Tag Archives: privacy

PTJ 94: How Soon Is (Google) Now, Fellow Netizen?

El Kaiser looks at the Tech Term “netizen” and explains how the once innocuous mashup of “Internet” and “citizen” has come to represent a responsibility all of us should not take lightly.

In her (Hopefully) Helpful Hint segment J.D. takes a look at Google Now, the interactive virtual assistant from the “Big G” and tells us how it is slowly evolving and trying to stand out when compared to Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

In the news  AT&T has sealed the deal to buy DirectTV;  YouTube rumored to be buying the videogame-streaming company Twitch;  FBI arrests over 90 suspected cyber-criminals;  Verizon continued rolling out its zippier XLTE service across the country;   and Facebook is testing an Ask button on user profiles allowing a user to inquire about  the relationship status of your online acquaintance.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Operator, Give Me Information

Technology is suposed to make life easier — robots will clean our homes, hyperdrive will get us to distant galaxies and we’ll have the science to whip up a cup of Earl Grey, hot, out of thin air.  While we’re not quite there yet, Apple, Microsoft and Google are at least trying to get the helpful interactive virtual  assistant thing sorted out.

As you may recall, Apple’s Siri got a lot of press a few years ago with her splashy debut on the iPhone 4S. Microsoft’s Cortana arrived this spring for Windows Phone 8.1. Then there’s Google Now, which has been lurking since around 2012 and has been adding features since. Each system uses a form of natural language user interface to accept questions and commands asked in an informal manner.

Of the three, Google Now may be the most subdued. While it can speak up on some occasions, it mostly mines your data quietly from Google services and then tries to present data nuggets it thinks you’ll need, like traffic and weather for your location. With Siri, you press a button, ask the software for information and it responds back, usually with what you wanted. Siri can also address messages, make appointments and set reminders when you command it. Cortana tries to utilize both approaches, by responding to voice-activated commands, while also gathering more factoids about you so it can better predict your needs.

Google Now can do some voice-activated activities, like search, but it’s a less splashy service. If you have an Android device — especially one from Google — or use the Google Search app on your iOS device, computer’s Chrome browser or Windows 8 hardware with your Google account, you have probably run into Google Now.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the service, but if you don’t mind it poking around in your other Google services accounts like Gmail and YouTube, it can be useful. For example, once Google Now pulls info from your current location, search history, its own queries to you and your Gmail account, it can:

  • Give you the score of your favorite team’s game last night
  • Alert you to any traffic problems for your morning commute
  • Display the current price for selected stocks
  • Show when your latest Amazon order shipped
  • Tell you when your favorite blog updated
  • Round up headlines about your favorite movies and TV shows
  • Remind you to pay your bills.

In other examples of real-world use, Google Now can also show you the emailed digital boarding pass for your flight tomorrow night, tell you what time to leave for the airport (to catch that very flight) and thoughtfully show you the weather forecast for both home and your destination city.

This can all be very helpful and very creepy at the same time.

To get the most out of Google Now, let it use information from your search history. Unless of course, you often search for stuff, (without an incognito window) you’d rather not have popping up on screen.

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To customize your screen, open the Google Search app to the Google Now screen, flick down and tap the little magic wand icon at the bottom of the screen. Here, you can pick the sports teams and stocks you want to follow, choose the places you love and work for traffic and weather reports and get local TV listings. If you search for a particular TV show on Google and get a Set a Reminder link for that show in your results, Google Now shows that reminder on your screen the day of the show.

Using Google Now is pretty straightforward. When you tap open the Google Now widget from your Android screen or open the Google Search app, you see all the little bits of information displayed as “cards” that you can scroll through. If you don’t care about one of the info card, you can flick it off the screen for the time being, or tap the menu icon to stop further updates.

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Google Now also has Google Voice Search built in, so just say “OK, Google” to your device and then announce what you want to search for. Depending on what you ask, you may even get an audio response, like the current temperature. If you are using Google Chrome on your desktop and are logged into your Google account there, you can get Google Now notifications on the computer for alerts you set up on your mobile device.

Once again, like Siri and Cortana, Google Now does mine your personal information to do its job. If this gives you the wiggins, don’t use it. But if you figure Google, Facebook, Apple and the rest of them are all up in your business anyway and you don’t mind getting extra information about the things affecting your life each day, virtual assistants can save you time — and maybe make a few of those secret JARVIS fantasies come true.

PTJ 93 News: Bending the Rules

The new rules on Net Neutrality put forth last month by the Federal Communications Commission have generated quite a bit of a backlash from people who think the agency’s fast lane/slow lane approach was misguided. More than 100 tech companies signed a letter expressing their dismay with the proposed rules.

