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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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smart tv remote cable

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

The top 10 most ridiculous job titles in tech

(TECHNOLOGY) The tech industry is an interesting sector – diverse, open-minded, beautifully nerdy, and sometimes trying too hard, especially when it comes to job titles.

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When it comes down to it, the Internet is all about memes and people constantly getting mad about one thing or another. I’m usually playing on the side of memes, but I joined the other group when I stumbled upon a CB list of the 25 Most Absurd Titles in Tech.

Absurd doesn’t even begin to cut it.

This list is a perpetual head-shaker and there’s clearly some stuff going on in the world of tech that needs to get a reality check.

All 25 of these titles are terrible, but I challenged myself to narrow it down to the 10 worst. Let’s work our way backwards.

10. Full Stack Magician – First of all, a small typo in the second word could really change your profession. Second of all, my concept of a Full Stack Magician is the guy walking around Denny’s playing card tricks for a few extra bucks on a Saturday night. How in the world am I supposed to know that “magician” is shorthand for “engineer”? Two very different things, friends.

9. Humbly Confident Product Designer – I don’t know about you, but humble and confident are often times two traits that don’t sit at the same table, let alone work together to describe a job title. As you might guess, it’s someone in product design who is self-assured. And humble about it. To me, this is something that should be determined in an interview personality test and a reason behind why one gets the job of product designer. It should just be included without having to be part of your LinkedIn title.

8. Chief Heart Officer – What comes to mind here is Dr. Webber on Grey’s Anatomy. This title was developed for Claude Silver of VaynerMedia in 2014. “Being Chief Heart Officer means being in touch with the heartbeat of every single person at this agency,” she later wrote. A nice concept, but, come on.

7. Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence – This one, developed by Microsoft (really, y’all?), has Star Trek written all over it. Apparently it was developed for Microsoft’s researcher, James Mickens, due to his personality. Should your personality really influence your job title? This Staff Writer votes “nope.”

6. Meme Librarian – I put this on here because I’m both jealous and confused. Getting paid to archive memes? Sign me up! But, also, what the hell? According to CB, this title was invented at Tumblr to describe the role occupied by Amanda Brennan, who researches fandoms and trends. The Tumblr team uses the data collected by Brennan’s team to better understand the unique communities, languages, and relationships that emerge on the platform.

5. Remote Funnel Marketing Ninja – Am I supposed to be going to work with this title or mastering a game on Super Nintendo? Responsibilities apparently include “architect[ing] funnels based on customer goals” and “creat[ing] & connect[ing] ActiveCampaign lists to Gravity Forms in landing pages.” Neat job description, but the job title is trying too hard.

4. Tax Wrangler – This is funny to me because I’m picturing getting audited by John Wayne. What it actually means, according to Automattic is, the in-house tax wrangler is in charge of “researching multi-state sales and use tax regulations” and working on “sales, property, excise and VAT taxes” for a company of 600+ people. Ok, sure.

3. Security Princess – Okay, but do I get to wear a beautiful gown and crown? Why the gendering of a role!? This title was designated to Parisa Tabriz at Google where she was formerly a security engineer. Her job was to find holes in the Chrome browser. I’m confused where Cinderella comes into play, but, whatever.

2. Weekend Happiness Concierge – In my travels, this title belongs to whoever owns the couch I’m crashing on any given weekend (I kid). This is simply a customer support agent, with concierge derived from the powerful role in 18th century European courts. To me, it just sounds like someone who brings you an extra pillow at a hotel.

1. SVG Badass – It was hard to pick number one, but I had to go with this. You mean to tell me that you’re going to walk into a networking event filled with other professionals and hand out business cards that say “badass”? In tech events, that will fly, but not outside of that bubble. Change the ‘bad’ to ‘dumb’ and we’ll be on the same page.

In order of #1-25, the original list consisted of: Innovation Evangelist, Dream Alchemist, Weekend Happiness Concierge, Happiness Engineer, SVG Badass, Time Ninja, Innovation Alchemist, Security Princess, Retail Jedi, Software Ninjaneer, Tax Wrangler, Remote Funnel Marketing Ninja, Content Hero, Meme Librarian, Happiness Manager, Conversion Optimization Wrangler, Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence, Innovation Sherpa, Digital Prophet, Chief Heart Officer, Brand Warrior, Wizard of Light Bulb Moments, Direct-Mail Demigod, Full Stack Magician, Humbly Confident Product Designer.

FFS.

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Tech News

Make it harder for Facebook to track you around the web

(TECH NEWS) Facebook remains in hot water, but you can make a simple choice that puts you in control of your data. Check it out.

