continually tracks one’s location, thereby making it possible for one’s current whereabouts to be accurately determined.

There are many real-life examples of situations in which smartphone users have had their data privacy violated in the recent past. In March 30, 2012, the New York Times published an article about a smartphone app by the name “Girls Around Me”, a creepy mobile app that allows the user to find women in his area (Schmidt, 2012). This app uses a mobile service known as Foursquare to determine one’s location. The apps works by simply scanning for girls and women in a specific area who may have recently checked in on the Foursquare service. The stalker identifies a woman he would like to talk to, one who has no idea that someone is snooping on her. He then connects to her through Facebook in order to see her personal photos, profile photos, full name, and even send her messages.

One must log in to Facebook to use the “Girls Around Me” application (Schmidt, 2012). This is the stage where most personal information is accessed by the app. Upon logging in to Facebook, the app asks for all information about the users, who are required to share all their basic information including basic information, photos, profile information, information shared among friends, and email address. The app also requests for permission to access the user’s data when he is not using it and to post photos and status updates on his behalf. If this app did not link back to people’s Facebook accounts, it would have been a completely different mobile device platform. The developers would not have succeeded in getting access to personal information of millions of female Facebook users as a basis for stalking by users of the app. Apple Company removed the application from its iTunes Store soon after the publication of the New York Times article.

The issue of smartphone searches upon has also become controversial in recent times (Yuan, 2005). Traditionally, police officers have the authority to search the pockets, wallets, purses, and other possessions of a suspect upon his arrest. However, courts remain divided on whether it is reasonable going by the Fourth Amendment for an arresting officer to rummage through the suspect’s smartphone and gain access to massive personal information of the suspect(Mansfield-Devine, 2012).

Swingle (2012) highlights an incident in Virginia in March 2008 where a school teacher was arrested for drunk driving. The arresting officer searched his pockets and found a smartphone. He opened the photograph folder of the phone and found pictures of the teacher and his naked girlfriend. The police officer immediately invited other officers to come and “enjoy” seeing the sexually explicit photos (Swingle, 2012). The school teacher brought a civil rights case against the police officer. A federal court in Virginia ruled that the police officer was protected by laws governing qualified immunity since the issue of smartphone search remains upon under laws governing search and seizure. In most jurisdictions, a police officer is allowed to search the contents of one’s cell phone since it is assumed to constitute a valid search incident in the process of arresting the suspect (Swingle, 2012). However, a few jurisdictions argue that it constitutes an unreasonable search (Swingle, 2012).

In United States v. Finley, the court ruled that in an incident to arrest, it was reasonable for a police officer to search the call records and text messages of a cell phone found on the person of the suspect. In this 2007 case, the court argued that a cell phone was just one of the many types of containers that may be found on the person of the suspect. In recent times, this point of view has been adopted by the majority of jurisdictions that are faced with the need to consider the issue. In some cases, case laws even suggest that police officers may reasonably unlock password-protected smartphones seized in the process of arresting the suspect.

 In contrast, the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2009 ruled against smartphone searches during the process of arresting suspects. The court argued that such an act was against the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. This ruling was made in State v. Smith, in which case the court held that smartphones allow for access to high-speed internet, meaning that it can store tremendous amounts of sensitive, private data. In view of the court, this feature of the smartphone made it to be unlike all the other containers for purposes of analyzing the Fourth Amendment. The court added that this massive volumes of personal information meant that users had very high expectations of privacy of their smartphones’ contents. The court directed police officers to obtain a warrant before intruding into the contents of suspects’ cell phones.

In May 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought two privacy cases concerning smartphones and apps. In one case, HTC America, one of the leading Android makers in the US, was accused of failing to secure the Android software in millions of smartphones. The FTC argued that this lack of security meant that apps on some of the company’s phones were permitted to tap into crucial personal information of consumers, including access codes and financial account numbers. HTC settled those charges by developing and releasing software patches. Consumers using certain HTC smartphones needed to download those patches in order to prevent their personal information from being accessed by certain smartphone applications.

In the second case, the FTC charged the operator of a social networking app with using deceptive tactics to collect personal information from users via their mobile address books. This personal information was obtained without the users’ consent or knowledge. The FTC expressed fears that any company with unlimited access to the contact list of users could sell or share that personal information with other people or companies. Path, the operator of this social networking app, agreed to pay a fine of $800,000. Additionally, he agreed to create a new program for identifying privacy risks and establishing effective controls for addressing them.

