Privacy, Technology

Research: Your aggregated consumer data may not be secure

Even anonymized and aggregated consumer data may not be as anonymous as people have been led to believe, according to new academic research.

Researchers concluded that aggregated data — big batches of information on things like mobile devices’ movements, compiled for use in summarized form — can be unraveled to reveal the actual movements of specific individuals with about 73% to 91% accuracy, even from pools combining hundreds of thousands of users.

Read more at Ad Age.

Image courtesy of Ad Age.

News, Take Action, Technology

Stop Mattel’s Aristotle from trading children’s privacy for profit

In July, Mattel will release Aristotle, a Wi-fi enabled “digital nanny.” Aristotle is an Amazon Echo-type listening and talking device with a camera. To work, it collects and stores data about a child’s activity and interactions with it. Because Aristotle connects to other apps and online retailers, that data may be shared with those partner corporations, which may use it for a wide variety of purposes—including targeting the marketing of other products to children and families.

Even limited use of Aristotle could pose a significant risk to children. As Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC Privacy, says:

“Companies that offer Internet-connected toys are simply spying on young children. And they can’t even protect the data they secretly gather. They have already lost passwords and personal data and exposed families to ransomware demands. Toys that spy are unsafe for children.”

To take action on this issue, please join the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in telling Mattel: Put the well-being of children, and the privacy of families, ahead of corporate profits. Don’t sell Aristotle.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) supports parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing. In working for the rights of children to grow up—and the freedom for parents to raise them—without being undermined by corporate interests, CCFC promotes a more democratic and sustainable world. Learn more at www.commercialfreechildhood.org.

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News, Technology

Seeing with your tongue

Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to have climbed Mt. Everest. He was born with juvenile retinoschisis, an inherited condition that caused his retinas to disintegrate completely by his freshman year of high school. Unable to play the ball games at which his father and his brothers excelled, he took to climbing after being introduced to it at a summer camp for the blind. He learned to pat the rock face with his hands or tap it with an ice axe to find his next hold, following the sound of a small bell worn by a guide, who also described the terrain ahead. With this technique, he has summited the tallest peaks on all seven continents.

A decade ago, Weihenmayer began using the BrainPort, a device that enables him to “see” the rock face using his tongue. The BrainPort consists of two parts: the band on his brow supports a tiny video camera; connected to this by a cable is a postage-stamp-size white plastic lollipop, which he holds in his mouth. The camera feed is reduced in resolution to a grid of four hundred gray-scale pixels, transmitted to his tongue via a corresponding grid of four hundred tiny electrodes on the lollipop. Dark pixels provide a strong shock; lighter pixels merely tingle. The resulting vision is a sensation that Weihenmayer describes as “pictures being painted with tiny bubbles.”

Read more at The New Yorker.

Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

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Entertainment, News, Technology

Why Hollywood’s most thrilling scenes are now orchestrated thousands of miles away

Movies, always the realm of fantasy, are now further removed from reality than ever. Actors do their acting in spandex suits on blank stages, delivering their lines to position markers and balls on sticks. Then an army of VFX artists transports them back in time, adds dragon companions or blows up their car. Audiences love it. Of the 25 top-grossing films of the 21st century so far, 20 have been visual-effects showcases like “Avatar,” “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.” (The other five were entirely animated, like “Frozen.”) The typical blockbuster now spends about a third of its production budget on visual effects.

But while visual effects’ role in movie making is growing, its presence in Hollywood is shrinking. From 2003 to 2013, at least 21 notable visual-effects companies went out of business, including Digital Domain, which produced the Oscar-winning effects in “Titanic.” Rhythm & Hues finally filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013, just days before winning an Oscar for “Life of Pi,” though it has since been revived under new ownership, working largely on TV shows like “Game of Thrones.”

Read more at The New York Times.

Image courtesy of The New York Times.

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News, Technology

One very basic job in sneaker manufacturing is testing the limits of automation

If you’ve ever bought a pair of new, unlaced sneakers you know what it’s like to lace them yourself. It requires carefully wriggling the plastic-cased end of the lace up and through the tiny holes in the shoe’s upper from the inside. Sometimes there are two layers to navigate: the cushioned textile interior and maybe a hard plastic overlay used to tighten the shoe around your foot when you tie it up.

