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Study finds 1,000 phrases that accidentally activate smart speakers

(TECH GADGETS) Don’t worry about accidentally activating your nosy smart speakers… unless, of course, you utter one of these 1,000 innocuous phrases.

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It’s safe to say that privacy concerns, especially in today’s digital era, are unquestionably valid. With new video recording technology making it easier to identify people at a glance (whether they like it or not) and concerns that your smart speakers are eavesdropping on you, it may feel like you’re bordering on slightly paranoid around modern technology.

After all, even though there have been cases of smart speakers picking up on intimate conversations, there’s absolutely no risk of them overhearing private things without your consent, right? Even though it’s been documented that these devices — including Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Google Home — have listened in relationship spats, criminal activity, and even HIPAA-protected data, you’re totally in the clear.

Oh yeah. The thing is, everything that gets broadcast into your smart speaker? There’s a completely random chance that someone back at headquarters may decide to sift through it in order to improve AI learning.

And while most of the time these conversations are totally benign, it doesn’t change the fact that a complete stranger is getting an earful of your private life. In fact, these transmissions? Are actually completely admissible in court, as several murder cases have already demonstrated. Their key evidence was none other than poor Alexa herself.

But wait, wait. These smart speakers can only get your information if you activate them, and that requires you to clearly enunciate their names. Right? Um. Not exactly. Even though you may think that you need to speak crisply into the speaker to activate it, it turns out that these devices are highly sensitive to any suggestion that you might be talking to them. It’s almost like your dog when you even remotely glance at his bag of doggie treats in the corner: one crinkle and Fido comes running, begging for some kibble and ready to serve you.

It’s the same for your smart speakers. As it turns out, there are over a thousand words or phrases that can trigger your device and invite it to start recording your voice. These can range from the perfectly reasonable (Cortana hearing “Montana” and springing to attention) to the downright absurd (Alexa raising her hackles over the words “election” and “unacceptable”). Well, crap. Now what?

It’s no secret that someone is listening in on your conversations. That’s been clearly documented, researched, dissected, and even accepted at this point. However, if you thought that they’d only listen to it if you gave them implicit permission by activating your device (which, to be fair, should not even count as permission in the first place), you were wrong.

So what’s a privacy-loving person to do? Just suck it up and try to choose between the lesser of two evils? On one hand, yes, these smart speakers are super convenient and can make your life easier. On the other?

Well, if you’re a fan of your privacy, then perhaps these devices aren’t meant for you. At this point, you’ve got little recourse. These companies will continue to use your data, and there’s nothing stopping them from spying on you. That is, unless you prevent them from doing it in the first place.

If you want to keep your private conversations private, either unplug your smart speaker when you’re not using it, or don’t get one in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll continue to give your implied consent that you’re totes cool with them butting in on your personal life, and they’ll continue to be equally totes cool with using it without your permission.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Tech News

What is “Among Us”? The meme sensation two years in the making

(TECH NEWS) When a game has invaded even the most focused of social media feeds, we have to figure out what it’s all about. Enter Among Us.

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Among Us game cover, the latest game meme sensation.

If you’ve been seeing bean-shaped characters pop up in memes, on Twitch, or even on Facebook saying words like “Impostor” or “Red is sus”, you’re not alone.

Among Us, an online multiplayer social deduction game has taken the online world by storm as of late. Originally released back in 2018, the game gained a massive surge in popularity during the COVID-19 lockdown. According to Sensor Tower’s data, the game passed 100 million downloads on the IOS App Store and Google Play in Q3 of 2020 alone. While the game is free to play on mobile, users can also play on PC for a small fee of $4.99. As it stands, Among Us is currently the third-most played game on Steam, with a solid chance it breaks into the top spot in the next few months.

Haven’t played the game? Well, let’s cover the basics so you understand the endless number of memes coming your way.

The game is played with 4 to 10 people, all of whom are placed together on a single map. Depending on the game settings, 1 to 3 of these people will be randomly assigned as Impostors, whose goal is to kill a certain number of non-Impostors without getting voted off of the map. The rest of the users will be designated as Crewmates, who can win the game by either completing a set number of assigned tasks in the form of minigames or by voting the Impostors off of the map. Impostors gain the advantage of being able to use portions of the map (like vents) that Crewmates cannot, as well as being assigned fake tasks so it can appear that they are a Crewmate. Impostors can also sabotage areas of the map that will require Crewmates to complete an additional task within an allotted time, with failure to do so resulting in an Impostor team win.

Impostors will be able to move across the map and kill other players they are next too, turning those players into Ghosts who will still need to complete their tasks for the Crewmates to win. When a player finds a dead body, they can report it, which essentially allows for a time-based discussion and the option to vote for someone to be kicked off of the map. Each player can also use one “emergency meeting”, which can call for a discussion and vote at any time. Since players are allotted a cone of vision that allows them to only see other players within a certain distance, the game relies a lot on convincing other users you are not an Imposter.

Among Us was inspired by the party game Mafia, proving that a few adjustments to a classic concept can pay dividends. Due to the mostly chat-based dialogue, memes have popped up of Crewmates accusing people of being suspicious by saying they are “sus” based on their actions. There has also been a rise in memes highlighting a group of people saying someone must be an Impostor and voting them off, only to view the “X was not the Impostor” dialogue from the game.

Hopefully, this helps you understand some of the bean shape images you’ve been seeing recently. With the game rising rapidly on streaming platforms over the summer, it’s unlikely the wave of memes and references to the game will end anytime soon. If you still don’t understand it, then I recommend you take the plunge and play the game—after all, it’s free on mobile.

