Today in Creepy Privacy Policies… Samsung Smart TV’s Eavesdropping

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You might be wanting to go to another room if you don’t want Samsung’s Smart TV’s to record your personal conversations. They don’t just respond to your commands – they will also tell a third party what you’re saying while you sit in from of them.

Some sharp-eyed people have spotted this curious addition to the Privacy Policy: “To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you.”

So far, so mostly-reasonable: if a TV had enough CPU grunt to do voice recognition it could push the price into nasty territory. A cloud-assist feature could be messy, but not terrifying, not least because bigger samples will probably make for bigger improvements in voice recognition. Next comes the admission that “In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”

That’s far less comfortable, as it suggests Samsung can identify individuals. If it’s matching MAC addresses, that’s not terrifying. If it depends on logins … yikes! Samsung can identify you and the stuff you say to your TV!

It gets worse in this final sentence:

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” And let’s not even begin to ponder how the sets’ cameras and fitness services might use that data, or the conclusions they would draw, if a program moves to amorous activity on the sofa.

Worse still, this all happens even if you don’t turn voice recognition on, as Samsung says: “If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you will not be able to use interactive voice recognition features, although you may be able to control your TV using certain predefined voice commands. While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”

Samsung’s responded to widespread discussion of its privacy policy be insisting the data it collects is encrypted and cannot be accessed or used by unauthorized parties. But of course Anthem Healthcare, Target, Sony (Pictures entertainment and the PlayStation arm) and a myriad others have all made similar pledges about the effectiveness of their security.

Measles: Boiling My Blood…Again

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The recent furor over the measles outbreak illustrates almost perfectly a fault lines which runs through our society. For what is supposedly the worlds most right and powerful country we are mind-blowingly stupid about some issues. I’m a foreigner…I chose to move my life to the US and I’m very happy that I have. I love this country…but good lord people! I have no idea where it comes from but there is a fiercely anti science/common sense thread which runs deep in our society. It typically doesn’t do much more than cause debates over well established science like evolution and the existence of angels (more Americans believe in angels than evolution) but the measles outbreak clearly illustrates that it can cause real harm also. Between 2001 and 2011 the median number of measles reported per year in the US was 62. This year one month in it’s 102.  That seems to put us on track for a 20x the norm year.  There are third world countries with higher inoculation rates than the US.

The mere fact that there is absolutely no credible scientific fact to support not immunizing doesn’t seem to matter. This is even becoming a political issue with lunatics on both the right and left are using immunization as a totem for their brand of selfishness. It beggars belief that supposedly educated people can be so blinded by a quasi religious rights/civil liberties concoction of complete garbage. I’m old enough that I actually had measles, and German measles and chicken pox the hard way as a kid. some of my earliest memories are from the misery those diseases caused.  I’m also asthmatic so it’s lucky I didn’t get killed by complications.

I get that the gun nuts are so powerful that we will have to endure a school shooting per month for the foreseeable future, and I get that we don’t want to curtail any aspect of our society in-order to mitigate climate change…but we are killing our children through this blind ignorant anti science nonsense. If we make the mistake of further politicizing this issue the various factions will dig in, it will become like every other issues which are regarded as settled law in most civilized countries and we will kill more of our kids.  If you have any doubt at all watch this video. Penn and teller (as always) hit the nail right on the head. Not immunizing our children is Bullshit and we should stop the madness.

Is Google …Even Very Slightly Losing it?

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In a market where we are entirely used to seeing Google as the clear 75% monopoly leader any slight slip in the iron glove grip enjoyed by Google is worthy of comment. In recent days not only did Google miss their Wall Street target number by a hair they saw their first slip below 75% of desktops in the US. does this represent a sea change in public attitude to the big G? Although the pundits have rushed to panic about the growth yahoo has shown reports of Google’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  The key to this slight dip in market share is the deal yahoo did to replace Google as the default search on the fairly terrible browser Firefox browser. Despite Google’s fairly vigorous campaign to show users how to set their browsers back to them as the default that switch did pull Google down and yahoo up a little. It’s not clear yet if that expensive deal will pay off long time.

