Tag Archives: privacy

PTJ 244: Across the Universe

Whether it be The Defenders kicking butt across the New York City zone of the Marvel Universe or NASA’s assorted spacecraft exploring the real universe, this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam has you covered. El Kaiser and J.D. get their geek on with plenty of chatter about comics, consumer technology and spaaaaaace! Won’t you join us?

Links to Stories in This Week’s Episode

 

PTJ 229: Private Investigations

Protections for consumer privacy and data collection took a hit this past week, as regulations were rolled back into nonexistence — sending some concerned Netizens to software they hope will help shield their online activity.  The big question: Does it work?

Meanwhile, Yahoo and AOL take an Oath, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 reveals some enviable features, Amazon finds yet another way to get your cash and Google tries to make sure perfectly nice advertisements don’t end up on hateful YouTube videos.  Join El Kaiser and J.D. as they discuss it all in Episode 229!

Links to Stories in This Week’s Show

PTJ 221: Watching and Waiting

On this week’s episode, El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the collision of the technology industry with the government, smart television sets that watch you, the ongoing battle with fake news and the demise of the message boards on IMDb.com. Get out of the winter weather and fire up Episode 221!

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 210: The Internet of Hijacked Things

Last week’s massive denial-of-service attack (and resulting Internet outage) was big news all on its own, but toss in AT&T’s latest digital land grab and you have a jam-packed few days of tech news. After the weekly discussion of the recent headlines,  J.D. explores free or cheap word processors that cut down on toolbar clutter for minimal distraction when you’re probably already procrastinating that big writing deadline anyway. Come on along for this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam! (Also, El Kaiser gently suggests that you change all your default router and device passwords.)

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 197 News: Eyes on the Road Ahead

It was bound to happen sooner or later. There has now been a reported fatality with one of Tesla’s Model S sedans in self-driving mode. A man in Florida was killed last month using his car in the Autopilot setting while reportedly watching a Harry Potter movie when his Tesla vehicle slammed into a truck at high speed. In a post on the company blog, the Tesla team explained why the software failed, but the incident is also a good reminder to always pay attention to your surroundings, even when the car is driving itself.

As reported in Wired, Google has added settings for its search users that ask if they want to see tailored ads based on age, gender, and search history to show up now on third-party sites as the ads currently do on Google sites. By opting in, users can edit and block ads they don’t like across any device logged in with a Google account. This compares to other ad networks, which require users to opt out of such personalization. Google has also reworked the history page where it hoards all of the old searches and viewing history you’ve previously done on Google and Google-owned sites. The new data locker is called  My Activity and it allows you to log in and delete specific entries out of your search and viewing history. In case you need to.

Android N has a full name now: Android Nougat. (Hungry for a Snickers now?)

noughat

Rumor has it Apple is pondering the purchase of Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming music service. Apple also got into a punch-up with Spotify last week. It came down to Spotify saying Apple won’t approve the new Spotify app for its App Store because it wants to cut competition for the aforementioned Apple Music and Apple saying the app was rejected because Spotify disobeyed the App Store developer guidelines for in-app purchases.

bblinkIs Big Brother 2016 watching you? Those free Wi-Fi kiosks with the video ads and phone-charging ports that are popping up around New York City streets the past few months, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union and other privacy advocates who say the kiosks can be used to spy on and collect information from people passing by them. As reported by the ReCode site after obtaining documents through public-records laws, Alphabet, parent company of Google, “wants to monitor pedestrian, bike and car traffic, track passing wireless devices, listen to street noise and use the kiosks’ built-in video cameras to identify abandoned packages.” Sidewalk Labs, the company behind the kiosks, said all data is anonymized, not sold to third parties and the cameras haven’t even been turned on. Still, the kiosks have found dedicated fans on the city streets: The New York Post reported some of the city’s homeless population was using the stations to watch free porn until the city remembered it had to put in URL filters.

The hacking of social media accounts has been in the news since a Mr. Mark Zuckerberg got jacked recently, and if you’re worried about your own Twitter account, BuzzFeed has an article up with tips on how to see if your account is vulnerable from third-party applications.

The Chicago man who hacked several celebrity iCloud and Gmail accounts in 2014 (and made actress Jennifer Lawrence extremely angry) is going to plead guilty. Edward Majerczyk could get up to five years in prison, a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act after stealing user names and password through phishing.