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facebook container

Firefox has long been an industry leader in security, which is why it’s no surprise that they’re the first large browser to roll out an anti-tracking add-on geared toward making life difficult for everyone’s favorite social media platform: Facebook.

Facebook Container is a deceptively powerful add-on, allowing you to prevent Facebook from tracking and analyzing your browsing behavior while you navigate around the Internet. After installing it in Firefox like any other add-on, you log into your Facebook account inside of the container; from that point on, any Facebook tracking will be confined to the Container tab in which you’re using FB.

The primary purpose of the add-on is, of course, to limit the amount of information that Facebook can extrapolate from your browsing history. There’s still plenty of information that you can give to Facebook simply by scrolling through your News Feed page, but at least they won’t know what size of underwear you’re buying.

Another obvious ramification of using Facebook Container is its ad-blocking capabilities. Unlike a traditional ad-blocker, it won’t force-hide ads; instead, it will hide your activity, meaning you’ll see fewer targeted ads based on your browsing activity and habits. This is likely to cut down on frustration from users who feel inappropriately targeted or singled out by the social media giant’s often-invasive ads.

In addition to its numerous qualities, it also comes with a few downsides—though for the privacy-minded, they’ll probably not feel like game-changers. The main issue is that sharing buttons and those cute little “Like” buttons you see all over the Internet won’t work when you use the add-on since you’ll be logged out of FB everywhere else in Firefox.

Naturally, using the social media buttons outside of the Firefox add-on kind of defeats the purpose of using the add-on to begin with, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

You also won’t be able to log into websites that use your FB login information as a credential automatically, which—as Mozilla puts it on the product page—is “to be expected.”

If you’re the kind of person who says “I’d delete my social media accounts, but I need it to stay in contact with so-and-so,” at least once a week, this add-on for Firefox may be for you—and, even if you aren’t a Firefox user, their browser updates over the past six months make switching worth a try.

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Tech News

Anti-surveillance mask – creepy, ingenious, or potentially illegal?

(TECHNOLOGY) Advances in surveillance tech have impressed the masses, but as our cultures consider the risk and reward, some are preparing to protect themselves from overreaching technologies and governments.

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anti-surveillance prosthetic

How many surveillance cameras do you pass when you walk down the street? Most of us don’t know and prefer not to think about it. We know that public and private entities, from social media sites like Facebook, to law enforcement agencies, are using facial recognition software. In most cases, we haven’t actively consented to this surveillance, and we don’t know what will be done with information – but it also seems like there’s not much we can do about it.

Enter artist Leo Selvaggio, who is interested in “increasing the amount of public discourse about surveillance and how it affects our behavior in public space.” Selvaggio has launched a venture called URME Surveillance, whose focus is “protecting the public from surveillance and creating a safe space to explore our digital identities.”

URME is doing this is in an unusual, and admittedly kind of unnerving way. The site provides masks, in the likeness of Selvaggio’s face, that you can wear in public to protect your own mug from ending up on file. These “Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetics” are sold at cost – Selvaggio isn’t in it for the profits. There’s a $200 resin prosthetic, a set of 2D paper masks for large groups (protestors?), and a downloadable PDF paper mask that fits together like a 3D puzzle, giving the mask more dimension than the flat, 2D version.

paper anti-surveillance

“Our world is becoming increasingly surveilled. For example, Chicago has over 25,000 cameras networked to a single facial recognition hub,” explains the URME website. “We don’t believe you should be tracked just because you want to walk outside and you shouldn’t have to hide either. Instead, use one of our products to present an alternative identity when in public.”

Is this product a genuine solution to non-consensual surveillance? Or is it simply an artist’s attempt to make a statement? The 3D resin mask is fairly realistic, but with the wearer’s eyes peeking out of the mask’s holes, it’s creepy, to say the least.

anti-surveillance face

While the mask may thwart surveillance cameras, it will probably attract attention from other people nearby – so perhaps anonymity isn’t the goal.

It’s more about making sure that your face doesn’t end up in a databank; or at the very least, inspiring conversation about the topic of public surveillance. Potential customers should also be advised that many states and cities have laws against wearing masks in public.

Regardless of the ultimate intention, the fact that Selvaggio is willing to sacrifice his own likeness to Big Brother means that he takes the issue seriously. Cameras linked to facial recognition software will identify and track Selvaggio, regardless of who is under the mask. URME has actually tested the product using Facebook’s “sophisticated” facial recognition software.

Selvaggio even acknowledges that people could use the mask to commit crimes, which could land him in hot water. However, he has “come to the conclusion that it is worth the risk if it creates public discourse around surveillance practices and how it affects us all.”

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