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DIY: Project Alias protects your privacy from invasive smart speakers

(TECHNOLOGY) Smart speakers are beloved, and oh so helpful, but they’re always listening, no matter what tech companies say. This DIY stops that.

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DIY culture has a solution for everything, including protecting your privacy. Home assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, while helpful, are constantly listening for commands which means any nearby conversation is free game for information gathering. On the bright side, Karmann’s Project Alias is a “parasitic” device that gives you control in what your home assistant device hears.

True to its function, a Project Alias device looks like a parasitic growth that can fit atop your Amazon Echo or Google Home. Inside its 3D-printed shell are a Raspberry Pi A+, a ReSpeaker 2-Mics Pi HAT, and a pair of small speakers.

Once you install the Project Alias code, you can use your phone to connect to the device, and train it with a “wake” word. The Echo or Google Home will not hear you until you say this “wake” word to Project Alias.

Ta-da! Privacy is back in your hands! (Some assembly required).

The pieces to make your own Project Alias device, while attainable, (Office Max and Staples offer 3D printing services), requires some hands-on work and possibly several trips to the store. When all is said and done, the overall cost in time and money can add up. It’d be much simpler if a Project Alias device came in the mail or on a store shelf ready to roll.

This is sounding like prime Kickstarter material here.

The exploitation of privacy through our smart devices including phones, tablets, laptops, tvs, gaming consoles, etc. is becoming a common concern. Not only are we feeling attacked by advertisements that feel like they’re reading our thoughts, but anything said around these devices is collectable data.

Unfortunately, it’s wishful thinking to have any trust in the gadgets we own.

A device like Project Alias is a long time coming and needed now more than ever. Until tech companies begin to take measures to protect the privacy of their customers (which isn’t in their financial interest), we’re likely to see a new market for devices like Project Alias. The odds are you’ll need more than one.

Staff Writer, Allison Yano is an artist and writer based in LA. She holds a BFA in Applied Visual Arts and Minor in Writing from Oregon State University, and an MFA in Fine Art from Pratt Institute. Her waking hours are filled with an insatiable love of storytelling, science, and soy lattes.

Tech News

Get 8X more replies to cold emails with this affordable AI tool

(MARKETING) Cold emails are a pain in the arse – time consumption alone is a reason to let AI take over and do it for you in a personalized way!

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We’ll say it: Emailing sucks, and cold emails are the epitome of misery, especially when you’re the one sending them. As unfortunate as this industry norm is, cold-emailing potential clients is a necessary evil – one that, according to SmartWriter, doesn’t have to be as arduous as one might think.

SmartWriter is a tool that automates “your entire outreach process” to take the cold email burden off of your sales team (or, if you’re a freelancer, off of yourself). This is accomplished through AI-driven writing, with leads (and the information needed to land them) being generated from email contacts, LinkedIn, and other possible links.

The thing that makes SmartWriter different from competitors, it claims, is its ability to take into account personalization attributes that are more likely to contribute to paying leads when curating its copy.

The SmartWriter process starts with selecting a type of copy to automate, with selections ranging from Instagram comments to the aforementioned cold email campaigns. Once you’ve selected a style of copy and custom options (the Instagram comment, for example, allows you to determine the type of request you want to make), you provide a sample of the writing you want to incorporate into your copy (e.g., a blog post or a LinkedIn profile link).

SmartWriter does everything else – analysis, creation of copy, implementation of custom requests and links – and then provides you with several templates. In the case of the cold email option, you can send your preferred template right from within the SmartWriter interface.

It’s a convenient response to a process that is anything but, which makes it perfect for freelancers looking to maximize their time.

SmartWriter has several different subscription options, all of which come with a free trial (with no mandatory credit card entry to boot). The cheapest option (and the one probably most effective for a small team) clocks in at just under $60 per month.

If you’re somebody who spends hours researching and curating emails to little (or no) avail, that’s a bargain price, especially when considering how much time you’ll save on the back end.

AI composition software has come a long way in the last few years, so it’s no surprise that the cold-emailing process has gone the automation route. Even if you’re one of the three people alive who doesn’t mind writing cold email templates, you still owe it to yourself (and your team) to take a closer look at SmartWriter.

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Tech News

Infinity Maps is the most mind-blowing visual workspace ever

(TECHNOLOGY) Infinity Maps is bringing together whiteboarding, diagramming, and real-time collaboration all in one neat tool.

