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Retailers’ creepy tech hacks to get people to spend more

(TECH NEWS) Tech hacks or Jedi mind tricks? How retailers are getting sneaky about collecting your data, and how you can prevent it.

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men shopping millennial retail

Did you even know there are (creepy) ways retailers get all up in your private data to encourage people to spend?

Here at AG, we can’t help but think about how companies collect and employ data, and how they’re allowed to collect and employ said data, and well, let’s just say the fact that the Venn diagram on that one ain’t exactly a circle, it is serious business.

That being the case, here are five changes to your spending habits that can both increase benefit to you, and keep the serious creepsters out of your digital biz.

Your phone:

Retailers are known to pull information straight from your smartphone.

Obviously as long as you’re paying with plastic your retailer can track your transactions based on your phone number, but – The More You Know – it’s also perfectly legal for them to track your actual physical movements as soon as you plug into their in-house WiFi.

By itself that’s not much more than store staff and cameras (we’ll get to the latter) would be doing anyway, but store-level data security is comparable to private data security, and as we’ve written over on the Real Daily, private data security is more than a bit effed.

The fix:

Not to state the obvious, but stay off the WiFi.

This is why *Insert Deity Here* gave us Airplane Mode. Even if you feel the need to text while you shop or Instagram some hilaaaarious filters onto a nearby mannequin, as long as you get your bars from your mobile connection instead of the local WiFi, you should be able to do so without uninvited segments of the store or internet staring at you.

CCTV:

On the subject of being stared at, closed-circuit cameras are incredibly loosely regulated.

Seriously, the intended function of a security camera sits at the intersection of fighting crime and keeping-other-people’s-filthy-hands-off-your-stuff.

Those are literally America’s two favorite things. They certainly trump (see what I did there?) minor concerns like having your every move recorded by a piece of hardware that’s almost certainly connected to the Internet, because everything is, and whose password is probably “password.”

The fix:

I’m afraid can’t save you from the creepy robot eyes.

This may shock some of you, but I am not a Supreme Court justice. I am not in a position to inspire a reassessment of the value of personal privacy weighed against the importance of protecting material assets by our nation’s legal system.

That said, this is why you handle your own data security, and why you shop online.

Make exceptions only for retailers valuable enough to you that you don’t mind them recording you in their store in a format that may become publicly available.

Digital shopping, like digital everything, offers a much broader array of tools for protecting your privacy. We’ll be addressing that presently with…

Cookies:

Not nearly as delicious as they sound. Cookies are the OG data mining tools, itty bitty bits of data that track useful information about how customers use a given online service.

The fix:

As with their tastier namesakes, cookies are fine in moderation. Most digital cookies delete themselves at the end of your session or a set length of time anyway, and the few that don’t carry little enough information that it takes zillions to represent a serious liability. Clear your browser cache on the regs and you’re golden.

Loyalty Cards

Things are flippin’ everywhere all of a sudden, right? Gas, groceries, pharmacies: everybody wants your card or your phone number. As we’ve noted before, that may not lead to fun times.

The fix:

Think retailers present loyalty cards as merely as coupons or bonus points for your transactions?

Think otherwise.

The card comes before the transaction. Choose your purveyor of drugs and noms based at least in part on what the card buys you, because committing to the right one can yield crazy benefits. I personally shop one grocery rather than another because getting my tea and Fritos there earns me fuel points. I haven’t paid retail for gas in a year.

That adds up.

Purchasing data:

Ugh. I hate this. Older even than HTML cookies, this is the contemptible practice of companies buying and selling the personal information of their customers. Historically it’s been phone numbers and other contact info, but of course people willing to swipe your home phone will cheerfully swipe anything else they can get their grubby mitts on.

The fix:

This is probably unfixable on the grand scale, which we know because public and private sectors alike have tried. There is apparently a market here, which boggles my mind. I call out in desperation to the people supporting this market.

Stop buying things from unsolicited phone calls. Stop buying things from unsolicited emails.

If someone gets in touch with you without being asked, do not, for any reason, give them money.

Don’t ignore them, either. Go through their unsubscribe process, or call them back and tell them nothing except “I’m not interested. Take me off your list.”

In an interconnected world, the concept of privacy is drastically changing. That can be super scary. I mean, your TV watching you for the government, which was literally in 1984, is now a real thing, and even Orwell didn’t think we’d pay for the privilege.

But this isn’t a dystopia.

We’ve been altering how money and privacy interact since there has been money. Cash stopped being exchangeable for a fixed amount of an anonymous commodity in the far-off year of.. 1971. It didn’t go properly digital until ten years later.

