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Google will show you how busy a store is in real time before you go

(TECH NEWS) This is a fantastic value add for Google services in general, and a straight-up blessing from your deity of choice for the holidays.

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Avoid the crowd

In their ongoing and so far successful effort to involve themselves in a pleasant, helpful fashion in every single activity of your digitally-enabled day, Google has added a new feature called Popular Times to Search and Maps.

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What does it do?

Popular Times does precisely what it says on the nonexistent box: tell you how busy a given place is likely to be at any time of day. And any day of the week. Oh, and if you’re curious about a place that provides multiple services with different time frames, say how long the pharmacy stays open at your favorite grocery, or when the kitchen closes at the gastropub down the street but you can still grab a pint? Got you covered on that, too.

Not enough? OK, Popular Times says, rolling up its sleeves. It also runs service metrics to help you plan your visit. My local Kroger? “People typically spend 20 mins here,” I am helpfully informed. Dinner at my favorite Mexican joint tonight? Not a bad idea. Looks like they’re pretty chill on Wednesdays – they get their peak crowds Sunday afternoon. Turns out my neighborhood is big on post-church fajitas. Who knew?

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Perfect timing

But I tease because I love. Popular Times is a fantastic value add for Google services in general, and a straight-up blessing from your deity of choice for the holidays. I know you don’t need to Google anything to know Black Friday morning at Walmart or Target will be a nightmare consumer mosh pit that will have you seriously reconsidering the merits of Communism before you make checkout.

But what about Saturday, or Tuesday afternoon? When is it worth spending your lunch at your favorite big-box instead of Chipotle, getting a month’s worth of shopping done in half an hour because this is when the lines aren’t?

Three cheers for Google

As is their wont, Google’s got you covered. They may or may not be taking over the world in the process, but for real, if it means never again having to stand in line long enough to get three stars in an Angry Birds level – I have three stars in every Angry Birds level, no one over eight should have three stars in every Angry Birds level, that’s how much I hate standing in line – I’m up for the Googleocracy.

#GooglePopularTimes

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.

Tech News

OnePlus swears to kinda stop collecting invasive data from users

(TECH NEWS) Inadvertently discovered during a hackathon, OnePlus was ousted for collecting insane amounts of data on users’ phones and promises to make a small change.

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Users of OnePlus phones were alarmed to learn this week that the company has been collecting large amounts of data from users without their consent or knowledge.

Software Engineer, Christopher Moore was participating in a hacking challenge when he discovered that his phone was sending excessive amounts of data to the OnePlus servers.

While it’s normal for your phone to automatically send data to headquarters when you have a bug or a system crash, OnePlus was collecting data every time the phone was turned off or on, and whenever apps were used.

“Moore says that OnePlus is collecting data such as phone numbers, serial numbers, WiFi and mobile network information, MAC addresses, and information about when and how apps are used, including Outlook and Slack.”

An opt-out option was buried deep within advanced settings. Most users were not aware that their data was being collected and transmitted.

In response to the user outcry, OnePlus posted an explanation on their support forum, saying that they were using the data to “fine tune our software according to user behavior” and to “provide better after-sales support.”

The company has promised to stop collecting MAC addresses, phone numbers, and WiFi information by the end of the month. They also say that they will update their terms of service to be more transparent about the data they are collecting, and will set up an opt-out option in the operating system’s setup wizard that will allow users to decide whether or not they want to join a “user experience program.”

While OnePlus claims that they have never given or sold information to a third party, users are suspicious that the types of data OnePlus is collecting would eventually be sold to marketers.

Even if you choose to opt out of the “user experience program”, OnePlus will continue to collect your data, but it will not be directly associated with your device. Users have generally not been satisfied with this response, saying that the company should give users the option of stopping all data transmissions.

Says Christopher Moore “Unfortunately, as a system service, there doesn’t appear to be any way of permanently disabling this data collection or removing this functionality without rooting the phone.”

You kind of blew it, OnePlus. You were caught red-handed, and it will take more than a partial opt out program to regain your customers’ trust.

