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The Senate just voted to sell your privacy

(TECH NEWS) The Senate just threw us all under the bus and voted that our private information can be sold without permission.

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No privacy

Last week, in a rather surprising turn of events, the US Senate voted 50 – 48 to overturn a set of broadband privacy rules that would have required internet service providers (ISP) to get consumer consent before selling their web browsing data to advertisers or other data companies.

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This topic may sound somewhat familiar, as the original set of rules were passed by the FCC in October of last year.

The FCC’s Rule

Last October, the FCC passed a set of rules that demanded explicit user permission before selling data to any third parties. This included the ISP’s collection of data INCLUDING location data, app usage, and browsing history.

Of course the ISPs were still free and clear to use this information for their own marketing/targeting, they were not allowed to sell it without permission.

The FCC’s rules did not, however apply to services like Google or Facebook. The reason was that you could choose to avoid Facebook, but many users do not have a choice in ISP. Simply put, the Senate has voted to overturn the FCC’s rules which would have taken effect as soon as December 4, 2017.

The Senate’s Decision to Overturn

The Senate used the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s provisional rules, as well as, making sure they would not be able to pass similar rules in the future.

Oddly enough, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) seems to think the FCC’s regulations were too confusing for consumers.

He stated, “The FCC’s midnight regulation does nothing to protect consumer privacy. It is unnecessary, confusing, and adds yet another innovation – stifling regulation to the internet…”

The confusion he speaks of seems to be the aforementioned Google/Facebook versus ISP debate: you need an ISP to connect to the internet; you do not need Facebook or Google to browse.

Essentially, if you’re worried Google/Facebook would share your information, you could stop using them and still utilize the internet because the FCC demanded ISPs ask your permission before sharing data. Doesn’t seem too complicated, does it?
isp

On the other side of the coin

According to Lifehacker, Senator Markey (D-Mass), stated, “President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result of the Republican roll-back of the broadband privacy protections.”

He continued, stating, “Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances, and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission.”

This is alarmingly true. When you consider how much information your ISP likely has about you and your habits, the selling of this information could be detrimental.

Let’s not kid ourselves though; ISPs have been collecting, saving, exchanging, and selling data for quite some time because by and large, there were no regulations in place to prevent them from doing so.

It seems that with the FCC’s proposed rules, the ISPs would at least have some restrictions on what they chose to do with your data, that is before the Senate overturned it.

The takeaway

What does this mean for the average internet user? If you’re just surfing the web, watching YouTube and checking your email, you might be wondering what’s with all the commotion.

In theory, assuming this passes in the House as well, your ISP could start selling a complete Michael Westen-esque dossier on you and all of your proclivities.

It knows where you bank, what you search for, what songs you like to play on repeat, what health problems you might be having, your email contacts, who you’re fighting with on Facebook, what job postings you’ve looked at, which dating sites you belong to, how much credit card debt you have, and the list goes on and on.

Seriously, take a few moments and think about your recent searches and how that could be bundled with everything else you do online and sold as a “package deal.”

Worried?

You have at least one option.

You could choose to switch to a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. We cultivated a beginner’s overview to VPNs here. If you’re not familiar with them, a VPN connects two computers securely and privately over the Internet – definitely worth checking into should this measure pass the House and President Trump.

At this point, it's too soon to tell whether or not the issue will pass, but it is an issue worth keeping tabs on as it concerns the safety and security of everyone’s information.Click To Tweet

What do you think about the Senate’s approval of this measure?

#ISPy

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Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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Silicon Valley created tech for your family that’s too addictive for theirs

(TECHNOLOGY) Tech inventors are big on innovating and advancing tools, but a growing parenting trend in tech circles seems hypocritical.

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tech addiction in children

I consider myself an older Millennial. I was slowly but surely introduced to technologies as they became mass-marketable, but they didn’t affect every moment of my day-to-day life. I learned how to use computers in elementary school, I chatted on AOL as a preteen, and when I was 16, my parents gave me my own cell phone “for emergencies.” I promptly dropped it under the car seat, where it remained for a year, before I or my parents even noticed that it was missing.