Of the approximately 120 steps involved in manufacturing an Adidas sneaker, that seemingly simple task is among those robots have not yet been able to master, at least not on an industrial scale, according to Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted. “The biggest challenge the shoe industry has is how do you create a robot that puts the lace into the shoe,” he said. “I’m not kidding. That’s a complete manual process today. There is no technology for that.”

Read more at Quartz.

Image courtesy of Quartz.

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News, Technology

Which tech giant would you drop?

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. As I’ve argued repeatedly in my column, they are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? I ponder the question in my column this week.

But what about you? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

5 tech companies dropRead more at The New York Times.

Image courtesy of The New York Times.

News, Technology

Virtual-reality worlds filled with penguins and otters are a promising alternative to painkillers

Over the last few decades, US doctors have tackled constant pain problems by prescribing ever-higher levels of opioid painkillers—drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, which belong to the same chemical family as morphine and heroin. These medications have turned out to be less effective for treating chronic pain than thought – and far more addictive. The surge in prescriptions has fed spiraling levels of opioid abuse and tens of thousands of overdose deaths.

Efforts to curb opioid prescriptions and abuse are starting to work. But with the spectacular failure of a drug-centric approach to treating chronic pain, doctors desperately need alternative ways to fight a condition that blights millions of lives. Jones is trying one, seemingly unlikely technological solution: virtual reality.

Read more at Quartz.

Image courtesy of Quartz.

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News, Technology

These DNA diet apps want to rule your health

First, there was the grapefruit diet—promising that the tart monotony of grapefruit after grapefruit would finally reveal your abs. There were more: Atkins, Blood Type, Dukan, Whole30, each with it’s own claim that a one-size-fits-all regimen is the answer to longevity and better fitting pants.

But what if there were a way to determine, away from the citrus fruit mongers and peppy SoulCycle fanatics, the best way to live a healthy life? What if the answer were personal, buried in your genes?

Read more at Backchannel.

Image courtesy of Backchannel.

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Education, News, Technology

Colleges are starting varsity programs for video games

Professional esports — competitive video game playing as a spectator sport — is surging in the U.S., with revenues in the hundreds of millions and growing fast. So it’s little surprise that collegiate esports — in which universities field their own teams just as they would for baseball or basketball — has been been growing as well, to the point where players are now sometimes earning scholarships that pay their entire tuition.

Stephen’s College, an all-women’s college in Columbia, Missouri, announced a varsity esports program two weeks ago. The University of Utah did the same in early April.

The growth of varsity esports teams is phenomenal, said Michael Brooks, executive director at the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE), a non-profit organization that is working to set standards and build infrastructure for the scene.

Read more at The Outline.

Image courtesy of The Outline.

video esports

News, Technology

Automation predicted to take over Vegas and rural farmlands

Two news articles recently came out that highlight how automation will dramatically impact several industries, specifically entertainment and agriculture, reducing the number of workers over the next 20 years.

This piece from The Atlantic’s City Lab begins:

Economists expect that millions of American jobs are going to be replaced by automation in the coming decades. But where will those job losses take place? Which areas will be hardest hit?

Much of the focus regarding automation has been on the Rust Belt. There, many workers have been replaced by machines, and the number of factory jobs has slipped as more production is offshored. While a lot of the rhetoric about job loss in the Rust Belt has centered on such outsourcing, one study from Ball State University found that only 13 percent of manufacturing job losses are attributable to trade, and the rest to automation.

A new analysis suggests that the places that are going to be hardest-hit by automation in the coming decades are in fact outside of the Rust Belt.

Read more at City Lab.

While this piece from the MIT Technology Review shares how robots will take the place of apple pickers:

Roughly $4 billion worth of apples are harvested in the U.S. each year. Startup Abundant Robotics hopes to suck up some of it with a machine that vacuums ripe fruit off the tree.

Today apple orchards rely on people to pick their crops. Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human, and pull them down just as gently. The machine deposits apples in the same large crates that human pickers use.

“The results convinced us that we’re on the right path to scale up to a full commercial system,” says Steere.

Read more at the MIT Technology Review.

Image courtesy of City Lab.

News, Technology

Parents’ mobile use harms family life, say secondary pupils

An overuse of mobile phones by parents disrupts family life, according to a survey of secondary pupils.

More than a third of 2,000 11 to 18-year-olds who responded to a poll said they had asked their parents to stop checking their devices.

And 14% said their parents were online at meal times, although 95% of 3,000 parents, polled separately, denied it.

