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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

Beautiful new wellness app takes a more holistic approach

(TECHNOLOGY) Using tech to help with wellness is nothing new, but this app takes a more holistic approach to help you balance.

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There are thousands of health and fitness apps in various marketplaces, so what distinguishes between them is often a matter of personal taste. Much like the variety of organizational apps, I find that picking a wellness app involves much the same process – what works for you? What do you need? What are your wellness goals? And so on.

I spent a few days with the new wellness app, Wellbody, and I will say I am fifty/fifty. I love the approach and philosophy of Wellbody. Take a look at their fundamental tenants:

  • We believe in progress over perfection
  • We believe in small, simple, and sustainable behavior change
  • We believe that with mindful practice, people can do amazing things
  • We believe that real change starts with being mindful…and is maintained through creating healthy habits
  • We take a holistic view across the five major pillars of health: nutrition, exercise and movement, sleep, stress management, and connection
  • We believe everyone deserves access to better health and wellness
  • We want to help you live life well

As a person who is incredibly engaged in their own wellness and trying to figure out how to do that, I believe fully in this model. Holistic perspectives on health are important for anyone.

However, a holistic perspective may mean some people perceive this app as having a lack of focus. It is foundational, so it is not a workout plan, or calorie counter, etc. It’s primarily educational. And the content is actually good. The foundation series are well narrated, and I think it does a good job of level setting and providing information.

It does have a daily quote and a little daily experiment (which I think is a good add). The content library is growing, and the sessions outside of the foundational session are great (I loved the “Mindfulness vs. Meditation” piece)

However, there are a few challenges I have right away.

First, the sessions don’t have any good visuals, summaries, or much of anything else.

Also, the daily experiment has been rather vague. Yes, I understand that it is a mindfulness app, but the challenges are more pondering and less practice.

Most critically – without an internet connection you can’t listen to this. So if you are on a plane, or on a limited reception subway, or are away from Wi-Fi, you can’t listen to any of the content. That’s a glaring issue, and it is too easy to turn to other podcasts or apps who we can listen to the content without an active internet connection. It makes it harder to open this app everyday, which is important for the way it works.

I think Wellbody has the concept down – what’s missing is more content. There needs to be more specific content, maybe a journaling feature, etc. I would recommend this app for anyone who is starting a wellness journey, or maybe is re-evaluating what kinds of health changes they are trying to make. If you need a diet tracker, or exercise plan, this is going to be less helpful. However, if you are trying to change the way we look at wellness, this is a great place to start.

Side Note: I love the visual design of this app, which is a weird cross between Zen and an episode of Fixer Upper (I love all of the designs at Target, y’all).

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Tech News

What’s TikTok, why’s it so huge, and why is Facebook scared of it?

(TECH) TikTok has taken the internet by storm – you’ve probably seen the videos floating around, so here’s the context your business needs to know.

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Jimmy Fallon challenged his viewers to his version of a #sharpiechallenge. That’s where you toss a sharpie into the air, catch it, take the cap off and draw a mustache on yourself with it. He requested that viewers use TikTok to record it and upload it.

As of this writing, the hashtag boasts 8.2 million views in TikTok alone – if it wasn’t big before it gained Fallon as a fan, it is now.

What Is TikTok?

The TikTok app is the brainchild of Bytedance, a Chinese company that once owned Muscal.ly, and it launched in September 2016 as Douyin (it’s Chinese moniker). When it launched internationally, a year later, they branded the social media app TikTok. When Musical.ly shut down, users had to switch.

The app lets users view, create and share 15-second videos (kind of like Vine, RIP). It’s estimated that there are over 500 million users worldwide. The app has been highly ranked in the charts for number of downloads over the past few months, with a spike when Fallon had his first challenge, #tumbleweedchallenge. (For the record, Fallon and The Tonight Show do not have a business relationship with Bytedance.)

Users can lip-sync, do duets, record a reactions video and has some excellent tech in the app for video editing. Users can comment on videos and create video memes. It’s pretty fascinating. And wildly appealing to the masses.

One of the best things about TikTok is that the app doesn’t have advertising or monetization capabilities, even though it has a broad audience. With an estimated 500 million users, it’s just a matter of time.

Facebook launches a TikTok-clone.

Facebook doesn’t want to be late to the game. In classic follower fashion, they have launched their own short-video app, Lasso.

I played with both apps, and Lasso just doesn’t have comparable content.

What Facebook does have is its user base. By integrating with Facebook itself, Lasso may outdo TikTok eventually, but it will need to increase its capabilities.

Why should your business take notice?

Small businesses should be aware of these apps. Online videos are driving social media engagement. Content is king, and you’ve been reading here for years that video is a powerful component of any social media strategy.

TikTok and Lasso give you video-making and video-sharing tools that could increase your online presence.

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Hardware tokens are what folks serious about avoiding hackers use

(TECH) Hardware tokens have been around for a while, but people most serious about avoiding hackers swear by them.

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How many passwords do you have? How many sites do you use each of your passwords for? Information Today research estimates over half of all adults have five or more unique passwords, while one in three adults have 10 or more unique passwords that have to be remembered.

This particular study was from 2012. I’d wager that most of us use many more passwords today than we did just six years ago. With the risk of your accounts being hacked increasing, you might be wary – you might not even trust an online password manager.

If you struggle with remembering all of your passwords and want to make sure you are managing passwords and protecting your accounts, you might want to consider a hardware token.

What is a hardware token?

This piece of hardware is a physical device, similar to a USB drive, that lets you gain access to an electronically restricted resource. It’s actually a simple two-factor authentication source.

Once your account is set up to accept the hardware token, you log in to the account with your user ID and password. You’ll be asked to insert the hardware token into the device, which gives you access to your account. It’s another layer of protection and authentication.

Hardware tokens have been on the market since 2002. Although many use the USB port on your device, Bluetooth tokens and smart cards are other types of hardware tokens. Setting up a hardware token is fairly easy. You can use your hardware token with most websites that have two-factor authorization.

The challenges with hardware tokens is that they are very easy to lose and can easily be stolen. That’s a pretty significant downside.

The YubiKey, one of the current offerings on the market, costs about $50. It could be expensive to have a hardware token for everyone in your organization. Google Titan, another brand of hardware key, costs about the same.

Some argue that not everyone needs this much security, but those people probably have never been hacked. If it protects your accounts, it might be worth taking a look.

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