            To prevent such violations in the future, the FTC has provided operating-system providers and app developers with privacy recommendations. Some of the operating-system providers that have been targeted with these recommendations include Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon. These companies have been urged to provide owners of smartphones with disclosures written using easy-to-understand terms and concepts. This recommendation requires these companies to inform consumers about the data they will collect and how they will use it. These recommendations have not been made mandatory although failure to adhere to them may trigger action from the FTC in future.

            An excellent example of a hacking effort affecting a smartphone is the so-called “jailbreaking” process targeting the iPhone (Magaudda, 2010). In 2007, Apple introduced its first ever cell phone and named it iPhone. This smartphone came with numerous restrictions on the use of apps. Only apps sold through the company’s official App store can be installed into the stylish smartphone. However, hackers came up with various modifications that are sometimes described using the term “jailbreaking” (Magaudda, 2010). For example, hackers could unlock the phone to make it usable with other mobile service providers.

            Hacking practices aimed at opening up the iPhone with apps that had not been authorized by Apple drew a lot of attention to the subject of hacking and its impact on consumer practices. One of the most famous hacking incidents brought into the limelight a 27 year-old  hacker named Jay Freeman (Magaudda, 2010). Freeman created a tool that could modify the iPhone and its operations. More importantly, he created an unauthorized version of the Apple App store named Cydia. Freeman reported that in March 2009, one year after the launch of the Cydia store, 1.7 million iPhone users had “jailbroken” their smartphones (Magaudda, 2010).

Examples of police tracking smartphones without a warrant that started after the USA Patriot Act

            The examples of citizens who have had their personal data compromised demonstrates the extent to which operating systems and apps installed in smartphone devices pose a threat to privacy of data. This threat is posed by not just hackers, invaders, and stalkers but also the authorities. There are many examples demonstrating the tendency by the police to track smartphones without a warrant. In the US, this violation seems to have been reinforced by the enactment of the USA Patriot Act in the weeks following the September 11 terror attack. In this violation, a policy officer only needs to track the Global Positioning System (GPS) of the citizen’s phone. This may be equated to the act of intercepting one’s phone or tailing a person on the street.

            In one example, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracked Melvin Skinner, a marijuana courier, as he ferried his cargo across Arizona to Tennessee (Salah, 2011). The DEA officials tracked him using his smartphone. To this, the DEA obtained a court order (instead of a warrant) that compelled Skinner’s smartphone company to share all his GPS information. The release of this information led to the capture and arrest of Skinner (Salah, 2011).

            In the court, Skinner’s lawyers held the view that the DEA violated Skinner’s Fourth Amendment rights by tracking his smartphone (Salah, 2011). They argued that the agency had engaged in unreasonable search and seizure simply because the information that Skinner’s phone gave off was not publicly available. The judges disagreed with this argument and maintained that Skinner had ceased to have a reasonable expectation of privacy as far as data relating to his cell phone GPS was concerned. This was simply because at the time of crime the cell phone was interpreted by the police simply as a tool in the hands of persons who were transporting contraband. The court concluded that if the signal emitted by the tool could be tracked for location, the police had the right to track that signal (Salah, 2011).

            In 2011, a US District Judge in Maryland refused to issue a warrant authorizing the use of a smartphone’s GPS data by police to find a suspect (Salah, 2011). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hailed this as a landmark ruling primarily because of the risk posed to privacy of data held in smartphones, particularly by police officers who refuse to seek for warrants before accessing suspects personal information held in these mobile devices. The ACLU has for a long time been expressing concerns that the Fourth Amendment has been endangered by two main occurrences; namely the passage and recent renewal of the USA Patriot Act and the technological innovations that make it possible for Americans to be tracked ubiquitously.

            In 2009, the Washington Post published a story in which Christopher Christie, while serving as an attorney for the Bush administration, tracked the locations of citizens through their smartphones without court warrants (Lawrence, 2013). In this story, ACLU claimed that available documents revealed that 79 such cases had occurred since September 11, 2001. In this regard, the ACLU insisted that those police officers tracking without warrants were disregarding the recommendation by the US Justice Department stating that prosecutors always obtain warrants before gathering any location data from smartphones.

These incidents have raised many issues, one of them being the appropriateness of the government’s move to track the locations of citizens’ smartphones without their knowledge or without first demonstrating that there are reasonable grounds to do so. In this regard, critics argued that the post-Patriot Act has taught Americans that the government can easily abuse unchecked power, even if for only a few situations.