Every new system means new rules. As always, they’re only scary until you make them work for you.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

Get all your digital organization in one place with Routine

(TECH NEWS) Routine makes note-taking and task-creating a lot easier by merging all your common processes into one productivity tool.

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A desk with a laptop, notepad, smartphone, and cup of coffee settled into an organized routine.

Your inbox can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Without organization, important emails with tasks, notes, and meetings can become a trash pile pretty quickly. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that aim to help you improve your efficiency, and the latest to add to that list is Routine.

Routine is a productivity app that combines your tasks, notes, and calendar into one easy-to-use app so you can increase your performance. Instead of having to switch between different apps to jot down important information, create to-do lists, and glance at your calendar, Routine marries them all into one cool productivity tool. By simply using a keyboard shortcut, you can do all these things.

If you receive an email that contains an actionable item, you can convert that email into a task you can view later. Tasks are all saved in your inbox, and you can even schedule a task for a specific day. So, if Obi-Wan wants to have Jedi lessons on Thursday, you can schedule your Force task for that day. Likewise, chat messages that need follow-up can also be converted into tasks and be scheduled.

To enrich your tasks, notes can be attached to them. In your notes, you can also embed checkboxes, which are tasks of their own. And if you have tasks that aren’t coming from your inbox, you can import them from other services, such as Gmail, Notion, and Trello.

To make sure you can stay focused on the events and tasks at hand, Routine makes it easy to take everything in. By using the tool’s keyboard-controlled console, you can access your dashboard to quickly see what tasks need to be addressed, what’s on your calendar, and even join an upcoming Zoom session and take notes about the meeting.

Routine is available for macOS, iOS, web, and Google accounts only. Overall, the app centralizes notes and tasks by letting you create and view everything in one place, which helps make sure you stay on top of things. Currently, Routine is still in beta, but you can get on a waitlist to test the product out for yourself.

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Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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Tech News

Move over, Clubhouse: Slack adds their own audio chat rooms

(TECH NEWS) Slack planning to co-opt Clubhouse’s synchronous audio rooms has lead to mixed response. Did it really need to be done?

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Woman in green cardigan and headphones listening to audio chat room on mobile, where Slack becomes a competitor.

Slack is adding a synchronous audio chat room feature similar to what Clubhouse already has. While not everyone is happy about it, the addition is true to Slack’s ongoing form—if a little redundant.

Slack’s audio rooms would work similarly to Clubhouse’s current feature of the same persuasion. The rooms themselves would be ongoing for as long as they were open, and users would be able to drop in and out of calls at their leisure, even joining the conversation when permitted by the host or settings. In theory, it’s a cool way to round out Slack’s platform and make for yet another way for people to engage during the work day.

But not everyone is stoked about the addition. Pocketnow’s Nadeem Sarwar makes a strong point about the redundancy of adding a Clubhouse feature to the already-packed Slack deck: “…from a regular remote worker’s perspective, I’d rather use services such as Telegram, Discord, or Google Meet that we’ve grown accustomed to using for jumping into a group call with my teammates.”
“…[T]he need for audio chatrooms to get in a chaotic chat with colleagues, with whom you already chat over work and share memes five days a week, doesn’t make much sense,” he adds.

Sarwar also references research about remote meeting fatigue from Stanford and The Washington Post, positing that—since video conferences are already played out at this point—adding another quasi-conference option to Slack doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

He isn’t wrong. There are multitudinous conference options on the market now, many of which are free. One could argue that Slack, having marketed itself as a text-first communication hub, has no business entering the audio chat landscape.

That argument falls on its face when you consider Slack’s model—something both Sawar and the Slack CEO himself mention—involves “stealing” and implementing “good ideas” from others in order to make their own platform as comprehensive as possible. If one is able to use Slack for the majority of tasks that Google, Discord, and Clubhouse offer, that makes the platform a lot more attractive to users who are on the fence.

And, perhaps more importantly, it ensures that current users won’t migrate to a comparable platform in the future—especially if their colleagues are making the same choice.

It’s a smart move for Slack, especially given Clubhouse’s lack of Android support at this time—something Clubhouse has said probably still won’t launch for a couple of months.

The Clubhouse team, for their part, continues to add new features in efforts to maintain the platform’s upward mobility. One such feature is the option for paid subscriptions to content creators, allowing for people to monetize their presence on the platform. At the time of this writing, Clubhouse is valued at around $1 billion.

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