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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

Regulation of AI is recognized as necessary by tech giants

(TECH NEWS) Even the tech giants who want to be the first to create “true” AI realize that the tech needs to have serious regulation to insure it’s under control.

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Regulation robot

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is constantly being discussed in the news. From intelligent software that detects your identity based on your keystrokes, to facial recognition software that aids in hiring “the right people”, it’s no wonder why it’s such a hot topic – and one that has a real history.

The prospect for real, human-level intelligence from something comprised of circuitry is simultaneously exciting and alarming. That’s why companies like Google are starting to learn they need to tread lightly when it comes to AI.

Sundar Pichai, for example (Google’s CEO), clearly sees the importance of regulation within the AI space, saying, “there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this”. He made this important comment at a conference in Brussels this month, and even went on to say “I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it.”

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in Europe via the EU’s competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager. In previous years, Vestager has gone after tech giants, like Microsoft, which has resulted in multibillion-dollar fines for the giant after they allegedly started monopolizing the industry by abusing its market dominance to choke out competition.

Since then, Vestager has been reelected, and her newest self-assigned task is making sure artificial intelligence is properly regulated, while also meeting ethical guidelines.

Vestager is notoriously known as being incredibly steadfast when it comes to ensuring regulations of large tech companies – something the U.S. is now following suit on with U.S.-based giants like Amazon and Facebook.

That said, from Pichai’s comments, one could guess that Google’s CEO is looking to head off any massive changes by a 3rd parties, like the EU, by coming up with his own ideas for regulation of AI. He said that “sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities.” What we think he’s saying here is that although there are potential negative outcomes with the technology, regulation must also be balanced to accommodate for the positives.

Given this, Pichai knows that AI has many positive use-cases but he definitely isn’t blind to the possible (and probable) negatives of AI, either. Despite Google’s interest in keeping AI going, Pichai also recently brought up some concerns about nefarious activity. While he did not go into detail, it’s pretty clear that he knows there’s a lot of opportunity for criminal, or just downright terrifying activity, within the space.

For example, do you recall the chat bot in 2016 that suddenly became aggressive, mean, and racist when given access to Twitter – all in less than 24 hours? Scary!

At the end of the day, AI seems to be what folks really want. Just take it from the millions of iPhone users out there who exclusively use Siri to get through their day. Of course, it’s all a balancing act, too, and since there’s also been a huge need for increased security in this tech-driven world, regulations are going to be increasingly critical to the space.

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Tech News

Which security company (that knows better) is actively selling your data?

(TECH NEWS) Maybe you can’t even trust your antivirus software anymore. Avast is protecting your data from all outside threats, but ignores the wolf in the hen house.

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Avast sells data

A company designed to protect users from online harm is at the center of the latest data scandal, except this time it’s not hackers we have to worry about. Avast, a popular antivirus software used by people around the globe, has been selling users data through a subsidiary company.

A new investigation by Motherboard and PCMag has found that Avast has been taking user data from its antivirus software and selling it through a subsidiary company called Jumpshot. Avast used the subsidiary company to pass off the data collected from users of their antivirus software and then sell it for millions.

Some of the biggest companies out there, names you recognize and see everyday, are on the list of past and current customers. A few of the companies we know have worked with Jumpshot to purchase user data are Google, Home Depot, Microsoft, Pepsi, Expedia, Intuit, Keurig, Conde Nast, Sephora, and Loreal.
What is still unclear is which of these companies are current and which are past Jumpshot clients. Yelp, another big name on the list, has already admitted to using the company to purchase data, but insist that it was on a “one-time basis.”

While users of Avast’s antivirus software were required to opt-in to sharing their data, the investigation found that many users were unaware that their data was being sold. This is unsurprising.
We’ve all been there, you jump onto a new website and it asks if they can collect data, use cookies, sell your left kidney, or whatever they need to better serve you. You don’t really understand what they’re asking, but you click the little yes box because if you say no then you’re taken to a new screen with a pile of legal jargon in tiny text to sort through.

