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Anti-surveillance mask – creepy, ingenious, or potentially illegal?

(TECHNOLOGY) Advances in surveillance tech have impressed the masses, but as our cultures consider the risk and reward, some are preparing to protect themselves from overreaching technologies and governments.

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How many surveillance cameras do you pass when you walk down the street? Most of us don’t know and prefer not to think about it. We know that public and private entities, from social media sites like Facebook, to law enforcement agencies, are using facial recognition software. In most cases, we haven’t actively consented to this surveillance, and we don’t know what will be done with information – but it also seems like there’s not much we can do about it.

Enter artist Leo Selvaggio, who is interested in “increasing the amount of public discourse about surveillance and how it affects our behavior in public space.” Selvaggio has launched a venture called URME Surveillance, whose focus is “protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities.”

URME is doing this is in an unusual, and admittedly kind of unnerving way. The site provides masks, in the likeness of Selvaggio’s face, that you can wear in public to protect your own mug from ending up on file. These “Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetics” are sold at cost – Selvaggio isn’t in it for the profits. There’s a $200 resin prosthetic, a set of 2D paper masks for large groups (protestors?), and a downloadable PDF paper mask that fits together like a 3D puzzle, giving the mask more dimension than the flat, 2D version.

paper anti-surveillance

“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” explains the URME website. “We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn’t have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.”

Is this product a genuine solution to non-consensual surveillance? Or is it simply an artist’s attempt to make a statement? The 3D resin mask is fairly realistic, but with the wearer’s eyes peeking out of the mask’s holes, it’s creepy, to say the least.

anti-surveillance face

While the mask may thwart surveillance cameras, it will probably attract attention from other people nearby – so perhaps anonymity isn’t the goal.

It’s more about making sure that your face doesn’t end up in a databank; or at the very least, inspiring conversation about the topic of public surveillance. Potential customers should also be advised that many states and cities have laws against wearing masks in public.

Regardless of the ultimate intention, the fact that Selvaggio is willing to sacrifice his own likeness to Big Brother means that he takes the issue seriously. Cameras linked to facial recognition software will identify and track Selvaggio, regardless of who is under the mask. URME has actually tested the product using Facebook’s “sophisticated” facial recognition software.

Selvaggio even acknowledges that people could use the mask to commit crimes, which could land him in hot water. However, he has “come to the conclusion that it is worth the risk if it creates public discourse around surveillance practices and how it affects us all.”

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Tech News

Regulation of AI is recognized as necessary by tech giants

(TECH NEWS) Even the tech giants who want to be the first to create “true” AI realize that the tech needs to have serious regulation to insure it’s under control.

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Regulation robot

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is constantly being discussed in the news. From intelligent software that detects your identity based on your keystrokes, to facial recognition software that aids in hiring “the right people”, it’s no wonder why it’s such a hot topic – and one that has a real history.

The prospect for real, human-level intelligence from something comprised of circuitry is simultaneously exciting and alarming. That’s why companies like Google are starting to learn they need to tread lightly when it comes to AI.

Sundar Pichai, for example (Google’s CEO), clearly sees the importance of regulation within the AI space, saying, “there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this”. He made this important comment at a conference in Brussels this month, and even went on to say “I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it.”

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in Europe via the EU’s competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager. In previous years, Vestager has gone after tech giants, like Microsoft, which has resulted in multibillion-dollar fines for the giant after they allegedly started monopolizing the industry by abusing its market dominance to choke out competition.

Since then, Vestager has been reelected, and her newest self-assigned task is making sure artificial intelligence is properly regulated, while also meeting ethical guidelines.

Vestager is notoriously known as being incredibly steadfast when it comes to ensuring regulations of large tech companies – something the U.S. is now following suit on with U.S.-based giants like Amazon and Facebook.

That said, from Pichai’s comments, one could guess that Google’s CEO is looking to head off any massive changes by a 3rd parties, like the EU, by coming up with his own ideas for regulation of AI. He said that “sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities.” What we think he’s saying here is that although there are potential negative outcomes with the technology, regulation must also be balanced to accommodate for the positives.

Given this, Pichai knows that AI has many positive use-cases but he definitely isn’t blind to the possible (and probable) negatives of AI, either. Despite Google’s interest in keeping AI going, Pichai also recently brought up some concerns about nefarious activity. While he did not go into detail, it’s pretty clear that he knows there’s a lot of opportunity for criminal, or just downright terrifying activity, within the space.

For example, do you recall the chat bot in 2016 that suddenly became aggressive, mean, and racist when given access to Twitter – all in less than 24 hours? Scary!

At the end of the day, AI seems to be what folks really want. Just take it from the millions of iPhone users out there who exclusively use Siri to get through their day. Of course, it’s all a balancing act, too, and since there’s also been a huge need for increased security in this tech-driven world, regulations are going to be increasingly critical to the space.

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Tech News

Which security company (that knows better) is actively selling your data?

(TECH NEWS) Maybe you can’t even trust your antivirus software anymore. Avast is protecting your data from all outside threats, but ignores the wolf in the hen house.

