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Top Investor: Big Tech Using Smart Speakers For Surveillance

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A leading tech investor has warned that companies such as Amazon and Google are using smart speakers for surveillance purposes.

In an interview with Yahoo News, John Borthwick,of Betaworks said that the information recorded by the devices and relayed back to the host companies cannot be described any other way.

“I would say that there’s two or three layers sort of problematic layers with these new smart speakers, smart earphones that are in market now,” Borthwick noted.

“And so the first is, from a consumer standpoint, user standpoint, is that these, these devices are being used for what’s — it’s hard to call it anything but surveillance,” Borthwick added.

“I personally believe that you, as a user and as somebody who likes technology, who wants to use technology, that you should have far more rights about your data usage than we have today,” Borthwick, a former Time Warner and AOL executive, also said.

Recent findings have indicated that Apple is monitoring audio via Siri, and Amazon is doing the same via Alexa.

Reports have also suggested that Google employees are listening to users’ voice commandsfor Google Assistant, with Facebook doing the same via the Messenger app.

Following the revelations all the companies have all said they have either stopped the practice or will automatically opt users out of voice sample collection.

This technology has led some people to draw comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984, and a quote from the book illustrates creepy similarities.

“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”

Facebook recently announced the rollout of its new ‘Portal’ smart speakers, which it brags have a camera that can automatically follow users around the room.

Undoubtedly wary about fears the technology could be exploited to spy on its users following the company’s data abuse scandals, Facebook has even included a camera cover that can be slipped over the lens.

Security researchers have also discovered flaws in the technology that could allow unwanted eavesdroppers to hack into the devices.

Science & Tech

Twitter Says It Will Remove Any Tweets ‘Claiming Victory Before Election Results Have Been Certified’

“Starting next week, we will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence.”

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Steve Watson

Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Twitter further extended its censorship policy Thursday, announcing that it will label as ‘false information’ or remove any posts claiming an election victory before results have been officially certified.

In a blog post, Twitter wrote:

In recognition of the changing circumstances of how people will vote in 2020, and in line with our commitment to protecting the integrity of the election conversation, we’re expanding this existing framework. The goal is to further protect against content that could suppress the vote and help stop the spread of harmful misinformation that could compromise the integrity of an election or other civic process.

The post continued:

Starting next week, we will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process. This includes but is not limited to:

False or misleading information that causes confusion about the laws and regulations of a civic process, or officials and institutions executing those civic processes.
Disputed claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, e.g. unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.
Misleading claims about the results or outcome of a civic process which calls for or could lead to interference with the implementation of the results of the process, e.g. claiming victory before election results have been certified, inciting unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession.

The move is seemingly part of the ongoing narrative that Americans will have to wait weeks for the results of the election to be announced, as mail in ballots, which are speculated to be open to corruption, are tallied.

The move also means that any post by President Trump hinting that he has garnered enough votes to secure a second term could be removed by Twitter, which has censored Trump several times over the past few months.

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Government

Why Has Amazon Just Appointed The Former Director of The NSA To Its Board?

“Nothing nefarious about that at all”

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Steve Watson

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Amazon has appointed former NSA head General Keith Alexander to its board of directors, prompting privacy advocates to suggest the move could be connected to Alexander’s previous experience in overseeing mass surveillance operations.

“We’re thrilled to elect a new member to our Board of Directors this month. Welcome, General Keith Alexander!” Amazon announced in a tweet:

Alexander served as NSA director from 2005 until he retired in March 2014. He oversaw the agency’s monolithic program, encompassing illegal mass spying on Americans, which officials lied about.

Under Alexander, the NSA deployed the PRISM tool to sweep up vast amounts of data from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook to name a few.

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA activity, had some choice words about Amazon’s appointment:

Amazon hosts a massive amount of web traffic, so it figures:

Glen Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who reported exclusively on Snowden’s leaks, also chimed in:

Others speculated that Alexander’s hiring has more to do with Amazon going after lucrative Pentagon contracts:

Zero Hedge points out the deep state angle of all this, noting that last week, “Amazon literally accused Trump of unprecedented corruption in a public letter and less than a week later it effectively brings the NSA on board.”

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Science & Tech

The New Normal: UNC Develops “Health Greeter Kiosk” To Enforce Mask Wearing

Will also trigger if students fail to comply with social distancing.

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Steve Watson

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In a story that flew under the radar last month, the University of North Carolina unveiled a system that will enforce the wearing of face masks by using facial recognition cameras to track all students entering campus facilities.

CBS News reported that the UNC developed the “Health Greeter Kiosk” to display an alert every time a student passed through without wearing a mask and ask them to comply with the mandate.

Steven King, an associate professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism told CBS that the university teamed up with Hong Kong-based Lenovo’s artificial intelligence department to develop the system.

The system was also designed to trigger if students fail to comply with social distancing measures.

“It uses computer vision to see if there is a person there, and if that person is wearing a mask or not and if they are outside of six feet of another person,” King said.

King told the Daily Tar Heel that a trial of six kiosks will be placed in different schools and areas on campus.

“There will be a sign in 20 feet in front of each kiosk notifying students of its presence, and the kiosk will be placed in areas where students can take alternate routes to avoid them,” King said.

Campus Reform notes that UNC has since decided to shift exclusively to remote learning for the fall semester, so the Kiosk system is presumably technology to be used at a later time, yet another indication that mask mandates and social distancing rules are here to stay.

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