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Tech News

Snapchat is among the first to leverage Apple’s new powerful AR tools

(TECH NEWS) Apple has announced the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner that will take AR to a whole new level, and Snapchat is already leveraging the technology in its Lens Studio 3.2.

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Phone taking picture of food shows potential of AR

Augmented Reality (AR) uses computer-generated information to create an enhanced and interactive experience of the world. It intertwines the physical world with the digital one to make it more entertaining and fun. And, this week Apple unveiled its latest phone models, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Max, and along with it, its custom-designed LiDAR scanner.

LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and it measures how long it takes light to reach an object and reflect it back. With the sensor, the new iPhone’s machine learning capabilities, and the iOS 14 framework, the iPhone can “understand the world around you.” “LiDAR makes iPhone 12 Pro a powerful device for delivering instant AR and unlocking endless opportunities in apps,” said iPhone Product Line Manager, Francesca Sweet.

Apple says their new technology will help enable object and room scanning, photo and video effects, and precise placements of AR objects. With LiDAR’s ability to “see in the dark”, the sensor can autofocus in low-light six times faster. In doing so, it improves focus accuracy and reduces capture time “so your subject is clearly in focus without missing the moment.”

And, Snapchat is making sure it isn’t missing the moment either. The company is among the first to leverage iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner for AR on its iOS app. On Wednesday, Snapchat announced it is launching Lens Studio 3.2, which will allow creators and developers to build their LiDAR-powered lenses for the iPhone 12 Pro.

“The addition of the LiDAR Scanner to iPhone 12 Pro models enables a new level of creativity for augmented reality,” said Eitan Pilipski, Snap’s SVP of Camera Platform. “We’re excited to collaborate with Apple to bring this sophisticated technology to our Lens Creator community.”

According to a Lens Studio article, the new iPhone 12 Pro AR experience will have a better understanding of geometry and the meaning of surfaces and objects. It will let Snapchat’s camera “see a metric scale of the scene”, which will allow “Lenses to interact realistically with the surrounding world.”

Even though the iPhone 12 Pro isn’t here yet, this isn’t stopping Snapchat from letting creators and developers start bringing their “LiDAR-powered Lenses to life.” Its new and interactive preview mode in Lens Studio 3.2 will already allow them to do that. So, if you’d like to get started, you can download the template on their site.

According to Apple, the new iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner “puts advanced depth-mapping technology in your pocket.” Overall, Apple’s new technology has fancy sensors that will allow you to take top-quality photos and videos in low-light. It will also allow you to create an AR experience that should be better than what exists now. During Apple’s announcement, they said all these new “incredible pro technologies” won’t come with a higher price tag. I guess it’s up to you whether you really need the fancy new iPhone 12 Pro to play with the new lenses in Snapchat.

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Tech News

Google plans to make YouTube an integrated e-commerce destination

(TECH NEWS) Google takes looking for product video reviews and recommendations to the next level by planning to turn YouTube into an e-commerce site.

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YouTube browsing could become e-commerce site.

Google is planning on turning YouTube into an e-commerce platform. Google wants consumers to purchase products straight through YouTube’s website. So, this means products seen in tutorials, reviews, and unboxing videos could all potentially be available to purchase directly from their site.

Bloomberg reports that steps are already underway to start turning the large video website into a one-stop shopping site. Recently, YouTube started asking creators to use YouTube software to tag and track products featured in their videos. By gathering this data, Google hopes to create a “vast catalogue of items that viewers can peruse, click on, and buy directly,” said a person familiar with the situation to Bloomberg. A YouTube spokesperson also confirmed to them that the company is only testing this feature on a limited number of video channels.

Already, YouTube is a shopping destination. In a Google article, the company reports that more than half of consumers rely on videos to help them make a purchasing decision. By surveying over 24,000 people, Google found that more than 55 percent of shoppers say they use online video while shopping in-store. One person interviewed said, “I’ll look back at a video to remind myself which product a vlogger spoke about. I need to find the exact moment they said, ‘This is my recommendation.’”

So, YouTube’s video platform does have great purchasing power potential because it gets a consumer to view the video again and make a purchase based on that video. So far, YouTube allows creators to place links to the products they are featuring on their page. This allows consumers to easily access links to the products.

But, that’s where the purchasing influence ends for YouTube. In the end, consumer needs to leave their website to purchase the item.

This isn’t the first time Google has tried taking a stab at integrating e-commerce into YouTube’s website. Last year, the company partnered with Merchbar to allow artists to sell their official merchandise to fans via a bar underneath a video. But, consumers still needed to visit a third-party website to make a purchase. The company is also in beta testing with Shopify. This integration will allow retailers to list and sell items on the video-sharing platform.

Turning YouTube into a shopping website is an “experiment”, according to the YouTube spokesperson Bloomberg spoke to. And, frankly, Google needs this experiment to work because it’s falling behind in the pandemic e-commerce boom. Travel and physical retail sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic. And, both of these bring in large ad revenue for Google. With companies tightening up their marketing budgets, Google ad sales fell 8 percent in Q2.

But, experiment or not, this could eventually happen. Google has already begun tagging content to view data analytics. They know consumers rely on videos to help them decide what they want to buy. They just need to give them the option to purchase through the website. However, the real question is whether this will be beneficial for both YouTube and content creators.

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