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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.

Staff Writer, Natalie Gonzalez earned her B.A. in English and a Creative Writing Certificate from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a writer and social media nerd with a passion for building online communities.

Tech News

Airbnb has blocked 50K+ bookings for being too big during COVID-19

(NEWS) Airbnb has cancelled a huge number of reservations as a security precaution during COVID-19 in the past year or so.

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In the last year or so, Airbnb has purposefully prevented at least 50,000 people from making irresponsible reservations on their properties, in many cases blocking those people from the platform itself. This prevention, at least in theory, helped cut down on the number of COVID parties during the pandemic.

According to The Verge, Airbnb’s head of trust and safety communication, Ben Breit, acknowledged blocked reservations in several cities across the United States, including Dallas, San Diego, and New Orleans. Breit confirmed that this response was an attempt to prevent large gatherings and parties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many areas banned group activities involving more than a few people.

While some requests for reservations were simply denied or “redirected”, many users were blocked from using Airbnb entirely. Airbnb noted that the number of blocked requests outpaced the number of people who were blocked, signifying that some accounts attempted to make more than one reservation before being removed from the platform.
Airbnb reportedly stated that “Instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health” prior to enacting a total ban on rentals at the beginning of 2020, a decision that gave way to the blocks and redirections in the last 12 months.

The evaluation system used to flag problematic reservations is relatively simple, according to Breit: “If you are under the age of 25 and you don’t have a history of positive reviews, we will not allow you to book an entire home listing local to where you live.”

But Airbnb didn’t entirely remove multiple-body listings or large rentals. The Verge reports that flagged users with the aforementioned criteria were still able to book both small rentals in local locations and larger rentals in reasonably distant locations.

Regardless of the optics here, Airbnb’s policy efficacy can’t be ignored. Multiple cities reported comparatively “quiet” holiday seasons–something that may contribute to Airbnb’s decision to extend their policy through the end of this summer.

The hosting company is also offering increased security measures, such as noise detection and a 24-hour hotline, at a discounted rate to property owners.

As both the vaccine gap and the proliferation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to contribute to outbreaks, one can reasonably expect Airbnb to hold to this policy.

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TL;DV summarizes video meetings so folks can catch up in quickly *with* context

(TECHNOLOGY) TL;DV makes catching up on video team meetings slightly more tolerable and easily digestable.

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TLDV

2021 was the year of virtual meetings, and while there are some perks associated with remote collaboration (I’m looking at you, pair of work pants that I didn’t have to wear once this year), these meetings often feel exponentially more arduous than their dressed-up counterparts. TL;DV, a consolidation app for Google Meet, looks to give back a bit of your time.

TL;DV (an acronym for “Too Long; Didn’t View”) is a Google Chrome recording extension that helps users specify important sections of meetings for anyone who needs to view them asynchronously. Users can tag specific segments in Google Meet sessions, transcribe audio, and leave notes above tagged sections for timestamp purposes, and the subsequent file can be shared via a host of both Google and third-party apps.

While the extension is only available for Google Meet at the time of writing, the TL;DV team has included a link to a survey for Zoom and MS Teams users on their site, thus implying that the team is looking into expanding into those platforms in the future.

The mission behind TL;DV is, according to the website, to empower users to “control how we spend our precious time” in the interest of combatting FOMO and meeting fatigue. By dramatically shortening the amount of time one must spend perusing a meeting recording, they seem well on their way to doing so.

Of course, the issue of human oversight remains. It seems likely that meeting facilitators will drop the ball here and there while tagging sections of the recording, and employees who miss crucial information in a recorded session are sure to be frustrated in the process–just not as frustrated as they might be if they attended the entire meeting live.

The current (free) version of TL;DV is in Beta, so users will have a three-hour cap on their videos. The development team promises a professional version by the end of 2021, with the added bonus of leaving prior recordings available for free for anyone who used the Beta. This is certainly an extension to keep an eye on–whether or not you’re remaining remote in 2022, virtual conferencing is no doubt here to stay.

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Tech News

Hiding from facial recognition is a booming business

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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