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A Swedish startup has implanted micro-chips in its workers, will this be a new trend?

(TECH NEWS) A Swedish startup is using its employees as a test run for human micro-chipping.

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neural lace chips

Are you chipped?

A startup hub in Sweden is literally implanting microchips in their employees.

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So now the question is if you, dear reader, are a cyborg yet.

A shot of rice

The Swedish startup, Epicenter, is home to around 2,000 workers, and so far 150 have been chipped. The process is simple and pretty painless.

Self-described “body hacker” Jowan Osterlund comes in with a syringe and something the size of a grain of rice.

He slides the syringe into the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger, and in that moment you enter the world of William Gibson once and for all.

Well, you know, you can open doors and buy stuff with a wave of your hand. It’s basically the same.

Chipping humans

This technology isn’t new, but it’s rarely used on humans. Our pets, however, have been cyborgs for years, so that we can find them when they’re lost.

They run away, get taken to a vet or shelter, and scanned for cyborg-ness (AKA microchips).

And now we can be just like Fido. Epicenter and a very few other companies are pioneers of widespread human chipping, and they insist it’s something to celebrate. In fact, workers at Epicenter actually throw parties for the soon-to-be chipped.

One handed

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” says Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

So that’s cool . . . but privacy?

Remember that? Most new technologies engender some security and privacy concerns, but this thing is literally inside of you.

The implant uses Near Field Communication technology, which is the same thing used in contactless credit cards and mobile payments.

If the chip is activated by a nearby reader, data flows between the devices via electromagnetic waves. These chips are technically “passive,” which means they can’t read info themselves, but can be read by other devices.

That seems safe, right?

Well, maybe. But remember, if you use this chip to unlock the door to your building, your office, and the restroom, and if you use this chip to buy lunch, coffee, and snacks, those reading devices around the workplace have a ton of data about you. What time do you get to work, and when do you leave? Do you take ‘too many’ bathroom breaks? Are you drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee? Are you eating unbalanced meals?

Unlike the data read from your credit card or phone, this data originates from something you can’t easily separate yourself from.

It’s always there, whether you want to use it or not. And to get rid of it, you have to have surgery, not just cut it up.

There’s a difference

Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute says hackers could get a scary amount of information from embedded devices, and the ethics will only get more complicated as the chips get more sophisticated.

“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone,” Libberton says.

“Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that.”

And once that data is collected, who gets to see it? What will it be used for?

It’s hard to imagine that the results will be overwhelmingly positive.

This is the next step on our quest for convenience, and if we collectively decide to take it, we will lose privacy.

It already exists

On the other hand, we seem to be basically okay with this. Our phones often know our location, so that data is out there for someone to find. Our credit cards know what we buy, and when and where we buy it.

As chips are normalized like cards and phones, maybe it’ll seem less weird to have our movements tracked by an electronic grain of rice we stuck in our hands. But for now – yeah, it’s weird.

#RiceChip

Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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Tech News

Tired of transcribing screenshots? Put this Chrome extension to work

(TECH NEWS) This new Chrome extension takes out the tedium of transcribing all your necessary screenshots into your writing and does it for you.

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Logo for Docsumo, a transcribing Google Chrome extension

My favorite part of being a writer is getting to interview people from various walks of life. My least favorite part of being a writer is transcribing those interviews.

Slightly easier, but still annoying, is transcribing information from a screenshot, photo file or PDF. Sometimes you have to get this information in a rush and retyping all of it slows you down.

Docsumo is making that process into a breeze. The tool allows for users to grab text from a screenshot for easy copy and paste.

So how does it work? First, it has to be downloaded as a Google Chrome extension. Once it’s part of the browser’s extension, it can be put to work.

A video on Docsumo’s website demonstrates the easy transcribing process. The developer does a Google image search for a shipping label as they need to quickly copy and paste an address. When the necessary label pops up, they click the Docsumo tool that allows them to drag and select the part of the label they want to transcribe (the movement of the mouse is similar to taking a screenshot on a Mac computer).

Then, the text that they’ve highlighted is transcribed into a box where it can be copied and pasted. Simple!

In addition to copy and paste, users can extract, edit, and share data. After that, all of the related information is removed from Docsumo’s server. Examples of when this tool is useful include: Invoices, bank statements, insurance documents, bills, and tax forms.

The tool is made possible through Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) which, according to Ducsumo’s developers, is something that comes in handy in many situations.