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Facebook announced last week that it is adding a new multilingual composer for users to write one post, but have it appear in multiple languages. Sounds like there could be some good machine-translation memes coming soon.

Comcast and Netflix have made nice and come to an agreement that will allow Netflix’s streaming video service on to Comcast’s set-top boxes. Netflix’s long march to be on every type of screen available continues.

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Linkedin also was courting Google and Salesforce as potential suitors, but Microsoft’s all-cash deal won out. Let’s hope this one turns out better than the Nokia acquisition.

bbclassicedBlackBerry (remember them?) announced this week that it would no longer make the BlackBerry Classic smartphone and said earlier this year that it was ditching its own BlackBerry 10 operating system in favor of Android. Some member of the United States Congress will likely be very upset by this, as there are still some lawmakers holding on to the once-dominant platform, even though it got toasted by Android and iOS devices in the late 2000s. Without BlackBerry updates, the Senate’s IT department sent out a memo saying Senate staffers would no longer be issued official BlackBerry smartphones for office use. While the 600 BlackBerry models currently in circulation will still get tech support, for the time being. Guv’ment business and all.

And finally, NASA announced last week that nine missions by far-traveling spacecraft are getting extended because the hardware has lived beyond the original estimates. The New Horizons craft that already completed the Pluto flyby job got extended, as did the Dawn mission to Ceres. And NASA’s Juno probe, launched in 2011, has reached its destination after a five-year journey. After a 130,000-mile-an-hour trip through radiation belts and planetary clouds slowed by a 35-minute engine burn, Juno dropped into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th to start observing the solar system’s largest planet while searching for its origins. As one of the principal members of the Juno team said, “This is the hardest thing NASA has ever done.” That’s really saying something, because when you look at the History of NASA, they’ve done some pretty darn hard and impressive things since the agency was created in 1958. You go, NASA!

PTJ 182 News: Tales from the Encrypt

What’s up, WhatsApp?  As The New York Times reported last weekend, government officials are said to be privately debating about what to do in their similar ongoing squabble with WhatsApp. The program’s encryption is mucking up the Justice Department’s ability to peek at messages, even though it has a judge’s wiretap order to investigate. In a related story, The Guardian of London reports that Facebook, Google and Snapchat plan to step up their encryption to protect the data of their customers.

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Apple is due to appear in a federal court in Riverside, California, on March 22 to fight the order that started this most recent squabble over privacy vs. security. Perhaps not so incidentally, the company has confirmed its next Apple Event to Reveal New Products to be on March 21st, just as the Apple-watching blogs predicted. But as the legal battles rage, Adam Segal and Alex Grigsby of the Council on Foreign Relations have an essay in The Los Angeles Times that lays out what they call three realistic solutions to prevent further fights over encryption. Will anybody try them out?

The South By Southwest festival has been going on the past week, but some outlets like CNBC are reporting a diminished interest in the interactive side of the event, which could explain the relatively low-key media coverage. Or perhaps the media is just preoccupied with a certain 2016 Presidential election.

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In happier news, Microsoft announced this week that the Xbox One will soon support cross-network gameplay, meaning people using Xbox Live with their Xboxes or Windows 10 hardware could, in theory, be able to frag players using other hardware like the Sony PlayStation 4. Microsoft has also just updated the web version of Skype. and if you’re not paying attention, the company will update your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer to Windows 10.

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Adobe’s Experience Design CC is now out in preview for Mac users. The program was specifically created for user-experience designers who make mock-ups for interfaces and whatnot. The preview has that nice price of free.

Amazon has filed a patent that lets people pay by selfie. Smile for the cashier, please.

Google is inviting interested parties to hack its Chromebooks. Few have shown interest in doing so, but to sweeten the pot, they’ve upped the top reward for major bug discovery to $100,000.

Could robots replace salespeople in retail stores? Researchers as Osaka University in Japan have been studying and testing real-life jobs for robots and found that people react  well when the robots are used for things like foreign-language practice, or as retail associates because they don’t nag the human to do more — or buy more .

And finally, speaking of artificial intelligence, Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo computer, which we mentioned a few weeks ago on the show, has defeated the Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol in a best-of-five series of the ancient game of Go. Artificial intelligence has already kicked human butt in chess and on Jeopardy, but how will AI do at Cards Against Humanity?