Companies know that you don’t want to deal this. You’re just trying to read an interesting article on your lunch break or do a little online shopping. Companies like Avast know exactly what they’re doing when they convince you to sell your data. And make no mistake, your user data is valuable.

One of Jumpshot’s products called “All Clicks Feed,” sells for just over $2 million. This product allows the buyer to see everything from Google searches, Google Maps locations, LinkedIn page activity, YouTube video views, visits to porn websites, and more.

In a statement to Vice, Avast said, “Because of our approach, we ensure that Jumpshot does not acquire personal identification information, including name, email address or contact details, from people using our popular free antivirus software.”

All the data Jumpshot sells is anonymous, meaning users personal information and possible identifiers are scrubbed, but experts are skeptical about the security of anonymized information.

The safety of your personal data and the frightening power that comes with holding millions of users data is already enough to keep a person up at night. Perhaps the most troubling part is that this type of behavior doesn’t necessarily call for legal action.

At most, we are looking at an ethics breach for not making it clearer to users precisely how their data is being used. Avast claims to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and until someone can find direct evidence of a legal misstep, they’re free to continue selling user data to the highest bidder.

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Tech News

WTH is ‘Green UX’ anyway?

(TECH NEWS) Earth-saving green UX? It’s a green new deal, for real, and can actually create a more environmentally friendly company.

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green ux, green Earth

Remember that time a 6th-grader proved you could save a metric butt-ton of ink by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond?

I’m a nerd, so I found that unbelievably cool. Cooler still is the fact that the spirit of Suvir Mirchandani’s experiment isn’t just for physical press!

Enter “Green UX.” It’s a website-building methodology that slightly offsets polluters’ near cartoonish levels of choking the planet, and the dent it makes isn’t just saving the whales, it’s saving users a hell of a lot of hassle! So how do you do it? I have you covered with a few steps.

1: Don’t clutter your interface with a lot of crap. That means ads everywhere, a subscription pop-up on entering and on leaving, and a bunch of ill-curated “sponsored stories”. The more of that you cut out, the more carbon you cut down, the more of a green ux you will have.

2: Emphasize accessibility. Building things the right way, with everyone’s needs in mind is always the most efficient thing to do. Think about getting a commercial building ready. The person in charge of the purse strings might not be swayed by doing the right thing. What will give them a push is the idea of a well-deserved ADA lawsuit smackdown, closing for days due to construction, and hiring a rebranding professional to wipe down all the bad press.

And in terms of environmental assistance, everything involved in repairing, company image included, is sucking resources. Your website is the same way. The more users need to add their own image descriptions in shares, host alternative videos with captions, and click back and forth because they can’t read your ‘edgy’ white print on a yellow background for more than .01 seconds at a time, the more okapis you may as well be punching straight in the face. Keep everyone in mind, keep the earth happy, and keep off of African ungulates’ hit lists.

3: Optimize EVERYTHING. Text? Wrapped. Gifs? Clipped down by HAND, not by automation. Pictures? Compressed. When everything loads faster, everyone’s happier. When everyone’s happier, they tend to buy more.

When they buy more based on your website being easier to navigate than everyone else’s, you get to spend less money on ads, less money on new campaigns, and more money donating to foundations that turn air pollution particles into ink for needy children. See how this works?

In a SHOCKING turn of events, doing what’s best for the planet is best for the people making a living on it!

Who would have thought, right?

Now some of our regular readers might recognize most of these from when AG boosted news about how to slip past Google’s potential ‘SLOW SITE’ stamp.

That’s for good reason.

A fast, convenient website is literally better for the environment! The less processing power they draw, the less electricity they pull, and the end user saves enough time in their day not waiting on any variant of the circle of doom to go plant a tree or something. So it’s best to have a green UX.

Big Momma Earth wins? We win! It’s literally that simple.

Let’s see some innovation as we race UPWARDS this time, shall we?

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