This project hacks Amazon Echo and Google Home to protect your privacy

The Verge

 

An open-source hardware project promises to keep Amazon and Google’s smart assistants from listening in on your private conversations by constantly creating white noise, as first spotted by Fast Company.

 

The gadget, called Alias, is an always-listening speaker, but it only connects to the internet during the initial setup process. That way, Alias stays “off the grid” while you’re using it, preventing your conversations from leaving the device, Bjørn Karmann, one of the developers, told The Verge. When the Alias hears its own wake word, it’ll stop broadcasting white noise and wake up Alexa or Google Assistant so you can use them as normal.

 

Alias is designed to fit on top of an Amazon Echo or Google Home where it looks like a mass of melted candle wax. It’s composed of a 3D-printed top layer, a mic array, a Raspberry Pi, and two speakers. Instead of calling the speaker Alexa or Google, you can customize it with a unique wake word, like Steve or The Rock. When it hears that word, the Alias will then quietly wake up the real smart assistant by playing “Alexa” or “OK Google” over its internal speaker.

 

Rights groups pressure Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to stop selling facial surveillance tech to government

PacktHub

A group of over 85 coalition groups sent letters to Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, yesterday, urging the companies to not sell their facial surveillance technology to the government. The letter, penned down by the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) among others, intends to make it clear to the tech giants about how their decision can deeply impact the safety and trust of its community members.

The letter talks about the dangers of facial surveillance technology and how it provides the government with an “unprecedented ability to track who we are, where we go, what we do, and who we know”. It states that face recognition tech would not only provide the government with the power to target immigrants, religious minorities, and people of colour, but it will also develop a constant fear of being watched by the government among the public.

Amazon Ring faces a data breach scandal as it’s blamed for accessing customers’ videos

Tamebay

 

Amazon  Ring employees have been watching customers’ stored video streams, even those from inside your house. For Ring owners might find themselves waking up to a reality check as their security cameras came under fire last week for allegedly violating consumers’ privacy rights.

 

Ring, a smart home business which Amazon acquired in February 2018 for $1bn has been reportedly accessing its customers’ live camera feeds. So suggests The Intercept’s sources who revealed that at the beginning of 2016 Ring provided its research and development (R&D) team in Ukraine held unfettered access on Amazon’s S3 cloud to every video created via Ring cameras across the globe.

 

This suggests that Ring’s employees’ had at their disposal a large pool of customers’ sensitive data that can be viewed or distributed within one click. What seems suspicious is that the company left the videos unencrypted due to the cost of the encryption service, which prevents data from getting unauthorised entry, and restriction of access it provides.

Google Knows You Better Than Your Doctor Ever Could

Bloomberg 

Thanks to a combination of Google, WebMD and the $6,000 deductible on my health insurance, I haven’t been to a doctor to talk about an illness in years. Millions of Americans have similar habits; in fact, one in 20 Google searches are for health-related information. "Dr. Google" may not have an MD or a board certification, but it does have the clinical knowledge of a primary care provider who sees millions of patients a year.

With so much interest, it might be surprising how tentatively tech-driven efforts have entered the $3.5 trillion health care industry. After three years, IBM’s AI-driven Watson for Oncology not only had not delivered new insights on cancer treatments, but also in some instances even recommended unsafe and incorrect treatments. In fairness to Dr. Watson, it was working with the same scant medical records that limit human physicians. Artificial intelligence predictive capacity comes not from superior processing power itself, but from using that processing power to discover signals in vast quantities of data.

 

For owners of Amazon’s Ring security cameras, strangers may have been watching too

The Intercept 

 

THE “SMART HOME” of the 21st century isn’t just supposed to be a monument to convenience, we’re told, but also to protection, a Tony Stark-like bubble of vigilant algorithms and internet-connected sensors working ceaselessly to watch over us. But for some who’ve welcomed in Amazon’s Ring security cameras, there have been more than just algorithms watching through the lens, according to sources alarmed by Ring’s dismal privacy practices.

 

Ring has a history of lax, sloppy oversight when it comes to deciding who has access to some of the most precious, intimate data belonging to any person: a live, high-definition feed from around — and perhaps inside — their house. The company has marketed its line of miniature cameras, designed to be mounted as doorbells, in garages, and on bookshelves, not only as a means of keeping tabs on your home while you’re away, but of creating a sort of privatized neighborhood watch, a constellation of overlapping camera feeds that will help police detect and apprehend burglars (and worse) as they approach.

 

“Our mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods has been at the core of everything we do at Ring,” founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff wrote last spring to commemorate the company’s reported $1 billion acquisition payday from Amazon, a company with its own recent history of troubling facial recognition practices. The marketing is working; Ring is a consumer hit and a press darling.

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants

New York Times

 

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

 

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai had a tough and terrible year -- but it was still better than Facebook’s

CNBC

During his three and a half hours in the Congressional hot seat earlier last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai managed to play it cool.

 

He was well-rehearsed and responded to questions evenly, with patience and without the provocativeness or peculiarities which were characteristic of previous Google CEOs Eric Schmidt or Larry Page. Still, the hearing disappointed many viewers, who felt like it was a missed opportunity to press Pichai to explain more directly how the company plans to protect users’ privacy or reckon with its societal impact.

 

Congress May Have Fallen for Facebook’s Trap, but You Don’t Have To

New York Times

 

In recent weeks, Facebook confronted yet another privacy scandal, in light of leaked court documents suggesting that its staff discussed the idea of selling user data as long ago as 2012. Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, responded, “To be clear, Facebook has never sold anyone’s data.” It was the same denial that Mark Zuckerberg issued before the Senate in April 2018: “We do not sell data to advertisers. We don’t sell data to anyone.”

