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WhatsApp feature puts your phone number in Google search results #uhoh

(TECH) Google is indexing WhatsApp numbers that use the Click To Chat feature and they could end up in public Google search results.

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whatsapp google

Using WhatsApp’s Click To Chat feature could land personal phone numbers in public search results. Click to Chat is a feature which allows users to begin a chat with someone without having their phone number saved in the phone’s address book. Instead, users create a link or QR code that will allow the start of a chat with another user or business instead.

WhatsApp is known for its high data privacy standards and end-to-end encryption for users, but the WhatsApp-owned “wa.me” domain, which stores Click To Chat metadata in a URL string (e.g. https://wa.me/) could be exposing user phone numbers. There is no measure in place to prevent search engines indexing this metadata and the numbers are subject to public search results.

Researcher Athul Jayaram reportedly scoured the domain using Google searches and found 300,000 WhatsApp numbers. Results did not uncover the full names of users but did include their WhatsApp profile pictures. Jayaram reported the issue to their parent company, Facebook via its Bug Bounty Program.

His application was reportedly dismissed because users have oversight of the information on their profile that is made publically available. “While we appreciate this researcher’s report and value the time he took to share it with us, it did not qualify for a bounty since it merely contained a search engine index of URLs that WhatsApp users chose to make public,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson.

When it comes down to it, this issue can only occur if users create a link to their profile using ‘Click To Chat.’

A similar issue was identified previously with links to WhatsApp Group chats. Google later changed its search engine systems to block the group chat links from its results, though those links can still appear elsewhere. With more than 2 billion WhatsApp users worldwide, it is the most popular messaging app used around in 180 countries globally.

Created in 2009 by Yahoo! computer programmers Brian Acton and Jan Koum, Facebook purchased WhatsApp Inc. in February 2014 for $19.3 billion.

Yasmin Diallo Turk is a long-time Austinite, non-profit professional in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and graduate of both Huston-Tillotson University and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. When not writing for AG she should be writing her dissertation but is probably just watching Netflix with her husband and 3 kids or running volunteer projects for HOPE for Senegal.

Real Estate Technology

Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

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Real Estate Technology

The real reasons we’re all obsessed with spy machines (I mean smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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Real Estate Technology

Curated newsletters help you learn literally anything you want

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) All the news you could ask for in a large quantity of topics, from independent journalists brought to you in a neat looking Newsletter Stack.

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Newsletter Stack

To say it has never been more important to stay up-to-date on world news than it is right now doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch, but the issue of where to start can be so daunting as to overwhelm people–a problem that Newsletter Stack attempts to fix, and quite handily at that.

Newsletter Stack is a curated news service that delivers “unfiltered and fresh takes” from independent journalists on a variety of topics (56, to be exact). These topics are expansive and range from things like artificial intelligence and technology to think-pieces on pop culture and wellness, and one can browse by featured collections–for example, “Adult Picture Books” or “Emerging Markets”–for a more immersive experience.

Should the urge strike, one might also find themselves browsing the reading materials of other curators, a list found immediately below the Newsletter Stack collections library. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch for anyone looking to consume information they know is interesting to like-minded (or dramatically dissonant) individuals.

Newsletter Stack even has a section of their website dedicated to news submissions if you come across a piece that fits their aesthetic. That aesthetic is actually a huge selling point for the service; while plenty of inbox news subscriptions (and even more established services like Apple News) allow you to curate topics and sources to your liking, Newsletter Stack places a heavy emphasis on independent authorship.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, one can browse a list of all current curators on the service’s website, search through their reading preferences, and see their recommendations.

Independence in an age of digital literacy metrics might be a sticking point for some folks, but Newsletter Stack makes it clear that they aren’t anti-mainstream media. In fact, it seems that the point behind this news subscription is much less holistic than other services (again, inbox subscriptions fall into this trap). At no point does Newsletter Stack make the claim that they should be one’s only source of news, and that’s incredibly important.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your knowledge using independent authors, and a clean interface, Newsletter Stack deserves a few minutes of your time.

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