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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

Amazon Ring exposed wifi passwords; let’s talk ethics

(TECH NEWS) Ring has a security slip up is part of an alarming tech trend! Can industry insiders turn things around before the government forces their hand?

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Ring doorbell

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

WiFi.

WiFi who?

Why Fi…ght external regulation, if you won’t implement higher standards on your end?

Amazon’s Ring smart doorbell/camera services left customers in the ding-dong ditch by letting hackers exploit a flaw that exposed homeowners’ WiFi passwords to neighborhood hackers up until September of this year. I thought putting a ring on things locked them down, but I guess that’s only for people…

Truth be told, I honestly didn’t think a wifi password in the wrong hands could do too much. I figured neighborhood freeloaders would drag my speed down playing some MMORPG on my network or get me slapped by pirating Disney stuff on my dime.

Apparently, what a serious hacker is MORE likely to do is use that connectivity to share a keystroke tracking program with my computer, then sell my passwords to whoever wants them.

Imagine someone in Cairo clogging up my precious Netflix queue with a bunch of romcoms. Eww.

In all seriousness, that’s a pretty big flaw in the Ring. It took Bucharest-based Bitdefender (a merry band of cybersecurity researchers) to point it out. Amazon’s tech ninjas jumped on it, and the issue’s been fixed for a couple of months as of time of writing. But all’s not quite well yet.

The burning questions on my mind are: Who was supposed to catch it first? And why weren’t people told before the fix?

If you’re in the tech industry, know this, and know it well: John Q Public is not your beta tester.

Releasing a product with something as small as a typo on the packaging is embarrassing enough, but when you leave yourself open to something like letting your customers be vulnerable to identity theft, your face gets considerably more eggy.

And, as usual, leaving doors like this opened doesn’t just make your company look bad, or let competitors get the edge on you.

Consistent lack of inner standards means you’re going to be up against outer standards you’ll like even less. Sure, you might think that govt. regulation is going the way of the dodo, but the tech industry and recently emancipated pork industry aren’t the same.

If you’ll pardon the generalization, the more someone leans towards less government oversight, it’s more likely that they’ll view technology as a necessary evil than anything. And that means tech industry slip ups will be the first to be monitored if internal quality control keeps deteriorating. People are getting wise to how much information their smart devices are tracking, and how vulnerable they can become when that information isn’t secured.

Amazon execs will be fine if things go to the courts. Your startup? Probably not as much.

Look, tech nerds have it going on. I really WANT to advocate for leaving you all alone and letting you do your thing, but the constant corner cutting on security testing makes that difficult. Leaving consumers in the dark until the fix is done, meaning no one even had the chance to take precautions like instituting password changes, is a huge no-no, and the fact that I even have to rant about it is alarming.

You know that cliche, ‘It’s not that you DID xyz, it’s that you LIED about it’? It goes for lying by omission as well. Consider this case the coal mine canary.

You are your own industry’s gatekeepers. Take the job seriously before the job gets taken. Seriously

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Tech News

Earbuds that are noise cancelling hit the market just in time for the holidays

(TECH NEWS) There are no shortage of earbuds on the market, however, Nuheara’s noise cancelling, bluetooth earbuds are sure to top everyone’s wish list.

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earbuds noise cancelling

Noise cancelling earbuds are efficient for blocking out the world around you – when all you want to hear is your music and nothing else. However, for those who want a smaller, sleeker alternative, Nuheara is the perfect fit.

Nuheara are wireless audio earbuds that are customizable to your hearing needs. Even though they have the same power as noise cancelling headphones, they can be adjusted to amplify or minimize sound based on each situation.

You can choose to blend the sounds of the streets and your new favorite album in order to be aware of the world around you. The earbuds are ideal for any situation.

The noise cancelling earbuds use SINC (Superior Intelligent Noise Control) technology, which lets every user create their custom hearing experience.

There are numerous times when it’s hard to hear because of the noise around us. This may be in crowded restaurants, concerts or even when you’re at home trying to avoid the noisy neighbor in the apartment above you.

The SINC technology applies a frequency filter to sounds you choose to hear or want to avoid. Additionally, the left and right earbuds have their own settings, so that they can be customized individually. Everything is customized through the app, so it’s up to each user to decide!

Prior to founding Nuheara, Justin Miller and David Cannington worked in the oil and gas companies creating industrial strength hearing headsets.

The feedback they received during these experiences paved the way for inventing Nuheara. People wanted a sleek headset that they could wear in everyday life, not just at their job.

The earbuds will set you back a few hundred bucks, but they come with accessories like a battery charger, carrying case and 8 different silicone tips. The battery charger provides three full charges. Nuheara earbuds are also sweat and water resistant, but they are not yet waterproof.

As wireless headphones, Nuheara are also compatible with most Bluetooth connected devices. The earbuds also use tap-touch control to make hands-free phone calls, control music and adjust settings.

There is no need to connect Nuheara to external devices to use their noise cancelling capabilities.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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faqbot chatbot

Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 14 days by signing up on their site.

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