 

As a data scientist, I am shocked that anyone continues to believe this claim. Each time you click on a Facebook ad, Facebook sells data on you to that advertiser. This is such a basic property of online targeted advertising that it would be impossible to avoid, even if Facebook somehow wanted to.

 

What Facebook knows about you

Axios 

On Facebook's map of humanity, the node for "you" often includes vast awareness of your movements online — and a surprising amount of info ut what you do offline, Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried writes

  • And even when you're cautious about sharing, Facebook's dossier on you will be hefty.

​​

Assembling your profile — where your Facebook presence begins: 

  • When you create an account, Facebook asks for your name and birthdate, along with either a phone number or e-mail. 

  • Then there's all the information you give Facebook as you fill out your profile, potentially including schools, current and past occupations, relationship status, hometown and current city, as well as your physical address, birth name, web site and other social links.

  • All of this forms the core of the profile Facebook uses to serve you ads. It's why you see offers for clever T-shirts based on your college or job

Data breaches, privacy concerns rocked the tech boat with Facebook, Google as sailing masters

Financial Express 

 

The speed at which global technology giants changed the way people lead their lives — the way they talk to each other or conduct businesses — without being concerned about any roadblocks was remarkable. But all that changed in 2018.

 

 

Scandals surrounding Facebook started surfacing in such higher frequencies that industry observers began questioning if the social media giant with over two billion users would be able to survive in the long term.

 

 

Leading the charge of the attack on Internet “monopolies” was American billionaire investor George Soros, who warned that social media companies can have adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy and that the days of the US-based IT giants were numbered.

Consumer groups pushing for investigation of Google’s Play Store practices

Consumer Affairs 

On Tuesday, nearly two dozen consumer, privacy, and public health groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Google’s Play Store allows children to download apps that put their personal information at risk.

The groups argued that the tech giant’s app store is endangering children by allowing apps that violate privacy laws, contain adult content, or include manipulative advertising in a section of its Play store designed for children, the Associated Press reported.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy were the primary groups to file the complaint. In it, they argued that some apps that Google deems appropriate for children are “sharing kids’ sensitive personal information without the required parental consent.”

 


AP Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not

Associated Press

Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to.

An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used privacy settings that say they will prevent it from doing so.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request.

Amazon Is Making It Easier for Companies to Track You

The Atlantic 

Like “big data” and “social media” before it, the term “artificial intelligence” has become so buzzworthy at this point that it’s largely lost meaning.

If everything seems to be powered by A.I., that’s because many companies are desperate to be perceived as leaders in machine learning (or deep learning, or natural language generation, all of which fall under the A.I. umbrella)—even when they’re not.

The Privacy Divide: You pay Google with data, Apple with cash

AXIOS

Although the choice between iOS and Android may sometimes seem like a question of aesthetics, the reality is that the different business models of Apple and Google lead to fundamental differences for your privacy.

Why it matters: Because of the way Google monetizes user data, Android phones can cost hundreds of dollars less than iOS devices. The more you spend, the more likely you are to use a device with more privacy protection and less data collection.

Good Morning America

Big Think 

2018 hasn't been a good year for Facebook. In March, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, implicating the company in data harvesting activities for political purposes. The story is far from over, with recent reports stating that the UK Parliament has seized Facebook internal company papers linked to an ongoing investigation into the matter.

Shortly after the scandal broke, Apple CEO Tim Cook twisted the knife, revealing in an interview with MSNBC that he believed Facebook should have shown some self-restraint. He addressed his own company's customers, stating their value to Apple and promising, "We're not going to traffic in your personal life."

The Washington Post

Facebook executives in recent years appeared to discuss giving access to their valuable user data to some companies that bought advertising when it was struggling to launch its mobile-ad business, according to internal emails quoted in newly unredacted court filings.

In an ongoing federal court case against Facebook, the plaintiffs claim that the social media giant doled out people’s data secretly and selectively in exchange for advertising purchases or other concessions, even as others were cut off, ruining their businesses. The case was brought by one such company, Six4Three, which claims its business was destroyed in 2015 by Facebook’s actions.

The Washington Post

Google CEO Sundar Pichai confronted a barrage of criticism Tuesday from House Republicans who said his company suppresses conservative voices, exposing Google to the same kind of scrutiny that has destabilized its tech peers this year. Pichai insisted that Google is careful to avoid political bias in its search engine and other products.

“To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests,” said Pichai, testifying for the first time before Congress. “We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and there is no shortage of them among our own employees.”

The Daily Mail

Google CEO Sundar Pichai confronted a barrage of criticism Tuesday from House Republicans who said his company suppresses conservative voices, exposing Google to the same kind of scrutiny that has destabilized its tech peers this year. Pichai insisted that Google is careful to avoid political bias in its search engine and other products.

“To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests,” said Pichai, testifying for the first time before Congress. “We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and there is no shortage of them among our own employees.”

The New York Times 

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

 

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The New York Times 

When lawmakers asked YouTube, a unit of Google, to provide information about Russian manipulation efforts, it did not disclose how many people watched the videos on its site that were created by Russian trolls.

Facebook did not release the comments that its users made when they viewed Russian-generated content. And Twitter gave only scattered details about the Russian-controlled accounts that spread propaganda there.

The tech companies’ foot-dragging was described in a pair of reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee published on Monday, in what were the most detailed accounts to date about how Russian agents have wielded social media against Americans in recent years.