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Are we really ready to be under constant video surveillance?

(TECHNOLOGY) Facial recognition technology is happening, now. What does it mean, who does it benefit, and who makes the rules?

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facial recognition

Facial recognition technology is growing quickly. More and more applications are asking for a look at your face as the ultimate in security. What does that mean, and what are the consequences?

You’re a digital-enabled human. That means, in all likelihood, some combination of Apple, Facebook, or Google knows everything about you that matters. ‘Tis the nature of the Almighty Cloud.

At the moment, the cloud(s) consist(s) of data you gave it voluntarily. If facial recognition were to become standard, to replace user IDs and credit card numbers as identification the way those things replaced signatures, it would link your physical self to that data.

In theory, anyone with the dough for a security camera or point-of-sale machine could buy the knowledge of what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, anywhere, anytime, so long as you were in eyeshot of a networked device.

Also in theory, fraud would be impossible, no criminal would go free, and no innocent person would ever be convicted of a crime. Right. Riiight.

Faces are unique, there’d be a camera on everything, and first in line to buy themselves some Every Breath You Take benevolent stalker gear would be the police. After all, if you’ve got a driver’s license, a residency card, a passport, or about nineteen other governmental thingamajigs, the Powers That Be already have your face. They’re just trusting humans to identify it. Robots might be better!

They also might not be (remember when police robots couldn’t tell the difference between a picture of sand dunes and a butt?).

Which is it? Who’s to say? Who gets to say?

The Verge recently asked that very question of a panel of very smart people. The result was a continuum of views on regulation of facial recognition technology, which is to say, at least 1 of these 5 people has probably correctly guessed how you’ll be interacting with technology for the next 50 years.

Listen up.

Lots of people are pro-regulation, but not always for obvious reasons.

First, as always, are the philosophers. Philosophers have been fretting about tech for so long one of the cave glyphs at Lascaux probably translates to “Fire: Is Society Ready?”

But philosophers are by no means always wrong, and in this case several have correctly noted that facial recognition technology is being marketed before the discussion of its limits has even begun.

Right now, all the decisions on what the tech can and can’t do are being made by people who stand to benefit if it sells well.Click To Tweet

More moderate voices, ironically, speak to what could be even more serious concerns. Algorithms remain badly flawed when used in human-facing roles (remember Salter’s Law: for every person you replace putting AI in a customer-facing job, you will have to hire at least two more to handle the fallout when it screws up) and notoriously tend to perpetuate societal failings.

Current facial recognition software, for instance, has white guys down pat, but struggles to differentiate between people of color, women, children and the elderly. Likewise, it has an ugly habit of identifying innocent people as criminals if they happen to belong to the same minority group. The data we collect as a culture reflects our cultural biases, and all an algorithm can EVER do, is parse that data.

This is enough of a problem that many facial recognition companies are in favor of regulation, seeking to set development parameters from “go” in order to keep from perpetuating old ills.

On the anti-regulation side, shockingly, are early adopters who jumped in headfirst without triple-checking the consequences, and a bunch of people who sell facial recognition technology would quite like to have all the money, now, please.

They also have an extremely important point. The plain fact is that regulation cannot keep up with innovation.

Culture moves too quickly for laws to catch up now, and legislators are notoriously not tech-savvy. The people best qualified to understand exactly how facial recognition technology works, and therefore, to determine what limitations are necessary, are the people making it.

Opponents of regulation also point to the successes of facial recognition as implemented to date. Facial recognition has been used successfully in fields ranging from law enforcement to device security to shortening lines at the airport. Don’t know about y’all, but we at AG are all for improving all of those things.

So as of today, you are being surveilled. That’s fact.

If you’re in the States, over the course of your day, you will likely be surveilled by several different private entities. Including us, by the way. Hi! We call it “consumer data,” but it’s surveillance. If you’re in China, Russia or the UK, there’s an excellent chance your primary voyeur is the government instead, since they have the most active state-run surveillance systems. It’s the price of the Digital Age; someone is watching. How much are you willing to let them see?

In China, citizens are used to (therefore fine with) the government watching their every move on camera, but Americans aren’t historically open to Big Brother watching.