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(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: ICE? ICE, Baby!

If you were in an accident or had a health situation, do you have a way for first responders to find your emergency contact or know important particulars about your medical history? If you don’t wear a medical-alert bracelet, you can have your phone handle the job of communicating life-saving information when you can’t do it, thanks to the category of “ICE” apps — ICE, short for In Case of Emergency.

The Health app, first introduced in in iOS 8, let you record and track your personal and health and fitness data. But even if you never look at the built-in step counter or share your calorie intake privately with your phone, you can use the handy Medical ID screen.

medIDYou can get to Medical ID by opening the Health app and tapping the Medical ID tab. The screen is sort of like an electronic medical-alert bracelet. You can list any major health conditions, medications you’re allergic to, your blood type and the phone number for your emergency-contact person.

Even if you have a passcode on your phone, someone can see your Medical ID info by tapping the Lock Screen, tapping Emergency and then tapping Medical ID. Granted, if you have privacy issues with any of this, don’t use it, but it can be helpful if you are unable to respond to an EMT or police officer.

While pure Android currently doesn’t have a built-in health app, you can find similar free or inexpensive medical ID apps in the Google Play store, like the $4 ICE for Android or the free iMedAlert app (which can even issue a GPS-based distress call). Android apps have a woolier reputation for security and privacy, however, so check the specifications to make sure any app you’re looking at doesn’t get grabby with permissions or store your data on their servers.

medapps

If you don’t want to fiddle around with a separate app, there’s a basic hack you can do with just about any modern smartphone. Simply call up the Notes app that came with your phone (or any other word-processing app) and type out any emergency information you would want any first responder to know. Next, take a screenshot of that completed text and set the image as your phone’s lock screen image. Anybody who finds you (and your phone) can see the information — and as a bonus, the person would not have to know how to get to the iPhone’s Medical ID screen.

Again, if you have privacy reservations wth any of this, don’t use an app and get a medical-alert bracelet if you do have any conditions you need to identify. But if you just want to add the information to your phone where you already have so much of your life recorded anyway, it could just save your life.

PTJ 176 News: A Tip of the Market Cap

The hills are alive with the sound of earnings calls! Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has now passed Apple and wins the Most Valuable Company prize. The murmurs started Monday night , when Alphabet’s market cap hit about $570 billion, shooting by Apple’s mere $535 billion.  So Alphabet is on top, for now. And like Apple, blogs are reporting that Google may be preparing to take tighter control over its own Nexus hardware line, much like Apple’s iron grip on both the hardware and software for its iOS devices.

In other good news for Google, its Gmail service now has 1 billion monthly active users, making it just about the most popular free email service in the world. Also in the One Billion Users Club: WhatsApp. As a blog post on the WhatApp site helpfully points out, that’s nearly one in seven people on the plant using the app.

Speaking of iPhones, however, 9to5Mac.com is floating the idea that Apple will be having a big media event on March 15th to announce new hardware (including an iPad Air 3), but we haven’t seen any invitations yet. One thing Apple probably won’t be talking much about is the recent death of its ad-supported iTunes Radio service which only arrived in late 2013. If you try to play an old station you created and are not an Apple Music subscriber, you will get a nag alert telling you to sign up for Apple Music, where you cangold still use the stations as part of your subscription. Also in streaming music news, The Recording Industry Association of America has said it will now include on-demand audio and video streams and a track sale equivalent for calculating those Gold & Platinum Album Awards.

As announced on its site this week with the headline “Using Qualitative Feedback to Show Relevant Stories,” Facebook is making an change to the News Feed algorithm. Because that’s never happened before.

Our favorite do-it-yourself site iFixit announced this week that it’s part of a new trade group called The Repair Association. The new organization represents professional and consumer repairers and is worth a look if you like to fix your own stuff.

As threatened, er, promised last fall, Microsoft has switched the status of its Windows 10 update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users from Optional to Recommended, so it may initiate the installation sequence on its own before it’s manually stopped. Let the howls from Windows 7 users (shown below) commence…

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If you watch A LOT of television and find that two — or even four — TV tuners are just not enough, the DISH network is ready to help you out. It just released the DISH Hopper 3, a digital video recorder with a 16 tuners and built-in 4K resolution. The Hopper 3 is available for about $15 a month to Dish Network satellite TV customers.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Commission and the United States have resolved that little  tussle over the old Safe Harbour system for American companies handling the privacy rights of Europeans. The new framework is to be called the EU-US Privacy Shield.