Other opponents to the rules include Minnesota senator Al Franken, who called the proposal “the opposite of Net Neutrality.” The digital-rights advocacy group Free Press was also planning a public protest outside the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, DC, and is encouraging opponents to contact their Congresspeople. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also put up a post on its site explaining how the FCC makes its rules and explaining how members of the public can comment on policy-works-in-progress.

As first reported by The Wall Street Journal a few days ago, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is said to be working on some revisions to the rules and is scheduled to appear before the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on communications and technology next Tuesday, May 20. CEOs of broadband companies, however, have also warned the FCC not to go too far in the other direction with regulating the industry because it would do things like scare away business investors.

And in more exciting policy news, the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that people have a right to be forgotten when it comes to showing up in Google search results. Google is also hearing in from a court in Germany. A data protection office there in Hamburg says Google is violating German law by quietly compiling users’ data from its different services without their consent. At least the new Moto E Android phone is getting good reviews.

Microsoft is taking another swing at Sony and has released a cheaper version of its Xbox One. This new $399 version of the console does not include the Kinect motion controller and saves the gamer $100. Microsoft may also be gearing up to launch a music locker service for the Xbox One. Although the company hasn’t made any announcements, a Chinese website claims to have found references to a OneDrive Music folder that can stream music from the cloud to the Xbox.

And speaking of streaming music, word of Apple’s $3.2 billion deal to buy Beats Electronics has the tech world thumping. The agreement, which was widely reported late last week and has yet to close, but it’s said to be the biggest acquisition in Apple’s company history. Beats Electronics, founded by musician Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine, makes headphones and has its own subscription music-streaming service. Billboard is among the sites speculating that the Beats founders could be making an appearance at Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference next month.

Apple isn’t the only company in acquisition mode. Many sites are reporting that AT&T is quite close to a takeover of the DirecTV satellite service.

Netflix, which officially raised its subscription prices for new customers by a buck to $8.99 a month last week, sent out email messages to existing customers saying it would not hike prices on them for at least two years. But at least that side deal with Comcast seems to be paying off: The monthly ISP speed index on the company’s blog shows that Comcast has moved up another few notches to third place behind CableVision and Cox.

It seems the Office for iPad fans really were suffering until Microsoft released its official iOS tablet version of the suite in March. The suite have now rung up more than 27 million downloads in 46 days after its release.

muteAnd finally, Twitter has announced a new “Mute” feature that lets you temporarily turn off the tweets of somone you’re following.  With the U.S. midterm elections coming up later this year (and with them, the inevitable flowing poltical tweet-spew), this could prove to be a sharply timed and very popular feature. Well played, Twitter. Well played.

PTJ 73 News: MAVEN and Mavis

The Console Race is on! The Sony PS4 went on sale last Friday in North America and has already made a lot of money, selling more than one million units in the first 24 hours of release. As with any massive launch, there were reports of server overload and dud consoles harshing some gamer joy, but Sony’s PS4 support site and live chat technicians are trying to keep up with and resolve the complaints. Microsoft’s Xbox One enters the fray later this week.

Samsung says its sold 800,000 units in the two months since it released the $300 Galaxy Gear. And Bloomberg News is reporting that leaks from “people familiar” with the company’s future plans point to an upcoming Galaxy smartphone next year with a three-sided display that wraps around the edges of the handset so messages can be read at an angle.

Google announced this week that it will soon display warnings above the search results on 13,000 terms it believed are associated with child sexual abuse and pornography; Microsoft is following suit with Bing. While the companies first made the change at the request of Prime Minster David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Google said it plans to display the warnings worldwide. Detractors of the new policy question its usefulness as pedophiles tend to surf anonymously.

As many news organizations reported late last week, Facebook has amended its privacy policy to basically say, why yes, we are gonna use anything of yours that you post that we want to and turn it into advertising to bombard your friends. Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer over at Yahoo took to the corporate blog this week with a post titled “Our Commitment to Protecting Your Information.” In the post, she reiterated Yahoo’s commitment to keeping its users mail private and away from the watchful gaze of snoops, governmental or otherwise.

Sprint and Best Buy are teaming up to help out students this holiday season. Those young academics who buy a smartphone with Sprint service from Best Buy, will get a free year of unlimited talk and text on the phone and one gigabyte of data month. The iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S class and several LG models are included in the deal, but keep in mind that because you’re buying the phone without a two-year contract, you’re paying full price for the device up front.

Slingbox — that handy piece of hardware that hooks up to your TV and lets you watch your programs on tablets and computers over the Internet — has updated its apps for Android and iOS to add support for the Roku box. The new SlingPlayer 3.0 is available now and an app for Windows 8.1 is due next month.

The Google Play Music app has also arrived for iOS at last, optimized for the iPhone and ready to go. Those with iOS devices can now stream their $10 a month Google Music All Access subscriptions although new users on Apple gadgets get that first month free. All Access is Google’s stake in the online radio station game where Pandora and iTunes Radio also play, but unlike other services, Google’s radio does not limit the amount of songs listeners can skip.

