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A completely private, blockchain-backed Alexa alternative

(TECHNOLOGY) With smart speakers like Alexa violating users’ privacy expectations, a French startup seeks to turn the problem on its head.

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It’s hard not to wear a tinfoil hat about voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. As recently as this May, an Alexa user reported a private conversation was sent to a random contact. Amazon insists they aren’t always recording, and this was simply a series of whoopsie-doopsies.

However, back in 2014, Amazon filed a patent to record even without hearing the “wake word,” in order to target advertising. While this is still in application status, it certainly doesn’t assuage privacy concerns about the future of voice assistants.

Amazon also recently announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, a voice control system for hotels. Voice assistants are expanding their scope, becoming more integrated into our daily lives and consistently raising questions about privacy.

French startup, Snips offers a solution to data privacy and security issue with their decentralized software. Founded in 2013 by three PhDs, Snips now operates out of Paris and New York City offering a meaningful AI platform (not the physical smart speaker).

Snips creates white-label voice assistant technology for enterprise device manufacturers. Their software is completely independent from the cloud, and runs fully on-device. Now they’re branching out to consumer business.

Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. Rand Hindi noted, “consumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage.”

In a consumer study conducted by Snips, 90 percent of respondents said they would sacrifice convenience for more control over how corporations use their data. Snips plans to use blockchain to “create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”

Instead of using consumer data, Snips will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO. Their goal is to create a platform that can be improved over time using decentralized machine learning and cyrptography.

Snips hopes that issuing a cyrptographic token will incentivize developers to work on the platform. Crytographic tokens are essentially a way to level the playing field in an organization.

Traditional top-down management involves many layers of coordination and levels of approval. This is where we see a standard CEO-to-management to non-management relationships most often reflected in companies.

With decentralized organizations, there is no centralized legal entity or employment contracts. Everyone is connected and decisions are made by autonomous stakeholders. Hindi says there are already 14,000 developers on board.

So far, Snips has raised over $24M in funding from investors, including BPI France, Eniac Ventures, Korelya Capital, and MAIR Avenir.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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Beautiful new wellness app takes a more holistic approach

(TECHNOLOGY) Using tech to help with wellness is nothing new, but this app takes a more holistic approach to help you balance.

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There are thousands of health and fitness apps in various marketplaces, so what distinguishes between them is often a matter of personal taste. Much like the variety of organizational apps, I find that picking a wellness app involves much the same process – what works for you? What do you need? What are your wellness goals? And so on.

I spent a few days with the new wellness app, Wellbody, and I will say I am fifty/fifty. I love the approach and philosophy of Wellbody. Take a look at their fundamental tenants:

  • We believe in progress over perfection
  • We believe in small, simple, and sustainable behavior change
  • We believe that with mindful practice, people can do amazing things
  • We believe that real change starts with being mindful…and is maintained through creating healthy habits
  • We take a holistic view across the five major pillars of health: nutrition, exercise and movement, sleep, stress management, and connection
  • We believe everyone deserves access to better health and wellness
  • We want to help you live life well

As a person who is incredibly engaged in their own wellness and trying to figure out how to do that, I believe fully in this model. Holistic perspectives on health are important for anyone.

However, a holistic perspective may mean some people perceive this app as having a lack of focus. It is foundational, so it is not a workout plan, or calorie counter, etc. It’s primarily educational. And the content is actually good. The foundation series are well narrated, and I think it does a good job of level setting and providing information.

It does have a daily quote and a little daily experiment (which I think is a good add). The content library is growing, and the sessions outside of the foundational session are great (I loved the “Mindfulness vs. Meditation” piece)

However, there are a few challenges I have right away.

First, the sessions don’t have any good visuals, summaries, or much of anything else.

Also, the daily experiment has been rather vague. Yes, I understand that it is a mindfulness app, but the challenges are more pondering and less practice.

Most critically – without an internet connection you can’t listen to this. So if you are on a plane, or on a limited reception subway, or are away from Wi-Fi, you can’t listen to any of the content. That’s a glaring issue, and it is too easy to turn to other podcasts or apps who we can listen to the content without an active internet connection. It makes it harder to open this app everyday, which is important for the way it works.

