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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

Degree holders are shifting tech hubs and affordability

(TECH NEWS) Tech hubs are shifting as degree holders move, but it’s causing some other issues and raising some interesting questions about the future of jobs.

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degree city

Bloomberg recently announced their annual “Brain” Indexes. The indexes are an annual reckoning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and degree holders. The “Brain Concentration Index” approximates the number of people working full time in computer, engineering, and science jobs (including math and architecture.) It measures the median earnings for people in those jobs. It also counts how many people have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, or an advanced degree of any kind. It blends those things together to determine how “brainy” a city is.

Since they started in 2016, Boulder, CO has been at the top of the list. This year it’s followed by San Jose, CA, which many people might expect to be at the top. Many of the more surprising cities, like Ann Arbor, MI, Ithaca, NY, and even Lawrence, KS, are bolstered by the presence of a strong university.

It’s an interesting methodology. It’s worth noting that anyone with an advanced degree, whether it’s an MBA, a law degree, or a Ph.D. in literature, contributes to which city is a “tech hub.” It’s also worth noting how expensive many of these places are to live.

If you follow this kind of national data collection at all, you may also know that Boulder is one of the least-affordable cities in the country. So is the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area, with a median home price of 1.25 million dollars and a median household income of $117,474. (That means that the average mortgage is more than half of the average paycheck). However many people tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco attract, they’re also hemorrhaging talent. Every day, 8 Californians move to Austin. Of the people who stay, more than half are thinking of moving.

They aren’t doing that for fun. As much flak as Californians get for gentrifying places like Austin, they’re being megagentrified out of their own homes. As salaries rise and CEO gigs attract the wealthy (and turn them into the Uberwealthy), the people who wait on tables or teach their children can’t afford to stay there anymore.

Speaking of people leaving, Bloomberg also measured what they call “brain drain,” the flow of advanced degree holders out of cities. They pair that with a decline in white-collar jobs and a decline in STEM pay to come up with their annual list. It includes places like Lebanon, PA and Kahului, HI.

All in all, it’s interesting information. But there are other factors at work that it can’t speak to. What does wage stagnation in the U.S. mean for the flow of education workers? If San Jose and San Francisco can be tech hubs based on the number of people with degrees, but people are still fleeing, what does that say about rankings like these? What human stories get lost in the shuffle? And is “tech hub” even something a city wants to be if that means running out of teachers (or making them sleep in garages)? Where does the next generation of tech hub workers come from?

Knowing the people behind the numbers makes it clear just what a mixed bag this is. Maybe we need more tech hubs like Lawrence, Kansas. Or maybe we need rent control. Or maybe we need to embrace remote work. Maybe there are no answers. As interesting as data like this is, there’s something sort of wistful about it, too.

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Tech News

New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Tech News

Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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