So, we’re really asking – is effortless, contactless shopping, travel and tech worth surrendering your face to the Omniscient Eye? Or is inefficiency a price worth paying for holding onto just that much of your privacy?

It bears repeating: facial recognition is happening, now. Decide quickly.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Instagram helps pass social isolation with co-watching

(TECH NEWS) As social distancing become commonplace, Instagram responds with co-watching. The Newest way to look at and watch content with friends.

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Instagram co-watching

Deep into the second week of quarantine, third or fourth week for some of us, the isolation is starting to become quite real. Thanks to modern technology we can reach out to our friends and family without leaving the house, but it pales in comparison to the social lives many of us once enjoyed together. While you can certainly FaceTime or video call your friends, it’s still difficult to watch things together, mimicking the in-person experience. Many people have begun searching for apps that allow you to watch televisions shows and trending news together, so you can all see the same thing, at roughly the same time (thanks, lagging) and comment accordingly.

In a timely release, Instagram just launched a new feature called “Co-Watching.” This takes Instagram from a solo experience to a shared experience for up to six people. Co-Watching gives users the ability to video chat and browse through Instagram’s content together, thus making it more of a social gathering. The only downside to this feature, in my opinion, is that you cannot Co-Watch IGTV. Oftentimes, IG posts that are over the time limit are shifted to IGTV and you won’t be able to watch the full post with Co-Watching, but all other feeds and content on Instagram will be able through the new Co-Watching feature (except private posts, of course).

Ready to Co-Watch? Getting started is pretty easy, if you’re somewhat familiar with Instagram. To start, initiate a video call with whomever you want, up to six, in your Co-Watching party, by tapping on the arrow icon in the upper-right corner and select the video camera icon. You’ll see the video chat interface pop up and from there you’ll want to look to the lower right-hand corner for a “media” button, which looks like a mountain photo icon. Tap on that icon and you’ll see all the posts you’ve liked. Select a post or video from your favorites, or from Instagram’s recommended feed and whatever you tap will be shared to all your partygoers. If you’re watching a video, it will continue to loop until you or one of your friends select something new.

There are several other group chat/watching options currently available if Instagram isn’t your jam. Netflix can be used with the Party app. Netflix Party is available on Chrome browsers (on desktops or laptops) and allows you to synch your favorite videos with group chat. There is also the Squad app. It allows you to screen share anything on your phone with your friends. This works with texts, IG, Snapchat, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, TikTok, and more. Start a group video chat with your selected friends, then broadcast your screen and start chatting. Squad is available in the App Store and Google Play.

While Instagram’s new feature is fun, the inability to share while watching IGTV makes it fall a bit flat for me. Have you tried, or will you try Instagram’s Co-Watching feature?

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Tech News

Broadband internet can save rural lives, especially now

(TECH NEWS) Will this bill finally put broadband internet access into the communities that need it most? Rural communities are quickly falling behind.

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broadband internet

Lack of information kills.

As in straight up will put you in the ground, kills.

Example: Did you know they sell apricot kernels by the bag as a superfood? Did you know that their seeds, as well as those of most stone fruits like nectarines, plums, and peaches contain a chemical called amygdalin? Did you know that amygdalin converts to cyanide in the human body, and will take your Whole Foods shopping behind out like a bag full of used N95 masks on trash day?

If you didn’t know, you know now, and if you knew before, either you’re a botanist, scientist, or some other positive -ist, OR you found out like I did. On the internet.

Y’all, my height, weight, and the calendar say the same thing: it’s not 1995 anymore.

There’s no ‘pounding the pavement’ to get a job, it’s on the internet. There’s no ‘Just call and find out’, you get put on hold and a robo voice tells you to get on the internet. PS, that last weird thing you saw your doctor about? They went to school, and they can authorize the tests, but they Googled that mess too, I guarantee you.

The web is an everyday utility in every country with steady lights and running water for more than 5% of the populace. So why are my folks in the wide open spaces being left out on this? Simply put, it’s a matter of companies not bothering to put the broadband infrastructure in place coupled with increasing charges in paying for the services in the first place. A new bill is looking to change that, and I am THUH-RILLED.

RJ Karney Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau spearheaded putting Bill S.1822, AKA Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, AKA the DATA Act (nice one), in front of President Trump, and the payoff will payoff thusly if signed into law:

Rural communities will have better access to remote healthcare–physical AND mental, highly important to anyone for whom a doctor’s visit is a literal day trip.