I think Wellbody has the concept down – what’s missing is more content. There needs to be more specific content, maybe a journaling feature, etc. I would recommend this app for anyone who is starting a wellness journey, or maybe is re-evaluating what kinds of health changes they are trying to make. If you need a diet tracker, or exercise plan, this is going to be less helpful. However, if you are trying to change the way we look at wellness, this is a great place to start.

Side Note: I love the visual design of this app, which is a weird cross between Zen and an episode of Fixer Upper (I love all of the designs at Target, y’all).

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What’s TikTok, why’s it so huge, and why is Facebook scared of it?

(TECH) TikTok has taken the internet by storm – you’ve probably seen the videos floating around, so here’s the context your business needs to know.

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Jimmy Fallon challenged his viewers to his version of a #sharpiechallenge. That’s where you toss a sharpie into the air, catch it, take the cap off and draw a mustache on yourself with it. He requested that viewers use TikTok to record it and upload it.

As of this writing, the hashtag boasts 8.2 million views in TikTok alone – if it wasn’t big before it gained Fallon as a fan, it is now.

What Is TikTok?

The TikTok app is the brainchild of Bytedance, a Chinese company that once owned Muscal.ly, and it launched in September 2016 as Douyin (it’s Chinese moniker). When it launched internationally, a year later, they branded the social media app TikTok. When Musical.ly shut down, users had to switch.

The app lets users view, create and share 15-second videos (kind of like Vine, RIP). It’s estimated that there are over 500 million users worldwide. The app has been highly ranked in the charts for number of downloads over the past few months, with a spike when Fallon had his first challenge, #tumbleweedchallenge. (For the record, Fallon and The Tonight Show do not have a business relationship with Bytedance.)

Users can lip-sync, do duets, record a reactions video and has some excellent tech in the app for video editing. Users can comment on videos and create video memes. It’s pretty fascinating. And wildly appealing to the masses.

One of the best things about TikTok is that the app doesn’t have advertising or monetization capabilities, even though it has a broad audience. With an estimated 500 million users, it’s just a matter of time.

Facebook launches a TikTok-clone.

Facebook doesn’t want to be late to the game. In classic follower fashion, they have launched their own short-video app, Lasso.

I played with both apps, and Lasso just doesn’t have comparable content.

What Facebook does have is its user base. By integrating with Facebook itself, Lasso may outdo TikTok eventually, but it will need to increase its capabilities.

Why should your business take notice?

Small businesses should be aware of these apps. Online videos are driving social media engagement. Content is king, and you’ve been reading here for years that video is a powerful component of any social media strategy.

TikTok and Lasso give you video-making and video-sharing tools that could increase your online presence.

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Hardware tokens are what folks serious about avoiding hackers use

(TECH) Hardware tokens have been around for a while, but people most serious about avoiding hackers swear by them.

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How many passwords do you have? How many sites do you use each of your passwords for? Information Today research estimates over half of all adults have five or more unique passwords, while one in three adults have 10 or more unique passwords that have to be remembered.

This particular study was from 2012. I’d wager that most of us use many more passwords today than we did just six years ago. With the risk of your accounts being hacked increasing, you might be wary – you might not even trust an online password manager.

If you struggle with remembering all of your passwords and want to make sure you are managing passwords and protecting your accounts, you might want to consider a hardware token.

What is a hardware token?

This piece of hardware is a physical device, similar to a USB drive, that lets you gain access to an electronically restricted resource. It’s actually a simple two-factor authentication source.

Once your account is set up to accept the hardware token, you log in to the account with your user ID and password. You’ll be asked to insert the hardware token into the device, which gives you access to your account. It’s another layer of protection and authentication.

Hardware tokens have been on the market since 2002. Although many use the USB port on your device, Bluetooth tokens and smart cards are other types of hardware tokens. Setting up a hardware token is fairly easy. You can use your hardware token with most websites that have two-factor authorization.

The challenges with hardware tokens is that they are very easy to lose and can easily be stolen. That’s a pretty significant downside.

The YubiKey, one of the current offerings on the market, costs about $50. It could be expensive to have a hardware token for everyone in your organization. Google Titan, another brand of hardware key, costs about the same.

Some argue that not everyone needs this much security, but those people probably have never been hacked. If it protects your accounts, it might be worth taking a look.

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