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“Mine” helps you find your digital footprint and DELETE it

(TECH NEWS) Most people value their online security, but don’t know to manage their data without abandoning the apps and websites that they love. Mine is trying to change that.

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I’m pretty concerned with keeping my personal data safe these days: I recently got a VPN and I try to use a privacy browser for everything I do on the internet. But it’s impossible to completely avoid sharing my personal information, especially if I want to watch, buy, say, or do anything at all online.

So when I first heard about Mine, a new machine-learning tool which claims to be “the future of data ownership”, it really piqued my interest. 

Using your email history, Mine identifies companies that are most likely to be storing your information based on the headers of the messages in your inbox. Its AI then independently locates the privacy policies for these companies to determine what kinds of information they’re storing, rather than looking through the actual contents of your emails.

Mine seems very mindful of the fact that they must be trustworthy in order to be successful. It’s free right now while they’re still new; Mine only got started in January. But they have plans to introduce a subscription service in the future.

To quote their FAQ: “Tech companies that are not interested in your money are interested in your data, your online behavior, or other personal assets they can monetize. In other words, if an app is free, they’re probably getting their money from somewhere else 🙂 Our goal is the opposite – we want to make data ownership accessible for all without monetizing our users’ data.”

Of course, when I saw the smiley face, I figured I’d give it a shot. Hey, if they help me get my information out of the hands of a less smiley entity, everything evens out, right?

After sifting through my emails, Mine spat out a list of the places that were allegedly storing my information. I was pretty shocked to see around 100 different companies pop up. Some of them were there for obvious reasons. Google, for example, was self-explanatory… but there were also names that I could swear I’ve never heard of.

I ended up submitting over 50 data deletion requests. The tool made it really easy to see who had my information, and streamlined the process of sending requests to these companies. With two taps, it was bombs away.

My inbox was suddenly buried in automated messages, mostly about how “support” would get back to me “as soon as possible.” I spent the next few days virtually waist deep in what was, for all intents and purposes, spam mail.

The select few that promptly, and properly, addressed my request produced mixed results: only three companies immediately confirmed that they had erased the data they were storing about me. The rest were going to make me do a bit more legwork, with each having their own rabbit holes for me to jump through before they would delete a dang thing. I won’t lie, this frustrated me, but the reasons for these extra steps are not necessarily sinister.

When I spoke to Gal Ringel, co-founder and CEO of Mine, he shared that often, companies do this because they need to be provided with more information than an email address in order to fully complete the request. He says that Mine will soon be incorporating “enriched” data erasure requests that should cut back on the need to inconvenience users with these outside processes.

In the meantime, he and his team have been working with businesses to develop policies that facilitate the process of data erasure. The majority of businesses, he says, consider it a good investment in building trust with the public. It’s also a prudent move to prevent identity theft, should others gain access to their records.

So, what’s my verdict on Mine? It really simplified the process of asking companies to delete my personal information. It is an important step on a long journey towards redefining the relationships that we have with our data, since the majority of people simply don’t have an accessible way to exercise control over it.

Mine is still in development, and I really look forward to seeing what it becomes in the future. (Hopefully, something that involves fewer emails!)

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

Tech News

Introduce AWS Panorama to add machine learning to any camera

(TECH NEWS) Amazon Web Services has announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera – AWS Panorama.

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Security cameras on a gray cement wall that can be outfitted with AWS Panorama to give machine learning.

At its learning conference, AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a new hardware device that will add machine learning to any camera. Named the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS claims the tool will improve industrial operations and workplace safety.

The device lets you add computer vision (CV) to your existing on-premises internet protocol (IP) cameras, which is the standard type of digital video camera most companies use today. In doing so, cameras that weren’t built to accommodate CV can now be turned into smart cameras that do.

So, how does it work?

You register your AWS Panorama Appliance with AWS Cloud and install it on your network. Automatically, the device will identify camera streams and start interacting with the existing industrial cameras.

How will it help?

According to a press release, “Each AWS Panorama Appliance can run computer vision models on multiple camera streams in parallel, making possible use cases like quality control, part identification, and workplace safety.”

  • Manufacturing Quality Control
    AWS Panorama can automate monitoring and visual inspection tasks. For instance, it can detect defective items in a manufacturing line, and send you an alert in real-time. With this information, you can address and resolve the issue to improve product quality.
  • Reimagined Retail Insights
    Leveraging AWS Panorama’s control vision, you can get insights about the retail environment to improve operations and customer experiences. For example, the appliance can count customers and calculate the length of queues.
  • Workplace Safety and Social Distance Monitoring
    It can monitor site activity to ensure operating compliance is always in place, and notify you about any potentially unsafe situations. For instance, if a forklift is outside a designated area. You can take preemptive steps to remove it so it won’t come in contact with pedestrians.
  • Supply Chain Efficiency
    AWS Panorama can track barcodes, labels, or completed products. By doing this, it can help optimize work operations.

Alongside the AWS Panorama Appliance, AWS unveiled the AWS Panorama Device SDK (Software Development Kit). This software kit enables third-party manufacturers to build their own AWS Panorama-enabled devices.

According to AWS, with Panorama SDK, manufacturers “can build cameras with computer vision models that can process higher quality video with better resolution for spotting issues.” Although the SDK isn’t ready yet, AWS says it will be ready soon.

AWS Panorama Appliance is still in preview in US East (N. Virginia) and US West (Oregon) regions, so it isn’t available everywhere yet. However, you can apply for an AWS Panorama Appliance Developer Kit on their website to start building and testing your computer vision applications.

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Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology

(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.

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Logo page for Wellcome, a touchless technology sign-in.

Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.

Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.

But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.

And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.

Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.

Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.

Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.

COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”

Host Notifications
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.

Contact Tracing
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.

The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.

Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”

In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.

Book Workdays
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.

Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.

For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.

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Tech News

Scoring productivity: Is this new 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.

Last month, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this new tool will help 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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