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Digital tools should be effective and efficient. They should help you plan, create, and manage your projects so your team can build solutions to your overall goals. While many tools say they are the all-in-one tool solution, this is a pretty bold statement to make. Each company is different, and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

However, there comes a time when such a tool comes slightly close to filling that spot. Infinity Maps seeks to do this by marrying some of the best qualities of different tools and adding its spice to the mix.

What does Infinity Maps offer?

Whiteboarding
The web application is partially an online whiteboard tool. In your workspace, called Canvas, you create your content by using cards. In these cards, you can add text, images, and files. Cards can be nested indefinitely creating hierarchies while still maintaining a “clear and concise” structure. You can do this by simply dragging a card into another card.

Diagramming
To visualize how each card correlates to one another, you have the option to link cards with arrows. These arrows are further organized by changing the color of each one or changing the color of the card itself.

Real-time collaboration
Infinity Maps lets your team collaborate in real-time. To work together, you can invite users to your map. When you share your workspace, you assign people different roles so they have the correct permissions to read or write on your map. Like Google’s web tools, you can see who is using the map because each username will show up next to their cursor and be assigned a different color.

Zoomable interface
Navigating through Infinity Maps is easy and works just like Google Maps. By double-clicking, you are taken directly to the card you selected. You can also scroll up and down and use the trackpad to zoom in and out of your map. This feature is super helpful when you have hundreds of cards on your map.

Why Infinity Maps?
The company says Infinity Maps is a “revolutionary new product that allows you to organize vast amounts of information visually & spatially”. It is a combination of Miro, Notion, and Google Maps all into one.

“What are we doing differently?” asks Infinity Maps CEO & Co-Founder Johannes Grenzemann. “With Infinity Maps, we are building a knowledge management system that allows you to create vast, huge knowledge bases [that] depict high complexity and depth while staying mind friendly because it’s a visual approach,” Grenzemann said.

infinity maps templates

Overall, Infinity Maps is a neat knowledge tool. It can be used in several ways, from students trying to organize their thesis to startups managing their product launches.

If you’re interested in checking them out to see if they are indeed the all-in-one tool solution, you can sign up to start mapping. A free account gives you access to 3 maps, up to 150 cards per map, and 50MB of cloud space. If you need more space to map out your ideas, you can unlock additional cards by inviting a friend or purchasing cards. Pro, unlimited, and team subscriptions plans are also available for purchase.

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Tech News

China cracks down on user data collection, allegedly cares about privacy

(TECH) Either China’s government just grew a conscience, or they’re trying to compete on a global stage. Either way, they’re implementing new laws.

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In an uncharacteristic looking move for end-user privacy and choice, China has passed sweeping new legislation entitled the Personal Information Protection Law. It’s set to take effect on November 1, 2021, and includes provisions governing consent in user data collection of tech applications and specifies how companies can use that data, especially if that data is to be transferred out of China.

This is the second of two pieces of legislation to emerge this year as China takes a hard look at their cyberspace and try their hand at oversight.

The Data Security law, which came into effect on Sept. 1, set classification frameworks for data based on “its economic value and relevance to China’s national security” as cited in Reuters.

According to experts, both laws will require companies to reevaluate how they collect and store data on a massive scale. As regulations continue to develop rapidly during China’s re-examination of their tech industry, companies are scrambling to meet the stringent new requirements and adjust their infrastructure for compliance at a break-neck pace.

Takeaways:

  • The Personal Information Protection Law similar in design to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation
  • China’s top cyberspace regulator, Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), issued an investigation into Didi Global Inc, their version of Uber, with accusations of user privacy violations
  • An extensive set of rules targeting business practices that undermine fair competition, such as cultivating reviews, were implemented by China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR)
  • 43 apps were accused of illegally transferring user data and called out by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and required to make “rectifications”

Similar cyberspace scrutiny is happening in the US regarding monopolies held by some of the biggest players in tech like Google, Facebook, and Amazon but is moving very slowly through the legislative process.

In terms of how this impacts Americans, TikTok is currently one of the single most downloaded apps in the US and owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance. According to The Sun, ByteDance is now the most valuable startup in the world with an estimated value of 1 billion USD.

Many doubt that China actually cares about privacy, but some believe that keeping up the appearance of playing by modern corporate rules benefits their government as they seek global dominance.

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