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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 technology is growing fast. 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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Want to know how your passwords could get hacked?

(TECH NEWS) While we all know that passwords can be hacked, it is rare that we know how they’re hacked.

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Ever wonder how passwords get stolen? I like to imagine a team of hackers like The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, all crowded in some hideout conducting illegal computer business based on tips from rogue FBI Agents.

Turns out there’s a little more to hacking than waiting for Fox Mulder to show up with hints.

Most of the common tactics involve guessing passwords utilizing online and offline techniques to acquire entry. One of the main methods is a dictionary attack.

This method automatically tries everything listed in a small file, the “dictionary,” which is populated with common passwords, like 123456 or qwerty. If your password is something tragically simple, you’re out of luck in a dictionary attack.

To protect yourself, use strong single-use passwords for each individual account. You can keep track of these with a password manager, because no one is expecting you to remember a string of nonsensical numbers, letters, and characters that make up a strong password.

Of course, there are still ways for hackers to figure out even complex passwords.

In a brute force attack, every possible character combination is tried. For example, if the password is required to have at least one uppercase letter and one number, a brute force attack will meet these specifications when generating potential passwords.

Brute force attacks also include the most commonly used alphanumeric combinations, like a dictionary attack. Your best bet against this type of attack is using extra symbols like & or $ if the password allows, or including a variety of variables whenever possible.

Spidering is another online method similar to a dictionary attack. Hackers may target a specific business, and try a series of passwords related to the company. This usually involves using a search “spider” to collate a series of related terms into a custom word list.

While spidering can be devastating if successful, this kind of attack is diverted with strong network security and single-use passwords that don’t tie in easily searchable personal information.

Malware opens up some more fun options for hackers, especially if it features a keylogger, which monitors and records everything you type. With a keylogger, all your accounts could potentially be hacked, leaving you SOL. There are thousands of malware variants, and they can go undetected for a while.

Fortunately, malware is relatively easy to avoid by regularly updating your antivirus and antimalware software. Oh, and don’t click on sketchy links or installation packages containing bundleware. You can also use script blocking tools.

The delightfully named (but in actuality awful) rainbow table method is typically an offline attack where hackers acquire an encrypted list of passwords. The passwords will be hashed, meaning it looks completely different from what you would type to log in.

However, attackers can run plaintext passwords through a hashtag algorithm and compare the results to their file with encrypted passwords. To save time, hackers can use or purchase a “rainbow table”, which is a set of precomputed algorithms with specific values and potential combinations.

The downside here is rainbow tables take up a lot of space, and hackers are limited to the values listed in the table. Although rainbow tables open up a nightmare storm of hacking potential, you can protect yourself by avoiding sites that limit you to very short passwords, or use SHA1 or MD5 as their password algorithms.

There’s also phishing, which isn’t technically hacking, but is one of the more common ways passwords are stolen. In a phishing attempt, a spoof email requiring immediate attention links to a fake login landing page, where users are prompted to input their login credentials.

The credentials are then stolen, sold, used for shady purposes, or an unfortunate combination of all the above. Although spam distribution has greatly increased over the past year, you can protect yourself with spam filters, link checkers, and generally not trusting anything requesting a ton of personal information tied to a threat of your account being shut down.

Last but certainly not least, there’s social engineering. This is a masterpiece of human manipulation, and involves an attacker posing as someone who needs login, or password, building access information. For example, posing as a plumbing company needing access to a secure building, or a tech support team requiring passwords.

This con is avoidable with education and awareness of security protocol company wide. And also you know, not providing sensitive information to anyone who asks. Even if they seem like a very trustworthy electrician, or promise they definitely aren’t Count Olaf.

Moral of the story? Your passwords will never be completely safe, but you can take steps to prevent some avoidable hacking methods.

Always have a single-use password for each account, use a password manager to store complex passwords, update malware, keep your eye out for phishing attempts, and don’t you dare make your password “passoword.”

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Should social networks fear Jumbo, the new privacy app?

(TECHNOLOGY) Although iOS only (for now), Jumbo has launched and could put a dent in some of the nefariousness of social media networks…

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Like virtually every other online outlet, we’ve both talked about web and app privacy and complained bitterly about the invariable fall of online rights. However, while we’ve been talking the talk, a company called Jumbo has been cyber-walking the cybersecurity walk.

Jumbo – an iPhone app focused on keeping your online trails as private as possible – has a simple premise: allowing social media users to manage their online privacy with a few taps rather than having to navigate each individual service’s infuriatingly complex labyrinth of privacy settings. Instead of having to visit each individual app you want to clean up, you can simply open Jumbo, select your preferences, and wait for the magic to happen.

Jumbo’s features range from cleaning up social media timelines and old posts to erasing entire searches or resetting privacy information; while it currently varies depending on the social media service in question, Jumbo’s one commonality is its simplicity.

The star of Jumbo’s presentation is its aptly-named Cleaning Mode—a feature which allows users to wipe anything from tweets to old Google searches. Jumbo’s developers also assure users that the ability to remove things like Facebook photos is in the works, making Jumbo’s efforts to clean up your digital life that much more ubiquitous.

It is worth noting that some users have encountered limitations on the number of tweets they can delete, so you may have to batch-remove information until this bug is resolved.

When using Jumbo, you’ll also find an encrypted back-up feature that allows you to download—or use cloud storage for—old photos and files. It isn’t as dramatic as Jumbo’s primary functions, but anyone looking to make a dent in purging their online footprints will surely benefit from being able to encrypt and save their information for a rainy day through one interface.

At the time of this writing, Jumbo is prepared to assist with privacy options related to Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Amazon Alexa, but the app’s developers intend to incorporate support for platforms such as Tinder and Instagram in the future.

While Jumbo is currently restricted to iPhones, Jumbo’s maker Pierre Valade has mentioned that an Android version is “on [their] list”. In the meantime, iPhone users should strongly consider taking Jumbo for a spin.

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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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