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How to stop your smart tv (and outsiders) from spying on you

(TECH NEWS) What to do if you buy a Smart TV but don’t want outsiders using it to spy on you.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

So, there’s probably a spy in your house. I mean, I’m not certain. I don’t have, like, a personal army of silverfish up in your pad, feeding me your secrets… that you know of.

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No, I’m afraid, as is so often the case among spies, a friend has turned on you.

Your home television; that big warm rectangle of post-work bliss is also probably the biggest, most emphatically unlocked door in your digital house.

Feels like a betrayal, doesn’t it? That shiny plastic jerk has been the centerpiece of American home life since Howdy Doody and Milton Berle. Seriously. The first successful American television, this sexy beast, hit the market in 1946, a good 70 years ago. People are dying of old age who have never lived in a house without a TV.

Why now? Why this treachery, old friend?

Because, it says, as it tears one of those plastic-like Mission Impossible Tom Cruise masks off, it’s not your friend at all. That’s no television!

It’s a very big, very dumb smartphone.

Not completely screwed

Not always, of course. If your set still looks a pizza oven rather than a pizza box, feel free to go about your business. You’re done here. CRT is the way to be.

But for most of us televising in the current century, our TVs are at least a little “smart.” In this context, that just means they send and receive digital information.

Short of digitally or physically disabling that functionality, you are not in control of what information your TV is or is not sharing, or with whom.

At the risk of editorializing, that sucks.

Thankfully, some worthy geeks have addressed themselves to the problem. Their results boil down to two solutions, both slightly less demanding than your previous best option, which was tearing every single thing out of your TV that was engineered later than Sputnik and resigning yourself to a Netflix-less life.

1. The Gentle Lobotomy

This one’s a bit of a cheat, because it does involve turning off the smart features of your Smart TV. It’s only a bit of a cheat, though, because then you just replace those features with another thing that provides most of the same features through a different service: one built by people who both (a) know and (b) care about data security.

My own Amazon Fire stick has served me nobly in that respect for years, but several other solutions exist.

As a datasec solution, a properly branded dongle is particularly useful to people already invested in compatible services.

For example, if you use Chrome and/or Drive and/or Gmail, at the risk of simultaneously bumming you out and stating the obvious, Google already knows everything about you worth knowing.

Good news, though! Google’s good at security, and they have a serious, market-driven reason to guarantee yours: no point knowing all your darkest secrets if everyone else does too. Get yourself a Chromecast and app yourself silly. Likewise, if you’re a Think Different type of techie, silhouette-dance yourself up an Apple TV. The cost isn’t egregious, and the comfort factor is substantial.

2. The “Daisy, Daisy” approach

This is for the hands-on crowd. If you’ve made your smart TV a serious part of your life, one of the aforementioned preloaded dongles may present too many compatibility or processing issues to serve. If that’s the case, your best option is to dig down into Settings (or your TV’s equivalent), work through the apps that have any information you’d rather not share with Putin, 4chan, or both, and deactivate their information sharing protocols.

That will cut into their usability, but at least your info will be safe.

The ugly fact is that “smart” TVs are the perfect instance of what smart people were warning consumers about back when we all got into always-on connectivity and the Internet of Things. At best, they’re machines possessed of enormous power and no responsibility. That breaks the Uncle Ben rule, and whenever you break the Uncle Ben rule, Spider-Man sheds a single tear.

At worst?

This. This is at worst. This is your TV literally peering into your house and sharing what it sees and hears with whomever has the functionality to make it do so. It was the CIA that time.

Next time?

Be skeptical

There are still some commonsense solutions, as listed above. That said, this was an unbelievable failure of responsibility on the part of the makers and sellers of the tech, and a culpable act of ignorance on the part of, well, us. The above should, if you’re lucky, keep the entire Internet from looking on in wonder as you down a half gallon of butter pecan without a spoon, six episodes deep into Great British Bake-Off.

But it’s all short term. These exploits exist because people want them, and the only way they get closed is if other people want them harder.

If it has a camera or a microphone or gets to know anything you’d rather every single other person didn’t, you need to buy on the basis that it secures that information.

That’s the Internet of Things the hard way. It’s incredibly convenient. It’s also things, and at the risk of getting unduly dark, things don’t care who they hurt.

#smarttviswatchingyou

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

How to opt out of Google’s robots calling your business phone

(TECH) Google’s robots now call businesses to set appointments, but not all companies are okay with talking to an artificial intelligence tool like a person. Here’s how to opt out.

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You know what’s not hard? Calling a restaurant and making a reservation. You know what’s even easier? Making that reservation though OpenTable. You know what we really don’t need, but it’s here so we have to deal with it? Google Duplex.

Falling under “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it,” Duplex, Google’s eerily human-sounding AI chat agent that can arrange appointments for Pixel users via Google Assistant has rolled out in several cities including New York, Atlanta, Phoenix, and San Francisco which now means you can have a robot do menial tasks for you.

There’s even a demo video of someone using Google Duplex to find an area restaurant and make a reservation and in the time it took him to tell the robot what to do, he could’ve called and booked a reservation himself.

Aside from booking the reservation for you, Duplex can also offer you updates on your reservation or even cancel it. Big whoop. What’s difficult to understand is the need or even demand for Duplex. If you’re already asking Google Assistant to make the reservation, what’s stopping you from making it yourself? And the most unsettling thing about Duplex? It’s too human.

It’s unethical to imply human interaction. We should feel squeamish about a robo-middleman making our calls and setting our appointments when we’re perfectly capable of doing these things.

However, there is hope. Google Duplex is here, but you don’t have to get used to it.

Your company can opt out of accepting calls by changing the setting in your Google My Business accounts. If robots are already calling restaurants and businesses in your city, give your staff a heads-up. While they may receive reservations via Duplex, at least they’ll be prepared to talk to a robot.

And if you plan on not opting out, at least train your staff on what to do when the Google robots call.

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Tech News

Bose launches headphone-less headphones for your face

(TECHNOLOGY) Bose is using augmented reality in a fascinating new way (even if we’re poking fun at it).

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Just in time for the holidays, Bose releases Frames, their new breakthrough sunglasses that combine the protection and style of premium sunglasses, the functionality and performance of wireless headphones, and the world’s first audio augmented reality platform.

At $199 per pair, they’re the perfect gift for the person who has everything and who will eventually lose them in a lake, leave them in a fitting room, or crush them in a car seat.

Frames have the ability to stream music and information, take and make calls, and access virtual assistants. Bose promises that your playlists, entertainment, and conversations will stay private, although how your conversations will remain private is unclear. Expect confusion from every stranger within earshot.

Bose is calling Frames a revolutionary wearable, but aren’t these just headphones for your face? Very cool headphones for your face?

Bose is pushing the AR functionality hard.

Although they can’t change what you see, they know what you’re seeing using a 9-axis head motion sensor and the GPS from your iOS or Android. Once they know what you see, the AR automatically tunes you into audio commentary for that place, opening users to endless possibilities for travel, learning, entertainment, and gaming.

They claim Frames are hands-free and clear-eyed, but even if that’s the case, do we really need more people walking around under the influence of distraction? As if it weren’t enough to have people’s eyes glued to their phones, now we can have people in matching sunglasses wandering around talking to themselves. Now who looks bonkers?

Frames are available for preorder now and are expected to ship in January 2019. Look for Bose to release updates to their AR at SXSW in March.

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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 recently 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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