I’m constantly amazed at my ability to be completely ignored in the middle of a conversation. I mean I get it, it’s the information age. Who am I to contend with the sum of all human knowledge? And as a knowledge-based society, information is all around us. Literally. As you read this it is flowing through wires under your feet, above your head, beaming through the atmosphere where it is deposited onto screens all across the globe.
The sheer volume of it can be daunting. There is so much content available on so many subjects within all possible genres, settling on a topic that really grabs you can amount to a real challenge. A predicament I like to call, paralysis by analysis. Flipboard, a popular news aggregate app, has unveiled some interesting changes in its latest update that aim to tackle that very problem.
Unlike the old days of slow-moving information heinously limited in volume and scope, nowadays, virtually anything that happens anywhere in the world is broadcast to the masses almost instantly. With so much content so readily available, consumers are afforded the luxury of cherry picking articles and snippets based on their own interests. Great, right? Sort of. The problem is that this requires wading through a significant quantity of completely irrelevant content with zero personal value.
Enter Flipboard 4.0.
Flipboard was designed to take current and trending news and entertainment articles from other publications and bring them to a singular digital space where users could read and interact with them. Seems legit. But with the brand new “Smart Magazine” update, magazines will be generated for the user based on ultra-specific personal tastes and interests, like scubadiving or cross country skiing.
“The goal is to give people a highly personalized magazine around the thing that they are incredibly passionate about,” says Flipboard CEO Mike McCue.
Don’t worry, Flipboard isn’t going to curl up on the sofa with a cup of oolong and attempt to navigate the labyrinth of your soul, there are algorithms for that.
The power of algorithms
As you may recall, Facebook ran into some trouble recently over their use of algorithms designed to build content around its users’ interests. This, some have said, resulted in skewed real world perceptions and a false sense of consensus among users that may or may not have had an effect on the recent election. But this is not that.
Flipboard CEO Mike McCue says that not all the curated content will be selected using algorithms. “When people look at technology news, they want to know what the whole industry thinks are top stories,” McCue says, “It’s not what’s trending.” The top stories in six of the most popular categories (news, business, politics, sports, entertainment and tech) will be hand-picked by Flipboard’s editors. “There’s no real good algorithm for ‘insightful’,” McCue says. I couldn’t agree more.
Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)
(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.
It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.
Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.
One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.
In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.
Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.
It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.
Google added Driving Mode, and they need your help to fill in the blanks
(TECH NEWS) Google wants you to help build out their driving mode, and all you have to do is annoy every last person around you.
Google is trying to map the planet and everything on it. An ever-hungry juggernaut dragon, there is some noble utility to having every mappable atom cataloged by their Sauron gaze. They’ve got goofy cars with oversized eyeball cameras gleefully running along every last street in existence, and their dance of taking photos is going to last until the end of time. It’s not even like they are shy about announcing it – HEY THIS IS A GOOGLE CAR AND WE’RE TAAAAAAKING PICTUUUUUURES.
These efforts are a bit hampered at the moment between various travel bans, which – while understandable – means that the beast can’t be sated. But Google is resourceful and full of smart people, and they know that most people are probably pretty bored and need excuses to move around. Bonus – it’s pretty safe to do so in your car (at least in terms of COVID-19 exposure), and everyone needs a change of scenery here and there.
First spotted by users at Reddit last week, Google has opened up a new “Driving Mode” option for their mobile navigation app. It lets users upload photos to their Street View service, which in turn can then be shared out to the internet at large. As a bonus, it blurs out faces and license plates to protect privacy. I guess the paranoid part of me wonders if the app secretly saves data in an unblurred state, but that means there would have to be a nefarious reason to amass that kind of data.
For the time being, let’s ignore that potentially troubling thought and focus on the positive that Google is providing here – a way to more quickly clear out all the dead gray space their maps might still be riddled with. I’m that friend who doesn’t trust that the address painted on your curb, so I’m totally down for knowing what you meant by “the one with the red door and the big blue thing.”
