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Facial Recognition thinks you might be a toaster, really

(TECH NEWS) Facial Recognition is still a log way from being perfect. Ceci n’est pas une toaster. Really. Repeat it with me: I am not a toaster.

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Facial recognition failure

Using facial recognition seems pretty seamless, think of your iPhone. Yet, a human face has actually been confused with a toaster, according to a facial recognition technology expert.

If a computer, which is thought to be highly reliable, will confuse a human face for a toaster, what might that mean for facial recognition accuracy when seeking out suspects of crimes? Possibly, not so reliable.

“Obviously, the technology has immense value in promoting societal interests such as efficiency and security but it also represents a threat to some of our individual interests, particularly privacy,” Nessa Lynch, associate professor of law at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Lynch and other experts are part of a research project that will be completed in mid-2020. The researchers presented some of their findings during a panel recently held at the university.

Some of the very first images used to test data were those of convicted felons in Florida. They had abused meth and had great cheekbones. But, that presented problems when using facial recognition on actual real folk without a meth habit.

The cheekbones are very different than the average person, which can happen when you eat food. Data from such a source was not useful when training a system to recognize normal people, said Rachel Dixon, Privacy and Data Protection Deputy Commissioner at the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner in Australia.

Companies who sell the technology products often claim they are highly reliable, but Dixon said, often they are reliable because of the environments where they are used, which may be unvarying. And, the systems are tuned for these specific environments.

“…Picking you out walking randomly down the street can be quite challenging. There’s a whole bunch of environmental factors there that go to essentially reducing the confidence level,” Dixon said in a story published on Ideasroom. “None of this is absolute. There is no one-to-one match. And by perturbing an image even a small amount you can make the machine-learning system think the person is a toaster. I’m not joking.”

If a computer recognizes a face, for example, as person of interest in a crime, it is very hard to change that perception, even if it is wrong, because humans have a hard time believing a machine can make a mistake, especially if it has said it is the correct match, Dixon explained.

In the United States, a conservative estimate is that roughly a quarter of all the 18,000 law enforcement agencies have access to facial recognition systems, particularly for the use in investigations. Yet, Georgetown Law Professor Clare Garvie said there are no laws – at the state or federal level – governing its use.

Garvie, a senior associate at the center on privacy and technology at Georgetown said, “As a result, this technology has been implemented largely without transparency to the public, without rules around auditing or public reporting, without rules around who can be subject to a search. As a result, it is not just suspects of a criminal investigation that are the subject of searches. In many jurisdictions, witnesses, victims or anybody associated with a criminal investigation can also be the subject of a search.”

Because there is little reporting and auditing of the use of the technology, it’s unclear if agencies are checking to determine if it’s being misused or if it is actually a helpful and successful tool, Garvie said. Are law enforcement officials “catching the bad guys” or is the use of the technology a waste of money, which she said she suspects it is in some jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, it may come as no surprise to some, those often caught in the crosshairs are from lower socio-economic status or marginalized populations.

In one instance, a person who was ranked 319th for being a likely match based on the algorithmic ranking, was the one police arrested. The police also failed to provide the ranking evidence to the defense lawyers.

In the United Kingdom, the technology has been used extensively and with mixed results by law enforcement and businesses in order to search for people on watch lists, according to Dr. Joe Purshouse from the School of Law at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“The human rights implications for privacy, freedom of assembly – those are chilling, Purshouse said, adding the marginalized are caught in the middle such as, “Suspects of crime, people of lower socio-economic status who are forced to use public space and rely more heavily on public space than people who have economic advantages, perhaps.”

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

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iOS 15 beta has blur nude photos opt-in, but its not without fault

(TECH NEWS) To protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos.

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Woman looking at Apple iPhone representing new iOS 15 beta that will blur nude photos.

In a move to protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos received in the Messages app. Amid privacy concerns, the feature has yet to be released.

The option to blur nude photos is opt-in, reports The Verge, and does not prevent users from choosing to view the photos in question even after being implemented.

This iteration of the feature is distinct from the original one insofar as it will no longer alert a parent or guardian when nude photos are encountered. While this may seem like a controversial change, several experts pointed out that exposing nude content on a child’s device in some households could result in abuse or, as Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic instructor Kendra Albert suggests, the outing of “queer or transgender children to their parents.”

With the most recent version of this feature enabled, children who receive inappropriate photos via the Messages app would be able to do two things: choose to avoid (or see) the content, and choose to send a report to a trusted adult if they see fit to do so.

Blurring photos is just one of several aspects of Apple’s Communication Safety suite, a feature that aims to prevent child sex abuse by making it easier for children to avoid and report predatory content.

 

Child on electronic device- iOS 15 beta that will allow blur nude photos should protect children.

