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Did the Chinese government use Amazon to spy on Americans?

(TECH) A contentious report indicates the Chinese government hacked American citizens, which Homeland Security denies, despite rising tensions.

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A year after Amazon sold off its Chinese servers, a new report places the blame upon a Chinese government spy program.

TechCrunch alleges that last year’s move by Amazon to offload its server presence in China is not due to an exit from the Chinese marketplace as previously speculated. Rather, Bloomberg reports reveal that a vital link in the computer manufacturing supply chain has been compromised by Chinese corporate espionage, leaving Amazon — and many other American companies — vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Bloomburg asserts that the physical motherboards of the servers were compromised during construction, where malicious microchips created by a Chinese military unit were introduced into the motherboards without Amazon’s knowledge. These microchips are about the size of a pencil lead, and once activated, allow the server’s operating system to be altered.

These compromised motherboards were then sold to SuperMicro, an American startup company. SuperMicro then used these parts to construct servers for Elemental, a software company which dealt primarily with video compression.

Elemental was eventually acquired by Amazon, but not before doing direct business with the United States government.

According to Bloomberg, “Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency.”

If these allegations are true, it implies that Amazon knew of the compromised servers, but decided to quietly deal with the matter internally.

A public acknowledgement of victimization from cyber-attacks could hurt their public image, along with possibly leaving themselves open to public outrage or even class action from customers angry over the exposure of their personal data.

However, the alternative implies turning a blind eye to the possibility that their company may have unknowingly aided in international espionage.

Amazon denies the veracity of Bloomberg’s claims, including both the existence of and the knowledge of malicious spy hardware embedded into their servers. “As we shared with Bloomberg BusinessWeek multiple times over the last couple months, this is untrue,” reads a recent statement from Amazon. “At no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in SuperMicro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems. Nor have we engaged in an investigation with the government.”

The American government backs Amazon to deny the hack, but doing otherwise reveals vulnerabilities our government would not be wise to admit to. Tensions are rising as the current administration pushes the Chinese government to do business on a level playing field. We anticipate more discoveries of this nature in coming months.

James M Lane, AINS was born into this world without his consent an ornery 60 year old man with a full beard. He has worked in the insurance industry for the last half decade, and was a foreign language preschool teacher for years before that. He writes horror in his spare time. Follow him on Instagram for deliberations on pro wrestling and beards.

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How to opt out of Google’s robots calling your business phone

(TECH) Google’s robots now call businesses to set appointments, but not all companies are okay with talking to an artificial intelligence tool like a person. Here’s how to opt out.

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You know what’s not hard? Calling a restaurant and making a reservation. You know what’s even easier? Making that reservation though OpenTable. You know what we really don’t need, but it’s here so we have to deal with it? Google Duplex.

Falling under “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it,” Duplex, Google’s eerily human-sounding AI chat agent that can arrange appointments for Pixel users via Google Assistant has rolled out in several cities including New York, Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco which now means you can have a robot do menial tasks for you.

There’s even a demo video of someone using Google Duplex to find an area restaurant and make a reservation and in the time it took him to tell the robot what to do, he could’ve called and booked a reservation himself.

Aside from booking the reservation for you, Duplex can also offer you updates on your reservation or even cancel it. Big whoop. What’s difficult to understand is the need or even demand for Duplex. If you’re already asking Google Assistant to make the reservation, what’s stopping you from making it yourself? And the most unsettling thing about Duplex? It’s too human.

It’s unethical to imply human interaction. We should feel squeamish about a robo-middleman making our calls and setting our appointments when we’re perfectly capable of doing these things.

However, there is hope. Google Duplex is here, but you don’t have to get used to it.

Your company can opt out of accepting calls by changing the setting in your Google My Business accounts. If robots are already calling restaurants and businesses in your city, give your staff a heads-up. While they may receive reservations via Duplex, at least they’ll be prepared to talk to a robot.

And if you plan on not opting out, at least train your staff on what to do when the Google robots call.

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Bose launches headphone-less headphones for your face

(TECHNOLOGY) Bose is using augmented reality in a fascinating new way (even if we’re poking fun at it).

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Just in time for the holidays, Bose releases Frames, their new breakthrough sunglasses that combine the protection and style of premium sunglasses, the functionality and performance of wireless headphones, and the world’s first audio augmented reality platform.

At $199 per pair, they’re the perfect gift for the person who has everything and who will eventually lose them in a lake, leave them in a fitting room, or crush them in a car seat.

Frames have the ability to stream music and information, take and make calls, and access virtual assistants. Bose promises that your playlists, entertainment, and conversations will stay private, although how your conversations will remain private is unclear. Expect confusion from every stranger within earshot.

Bose is calling Frames a revolutionary wearable, but aren’t these just headphones for your face? Very cool headphones for your face?

Bose is pushing the AR functionality hard.

Although they can’t change what you see, they know what you’re seeing using a 9-axis head motion sensor and the GPS from your iOS or Android. Once they know what you see, the AR automatically tunes you into audio commentary for that place, opening users to endless possibilities for travel, learning, entertainment, and gaming.

They claim Frames are hands-free and clear-eyed, but even if that’s the case, do we really need more people walking around under the influence of distraction? As if it weren’t enough to have people’s eyes glued to their phones, now we can have people in matching sunglasses wandering around talking to themselves. Now who looks bonkers?

Frames are available for preorder now and are expected to ship in January 2019. Look for Bose to release updates to their AR at SXSW in March.

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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 recently 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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