According to the ACLU, complaints about tracking of cell phones have a lot to do with the need to protect innocent people from violations of their privacy; it has nothing to do with protecting criminals (Lawrence, 2013). This is the same argument that a federal appeals court in Washington made when overturning a conviction of a man who had been tried on the basis of a warrantless GPS search. In the states of Oregon and California, appellate courts in upheld such convictions. The rulings came at a time when Congress was holding hearings on privacy issues relating to cell phone technology. In these hearings, Congress acknowledged that existing law in insufficient for purposes of addressing issues raised by the advent of smartphones and other mobile devices that can keep location-related information about their owners.

The unchecked power that grants authorities a free hand in tracking the location of citizens without a warrant has largely been granted by the USA Patriot Act. The Act gives the government to rifle through citizens’ financial records, internet usage, medical histories, travel patterns, library usage, bookstore purchases, and all activities that leave a record. To make matters, the government no longer needs to show evident that the individuals whose personal data is being accessed are “agents of foreign powers”. Prior to the enactment of the Patriot Act, this requirement protected Americans against any abuse of authority by the government.

Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is not obliged to demonstrate a reasonable suspicion of a relationship between the personal data and a criminal activity. Moreover, the agency no longer needs to adhere to the requirements for “probable cause” as stipulated in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. In this situation, the government only needs to make a broad statement indicating that the request is reasonably connected to the ongoing foreign intelligence and terrorism investigation. It is also worrying that there is virtually no judicial oversight of all these post-Patriot Act powers. All that the government needs to do in each case is to certify a judge that a search meets the broad criteria of the statute. The judge lacks the authority to reject such an application even when no proof or evidence has been provided by the government.

In many cases, surveillance orders targeted at citizens’ smartphones may be based on their First Amendment activities, for example the websites they visit, the books they like reading, or letters to the editor that they may have written. Moreover, the Patriot Act undercuts the ability by citizens to challenge illegitimate and unreasonable searches in court. This is because the citizens never know that they are subjects of surveillance until their personal records have been used to facilitate their arrest.

Worldwide laws about privacy on smartphones

            Laws governing privacy on smartphones differ from one country to the other. In the UK, this privacy is covered under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). RIPA governs the use of covert techniques by authorities in addressing issues relating to terrorism, public safety, crime, and emergency services (Gomez-Martin, 2012). This law provides guidelines on the situations in which government departments or the police may use covert techniques to access private information about a person. In such a case, the law requires them to do it only when it is necessary and compatible with human rights.

            RIPA applies to situations where the authorities need to intercept communications such as data in one’s emails, telephone calls, subscriber details, telephone billing, and location. It also applies when covert, intrusive, and directed surveillance is being conducted in private places, vehicles, and public places. Such surveillance efforts are carried by human intelligence sources such as undercover officers and informants. Under this law, provisions are also provided on situations in which electronic data protected by passwords and encryption can be accessed.

            Technology advancements have created a new phenomenon where GPS devices are cheaply available. This availability has created a mistaken belief that it is permitted by RIPA. This has led to a rapid increase in covert tracking by public authorities including the Metropolitan Police and local councils without proper consideration of application of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

In response to these concerns, the UK government new guidelines governing the use of location data held in smartphones and GPS devices in April 2010. In these guidelines, the UK government stressed the need for permission to be obtained from senior officers before any personal data of individuals is obtained (Gomez-Martin, 2012). The regulations require these senior officers to ensure that there is a necessary and proportionate need for this data to be accessed, and that the action would not contravene Article Eight of the Human Rights Act. Moreover, the home secretary must personally grant permission before any phone communications are interceptions. In 2010 alone, 1682 warrants of interceptions were issued by the home secretary (Bowles, 2012).

In China, there is no law for ensuring that companies that develop or release smartphone apps do not invade users’ personal information. In this case, Chinese consumers have been left at the mercy of smartphone companies as well as the companies that manufacture these apps to safeguard their right to privacy. This lack of a legal framework is unfortunate given that the number of spam messages and texts being sent through mobile devices has been growing predominantly because of the popularity of smartphones. Critics of China’s regulatory framework for personal information accessed through smartphones estimate that 97 percent of the most popular apps available in various online stores requires smartphone users to allow access to the identity and status of their phones while 69 percent request access to users’ location data (Wantchinatimes.com, 2013).

            This lack of laws in China motivates many companies to offer vague answers in response to requests for explanations regarding access to consumers’ personal data through various smartphone apps. In most cases, the customer service representatives of these companies state that access to personal data, location, and phonebooks is required for the apps to function normally. These responses are particularly common among online stores that sell android apps in China.

