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Giving kids smartwatches might not be too smart

(TECH NEWS) If you’re trying to teach your kid about stranger danger, giving them smartwatches won’t help the lesson.

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All of these smart devices are not exactly the smartest choice when it comes to privacy. This is especially true for protecting your children. A new report from the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) and European Security firm Mnemonic tested just how safe smart watches are, and the results are unsettling.

The report, appropriately and almost embarrassingly titled “#WatchOut,” details analysis of 4 different types of smart watches from Gator, Tindell, Viksfjord and Xplora.

All of these watches have been marketed to consumers as a way to protect children. Some come with an SOS button and alert parents when their children go beyond certain boundaries. Unfortunately the report found that these features are unreliable.

In addition, two of the smartwatches were found to be vulnerable to hackers. If successful, hackers could remotely control the watches giving them access to location, personal information and even the ability to communicate through the device.

Even scarier, expert hackers would be able to listen to surroundings through the watch.

As researchers took a closer look at the smart device app permissions, they found that only one of them allows parents to opt out of data collection. Xplora explicitly states that they give data to marketers, which might be something that parents overlook.

Most people permit apps to collect and share data without a second thought.

The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) has adamantly opposed smart watches targeted towards children until these flaws are corrected. They ran a public service announcement warning against using the devices because of their failure to provide adequate security.

Ideally, BEUC wants to create mandatory regulations for companies to adhere to, to prevent future hacks. One member even said that smart watches that choose not to comply should be withdrawn from the market.

Flawed as they may be, these smartwatches are not the only vulnerable device putting children’s lives at risk. Mattel had to pull one of the newest Barbie dolls off of the shelves after realizing that the mic, once hacked, turned into a recording device in a child’s bedroom.

Regardless of the technological advantages of smart devices, it’s best to think twice before buying them for children.

Natalie is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and co-founded an Austin creative magazine called Almost Real Things. When she is not writing, she spends her time making art, teaching painting classes and confusing people. In addition to pursuing a writing career, Natalie plans on getting her MFA to become a Professor of Fine Art.

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Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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Could Amazon’s new augmented reality app replace auto mechanics?

(TECHNOLOGY) Augmented reality has been gimmicky at best, but Amazon plans on changing that with their new step forward in auto parts. But could it threaten mechanics’ market share?

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During its brief time in the mainstream spotlight, augmented reality (AR) technology has been used to measure objects, disappoint crowdfunding audiences, and catch Pokémon.

However, its most recent iteration (by Amazon) might have you rethinking your last trip to the used auto parts store (and your aforementioned disappointment in AR).

While Amazon has explored augmented reality applications in the past, the uses have generally revolved around projecting things such as furniture representations into rooms.

In theory, a user could select a specific model of furniture and, using their smartphone, see what the room would look like with the piece of furniture in it. Their new augmented reality service plans to extend that same technology to encompass a smaller-scale setting: automobile parts.

The app is still in its early stages of development, and they’ve only recently been granted the patent, but the concept sounds incredibly promising.

amazon augmented reality patent application

To use the app itself, a customer would point their smartphone’s camera at the vehicle’s engine. The app would feasibly start by identifying your vehicle’s model information and displaying different modular points, after which point you would be able to select a type of part and project it onto your vehicle to see how it fits.

Once you found the correct part for your vehicle, Amazon could order the part via the standard Amazon app.

In an age where the combination of YouTube and your dad’s toolbox provides an attractive alternative to paying the local mechanic, having the option to diagnose accurately your problem and have a reliable solution appear is a huge potential step forward (IF and only if you are the type of person that isn’t intimidated by a car engine).

Amazon is used to crushing the competition in traditional fields; however, where automotive augmented reality is concerned, it seems like Amazon may be the first big name to consider. Virtually no companies use augmented reality for in-house repairs, and customer-level AR support is nonexistent, making Amazon the obvious (and only) choice for now.

Augmented reality has been little more than a novelty thus far, and while some of its applications have been more geared toward services than entertainment, arguably none have been essential for more than a limited number of users (even their grocery offering). Amazon’s foray into automotive self-help is a promising step toward mainstream augmented reality which both improves users’ lives and serves a purpose greater than the sum of its parts.

We’ll stick with our trusted mechanics for our nicer cars and feel dubious that Amazon will ever threaten the practice, but for our junkers that just need a new air filter, we’re down for some AR magic.

Our ruling is that this app is pretty cool and could replace auto parts competitors, and perhaps even be used by tinkerers, but it’s unlikely that any amount of AR magic will replace mechanics (I mean, have you had to replace a part in an Audi!? You have to take out the entire engine to get to the transmission, so no thanks).

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