The research was carried out by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.

Among the pupils:

  • 82% felt meal times should be device-free
  • 22% said the use of mobiles stopped their families enjoying each other’s company
  • 36% had asked their parents to put down their phones

Read more at BBC News.

Image courtesy of BBC News.

News, Technology

Consumer PC market’s struggles show challenge for Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update

As Microsoft rolls out its Windows 10 Creators Update and announces new Surface Studio apps, new reports on the state of the traditional personal computer market highlight the challenges the company faces, particularly in consumer PCs.

A report from market research firm Gartner says the global PC market declined 2.4 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker report finds that the PC market grew very slightly (by 0.6%) over the same time frame.

Read more at Geek Wire.

Image courtesy of Geek Wire.

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Advertising, News, Technology

Marketing technology explained: Everything you need know

Let’s say you’ve recently been in a conversation about marketing technology where at least somebody didn’t exactly know what martech is. They got through by saying things like “consumer journey,” “Lumascape” and “Marketing tech is going to be the hottest trend this year, no doubt.”

We’re not saying that person was you. But to help end the confusion one sometimes encounters over marketing technology, here’s an easy explainer.

What is martech, anyway?
“Every piece of technology a marketer uses to reach a potential customer is martech,” said John Koetsier, mobile economist at Tune, a mobile analytics and performance marketing company, and a former journalist who covered the subject for years at publications including VentureBeat. “Everything from an email marketing system like MailChimp to social media marketing platform like HootSuite.”

Read more at Ad Age.

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News, People, Technology

Steve Ballmer launches USAFacts, a “digestible” government database

What if the U.S. government had to file a 10-K, an annual report required by the SEC that provides a comprehensive summary of a company’s financial performance?

It was that curiosity which led Los Angeles Clippers’ owner and businessman Steve Ballmer to launch USAFacts, a comprehensive database on the American population, government finances and their impact on society. It combines data from more than 50 government sources on the federal, state and local level.

“I got interested in the context of learning about the way government serves kids who group in disadvantaged situations. And it was hard to find the numbers I was looking for. And I thought, jeez, if it was a company I’d look for the 10-K. And I couldn’t find anything like that,” Ballmer said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.”

Read more at CBS News.

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Advertising, News, Technology

Burger King’s Whopper gets prank Wikipedia edits in ad gag

Burger King’s latest ad stunt is resulting in some less-than-flattering descriptions of its Whopper sandwich.

The hamburger chain unveiled a 15-second ad Wednesday designed to trigger Google Home devices into reciting the definition of a Whopper, pulled from the website Wikipedia. But the website can be edited by users, and the definition had been changed to insert “cyanide” as an ingredient in one version. Another user later changed the definition to say the Whopper is “the worst hamburger product” sold by the chain.

Read more in The Seattle Times.

View the original ad and read additional commentary from Ad Age here.

Image courtesy of Ad Age.

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News, Technology

What is “brain hacking”? Tech insiders on why you should care

60 Minutes: The following script is from “Brain Hacking,” which aired on April 9, 2017. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Guy Campanile, producer.

Have you ever wondered if all those people you see staring intently at their smartphones — nearly everywhere, and at all times — are addicted to them? According to a former Google product manager you are about to hear from, Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked. He is one of the few tech insiders to publicly acknowledge that the companies responsible for programming your phones are working hard to get you and your family to feel the need to check in constantly. Some programmers call it “brain hacking” and the tech world would probably prefer you didn’t hear about it. But Tristan Harris openly questions the long-term consequences of it all and we think it’s worth putting down your phone to listen.

Read more at CBS News.

Image courtesy of CBS News.

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News, Technology

YouTube TV review: A DVR to rule them all

Young people in the United States have already made the switch from traditional television to streaming services. The amount of time these folks spend watching TV has been dropping steadily for at least six years, while consumption of streaming video has been growing at a torrid pace. And this group is increasingly unlikely to pay for television or own a TV set.

Into this world comes YouTube TV, an attempt to marry the world’s most popular platform for streaming video with the programming of traditional television. For $35 a month, subscribers will get access to the four major broadcast networks and a bundle of over 40 cable channels, including key sports properties like ESPN and Fox Sports 1.