Another feature that Apple has tested – but not released – is their Child Sex Abuse Imagery Detection (CSAM-detection), which scans and reports iCloud content that shows child pornography or abuse to Apple moderators for further review. As one can imagine, the feature drew mixed criticism, the majority of which came from privacy advocates.

While the vast majority of humanity can (hopefully) agree that fighting against child exploitation is a noble cause, these groups argue that scanning and reporting individuals’ personal photos via an algorithm opens the door to government interference and increased surveillance. Switching the algorithm’s baseline to scan for things like anti-government content, for example, would be easy, these groups posit, making the feature extremely dangerous in principle.

There is no current release date set for any of these aforementioned features, though iPhone users can reasonably expect them to drop at some point during iOS 15’s development.

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Amazon Music debuts synchronized text transcripts for popular podcasts

(TECH) The first feature to hit Amazon Music is auto-generated and synchronized text transcripts for their most popular podcast shows. Sign us up!

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Amazon Music Transcripts

Amazon set out to accelerate the growth and evolution of podcasts last year by acquiring the podcasting network, Wondery. Now, the company is doing just that with the launch of its auto-generated and synchronized podcast transcripts feature on Amazon Music.

According to an Amazon Music tweet, with this feature, you’ll be able to “Roll it back, jump ahead, and follow along” with the podcast you’re listening to. For instance, you can scrub through the transcript to find that line of text with that quote or movie and book suggestion you can’t quite remember. When you tap on a particular line of text in the transcript, you’ll be able to jump straight into that specific part of the podcast. I can already see all the time saved! But, if you just want to read along as you listen, you can do that, too. The transcript will match the audio as you’re hearing it.

Right now, the company is only rolling out podcast transcripts in the US on both iOS and Android devices. When it will expand to other countries isn’t known, and the feature isn’t available for all podcasts yet. For now, it is only available on a selection of popular podcasts like Smartless, Crime Junkie, This American Life, Uncommon Ground, and Modern Love, but more are coming.

Amazon Music Homescreen

To use it, all you have to do is open the podcasts tab on Amazon Music and select one of the podcasts you’d like to listen to. Of course, you’ll need to select a show with the podcast transcription feature to see it. When your show is playing, on the top of the album art and in fullscreen mode, the transcriptions will be available for you to read along to.

Oh, and if you’re worried about having to read through the ads, you have nothing to fret about. Ads won’t be transcribed. Instead, the transcription will read “audio not transcribed” when they are playing.

So far, Amazon seems to be going strong in the podcasting game with the release of podcast transcripts. The feature makes it easy to search and find what you are looking for in a show. And, for those on a long and noisy bus and subway ride, you’ll finally be able to read the information you previously couldn’t hear.

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UX design: If you don’t have it, get yourself an audit made easy

(TECH NEWS) UX design is important. By conducting a simple audit to make sure your site is accessible, you can minimize the number of people that quickly go away.

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Two UX design people standing in front of a whiteboard with a UX map.

A good UX design is essential in attracting and retaining customers. A seamless and positive experience will keep customers happy and bring your business many benefits, like increasing audience engagement and sales.

But, how do you know if your user experience is in need of help, so people don’t bounce away quickly? Well, if UX is not your forte, the best thing to do is to hire a good UX designer. Unfortunately, sometimes hiring one isn’t always within the budget.

So, what do you do then? The next best thing is to conduct a UX audit of your website or app. Not sure where to begin? Fulcrum’s Do It Yourself UX Audit kit is one place to start.

According to the website, this DIY UX audit “can help you gain valuable insights about the usability of your product.” The tool detects problems in your UX, prioritizes them for you, and finds out how you can fix any existing issues.

The tool is made out of free easy-to-use Notion templates. These UX audit checklists are all customizable, and you can print them or save them on your Notion dashboard to use later.

Inside each template, there are cards with descriptions and examples. Depending on if you meet certain criteria or not, you drag and drop the card into the “Yes” or “No” column. When you’re finished, you will easily see what issues you have, and you can work on fixing them.

The templates are divided into Junior and Middle-level templates.

The Junior level has templates for things such as field and forms, login, mobile UX, and architecture. Most of these templates help make sure you cover your basic UX bases. For instance, it looks at whether your website is desktop and mobile-friendly, and if each element makes sense and is easily identifiable.

The Middle Level dives in a little deeper. The “Visibility of system status” audit checks if you are keeping your audience informed on what’s going on. Things like battery life, loading, or Wi-Fi connection indicators can make a huge difference. No one wants to stare at a screen with no clue if what they clicked on is working or not.

If you can afford it and want a UX virtuoso to do the work for you, you can get a UX audit from Fulcrum. The experts will conduct a full-fledged UX audit and create wireframes with solutions for your UX issues.

However, no matter how you go about it, a good UX design is important. Higher rate conversions and user retention won’t happen if your product is just pushing people away.

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