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Avast sells data

A company designed to protect users from online harm is at the center of the latest data scandal, except this time it’s not hackers we have to worry about. Avast, a popular antivirus software used by people around the globe, has been selling users data through a subsidiary company.

A new investigation by Motherboard and PCMag has found that Avast has been taking user data from its antivirus software and selling it through a subsidiary company called Jumpshot. Avast used the subsidiary company to pass off the data collected from users of their antivirus software and then sell it for millions.

Some of the biggest companies out there, names you recognize and see everyday, are on the list of past and current customers. A few of the companies we know have worked with Jumpshot to purchase user data are Google, Home Depot, Microsoft, Pepsi, Expedia, Intuit, Keurig, Conde Nast, Sephora, and Loreal.
What is still unclear is which of these companies are current and which are past Jumpshot clients. Yelp, another big name on the list, has already admitted to using the company to purchase data, but insist that it was on a “one-time basis.”

While users of Avast’s antivirus software were required to opt-in to sharing their data, the investigation found that many users were unaware that their data was being sold. This is unsurprising.
We’ve all been there, you jump onto a new website and it asks if they can collect data, use cookies, sell your left kidney, or whatever they need to better serve you. You don’t really understand what they’re asking, but you click the little yes box because if you say no then you’re taken to a new screen with a pile of legal jargon in tiny text to sort through.

Companies know that you don’t want to deal this. You’re just trying to read an interesting article on your lunch break or do a little online shopping. Companies like Avast know exactly what they’re doing when they convince you to sell your data. And make no mistake, your user data is valuable.

One of Jumpshot’s products called “All Clicks Feed,” sells for just over $2 million. This product allows the buyer to see everything from Google searches, Google Maps locations, LinkedIn page activity, YouTube video views, visits to porn websites, and more.

In a statement to Vice, Avast said, “Because of our approach, we ensure that Jumpshot does not acquire personal identification information, including name, email address or contact details, from people using our popular free antivirus software.”

All the data Jumpshot sells is anonymous, meaning users personal information and possible identifiers are scrubbed, but experts are skeptical about the security of anonymized information.

The safety of your personal data and the frightening power that comes with holding millions of users data is already enough to keep a person up at night. Perhaps the most troubling part is that this type of behavior doesn’t necessarily call for legal action.

At most, we are looking at an ethics breach for not making it clearer to users precisely how their data is being used. Avast claims to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and until someone can find direct evidence of a legal misstep, they’re free to continue selling user data to the highest bidder.

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Tech News

WTH is ‘Green UX’ anyway?

(TECH NEWS) Earth-saving green UX? It’s a green new deal, for real, and can actually create a more environmentally friendly company.

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green ux, green Earth

Remember that time a 6th-grader proved you could save a metric butt-ton of ink by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond?

I’m a nerd, so I found that unbelievably cool. Cooler still is the fact that the spirit of Suvir Mirchandani’s experiment isn’t just for physical press!

Enter “Green UX.” It’s a website-building methodology that slightly offsets polluters’ near cartoonish levels of choking the planet, and the dent it makes isn’t just saving the whales, it’s saving users a hell of a lot of hassle! So how do you do it? I have you covered with a few steps.

1: Don’t clutter your interface with a lot of crap. That means ads everywhere, a subscription pop-up on entering and on leaving, and a bunch of ill-curated “sponsored stories”. The more of that you cut out, the more carbon you cut down, the more of a green ux you will have.

2: Emphasize accessibility. Building things the right way, with everyone’s needs in mind is always the most efficient thing to do. Think about getting a commercial building ready. The person in charge of the purse strings might not be swayed by doing the right thing. What will give them a push is the idea of a well-deserved ADA lawsuit smackdown, closing for days due to construction, and hiring a rebranding professional to wipe down all the bad press.

And in terms of environmental assistance, everything involved in repairing, company image included, is sucking resources. Your website is the same way. The more users need to add their own image descriptions in shares, host alternative videos with captions, and click back and forth because they can’t read your ‘edgy’ white print on a yellow background for more than .01 seconds at a time, the more okapis you may as well be punching straight in the face. Keep everyone in mind, keep the earth happy, and keep off of African ungulates’ hit lists.

3: Optimize EVERYTHING. Text? Wrapped. Gifs? Clipped down by HAND, not by automation. Pictures? Compressed. When everything loads faster, everyone’s happier. When everyone’s happier, they tend to buy more.

When they buy more based on your website being easier to navigate than everyone else’s, you get to spend less money on ads, less money on new campaigns, and more money donating to foundations that turn air pollution particles into ink for needy children. See how this works?

In a SHOCKING turn of events, doing what’s best for the planet is best for the people making a living on it!

Who would have thought, right?

Now some of our regular readers might recognize most of these from when AG boosted news about how to slip past Google’s potential ‘SLOW SITE’ stamp.

That’s for good reason.

A fast, convenient website is literally better for the environment! The less processing power they draw, the less electricity they pull, and the end user saves enough time in their day not waiting on any variant of the circle of doom to go plant a tree or something. So it’s best to have a green UX.

Big Momma Earth wins? We win! It’s literally that simple.

Let’s see some innovation as we race UPWARDS this time, shall we?

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