After a week off to deal with life during the week of the U.S. elections, El Kaiser and J.D. return to discuss the aftermath of the event and how Facebook and Google have been getting heat over it. Also in the news: Snapchat brings back the concept of camera-integrated glasses, there’s a new app for scanning old photos and Apple has made it easier to make those end-of-year charitable donations. Oh, and Twitter is making more of an effort to deal with abuse and harassment. All this AND MORE on this week’s episode of Pop Tech Jam — roll 212!
Spyware isn’t just for hackers and sleazy software makers these days. Oppressive governments are also using it to crack down on dissidents, according to a recent story in The New York Times. In other ominous privacy news, a report from Reuters and other sources report that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has decreed that “Foreign messaging companies active in the country are required to transfer all data and activity linked to Iranian citizens into the country in order to ensure their continued activity.” The council has given companies one year to make the move. The Telegram messenger app, which was created by the Durov brothers, has a huge user base in Iran and could be a target here.
Facebook could also be stepping up its secure-texting game. The Guardian reports that The Social Network is working on an optional encryption setting for its Messenger app.
The Internet and politics can be a volatile mix, but the European Commission announced this week that it had worked with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to come up with a code of conduct and policies designed to stop the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe. Meanwhile, over here in the States, enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out for new legislation that would require technology companies like Apple to provide handy back doors into their products for law-enforcement officials.
Not long after it snapped up AOL, Verizon is still shopping and in contention to buy up the crumbling Yahoo empire. If you’re wondering why, the Fast Company site has a big story out about how it all adds up to Verizon’s quest to complete with Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix with content and services.
Despite dips in PC sales, people are still making laptops and ASUS is going after Apple’s MacBook Air for the thinnest ‘n’ lightest ultrabook prize. The ASUS ZenBook 3, which has a body made of aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, was announced this week at the Computex show in Taipei. Like the newer MacBooks, the ZenBook 3 only has a USB-C port for peripheral connectivity, but the Windows-based device sports a 12.5-inch screen and weighs in around two pounds — just a few ounces lighter than the 12-inch MacBook Air.
ASUS announced new smartphones and a few other products, but the one that most people were talking about was its Zenbo Robot. The Zenbo is billed as “your smart little companion” can roll around the house at will doing all kinds of things. The Zenbo has a list price of $599 and will be available this year. Here’s a video of it:
One firm that seems to be getting out of the moving household robot business, however, is Google. The company bought Boston Dynamics in 2013, but now Google has put it up for sale. Some relationships just don’t work out.
Meanwhile, when not throwing shade at the FCC, AT&T is throwing down against Google Fiber in Kansas City and plans to finally launch its own Gigabit Internet service for the same price as Google — $70 a month for all that delicious speed. AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower service has one little condition for that low, low price, though. You have to participate in the company’s “Internet Preferences” program, which lets AT&T track “the webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter.” You can opt out of the program, but it’s going to cost you an additional $29 a month.
And two last Apple bites: Apple’s is said to have ordered more than five million Apple Watches from its overseas suppliers ahead of the product’s planned debut this spring. Sensor problems have forced Apple to drop some of the initially planned features like blood pressure and heart-rate monitoring, though. And CEO Tim Cook spoke a White House-sponsored cybersecurity summit last Friday. In his remarks, Mr. Cook voiced his support for protecting the privacy of users and not letting governments have a free back-door key to personal data.
And speaking of government surveillance, Kaspersky Lab, a Russian security firm, says it’s discovered spyware buried deep in the firmware on hard drives made by several top manufacturers, The programs were found on computers in more than 30 countries. Although the company didn’t name names and the National Security Agency declined to comment on the matter, some former NSA employees did confirm the existence of the programs as intelligence-gathering tools.
IBM’s supersmart Watson software —which once aced the questions on Jeopardy! — could be headed for the toy shelves if a current Kickstarter campaign catches fire. Elemental Path is gearing up to produce a “cognitive toy” that puts the brain of Watson into a small plastic dinosaur to interact with and entertain small children. The Green CogniToy Dino would cost about $100 and be suited for kids aged 4 to 7. It can also tell knock-knock jokes.
And finally, speaking of familiar brands — Oscar Mayer. The meat-maker’s beloved Wienermobile spun out of control this weekend and smashed into a pole on an icy Pennsylvania road near the state’s Harrisburg capital. There were no reported injuries, but the hot-dog shaped vehicle did suffer a busted-up front end and a shattered windshield. Just remember: winter driving is treacherous for everyone, so let’s be careful out there.
The independent audio magazine devoted to mashing up pop culture, technology and more. J.D. Biersdorfer and Pedro Rafael Rosado are your hosts. It's an Internet Radio revolution!