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Tech News

With reward comes risk: facial recognition and privacy

(TECH NEWS) Facial recognition and artificial intelligence are awesome rewards from technical innovation but with reward comes risk.

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Technology is an omnipresent force in all of our lives. It is the core of innovation, providing us with quick, new ways to research, socialize and entertain ourselves. It seems like everyone is taking advantage of rapidly changing technology.

However what one person thinks as a reward of new systems may actually be a risk to someone else.

Take for instance, facial recognition software. Facebook uses it to identify familiar faces in photos and Apple uses it to unlock phones. It’s everywhere.

Even the porn industry is getting in on it. PornHub, a major online source for adult content, announced their new plan to use AI to help categorize the 10,000 plus videos that are uploaded every day.

Prior to this update, the site used a system of tagging videos to keep them organized. I would go into examples of such categories, but I’ll leave that up to the imagination.

One non-explicit example is organizing content based on the names of the stars of the film. Both the site itself and users had the ability to add tags to videos.

Regardless, this was not fast enough. By integrating AI software, PornHub hopes to expedite this process.

While this may sound like a smart business decision, this seems like high risk beginning to inadvertently diminish privacy rights.

Many people in the porn industry have alternate personas to separate their work and personal lives. Facial recognition software may pull from sources from both sides of that spectrum and end up merging the two.

This has already been the case on Facebook via the recommendations the site makes for “people you may know” via your internet practices.

However, it’s not just a matter of protecting the identity for a professional or amateur porn actor, it’s also about the privacy of clients.

Imagine being recommended to friend the star of the last video you streamed. This industry in particular, requires a level of discretion.

To combat some of the fears, PornHub has insists that the AI software only tags from the 10,000 stars in their database. Though as this update has proven, they could expand their database to keep up with the demand in the future.

It’s a technological advantage for their organization, but at what cost to others’ privacy?

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Tech News

Be My Eyes app offers eyes to those that need ’em

(TECH NEWS) Even with the best coping techniques, some people need help from time to time — enter Be My Eyes for the seeing impaired community.

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It’s nice to see a free app that connects helpful volunteers with folks seeking assistance.

“See” being a relative term here, because the free Be My Eyes app is designed to assist people who are visually impaired or blind. The anonymous and free app allows visually impaired users to connect, via video, to sighted volunteers who can then provide “visual assistance” to help with tasks such as identifying objects or describing environments.

Visually impaired users seeking assistance simply call in and the app finds the first available volunteer, usually within 45 to 60 seconds. The app automatically connects to a sighted volunteer who speaks the user’s language. There are currently volunteers representing 90 languages in 150 countries.

Be My Eyes also tracks the time zones in users’ locations so that visually impaired users can access the service 24 hours a day without worrying that they’ll disturb volunteers at night.

After dark, the app will even find a volunteer in the opposite hemisphere. Users are encouraged to ask for assistance whenever they want and as often as needed.

Sighted volunteers receive a notification when a visually impaired user seeks assistance. The volunteer can then decide whether or not to receive the call. If they aren’t available, the call is simply forwarded to the next appropriate volunteer.

Visually impaired users say they’ve used Be My Eyes to get help with finding lost items, reading instructions, navigating new places and public transportation, shopping, and more.

The app itself was invented by a visually impaired innovator, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a member of the Danish Association of the Blind who began losing his sight at age 25.

Says Wiberg, “It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others.”

Wilberg presented his idea for Be My Eyes at a startup event in Denmark in 2012. He was able to recruit a team of developers, who rolled out the app in 2015.

Some critics have pointed out that the app tends to reinforce the stereotype that visually impaired people, and people with disabilities in general, are helpless and dependent on others to get by. Presumably, blind people have developed inventive strategies for solving everyday challenges long before Be My Eyes was ever invented.

According to the reviews from sighted volunteers, many wait weeks at a time to get an inquiry. The Be My Eyes network currently has about ten times more volunteers than users, which begs the question: Do blind people actually want to use this app?

If you’d like to try it out, as either a visually impaired user or a sighted volunteer, you can download the app for Android at the Google Play Store or for iOS at the App Store.

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