According to Open Signal’s “State of Mobile Networks: USA” report, T-Mobile has won three network comparison tests, including 3G download speeds and latency, as well as 4G speeds. Verizon had the most 4G coverage, so Big Red still gets some bragging rights.

And finally, it seems like everyone’s into selfies these days, including the Mars Curiosity Rover. The interplanetary exploratory vehicle sent back a self-portrait comprised of 57 separate images of itself — taken not with a selfie stick, but with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera positioned at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. The images were also used to create a 360-degree video of the Martian landscape for Facebook. The little rover didn’t stop its social-media onslaught there: If you happen to be crushing on a fellow NASA enthusiast this month, be sure to send one of Curiosity’s special Valentine’s Day cards to the object of your affection. Ain’t love (and science) grand?

valentine

PTJ 171 News: Don’t Forget to File Your Paperwork

Attention octocopter pilots! The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the suggestions of its task force to heart and has now set up a database for drone owners to register their unmanned aircraft with the government. The new rule goes into effect December 21st and those who skip out could be subject to chunky fines. And in other government news, The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Homeland Security is trying to come up with a plan to examine social media posts made by individuals applying for visas to the United States. Watch out for those Facebook hoaxes, agents.

Across the pond, the European Union is getting serious about user privacy and is putting a new directive in place that imposes fines on companies that do not clearly explain to users what personal information about them is being collected — and how that information will be used. Hit ’em up, Europe!

Facebook is taking yet another bit of functionality out of its main mobile app. As the TechCrunch blog reports, The Social Network is turning off the photo sync feature for its mobile app next month and will nag its members to download its Moments app instead.

hotwheelsHoverboards are hot items — for reals. Numerous reports of fires from the devices’ lithium-ion batteries have prompted safety concerns for some time, with the Federal Aviation Administration even encouraging airline passengers earlier this year to leave spare batteries at home. Several recently reported hoverboard fires now have the industry on even higher alert. Most major airlines — including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue, Alaska Airlines and others — now ban the boards in checked and carry-on luggage. Amazon began to yank certain models from its online store last week as well.

Google is trying to help you keep your plans organized with its Inbox by Gmail app. Last summer, Inbox added an algorithm that sniffs out and collects all the airline, hotel, rental car and other confirmation messages associated with travel and groups them together in a collection called a Trip Bundle. This week, Google announced one-tap sharing for all the Trip Bundle data so friends and family can get all your coordinates at once.

Google is also showing some love to those who buy a new Chromecast streaming dongle. If you pony up $35 for a Chromecast, Google kicks back $20 to go shopping for content in its Google Play store. The offer can be redeemed through the Chromecast app until January 2nd, 2016.

Careful web watchers noticed a recent post on a Microsoft blog that seems to be walking back the company’s decision to take away promised gobs of OneDrive storage because some people were abusing the privilege.  A Microsoft manager posted that while the company was not changing its overall plans, it would make some concessions to loyal customers, as long as they sign up on the OneDrive site to keep it by the end of January.

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In hacking news, Kromtech, the makers of the software utility MacKeeper, has acknowledged what it calls “a potential vulnerability in its data storage system” that was found by a security researcher.  Security blogger Brian Krebs said the incident revealed the personal information of 13 million customers was exposed. (And yes, MacKeeper is that pesky scareware program that uses pop-under ads to get people to buy it and some sites recommend against using it anyway.)

And in a follow-up to the big VTech hack last month, a 21-year-old man has been arrested in England on suspicion of “unauthorized access” to a computer. UK officials say they are still in the early stages of the investigation.

The New York State Attorney General continues the probe into advertised vs. actual broadband speeds, and is now asking the public to check their own connections at the Internet Health Test site and report the findings. AG Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating speed claims made by Verizon Communications Inc, Cablevision Systems Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc., said customers wanting to help should perform the test, take a screenshot of the results and fill in an online form on the state’s website.

health

Speaking of Verizon, the company has just updated it FiOS mobile app so customers can steam and watch shows they have recorded back home on their DVRs when they are out and about with their mobile devices.