In less than a generation, our relationship to cell phones has transformed completely. For one thing, my first cell phone didn’t have a touch screen. It didn’t have an internet connection. Hell, for an entire year, I didn’t even use the damn thing.

Fast forward to 2018, when your children can learn to use an iPad at the same time that they learn to use a toilet.

Interestingly, the tech whizzes who designed much of the technology that now pervades nearly every moment of our lives seem wariest of the negative impact screen time might have on kids. The NYT reports that the trend amongst Silicon Valley parents is to severely limit or even ban cell phone use by their children.

Parents in all echelons of the tech industry are limiting their kids’ exposure. Steve Jobs kept iPads out of the hands of his young children. The Gates offspring didn’t receive cell phones until high school (just like me, in 2001), and Tim Cook discourages his nephew from using social networks.

These concerned parents describe the addictive potential and negative consequences of screen time in increasingly pessimistic terms.

Athena Chavarria, a former Facebook employee, believes that “the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Chris Anderson (yes that Chris Anderson), former editor of Wired and founder of GeekDad, says that when it comes to screens, “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Parents are even making contractual agreements to make sure their kids don’t use screens while under the supervision of their nanny or babysitter.

Like basically every human idea or invention ever, connected, screened devices reveal that our ability to create new technologies far outpaces our ability to understand the consequences – positive or negative – of that tech.

Those closest to the situation – the inventors themselves – are often the first ones to sound the alarm when they realize that their hard-won advancements may not have been such a great idea after all.

Said Chris Anderson of the addictive nature of cell phones, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control.”

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Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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A deepfakes creator for text so realistic it can’t be made public yet

(TECHNOLOGY) You know about video deepfakes, but the technology exists for doing convincing deepfakes for text. It’s so good that they aren’t ready to release it to the public yet…

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Artificial intelligence is being used to complete more and more human tasks. But as of right now, news stories you read online – including all the articles here on American Genius – have been written by real human beings.

Until recently, even the most intelligent computers couldn’t be trained to recreate the complex rules and stylistic subtleties of language. AI-generated text would often wander off topic or mix up the syntax and lack context or analysis.

However, a non-profit called OpenAI says they have developed a text generator that can simulate human writing with remarkable accuracy.

The program is called GPT2. When fed any amount of text, from a few words to a page, it can complete the story, whether it be a news story or a fictional one.

You already know about video deepfakes, but these “deepfakes for text” stay on subject and match the style of the original text. For example, when fed the first line of George Orwell’s 1984, GPT2 created a science-fiction story set in a futuristic China.

This improved text generator is much better at simulating human writing because it has learned from a dataset that is “15 times bigger and broader” than its predecessor, according to OpenAI research director, Dario Amodei.

Usually researchers are eager to share their creations with the world – but in the case, the Elon Musk-backed organization has, at least of the time being, withheld GPT2 from the public out of fear of what criminals and other malicious users might do with it.

Jack Clark, OpenAI’s head of policy, says that the organization needs more time to experiment with GPT2’s capabilities so that they can anticipate malicious uses. “If you can’t anticipate all the abilities of a model, you have to prod it to see what it can do,” he says. “There are many more people than us who are better at thinking what it can do maliciously.”

Some potential malicious uses of GPT2 could include generating fake positive reviews for products (or fake negative reviews of competitors’ products); generating SPAM messages; writing fake news stories that would be indistinguishable from real news stories; and spreading conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, because GPT2 learns from the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to program GPT2 to produce hate speech and other offensive messages.

As a writer, I can’t think of very many good reasons to use an AI story generator that doesn’t put me out of job. So I appreciate that the researchers at OpenAI are taking time to fully think through the implications before making this Pandora’s box of technology available to the general public.

Says Clark, “We are trying to develop more rigorous thinking here. We’re trying to build the road as we travel across it.”

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