“Organizations often receive crucial information and data in image form of documents. These images can be a photo of a document, scanned document, a scene-photo, or subtitle text superimposed on an image. The real challenge for the operation team is to be able to extract information and data from these photos. It can take hours to manually pull out this data and assemble it in a structured way for record-keeping and processing. This process is hugely error-prone too.

OCR technology comes to rescue in this situation.

Optical character recognition or optical character reader (OCR) is the electronic or mechanical conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. This technology is suitable for photos of text-heavy documents and printed paper data records such as passports, invoices, bank statements, receipts, business cards, and identity verification documents. OCR technology is the way of digitizing printed texts so that they can be electronically edited, searched, and stored more compactly.”

In a world where pen-to-paper has slowly been fading away, Docsumo is here to give it another push further away.

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Tech News

Scoring productivity: Is this Microsoft tool creepy or helpful?

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft launched a new tool that helps monitor user data, but it’s not a work monitoring tool – it’s trying to judge productivity.

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Black and white data screens monitoring productivity.

Just recently into the work from home movement, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this tool helps organizations understand how well they are functioning, how technology affects their productivity, and how they can get the most out of their Microsoft 365 purchase.

But to do all of this, the tool will keep track of how each employee is using Microsoft products. For instance, the tool will monitor how often video or screen sharing is enabled during meetings by employees.

It will keep a metric of how employees are communicating. It will show if employees are sending out emails through Outlook, sending out messages through Teams, or posting on Yammer. It will also keep track of which Microsoft tools are being used more and on which platforms.

So, Microsoft’s new tool is a scary work surveillance tool, right? According to Microsoft, it isn’t. In a blog post, Microsoft 365’s corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said, “Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration, and technology experiences.”

Spataro says the tool “focuses on actionable insights” so people and teams can use Office 365 tools to be more productive, collaborative, and help make work improvements. And, while this all sounds good, privacy advocates aren’t too thrilled about this.

Microsoft says it is “committed to privacy as a fundamental element of Productivity Score.” To maintain privacy and trust, the tool does aggregate user data over a 28-day period. And, there are controls to anonymize user information, or completely remove it. However, by default individual-level monitoring is always on, and only admins can make any of these changes. Employees can’t do anything about securing their privacy.

So, user data privacy is still a large issue on the table, but privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, they got a response from Microsoft they can smile about. In another blog post, Spataro responded to the controversy. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365,” he said.

Although Productivity Score will still aggregate data over a 28-day period, it will not do so from an individual employee level. It will do it from an organizational one as a whole. Also, the company is making it clearer that the tool is a “measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior.”

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Tech News

Don’t want FB getting access to your texts? Try out Signal instead

(TECH NEWS) Elon Musk tells Twitter followers to “Use Signal” after WhatsApp announces new Facebook data-sharing policy.

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Signal app product display on two mockup phones, set on a blue background.

With just a two-word tweet, Elon Musk popularized messaging app, Signal at the beginning of this year. “Use Signal,” the tech mogul tweeted on January 7. Musk urged his followers to start using Signal because of WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy announcement, which raised concerns among people.

On January 6, WhatsApp users received an in-app alert informing them about the company’s updated data-sharing policy. The message asked users to accept the new terms and conditions where they gave WhatsApp consent to share their information with Facebook. The updated policy would be effective starting on February 8, and users who didn’t agree to the changes would no longer be able to use the app.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy reads, “As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”

The policy verbiage is concerning, but this isn’t the first time WhatsApp has shared some sort of data with Facebook. The company has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016. Back then, the companies announced sharing data would help “improve your Facebook ads and products experiences.”

But, Facebook’s data privacy practices are ones that have been controversial over the years and don’t garner much trust. Musk is recommending people to start using Signal because it offers two key things.

The app offers end-to-end encryption on ALL messages. It protects all text, video, audio, and photo messages, which can only be read by the sender and recipient. If a message is intercepted by anyone else, all they will get is gibberish.

Also, other than your phone number, the free app does not store or collect any other user data. The company is a nonprofit and relies on grants and donations to support development. It isn’t owned by any tech companies and doesn’t have any ads.

“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes,” the app’s Executive chairman Brian Acton said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

In a Tweet, the company posted screenshots of app installs jumping from 10 million to 50 million. With Musk’s tweet skyrocketing Signal’s downloads, Acton does have a very good reason to be “excited”.

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