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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

Google begins evolving Hangouts into Google Chat

(TECH NEWS) Google is transitioning from Hangouts, and Meet to Chat to offer what they think consumers want. No more competing with themselves.

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Google chat

What is your favorite instantaneous way to communicate with your team these days? Phone call, text, video call, group text message, email, or instant message?

It might depend on the team members and their preferences, but organizations and business owners run the gamut on IM (Instant Messaging) software: Slack, Skype for Business, MS Teams, and Google Chat to name a few. There have also been several that worked well for smaller companies and startups like HipChat by Atlassian. These are often used in addition to still meetings, conference calls, and emails but depending on the culture of the organization, they may love IM, and require it to have a wider range of capabilities that just copy (i.e. photo and file attachments, groupings, privacy settings, focused team, or group channels)

To be fair, there are varying degrees of interest by employees in instant messaging. Some love the idea that you can quickly reach out to a coworker and ask a question, and some find it bothersome and would prefer an email so they can file and sort topics easily (or if it’s really that quick, a phone call or stopping by to ask – if they are in the same space – not COVID-19 alternative working).

This begs the question, does IM allow for more remote working capabilities, and does that mean Google is on to something that they may have just hit the right time and need? The truth of email is that we are becoming less and less interested in reading long forms of copy, and want the information quickly.

Google consolidated their people working on communications tool to one team and is moving Hangouts to Google Chat as well as quickly integrating Google Meet for everyone (you can start a video meeting from within your Gmail, so think Zoom but not having to leave your email – assuming you’re on the G-suite).

If timing is everything, this could be a really smart move for them. Do you even remember Google Hangouts? This was a product launched originally as a feature of Google+, and then became a stand-alone product in 2013. It incorporated video and voice call capabilities for individuals or groups. The thing is, in 2013, I think many people were still using IM through their work email (which was dominated by Microsoft Outlook and PCs). For whatever reason, people just weren’t really using it that way. Most likely people could use it with their internal teams, but would have to use Chat for external users.

The history of Instant Messaging is kind of fun to review – starting with AOL in 1997 when they launched AIM. Now pretty much every platform has a version of the instant message, and people are extremely accustomed to short exchanges and ways to reach out quickly. People frequently use text, Twitter, iMessage, GroupMe, and Facebook Messenger among other ways to quickly reach out, break through the clutter, and hopefully hear a response back pretty quickly.

It appears that Google hopes to offer the capabilities that their users need – when they realized it seemed that business users were using Chat within their organizations, but having to use Hangouts to speak to those outside of that company. Right now, this is only for business users, but they are likely to see how to roll it out to all customers now that they’ve added the Meet capabilities.

According to Android Police, “Furthermore, it’ll soon be possible for G Suite users to message other G Suite users from outside their organization starting May 26. Anyone not in your company will have an ‘External’ label next to their name in the Google Chat UI so there’s no confusion. You’ll also be able to add any contacts to group chats so long as you designate them as ‘External.’ This will only apply to new rooms, though — any you’ve already created will have to remain internal-only rooms.”

It looks like Google is working on getting rid of Hangouts for good, and broadening Google Chat, but there could be some other products in the meantime. Will this change how you use your G-suite?

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Tech News

A look into why AI couldn’t save the world from COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, but we just don’t have the data yet. So perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet.

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COVID-19 AI

Even in the best of times, the human race can hardly be defined by our patience in the face of uncertainty. COVID-19 has rocked our feelings of safety and security. Hospitals have struggled to keep up with demand for care, and researchers are working tirelessly to create a vaccine. Early on in the fight against this virus, some looked to artificial intelligence technology to lead the pack in finding a solution to the global health crisis, but science takes time and AI is no different.

Over two months ago, when COVID-19 was still most prevalent in China, researchers were already attempting to use AI to fight the virus’ spread. As Wired reports, researchers in Wuhan, China attempted to screen for COVID-19 by programming an AI to analyze chest CTs of patients with pneumonia.

The AI would then decipher if the patient’s pneumonia stemmed from COVID-19 or something less insidious. This plan failed for the same reason many pursuits do – a lack of time and data to pull it off.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization examined the lung CT tool, but it was deemed unfit for widespread use. The lung CT tool, and all other AI driven projects, are limited by the humans designing and operating them.

We have struggled to collect and synthesize data in relation to COVID-19, and as a result tools, like the lung CT scans, cannot hope to succeed. AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, so perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet. Our tenacity and optimism continue to drive AI forward, but progress can only be sped up so much.

Like all science, AI has its limitations, and we cannot expect it to be a miracle cure for all our problems. It requires data, experimentation, and testing just like any other scientific pursuit. There are many problems to unlock before AI can be a leader in the driving force for positive change, but its shortcomings do not outweigh its potential. AI couldn’t save us from COVID-19, but as researchers continue to learn from this global event, AI may still save us in the future.

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Tech News

Chrome can now group and color code your open tabs

(TECH NEWS) Do you have too many tabs, and can’t tell what’s what? Google has tab groups that make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

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google tabs group

Are you a tab collector? That’s Google’s name for people who have tabs upon tabs upon tabs open on their Google Chrome browser. And while third party apps are already available to help collectors manage tabs, Google is now stepping in with Tab Groups.

Tab Groups, try it here, allows users to color-code, group and add text or emoji labels to separate clusters of tabs in their browser.

Right-click on any tab and choose Add to New Group. A gray dot will appear to the left of the tab and outline it in the same color. Clicking on the dot lets users update the color, label and name the group. Once grouped together, the tab groups can be moved and reordered. They’re also saved when Chrome is closed and reopened.

Google said after testing Tab Groups for months, they noticed people usually arranged their tabs by topic and that appeared most common when people shopped or were working on a project.
“Others have been grouping their tabs by how urgent they are, “ASAP,” “this week” and “later.” Similarly, tab groups can help keep track of your progress on certain tasks: “haven’t started,” “in progress,” “need to follow up” and “completed.”

Of course, this new feature does nothing to dissuade users from opening too many tabs, despite research that says multitasking may change the structure of your brain and Chrome is notorious for using too much RAM. So now you can’t concentrate, and your computer is running hot and slowing down.

A solution? Use Chrome extensions such as The Great Suspender, which suspends tabs that have been inactive for a specific amount of time. Don’t worry, you can whitelist specific websites so if you always need a tab for Twitter open, it won’t be suspended.

Another tip is to focus on one task at a time using the Pomodoro Technique, breaking tasks and your workday into 25-minute bursts of productivity with five-minute breaks in between. FocusMe uses a timer and website blocker to reduce the risk of getting distracted. You’re on the internet, after all.

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