In the bigger picture if you add in mobile traffic the Google number gets comfortably back closer to 80% and in all other metrics they remain the thousand pound Gorilla in the cage. What is giving the market makers pause for thought is the continued decline (driven by cheaper mobile search click growth) of the average click price and what appears to be a scatter-shot approach to planning. Google has launched and or shut down any number of big ideas in recent years. As the ad revenue continued to pay all the bills and make it the behemoth it has become Google has been vigorously investigating major revenue opportunities in any and all areas not search related.  This has significantly increased their costs (both one time and ongoing). Most of these initiatives have minimal or no near time revenue impact. As long as clear market metrics like ability to hit numbers and grow market share were unimpeachable the casual observer was likely to dismiss concerns as gold fish nibbling on a whale. Now some of those more obvious metrics don’t look quite as sunny it’s likely Google will come under even closer scrutiny.

Broadband Finally Arriving?

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The United States is still lagging behind much of the world in implementing broadband and providing wide range access for citizens. In a significant shift, the Commission has decided to broadly expand the definition of acceptable broadband service.

The minimum broadband speed has been raised to 25Mbps from 4Mbps, reflective an evolution away from dial-up and (hopefully) toward gigabit access. Minimum upload speeds have also been increased from 1Mbps to 3Mbps. The change will more than triple the number of US households without minimum-standard broadband. In effect the move is a bold commentary on the sad state of our digital infrastructure, as bold as you can get from a regulator anyway.

More shockingly, with the new standard over half of all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service. The divide is still greater on Tribal lands and in U.S. territories, where nearly 2/3 of residents lack access to today’s speeds. And 35% of schools across the nation still lack access to fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support today’s digital-learning tools.

Private providers are likely to get riled up from the new standards, but the Commission doesn’t seem to be backing off. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes the broadband threshold should be 100 Mbps. Raising speeds to that level would merely put the US on par with many Asian countries like Japan and Korea, and not even in the top spot. (Still feeling like a world superpower?)

Commissioners have also remarked on the requirements of forward leaning technologies like 4K, which require even greater base broadband speeds. The new definitions could play a role in the upcoming net neutrality vote which is scheduled for February 26.

The Google Cop Conundrum

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Disingenuous isn’t a word I get to use that often…given how hard it is to spell that’s probably a good thing. However the recent actions of several senior police people have me reaching for the spell checker. In case you missed it here’s the deal. The fabulous traffic app Waze (which Google acquired in 2013) allows users to mark locations where cops are lying in wait to nab speeding motorists. It’s a terrific feature and one that pretty much everyone I know uses especially on long freeway journeys.  It’s especially fun if you have a passenger and a radar detector to be the first to  tag and flag the cop for others. 
 
In an exercise of staggeringly disingenuous behavior LA Police Chief Charlie Beck (and apparently several other top cops) has written to Google asking them to remove the feature as it might allow criminals to target police more easily….really? is that the argument?  When was the last time you heard of criminals targeting speed traps…off the top of my head it’s never. Waze isn’t used to tag cops going about their business of “protecting and serving” it’s used to tag and flag cops often hiding behind freeway overpass bridges looking to hit their speeding ticket quota and impose massive fines on already over taxed motorists. 
 
Google doesn’t usually cave to this kind of pressure so I’m optimistic this will go away quickly…and even if they did take it away we could still report cops as a “hazard” and flag it police but that will take more than one touch and is actually likely to cause more problems in terms of distracted driving than the original feature. If the police didn’t act as a taxation arm for our local government and stuck to fighting actual crime rather than ticketing moms in minivans doing 7 MPH over the posted limit we wouldn’t have to resort to our technology to counter act theirs. I really hope Google sticks to their guns on this issue….but I’m not holding my breath.

Exploring Mars Getting Easier

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It is looking like Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity will get some company in Mars.

Rovers have a tough time getting across Mars’ vast, unforgiving landscape. They can’t see very far ahead, and the crew back home can only offer so much help by looking at orbital imagery. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory may have a clever solution to that problem, though: an aerial robot scout. Its proposed Mars Helicopter drone would fly ahead of rovers and give operators a much better view of the Martian terrain, helping them plot the quickest route to interesting locales. It could even find a safe spot to deposit samples that future rovers would pick up.