Also streaming, Netflix but up a blog post this week describing its efforts to increase the quality of the video flowing over broadband connections while reducing data use by 20 percent. A story on the Variety site explains the project in detail, which basically amounts to different encoding rules for different types of video content, because after all, as a Netflix manager says, “You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers.’”

Rumors about next spring’s expected Samsung Galaxy S7 phone are beginning to emerge, and the whispers make the new model sound not unlike the iPhone 6s. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung is adding a pressure-sensitive screen, ala 3D Touch, and a high-speed charging port. A retina scanner for biometric security may also be in the works. Samsung is also appealing its recent patent-case loss to Apple, and is going all the way to the Supreme Court. No word yet if the Supremes will take the case.

And finally…what’s everybody doing this weekend?

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PTJ 170 News: Duck and Cover

Technology plays a part in all modern wars, doesn’t it?  The recent uptick in violent terrorist attacks around the world has politicians looking at the situation with Internet in mind. While the hacktivist collective Anonymous has been having a go at Islamic State for months now — and has even declared December 11th to be a trolling day for online hassling — presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wants American tech companies to join the battle. And, over in France, the police forces there are asking for more powers during state of emergencies. According to a report in Le Monde, French law enforcement has asked to block free and shared Wi-Fi connections during an official state of emergency and also outlaw communications over the Tor network.

Several companies around the techsphere are making little tweaks and changes to their services. Google announced that it was turning on its protective Safe Browsing warning system for Chrome users on Android so it can warn mobile users about malware and phishing sites just like it does on the desktop. The company also blogged that you can now set up Reminders in Google Calendar alongside your scheduled appointments.

Dropbox and Facebook are both pulling a Google in terms of shutting down certain underperforming apps and services. Dropbox announced this week it was giving its standalone Mailbox and Carousel products the hook and Facebook closed the door on its Creative Labs division.

AT&T continues to roll out its GigaPower gigabit Internet service around the country and said this week is was bringing the fast fiber to 38 more cities around the country. Metro areas getting the glass include LA, San Diego, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pensacola, Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Memphis, Milwaukee and several other locales. Google Fiber, meanwhile, is flirting with Chicago and Los Angeles.

gigapower

Mozilla is helping out iOS users who are getting pummeled by web ads. The company released its free Focus by Firefox content blocker this week. The app works with the Safari browser for iOS 9.

Apple seems to have hear the pleas of those with extensive music collections and has now upped the number of tracks matched by iTunes Match from 25,000 songs to 100,000. The increased capacity is rolling out slowly, so if you don’t have the extra space yet, just keep checking. The company also released a $100 Smart Battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s that claims up to 25 hours talk time or 18 hours of LTE data-surfing time on a charge.

In NASA news, the International Space Station hasn’t had a Fresh Direct delivery in months thanks to a couple of failed cargo missions earlier this year, but a supply capsule launched on Sunday finally reached the station this Wednesday. NASA’s involvement with the International Space Station could be winding down in the next decade or so, however, as an agency official at an advisory council meeting this week said NASA plans to get out of the low-Earth orbit business as soon as possible as it looks to the moon and beyond for its explorations. And father out in space, high-resolution images of Pluto taken during the July flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft are arriving back here on Earth.  A sample:

plutoHiRez

Twitter announced this week that it’s going to stop cropping photos posted in tweets. The next time you post a photo or see one in your feed, you should see it as the photographer took it and not some weird little detail of a lather image. Also in the Twitterverse…it’s December, so it must be time for the Top Twitter Trends for 2015.

Also looking at trends: Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report, which is out now. The report, which crunches data from more than 250 communications services around the world, takes a look at just how people are using their Internet connections.

hellobarbieAnd finally, it’s the holiday season, and tech toys for children are hot this year. As one might expect, interactive toys, like drones and robots, are very popular this season. Toys that talk back to your kids through a combination of voice recognition and networking are also getting a lot of attention, and even seemingly old-school categories are getting a tech upgrade. Hello Barbie and Edwin the Duck, interactive versions of the unrealistically shaped tiny woman and the yellow bathtub waterfowl respectively, are two such items putting a spin on the old analog formats and opening up new worlds. But, with the recent VTech hack, general privacy concerns and the state of Internet security in general, make sure you know the risks — as well as the rewards  — with Internet-connected toys. It’s the season of giving, but you don’t want to give away anything to hackers and data stalkers.