It’s crowdsourcing at its most genuine and distilled – an army of free freelancers working to collect data on a gargantuan project that might bankrupt even the largest tech giants of the world. If we focused the entirety of Instagram to a specific task, and a willing audience rose up and immediately contributed, we could get enough data to solve practically anything. Google is more or less taking Uber’s model and applying it to data aggregation and collection, and I can’t really fault them for that.
You may be wondering how useful this is, or even if it carries any utility at all. I think the answer there hinges on 2 things to consider. The first is simple – Google hasn’t fully mapped everything out. This includes rural areas in developed countries, to vast expanses in several others. If the thought is that we can better visualize the world in an effort to benefit humanity at large, then this endeavor is highly worthwhile.
The second thing to think about is just how usable the uploaded photos are, and this will rely on the devices themselves. Google could mitigate this by controlling software and hardware version minimums, with requirements that a camera must be able to provide images at a high bit quality. This would cut down on bad data or unusable pictures. Surely there’s a review process for final approval on top of that. In the end, this should ensure pictures that clearly convey visual data properly. (Of course, sometimes you’ll still get weird or funny stuff.)
If there’s one downside to any of this, it is that nagging feeling of another minor intrusion on privacy. When Google drives their cars around, it’s hard to miss their mechanical extremities and brightly colored paint jobs. When some rando down the road loads up a camera in their ‘96 Sonata and starts snapping pics, I could see that making some people upset. At the worst, you could say Google is encouraging unscrupulous behavior (or at least very annoying behavior), but I see enough Facebook updates from people telling me what coffee they drank for the day, so maybe no one is too worried. I guess you could worry about someone keeping any compromising photos, but Google can’t be held responsible for that.
For now, the rollout appears to be controlled at this time, as it’s not widely available to everyone, and there’s no clear indication on when and how it will be publicly released everywhere. Hit the road everyone.
Microsoft engineer *almost* gets away with $10 million
(TECH NEWS) It was almost the perfect scheme, but this Microsoft engineer messed up and is heading for prison instead.
Volodymyr Kvashuk, a former Microsoft engineer from Ukraine, is facing 9 years in prison for attempting to steal $10 million from his employer. He has been ordered to pay over $8 million in restitution fees, and may even face deportation after his prison term is complete.
Here’s how it all went down:
Kvashuk’s position as a program tester for the Microsoft Online store gave him access to a “whitelisted” store account, which automatically bypassed fraud detection protocols, to test store functionality. Purchases through whitelisted accounts were supposed to be void, but Kvashuk discovered that he was able to use the account to purchase legitimate store gift cards.
At first, he only used the credit to make small unauthorized purchases, like software and graphics cards. But nobody seemed to notice, because the purchases were linked to fake payment devices, and so Kvashuk got bolder.
He went on to make larger and larger transactions, selling his stolen Microsoft store credit for bitcoin online and spending the money on a new house and car.
As the stakes escalated, he eventually started taking more measures to conceal his tracks- like sending his largest sums through a “mixing” service to conceal their origins before he deposited them into his proper bank account. The funds were even properly reported to the IRS, but he claimed they were a gift from his dad.
Yet Kvashuk made a few damning mistakes that allowed investigators to track him down.
Most egregiously, despite being wise enough to use a VPN for this activity, he regularly reused the same connection (and therefore the same IP address). This acted like a trail of breadcrumbs that linked his known accounts and the ones directly involved with his scheme.
Investigators also highlighted the uncanny timing of the transactions in question, stating “The value of the bitcoin deposits to Kvashuk’s Coinbase account generally correlated with the value of the purchased and redeemed [Microsoft credit].”
“Stealing from your employer is bad enough,” US Attorney Brian Moran stated, “but stealing and making it appear that your colleagues are to blame widens the damage beyond dollars and cents.”
In the end, Krashuk got justice. He was found guilty of “five counts of wire fraud, six counts of money laundering, two counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of filing false tax returns, and one count each of mail fraud, access device fraud, and access to a protected computer in furtherance of fraud,” according to court documents.
That’s quite the laundry list of offenses, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple words: “You really messed up, man.”
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