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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

Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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Tech News

This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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Tech News

Could Amazon’s new augmented reality app replace auto mechanics?

(TECHNOLOGY) Augmented reality has been gimmicky at best, but Amazon plans on changing that with their new step forward in auto parts. But could it threaten mechanics’ market share?

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During its brief time in the mainstream spotlight, augmented reality (AR) technology has been used to measure objects, disappoint crowdfunding audiences, and catch Pokémon.

However, its most recent iteration (by Amazon) might have you rethinking your last trip to the used auto parts store (and your aforementioned disappointment in AR).

While Amazon has explored augmented reality applications in the past, the uses have generally revolved around projecting things such as furniture representations into rooms.

In theory, a user could select a specific model of furniture and, using their smartphone, see what the room would look like with the piece of furniture in it. Their new augmented reality service plans to extend that same technology to encompass a smaller-scale setting: automobile parts.

The app is still in its early stages of development, and they’ve only recently been granted the patent, but the concept sounds incredibly promising.

amazon augmented reality patent application

To use the app itself, a customer would point their smartphone’s camera at the vehicle’s engine. The app would feasibly start by identifying your vehicle’s model information and displaying different modular points, after which point you would be able to select a type of part and project it onto your vehicle to see how it fits.

Once you found the correct part for your vehicle, Amazon could order the part via the standard Amazon app.

In an age where the combination of YouTube and your dad’s toolbox provides an attractive alternative to paying the local mechanic, having the option to diagnose accurately your problem and have a reliable solution appear is a huge potential step forward (IF and only if you are the type of person that isn’t intimidated by a car engine).

Amazon is used to crushing the competition in traditional fields; however, where automotive augmented reality is concerned, it seems like Amazon may be the first big name to consider. Virtually no companies use augmented reality for in-house repairs, and customer-level AR support is nonexistent, making Amazon the obvious (and only) choice for now.

Augmented reality has been little more than a novelty thus far, and while some of its applications have been more geared toward services than entertainment, arguably none have been essential for more than a limited number of users (even their grocery offering). Amazon’s foray into automotive self-help is a promising step toward mainstream augmented reality which both improves users’ lives and serves a purpose greater than the sum of its parts.

We’ll stick with our trusted mechanics for our nicer cars and feel dubious that Amazon will ever threaten the practice, but for our junkers that just need a new air filter, we’re down for some AR magic.

Our ruling is that this app is pretty cool and could replace auto parts competitors, and perhaps even be used by tinkerers, but it’s unlikely that any amount of AR magic will replace mechanics (I mean, have you had to replace a part in an Audi!? You have to take out the entire engine to get to the transmission, so no thanks).

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