Broadband usage will be tracked more accurately, allowing companies to get a glimpse into where reinforcements are needed most.

Those trackings will be used to decide where government funds will be allocated in order to facilitate internet implementation (say that 10 times fast).

20 Million Americans with no access to broadband, and the standard of life that comes with it will be granted the access they need.

Lovely, right?

And for everyone who likes the taste of leather out there, this isn’t a matter of the free market deciding not to provide a service because it isn’t profitable. No, dear reader, these companies have actively TURNED DOWN government funding to roll out faster internet in less populated areas, citing ‘We don’t wanna’ (my paraphrase) and ‘We know better than they do, and they don’t NEED this’ (also my paraphrase).

Even a city gal like me knows manure when she sees it.

I had a similar situation going on here in Austin. Once I moved out of the crappy apartments that just HAPPENED to be on the tail edge of a rich zip code, and into the crappy apartments by the GOOD taco places, my internet didn’t work right. Because the area had too many “poors” for -company name redacted, although it rhymes with Air BnB- to have put up the structures for working internet there. Despite the fact that my bill was not any lower.

It’s not okay.

Look obviously country folk aren’t stupid. I defy you to be as sharp as someone who has to get up at 5AM and drain a horse’s abscess without getting a hoof-shaped dent between the eyebrows. But especially now in our Covid-19 inundated world, we need info that you cannot just ‘know’. This is unprecedented stuff! For all I know, the virus feeds on the compounds in garlic, and I’m seconds away from a sweet n’ savory death due to all my ‘fight it off’ infused honey!

The issue is that no amount of good ol’ fashioned common sense is going to keep you from knowing not to feed your baby with contaminated Gerber’s that just got recalled because some sick douche-iot purposefully sneezed in the mashed peas. When I say ‘We need the information’, that WE means ALL of us.

Let’s hope for the best for this bill, and get everyone wired, hired, and fired up.

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Mental health app tackles COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) GG life is an app backed by a psychology researcher to help people deal with a crisis. The COVID-19 outbreak seems like the perfect time to try it.

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GG Life

Mental health apps are a dime a dozen. GG Life is an app that purports to “use the power of inner-dialogue to heal, improve and progress.” Gur Ilany, creative director, designer and entrepreneur, posted on Product Hunt, “We’re excited to launch a product we’ve been working on for some time. My friend Dr. Guy Doron and I created over the last 2 years a mental wellness tool that helps people overcome their mental challenges.” GG Life is designed to help people cope and respond to crisis.

How it works

The app has different “journeys” which are the equivalent of levels. I started with the “Coping” journey. The first section introduces the topic. You are given an affirmation, one at a time. You pull (swipe) the positive statements toward the bottom of your phone and push the negative statements away from you toward the top of the phone. Each section only takes a few minutes. There are a few sections under each journey that assess your current state. The coping journey also has two “waves” sessions, which are a directed meditation exercise.

Pros

Dr. Doron is a clinical psychology researcher, who brings his extensive experience in OCD, anxiety and depression to GG Life. His background includes international studies and prestigious research grants. One of the things that makes GGAPPS unique is that they support their app with research on its efficacy. This research is being conducted in the US, UK Spain, Italy and Israel. You can actually read the academic papers that have been published about the app and its impact on people’s everyday life. The app is easy to use. It only takes a few minutes each day.

Cons

I did find the app to be a bit tone-deaf to people with chronic illnesses. In the Coping section, these statements came up – “I’m more likely to than others to get an illness.” Or “I’m more vulnerable than others to develop health issues.” You were supposed to reject them. I felt as if an immuno-compromised person might feel triggered.

The app is free to use, but if you want more journeys, it can be on the expensive side. The premium version costs $7.99/ month with a yearly subscription available for $59.99. Although it’s much cheaper than a counselor, it’s still an investment.

Does it work?

I’ve only been using GG Life for about three days, but I can see a difference in my mental dialogue. I challenge the negative thoughts more than I did before. I don’t know if that’s enough to recommend the app, but it’s certainly worth a download to try and manage obsessive thoughts about this crisis.

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