However, in June 2012, China expressed willingness to provide a regulatory framework by proposing regulations for the country’s smartphone market, which is the largest in the world. However, these proposals have triggered concerns from groups representing leading technology companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. The concerns arose from the fear that the new regulations would force these companies to censor the applications they introduce into the Chinese market. This proposal marks the first step in China’s recent efforts to establish laws governing the mobile-applications market.

More importantly, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology stated that the proposed rules are aimed at protecting smartphone users’ personal information (Wantchinatimes.com, 2013). One of the issues that the proposed draft regulations set out to address is malicious applications. These applications steal information from users while at the same time incurring charges by automatically sending text messages. Industry groups are concerned that these regulations may slow down the pace of the growth of China’s smartphone market. On the part of the China’s government, the proposed draft is aimed at enabling authorities keep pace with the rapid adoption of smartphones and mobile-device apps by asserting their ability to regulate them.

Nevertheless, the likelihood that the Chinese government will want to use personal data for surveillance should not be overlooked. In the proposed law, all smartphone companies will be required to ensure that the phones meet Chinese Standards. These new standards have been put forth by the China Communications Standards Association, which obtains guidelines from the government (Wantchinatimes.com, 2013). If this law is passed, it will force makers of handsets to cooperate with the Chinese government in identifying customers as well as tracking their app use. In this way, China may face criticisms of access to citizens’ personal information, just like in the United Kingdom and the United States. These concerns are not farfetched given that China’s government has a history of using unorthodox means of seeking to assert control over the information spread online.

In the European Union (EU), stricter laws have been put in place to protect people’s personal data stored in smartphones, particularly those running on Android and iOS operating systems. These two operations have in recent years been targeted for stricter regulation in the EU market because they facilitate the use of services that trigger concerns relating to position logging, privacy, and location services. This strict regulation affects not only smartphones but also tablet computers.

In 2011, Google and Apple insisted that the data that was sent through their operating systems was anonymous and protected (Chun, 2012). However, these assurances did not stop the EU Advisory Panel on data protection from directing the two companies to turn off location services in smartphone by default. Moreover, the companies were directed to only seek permission before activating all location services. They were also required to specify the ways in which the data obtained in these services would be used for.

Conclusion

            The issue of privacy of data on smartphone devices is a serious one that needs to be addressed by various stakeholders, including smartphone manufacturers, developers of applications, and authorities. Efforts need to be made to protect smartphone users from having their data accessed by unauthorized persons. In the US, prosecutors and police officers have on many occasions been accused of tracking people on their smartphones without their knowledge particularly after the passage of the USA Patriot Act.

            Controversy regarding the moral correctness and legality of tracking, stalking, and hacking peoples’ smartphones has on several occasions ended up in the US courts. In a majority of cases, the courts have ruled against the decision by authorities to access the private information of individuals through their smartphones without a warrant. In a minority of cases, the courts have held the view that smartphones belong to the category of the containers (mentioned in the Fourth Amendment) police officers may search and seize during the process of arrest.

This paper has provided many examples of real-life situations in which stalkers, hackers, and invaders got access to people’s personal information through their smartphones. It has also highlighted instances where police track people through the location data contained in their smartphones without a warrant. It is evident that this trend has been continuing particularly after the passage of the USA Patriot Act in the weeks following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Many people in the US are concerned that this law was hurriedly passed in the pretext of the fight against terror yet the real intention was to increase opportunities for the authorities to spy on citizens.

Smartphone manufacturers and app developers have also been accused of collecting too much information about smartphone users, thereby jeopardizing their security and privacy. For this reason, different countries of the world, are increasingly conscious about the need to put in place stricter regulations governing the privacy of data stored in smartphones. This paper explored the data privacy laws and regulatory frameworks being formulated in the UK, China, and the European Union. In conclusion, the USA Patriot Act should be revised in order to end blatant violations of smartphone data privacy by authorities. Moreover, an international law governing aspects of access to smartphone data should be formulated. These laws should compel manufacturers and app developers to only collect the personal information that they need, to seek the user’s consent collecting it, and to use simple language when explaining precisely how they are going to use this information.

References

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Schmidt, L. (2012). Social networking and the fourth amendment: Location tracking on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy,2(5), 515-601.

Serwer, A. (2012). The US Government Can Track Your Location at Any Time Without a Warrant. London: Free Press.

Swingle, M. (2012). Smartphone Searches Incident to Arrest. Journal Of The Missouri Bar,3(6), 36-41.

Wantchinatimes.com (2013). How much privacy do you have with a Chinese smartphone? 26 March 2013, retrieved from http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130326000004&cid=1503  on June 3, 2013.

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