The robotic chopper currently exists as just a tech demo, and it’ll take some testing to prove that this small automaton (it’s 3.6 feet from blade to blade) is ready for the Red Planet. If it makes the cut, though, it could let Mars rovers cover much more ground than they have so far — JPL estimates that these machines could travel three times further in a given day. The project could easily be worthwhile if it means both completing missions faster and discovering things about Mars that would otherwise go unnoticed.

The Mars Helicopter is still being tested at JPL in Pasadena, Calif. and is being proposed as an add-on to future rover missions, but it hasn’t been approved yet. Even if the Mars Helicopter gets approved it will have to wait a while until it is sent to Mars.

Google Calling

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It feels like Google is trying to control all aspects of our lives.  They have had designs on the ISP market with Google Fiber and they have been rumored to be circling the wireless industry for a good while.  Those rumors appear to be in danger of coming true some time real soon. If the leaks are to be believed Google is about to strike a deal with T-Mobile and Sprint to become a re-seller of their networks under the Google brand. Google has been tinkering with handsets ever since the GI more than a decade ago and as the parent of Android they are already on the largest share of end user devices. It looks like pretty soon you will be able to use you Google branded or android powered phone on the Google branded cell network. It’s not likely to be a terribly good service right away because it will be limited by the somewhat patchy networks those guys currently have. Having said that there are very few companies with the intestinal fortitude to take on giants like Verizon or ATT and Google is certainly one of those few.

What’s interesting to speculate about is what impact their entry is likely to make on the incumbents who have already suffered at the hands of the aggressive pricing offered by the upstarts. T-Mobile had a huge 2014 mostly because it was offering both aggressive pricing and offering to buy out the contracts of converting customers. It’s even possible that Google will be able to offer service and equipment essentially subsidized by advertising run on their network to their subscribers. The idea of Google being able to truly take advantage of tier massive Android base has been around for a while…but not as yet come to fruition. Google makes dollars per click on many of their ads. an aggressive ad presentation in exchange for a more or less free wireless service may prove attractive to users on tight budgets. In any event it’s likely that their entry into the market is going to make the incumbents look hard at the value they are offering and that has to be a good thing for all users.

Google Shooting For The Stars?

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If the very well authenticated rumors are to be believed Google is about to invest a billion dollars into Elon Musk’s SpaceX program. If they do it will be another step along the road Google has set its self on to bring the Internet to everyone. The plan would almost certainly involve developing and launching a network of low earth orbit satellites which would be capable of beaming web signal up and down so that users withing reach would be able to connect. It’s a grand idea and one fraught with many technical challenges but one that fits Google’s affection for “moonshot” programs with huge goals. Google is already investigating supplying internet service through high altitude balloons and drones so it makes sense to add satellite to the equation.

I had the distinct misfortune of being at the receiving end of Internet delivered by satellite a couple of years back and it was just awful. I’m sure Google plans to do it differently or better but the experience I had was so bad that I simply got used to not having Internet at home most the month….it was weirdly freeing.

Given that much of what we think of as the civilized world is already served by ISPs of some kind some might wonder why Google would bother. The fact is that there is a big win to be had. Much of the emerging world wants to get on line but lacks the infrastructure to do so. The Impact of cell service bringing phones to areas without any copper wire in place has been dramatic. Whilst it would be nice to think that Google’s motives are humanitarian (and they probably are in some part) the commercial opportunity is considerable. New internet users means long term usage fees and more search users means more advertising dollars to fill Google’s coffers. Google holds such a strong monopoly in most markets that the only way they can make more than relatively minor incremental increases is to generate new users themselves. Even though emerging markets lack the kind of marketing dollars we see in the west they are …well emerging. eventually there will be huge revenue opportunity and Google wants to the guy in charge and benefiting from that growth.

