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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

Earbuds that are noise cancelling hit the market just in time for the holidays

(TECH NEWS) There are no shortage of earbuds on the market, however, Nuheara’s noise cancelling, bluetooth earbuds are sure to top everyone’s wish list.

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Noise cancelling earbuds are efficient for blocking out the world around you – when all you want to hear is your music and nothing else. However, for those who want a smaller, sleeker alternative, Nuheara is the perfect fit.

Nuheara are wireless audio earbuds that are customizable to your hearing needs. Even though they have the same power as noise cancelling headphones, they can be adjusted to amplify or minimize sound based on each situation.

You can choose to blend the sounds of the streets and your new favorite album in order to be aware of the world around you. The earbuds are ideal for any situation.

The noise cancelling earbuds use SINC (Superior Intelligent Noise Control) technology, which lets every user create their custom hearing experience.

There are numerous times when it’s hard to hear because of the noise around us. This may be in crowded restaurants, concerts or even when you’re at home trying to avoid the noisy neighbor in the apartment above you.

The SINC technology applies a frequency filter to sounds you choose to hear or want to avoid. Additionally, the left and right earbuds have their own settings, so that they can be customized individually. Everything is customized through the app, so it’s up to each user to decide!

Prior to founding Nuheara, Justin Miller and David Cannington worked in the oil and gas companies creating industrial strength hearing headsets.

The feedback they received during these experiences paved the way for inventing Nuheara. People wanted a sleek headset that they could wear in everyday life, not just at their job.

The earbuds will set you back a few hundred bucks, but they come with accessories like a battery charger, carrying case and 8 different silicone tips. The battery charger provides three full charges. Nuheara earbuds are also sweat and water resistant, but they are not yet waterproof.

As wireless headphones, Nuheara are also compatible with most Bluetooth connected devices. The earbuds also use tap-touch control to make hands-free phone calls, control music and adjust settings.

There is no need to connect Nuheara to external devices to use their noise cancelling capabilities.

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Tech News

Turn your FAQ page into a chatbot without knowing how to code

(TECH NEWS) An easy way to add a chatbot to your site and automate some of your work is through this new simple tool that doesn’t require any tech know-how.

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Reduce your workload and personalize customer service engagement with Faqbot, the tool that turns your online FAQ into a customized chatbot.

Co-founded by Denny Wong and CEO Mathis André, Faqbot uses machine learning to streamline frequently asked questions into a handy chatbot pal.

Based on your existing FAQ content, Faqbot builds a database that learns from every conversation to improve responses. Faqbot can also be used to automate sales and lead generation.

You get to design the conversation flow, mapping out a custom path to guide users to a desired outcome. Set predefined choices or free text, customize the bot’s responses, and determine what leading questions the bot should ask.

For example, on the Faqbot site, I was given two pre-set choices to click after each response from the bot. Clicking “Thanks for helping” gets the polite response “You are welcome! ;-)” complete with an old-school emoji featuring a nose.

If you select “not my question,” Faqbot uses its general response to any unanswerable question: “Sorry, I’m a chatbot. I am constantly learning and have answers to frequently asked questions. Thank you for leaving your email and we will get back to you shortly.”

Choose your own responses based on already defined FAQ or come up with new messaging to better engage and inform your customers as needed. The free text option is also available if customers wish to continue asking questions.

Of course, I had to try out some less than frequently asked questions. When I asked Faqbot “are we friends?” it kindly replied, “Absolutely. You don’t have to ask.” So I’m smitten.

However, when I tried to take it to the next level by asking “Do you love me?,” which seems to be the internet’s favorite way to harass a bot, I got the “Sorry, I’m a chatbot” response.

That’s okay. I’ll recover. Faqbot isn’t here to love, it’s here to answer questions.

You can easily install the chatbot by either copy/pasting the snippet of codes directly into your webpage, or connect Faqbot to your company’s Facebook page. No coding skills required.

Pricing is based on number of users per month, but all levels include the same service offerings of FAQ database management, messaging interface, a ticketing system, and DIY guided conversation flow. You can try out Faqbot free for 14 days by signing up on their site.

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Tech News

This note-taking app is perfect for the creative mind

(TECH NEWS) The newest app for note-taking could be a tremendous asset for a very specific type of creative that tools like trello and evernote fall short on… not all apps work for all people.

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If you’re like me, you’ve had many phases in your idea-having, note-taking life. There was the AP History period, where I decided the quality of my notes would be judged based on the tininess of my handwriting and the number of innovative abbreviations coined. There was the “song collection” period, in which I wrote down song and band names with reckless abandon, on any scrap of paper or non-paper within reach, and promptly scattered the scraps everywhere. There was the post-it era, in which every single idea was carefully documented on a “Sticky Note” that tiled over my Windows desktop and was impossible to find thereafter.

And then, there was Evernote, and Trello, and I thought my evolution was complete. I had neatly organized “Notebooks” and “Cards” and I felt very structured and efficient and spiritually done with my note-taking journey.

But a whisper of rebellion called out to me. It sounded musical, colorful, whimsical. It asked me whether I wouldn’t like to liberate myself from those neat lists and stacks, let my ideas flow, visualize my thoughts?

It introduced me to Milanote – the note-taking app truly made FOR images, not just tolerant of them.

Milanote markets itself toward creatives: “For the research, thinking and planning behind your next great piece of work.”

But the strengths of this app could benefit anyone who could use a more freeform space to collect their thoughts. A blank page resembles a peg board, and users can add images, notes, links, and more in any configuration their hearts desire. You can also link any elements together with a web of lines, or leave them on their own.

This could be a great app for early-stage brainstorming and planning, when you need to play around and be flexible.

Milanote can be collaborative, like Trello, or individual and personal, like my always-evolving grocery list in Evernote. Milanote currently works in any web browser, and iOs and Android apps are coming soon.

For up to 100 notes, Milanote can be yours free of charge. More than that, though, and you’ll have to pay $9.99 for the pro version.

Something tells me infinity should cost much more, but the organic, customizable concept is something to hold on to.

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