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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.

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Tech News

Having your license plate data stolen is worse than you think

(TECH NEWS) California’s license plate camera system not only records everyone, but has some glaring security issues that could expose sensitive data.

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license plate camera

Turns out, California’s been recording millions of license plate information. What’s the deal?

Another day, another privacy violation. That’s sure what it seems like in our increasingly connected world – from our speakers spying on us, to our phones recording our every move – but that shouldn’t stop us from interrogating what is happening and whether or not it should continue.

For instance, should the government be allowed to store images of license plates for no apparent reason? Because that’s exactly what’s happening in California.

Okay, it’s probably happening in plenty of other states too, but California’s recent audit revealed the extent of their privacy violations. In fact, 99.9% of all license plate images stored had no connection to cases from law enforcement. This is bad enough, but the audit also revealed that this information was shared with all sorts of agencies for no justifiable reason.

And it should come as no surprise, but California’s audit also revealed that none of these agencies are up to snuff when it comes to the state’s 2016 privacy policy. In fact, few of the agencies audited even had reliable protections on their cloud based storage system, which leaves them vulnerable to outside attacks. This would be bad enough if they’d only stored information collected for legal purposes, but the storage of plenty of innocent civilian’s records makes it much worse.

Don’t get me wrong, California isn’t the only state to have troubling policies when it comes to ALPRs (automatic license plate readers). In fact, it’s been revealed that many of these cameras are connected to the internet – and make it terribly obvious to boot. That means if you live in an area with a heavy concentration of ALPRs, any stranger might easily be able to learn about you: your preferred route to work, the times you’re typically out of the house, sometimes even where you live. In short? Not great.

There is some glimmer of hope, though. Last year, Virginia became one of the few states to more strictly regulate ALPRs. After being sued by the ACLU, a Virginia court ruled that a license plate can only be recorded and stored if said plate was part of an on-going investigation. They’re now one of 16 states to have some sort of regulation on LPRs.

In the meantime, if you’re in California – or one of the 34 other states without regulations – drive carefully. You never know who’s watching.

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Tech News

Futuristic air commuting via drone-like air taxis is around the corner

(TECH NEWS) German aviation company, Volocopter, and southeast Asia rideshare company, Grab, partner to take business to the skies in Singapore.

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air taxis taking flight

Move over, Jetsons! You too, Leela and Fry! You’re not the only ones living in the future. If Volocopter and Grab have their way, you’ll soon be able to hail an air taxi as painlessly as you hail a rideshare, at least if you live or travel in Singapore.

Nothing thrills me like being airborne, so I am excited to read this. The dreams of my childhood are unfolding before me. Electric air taxis transporting us across the urban landscape? Yes, please, and hurry up. Are you with me?

Imagine what a powerful–and fun–flex it will be to summon your own private electric multicopter and hop from rooftop to rooftop (AKA VoloPort to VoloPort), arriving at your destination in high style. Eyebrows will go up, and jaws will drop as you saunter into your appointment with a nonchalant air of confidence. In my mind, clients and investors will rush to sign contracts with you, and potential mates will move you up to the top of their short lists.

This is the reaction I imagine at first, when Volocopter and Grab launch their test commercial flights in 2022. If we are to believe the hype, this experience won’t always be such an exclusive one. The long-term goal (at least ten years) is to offer affordable and accessible rides for the general population, not merely the posh and pompous among us.

Drone-type electric Volocopter air taxis are single-passenger multicopters. Other companies are also dabbling in these vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft as well, but the Volocopter 2X has beaten them to the punch with successful test flights in Germany, Dubai, and Las Vegas.

By many accounts, multicopters with several chopper blades are simpler to navigate and more stable than a traditional, single-blade helicopter. However, flying requires mucho power, which must be why Volocopter has set its sights on multiple, short flights vs. long-distance transportation. They currently are projecting a maximum distance of 17 miles and 30 minutes per ride.

Singapore-based Grab is already part of daily life in Southeast Asia, much as Lyft or Uber is in the U.S. and elsewhere. Singapore is one of the fast-growing financial hubs in Asia, one of the Four Asian Tigers. Wealth and commerce abound in this charming island nation/city. In general, Singaporeans are quick to embrace modern solutions that add value and convenience to their lives. As such, it’s a dream location to test the waters for using VTOLs as a means of transportation.

Therefore, it makes sense that German aviation startup, Volocopter, and popular southeast Asian rideshare company, Grab, would team up in Singapore to make this futuristic dream a reality. No word yet on the cost-per-ride of traveling via the uncrowded skies of Singapore, but one can assume it will start out fairly prohibitive. Testing these flights with commercial clients first ensures that the math checks out for now.

However, Volocopter foresees a time when their VTOLs can land in a park or parking lot as easily as at a sanctioned rooftop VoloPort. Bring on the glory days of your average commuter as they hop from home to work to the nightclub with the greatest of ease. I want to live in this reality.

By 2035, Volocopter and Grab predict building up the capacity to deliver up to 10,000 Grab air taxi rides per day in Singapore alone. The commute to work never looked faster, easier, or sexier. One day in our nearish future, we may shrug and see air taxis as a mundane part of daily life, a mere getting from point A to point B.

I expect it to stay exclusive and kind of a thrill a while longer. However, if you’re planning to travel in Singapore, and your company is an early adopter of the first commercial Volocopter air taxi flights, rest assured your glamorous sunnies and fanciest gear will not look out of place–yet.

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Tech News

You’ve seen the job listings, but what exactly *is* UX writing?

(TECH NEWS) We seeing UX writer titles pop up and while UX writing is not technically new, there are new availabilities popping up.

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across everyday. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touch points through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints UX writers work on are interface copy, emails and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find a UX writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must have. Excellent communication skills is a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post.

But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater UX design team. In larger companies some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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