Of course, there are plenty of big gaps in YouTube TV’s current offering. While the goal is to capture the attention of fickle youth, the service won’t carry Viacom channels like MTV or Comedy Central, at least not for the time being. Showtime is available for an additional charge, but HBO isn’t yet. At launch, the service will only be offered in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with the promise of more to come soon; YouTube is still working out deals with local affiliates in cities across the US.

Read more at The Verge.

News, Social Media, Technology

Mastodon.social is an open-source Twitter competitor that’s growing like crazy

Eugen Rochko was annoyed with Twitter. The company had made a series of changes that he thought eroded the value of the service: limiting how big third-party applications could grow, for example, and implementing an algorithm-driven timeline that made Twitter feel uncomfortably similar to Facebook. Most people in Rochko’s situation fired off an angry tweet or two and moved on. Rochko set about rebuilding Twitter from scratch.

Mastodon, a distributed, open-source version of Twitter, is almost identical to the platform it’s based on, but with key differences: posts can run 500 characters rather than 140, and users can make individual posts private.

Read more at The Verge.

Image courtesy of The Verge.

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Education, News, Resources, Technology

Video gaming becomes a scholarship sport at University of Utah

The University of Utah will become the first big-time sports school to offer scholarships for competitive video gaming, so far the most high-profile entry into collegiate esports.

Backed by the Salt Lake City school’s video game development program, Utah’s first varsity esports team will play Riot Games’ popular League of Legends and compete in Riot’s collegiate league. More teams in other games will be announced this year.

Utah is the first school in the “Power Five” — the five richest athletic conferences in college sports — to offer scholarships for video gaming, lending a high-profile endorsement to the the rapidly-growing industry. “We want others schools to join us,” said A.J. Dimick, who will run the new esports program. “Let’s move this along together.”

Read more at Bloomberg.

Image courtesy of Bloomberg.

General Images Of Gamers

Fake News, News, Social Media, Technology

Facebook is spending millions to make you trust news again

Facebook and other companies are partnering up to help fund a 14-million-dollar initiative to help restore trust in the media — at a time when it really needs it.

The News Integrity Initiative will be based at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York City and partner with a number of institutions around the world to help educate people about media literacy.

“As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we want to give people the tools necessary to be discerning about the information they see online,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships, said in a statement. The company launched its own media literacy project in January. Faculty and students of the CUNY Journalism program will collaborate with researchers and technologists, and conduct research in support of the initiative’s goal.

Read more at Vocativ.

Image courtesy of Vocativ.

News, Places, Technology

Cyborgs at work: Employees getting implanted with microchips

The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee’s hand. Another “cyborg” is created.

What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

Read more at The Associated Press.

Image courtesy of The Associated Press.

News, People, Resources, Technology

Read this before you ever make fun of Comic Sans again

In this interesting piece from Narratively, the author shares how the oft-maligned font Comic Sans is one of a few typefaces recommended by influential organizations like the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland.

This is because the the irregular shapes of the letters in Comic Sans allow readers with dyslexia to focus on the individual parts of words. This stands in marked contrast to the mockery the poor font receives from graphic designers and communications industry professionals the world over.

The article features a telling interview with the author’s sister, who has used the font throughout her schooling and is proudly completing a rigorous program in marine zoology at Bangor University in Wales, UK.

Read more at Narratively.

Image courtesy of Narratively.

Advertising, News, Politics, Privacy, Technology

Comcast-funded civil rights groups claim low-income people prefer ads over privacy

The House of Representatives joined the Senate Tuesday in voting to repeal new Federal Communications Commission rules that would have stopped internet service providers (ISPs) from using and selling consumers’ web browsing data without their consent.

But a look at the comments submitted to the FCC reveal that many of the opponents of the privacy regulation came not from any “community” but from groups with extensive financial ties to phone and cable companies — with some of their claims hinging on the absurd.

For instance, the League of United Latin American Citizens and OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, two self-described civil rights organizations, told the FCC that “many consumers, especially households with limited incomes, appreciate receiving relevant advertising that is keyed to their interests and provides them with discounts on the products and services they use.”

Read more at The Intercept.

Image courtesy of The Intercept.

News, Social Media, Technology

A survey by Pew Internet suggests the dark side is winning.

Trolls dominate online discourse, according to Pew Internet research, and there may not be much we can do about it. To come to this conclusion, Pew asked one key question of 1,537 tech experts, academics, government leaders, and so on. It appears to have avoided talking to the trolls themselves — understandable but a bit of a shame.

That question was: “In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?”

Read more at The Outline.