Oh, How Apple Has Changed Since Steve Jobs

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Sticking to his guns typically paid off dividends for Jobs and Apple, even when vocal critics mocked the company’s decisions. But since Jobs’ death in 2011, Apple has been slowly pushing back against some of its founder’s most strongly held beliefs and doing things Jobs said he would never consider. Here are a few things that he strongly disliked that Apple decided to incorporate into their products:

Stylus: This week, an Apple analyst suggested that the company’s forthcoming iPad will ship with a stylus. One of Steve Jobs’ most famous rants was about how much he hates styluses. In 2007, while introducing the iPhone at the Macworld convention in San Francisco, he mocked other smartphones of that era that featured styluses.

“Who wants a stylus?” Jobs said while introducing the iPhone. “You have to get ‘em, put ‘em away, you lose ‘em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.” “God gave us 10 styluses. Let’s not invent another,” One of the first things Jobs did when coming back to Apple in 1997 was to kill the Newton, a tablet-like device that used a stylus.

Yet Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities said the widely expected 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” will come with a stylus when Apple announces it in the spring, according to reports.

Small tablets: Another epic Jobs rant came in October 2010, when he discussed his disdain for a new wave of smaller tablets coming to market. On the company’s earnings call with analysts, Jobs said the iPad’s 10-inch screen was “the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”

He said even making images appear sharper on the screen wouldn’t help smaller tablets become usable “unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size.”

“There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them,” he said. A year after Jobs died, Apple introduced the iPad mini — by far the best-selling iPad in the company’s lineup.

Big phones: During Apple’s iPhone 4 “Antennagate” nightmare in 2010, Steve Jobs derided big phones. When a reporter asked him whether Apple would consider making a bigger iPhone to improve antenna reliability, Jobs scoffed. He called Samsung’s Galaxy S phones “Hummers.”

“You can’t get your hand around it,” Jobs said. “No one’s going to buy that.” Apple finally debuted a taller iPhone 5 a year after Jobs died, and a much larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last year.

Life-like software design: Steve Jobs wanted the iPhone’s software to mimic real life. For instance, he told Apple’s designers to model iCal’s leather after the seats on his Gulfstream jet.

Apple’s Mail app had a linen background, the iBookstore featured wooden shelves, and the Notes app was made to look like a legal pad. A year after Jobs died, Apple fired Scott Forstall, a software executive who was a champion of Jobs’ design preferences. A year later, Apple introduced iOS 7, which did away with any ties to real-life objects.

Ding Dong The Glass is Dead

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I like wearables…I think there’s a huge market for tech attached to our bodies which enhances our lives with form and function in harmony…but not Google Glass. Yesterday Google stuck a well deserved stake through the heart of this monster and retired it to the “Moon Shot” division where big ideas go to die.

The writing was on the wall for Glass a while ago when Sergey Brin stopped appearing with Glass at high profile events. In recent years you were more likely to catch him in public without his pants than without Glass…but when he stopped toting Glass recently many Glass watchers drew their own conclusion. The early adopters who shelled out 1,500 bucks (and in some cases had to write essays on why they wanted to be allowed to buy Glass) will be understandably pretty ticked off. Fortunately their disposable income will likely be at a level where they won’t feel the pain…and that speaks in good measure to why Glass failed.

It wasn’t the battery life (which was less than very useful). It wasn’t the generally clunky usability.It wasn’t the fact that it apparently wasn’t really evolving, adding features or uses. It wasn’t the lack of a “killer application” to drive adoption…it was all of the above…and the “squeak-out” factor it caused.

Glass was an elitist, intrusive, ego trip for the arrogant Technorati to wear to show that they knew someone at Google, had more money than sense and were cooler than thou. If your wearable brands your users “Glassholes” you have a major marketing problem. Compare with GoPro…a bit clunky early on, rapidly evolving features, a killer reason to exist (showing off sporting prowess on YouTube) and affordable to pretty much anyone that wanted it. Nobody thinks GoPro users are secretly recording them, or taking pictures or checking up on them online. GoPo cultivates a young, cool slightly crazy vibe and produces organically share-able content. It also has great battery life and my dog could operate it.

Our faces, especially our eyes are intensely personal.  Adding any tech to them is tricky and typically looks weird or threatening.   Any wearable, which engenders mistrust in those around it and contempt for the “Glassholes” who wear it is doomed…and good riddance. Hopefully lesson learned.