Also in the Google-Apple mix, the Big G has agreed to pay $17 million dollars to 37 states and the District of Columbia to settle that lawsuit over Google blowing by the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. In brighter legal news, Google did win 8-year-old library book-scanning lawsuit last week.

CNN Money and other sites are reporting that some of the Android sales figures may be erroneously based on so-called Android TV sticks and set-top boxes commonly used in certain parts of the world to bootleg movies. But on a more legitimate commerce note, Google is opening snow-globe-shaped popup stores called Winter Wonderlabs in six cities around the country. Step into the globe and check out the Google merch.

If you were planning on making a trip top New York City to see the Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, you may want to hurry. The big-budget show, which had a very rocky and accident-plagued start, is scheduled to close in New York early next year and move to Las Vegas for a run beginning in 2015.

cowrobotOxford Dictionaries has announced its Word of the Year and the 2013 winner is….selfie.  And speaking if Australia, researchers at the University of Sydney are testing a four-wheeled robot to herd cows.

In NASA news, the agency successfully blasted off its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission on Monday from Cape Canaveral. When it arrives, hopefully on September 22, 2014, the 8-foot, cube-shaped MAVEN spacecraft will fall into an elliptical orbit above the Red Planet to study the atmosphere.

Celebrations and anticipations for the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who are running high this week. The special episode, “The Day of the Doctor” will be globally simulcast around the world this Saturday. In the meantime, you can find plenty of interviews, episode marathons and retrospectives on various BBC outlets, including Radio 4’s audio archive and the BBC and BBC America sites. And in the slim chance that you haven’t seen it yet, DO NOT MISS the prequel Webisode, The Night of the Doctor, that We Shall Not Spoil Here.

And finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam note the passing of Mavis Batey, one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Ms. Batey, who died last week at the age of 92, was the last of the great break-in code crackers, and the messages she helped decipher from Nazi Enigma machines played a significant role in the Allied effort, especially for the D-Day landings in 1944. Thank you, ma’am!

PTJ 73: Eco-Friendly Cans and Private Picture Shows

Pedro reviews new on-ear headphones from two companies that are doing their best to keep things friendly between them and this big, blue marble we call earth: House of Marley’s EM-JH073 “Liberate” and ThinkSound’s On1 Studio Monitors. J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint™ for those of you dreading the photographic evidence of your antics guaranteed to flood your social networks this holiday season. In the news, Sony sells more than 1 million PlayStation 4s with Microsoft’s XBox One on-deck; Samsung claims Gear smartwatch sales are brisk; Google and Bing get set to take on pedophiles; Facebook confirms that anything you post on their service is fodder for advertising; Sprint and Best Buy offer students a deal on phones; and the world awaits the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who. 

PTJ 71: Righteously Rowdy

This week J.D. takes us for a ride on the video game way-back machine with a look at the new Historical Software Collection at the Internet Archive. Also in this episode Kaiser Pedro has some hopefully helpful hints about improving your battery life and protecting your privacy on an Apple device running their iOS 7 mobile operating system. In the news Google unveils its long-rumored Nexus 5 smartphone;  Apple looks to expand its manufacturing presence in the United States; hackers target a limousine service; Twitter makes its stock market debut; gamers lineup for the release of “Call of Duty: Ghosts”; and British supermarket chain Tesco wants to scan the faces of customers for advertisers.

Episode 54: Presenting “The Pop Tech Jam Players”

A very special episode of PTJ as we present the debut of our very own repertory theater troupe “The Pop Tech Jam Players”. Actor and poet Francis Mateo joins us for a scene from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope. In the news Google Reader goes offline; Yahoo cleans house; Sprint pulls the plug on the Nextel Network; and Windows 8 gains traction.

Episode 54 News: Hardware Watch

Cue the funeral march —as promised, Google Reader has been taken offline earlier this week. A note on Google’s site says that you now have until July 15th to download a copy of your feed file for use with another service and after that, it will be permanently deleted.

Google is not the only one dropping old services. Yahoo announced that it too, was cleaning house, and is ditching a dozen products and projects so it can focus its attention elsewhere. Say goodbye to Yahoo’s FoxyTunes browser extension for media playback, Yahoo RSS Alerts, the once-popular-in-the-90s AltaVista search engine and a bunch of services most people have never heard of. The Nextel Network was powered off this week as well.

While Google Reader and Nextel have gone down, Windows 8 has gone up — to slightly more than 5% of the worldwide desktop operating-system market as of June 2013, according to Net Applications. As Windows 8 gains more users — possibly excited by Windows 8.1 coming out as a free downloadable upgrade this fall — the system is getting more apps from developers and the Windows Store just passed the 100,000 apps mark this week. Oh, and Microsoft’s Zune replacement service, Xbox Music, now works in many desktop Web browsers.

Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that links standard tweets to Web stories where those tweets were mentioned or embedded. (When asked, Twitter did not comment on the feature at the time, leading many to believe they were, you know, field-testing and stuff.)

SolarFarmApple plans to power a new data center in Reno, Nevada, with a solar panel farm that can provide 18 to 20 megawatts of power. In other Apple news, people who notice trademark filings report that Apple has registered the name “iWatch” in a number of countries, including Japan, Russia, Mexico and Taiwan.

Smartwatches (or the idea thereof) are popping up everywhere and sources at Best Buy say the megaelectronics stores will start selling the Pebble smartwatch in stores this weekend. Google is said to be considering its own Android-powered watch, as well as a game console with Android under the hood and a revamped version of the failed Nexus Q media streamer. As for Google’s other major hardware project, the company informed the Texas Congressman Joe Barton in a letter last month that it was not making any changes to its privacy policy just for Google Glass. (On his site, Congressman Barton said he was disappointed by Google’s responses and felt his questions about privacy were not adequately answered.)

Also on the topic of privacy: the Federal Trade Commission’s revisions to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act went into effect this week. The new rules address modern matters and close a loophole allowing third-party plug-ins to collect children’s information without parental consent.

In hardware news that does not involve wrist-wear or fancy spectacles, Hewlett-Packard is reportedly working on its own smartphone — Android this time instead of the late Palm/web OS system. And the chief technology officer of Mozilla said the company plans to make a Firefox OS-powered tablet computer ASAP.

Finally, if you need a cheap computer, consider the JW-11, which costs less than $80 and runs on an ARM processor. The system officially supports Android, but it can run Linux, too. And you know, you can get Google Reader replacements on Linux. Just sayin’.

Episode 49 News: Somebody’s Watching Me

Fresh off its announcement last week that it sold 10 million Galaxy S4 phones in the first month of release, Samsung is already aiming for another media moment. The company said this week that it plans an event for June 20th in London. Press invitations for its Samsung Premiere 2013 event have gone out and new Galaxy and Ativ mobile devices are expected.

Also on the other side of the Atlantic, Google Maps app has added cycling directions for six more European countries. Google first added maps for cyclists in 2010 with information for the US and Canada and expanded the feature last year to include the United Kingdom, much of Europe and Australia. Bicycles aren’t the only mode of transportation Google is dabbling with this week. The company also plans to use high-altitude blimps and balloons to build wireless networks in parts of Africa and Asia that do not have the infrastructure for more traditional methods of getting people online.

Microsoft has an updated console, the Xbox One, coming out later this year, but the new product has people talking about more than just the hardware spex. For instance, there was some confusion about whether the Xbox One will play second-hand games. After hearing a lot of swirl on the forums, a Microsoft representative did put out a statement saying used games would be allowed. (Sony had its own batch of Twitter protesters tweeting angrily this week about any attempt at enforcing digital-rights management restrictions for used games on its upcoming on PlayStation 4 console.)

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Microsoft also had its share of privacy concerns and questions, due to the “always on” feature of the Internet-connected Xbox One console and its Kinect motion-sense controller. These issues involve data collection and Internet safety, and a German commissioner even went as far as to call the Xbox One a monitoring device. Among other things, Microsoft did confirm that the Xbox One system can be shut down completely.  Other news outlets have also expressed concern over a patent Microsoft has filed for technology that tracks TV viewing habits through the Xbox One.

A vintage Apple I computer made in 1976 sold for much more than its original $666 asking price at an auction in Germany this past weekend. The Apple antique sold for a record $671,400 dollars to an anonymous collector.

Yahoo didn’t buy the old Apple, but it seems to be bidding on everything else. Not long after the company made the move to buy the Tumblr blogging service, All Things D and other sites are reporting that Yahoo is possibly buying the Hulu video-streaming service. Hulu had revenues of about $695 million in 2012, so it could bring in some cash and help pay off that big Tumbler bill.

More new things are on the way. Mozilla is joining up with Chinese manufacturer Foxconn for a press event next week. The two have an announcement set for June 3 with speculation that a handset or tablet running the new HTML 5-powered Firefox OS could be in the making. Opera Software has released a beta version 15 of its Opera browser for Windows and Mac systems. The test version is officially known as Opera Next 15 and has been overhauled to run on Google’s Chromium engine for faster performance. (Opera has been working on its browser for 17 years, so it’s seven years older than WordPress blogging software, which celebrates its 10th birthday this week.)

Deustsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway company, said it plans to test small airborne surveillance drones with infrared cameras to photograph and hopefully prosecute people spraying graffiti on its rail depots. Yeah, can’t really see that sort of thing working here in New York City unless there was a Starfleet-size armada of drones — and then half of them would still show up for sale on eBay.