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Smart locks rendered dumb by automatic update fail

Making dumb things smart can have its benefits, but adding complexity to once-simple devices can also lead to unforeseen problems. It’s a lesson smart lock maker LockState is all too aware of, after a clumsily delivered automatic update bricked hundreds of the gizmos, rendering their fancier features like remote locking and unlocking unusable.

As Threatpost explains, LockState pushed an OTA update to its 6000i series smart locks earlier this month that was intended for its 7000i models. This didn’t sit well with first-gen 6000i locks, which were subsequently unable to reconnect to the company’s web service. This connection is essential for all the smarter features, which include remote access, managing codes for keypad entry and status alerts.

Breaking that link also made “a remote fix impossible,” which is the worse part. In a statement to affected customers, LockState is offering two inconvenient paths to resolution. Either send a part of the lock off for repair, which can take up to a week to come back, or wait two weeks or more for the delivery of a replacement lock. The only upside is owners get one free year of access to all those connected services for their trouble.

Roughly 500 locks have been dumbed down by the failed update, according to the company, and it’s not the end of the world if you have the old-fashioned key to hand. It’s a tad more frustrating for business owners and Airbnb hosts, however, which may rely heavily on remote access and temporary keypad codes. LockState is actually one of Airbnb’s partners for its Host Assist program, which features recommended suppliers and services that are supposed to make the whole renting process easier. Around 200 hosts that have purchased LockState’s wares are thought to have been affected, the company said.

As more and more devices are becoming WiFi-enabled, smart versions of their former selves, so do the cries of warning around unsecured internet of things things grow louder. These are legitimate worries, of course — you don’t want a hacker unlocking your door remotely, after all — but there’s little you can do when the bricking of hardware is an inside job.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: LockState


Tech companies want user data protected from warrantless searches

Late last night, a bevy of tech companies — including Apple, Google, Verizon, Twitter and Facebook — filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the US Supreme Court in the case of Carpenter v. United States. Their specific interest is in protecting personal user data from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement.

In the case Carpenter v. United States, the ACLU is defending Timothy Carpenter, who was arrested in 2011 and convicted of committing a robbery in Detroit. Police in the investigation were able to obtain months’ worth of location data from cell phone companies on the suspects in the case without a warrant. This is a normal occurrence in the course of a police investigation. Carpenter was able to appeal his case, but the appellate court ruled that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect this kind of data and no warrant was required. Now the case will be heard by the Supreme Court.

Tech companies have a specific interest in making sure this kind of personal data is protected by the Constitution (the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause) because their companies rely on user trust. Their customers must trust them to keep this kind of confidential information private. Given “people’s participation in today’s digital world,” the old, rigid rules “should yield to a more nuanced understanding of reasonable expectations of privacy,” according to the brief.

This is an important case when it comes to the extent of our privacy rights in the digital age. We entrust all kinds of personal data to third-party providers and social networks; “the government needs a good reason to get its hand on it,” as ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said. These laws and precedents haven’t yet caught up to the current digital age, and it’s important that they do when the Supreme Court hears this case in the fall.

Source: ACLU (1), ACLU (2)


Google sees a future in wearable-free health monitoring

Google and its Alphabet parent haven’t been shy about their interest in digital health, and now they’re taking that curiosity in an unusual but potentially very helpful direction. GeekWire reports that Google has acquired Senosis Health, a Seattle-area startup whose focus was on turning smartphones into health monitoring tools. Its apps used a phone’s built-in sensors to perform checkups that would normally require a dedicated sensor: HemaApp checks your blood’s hemoglobin count using your phone’s camera, for example, while SpiroSmart uses the microphone to measure your lung functions.

It’s not clear how much Google paid, or what the specific aims will be. However, Senosis isn’t joining Alphabet’s Verily team or moving shop to Mountain View. However, an insider speaking to GeekWire claims that staff will remain in Seattle and form the “backbone” of a digital health team. This is the start of something larger, then, and not just a bid to augment existing efforts.

Given Senosis’ focus, it’s not hard to see where this could go. It won’t be surprising if Google builds on these apps to track all kinds of health indicators using your phone, whether it’s through dedicated apps or features baked into Android. You’d have a better sense of when you need to talk to a doctor and when you’re well enough to stay home.

Via: The Verge

Source: GeekWire


Kano’s latest DIY kit turns motion into code

DIY computer company Kano has released another brightly-coloured addition to its learn-to-code arsenal: a motion sensor kit. The standalone product comes with the Kano App to teach would-be coders how to translate movement into data which can be applied to games, apps and music.

The kit, which is available for $30/£30, includes a USB motion sensor which can connect to any Windows or Mac computer — or the original Kano Computer kit — and comes with an easy-to-follow storybook featuring beginner’s coding challenges. Learn to code a hand-controlled version of the classic game Pong, for example, or make noise and mix tunes by “scratching” a DJ turntable.

The challenges are, of course, pretty basic; Kano’s entire ethos revolves around making coding as accessible and straightforward as possible. But the principal is exciting. Motion sensors are invisibly embedded in cars, phones and machinery, and for many how they actually work remains a bit of a mystery. The Motion Sensor kit makes the concept tangible.

Plus, it can be plugged into other Kano kits and made to do cool new things beyond the basic introductory tutorials. Hook it up to the Pixel light board, for instance, and you could code it to light up whenever someone walks into a room, or plug it into the Kano Camera and program it to take a photo whenever it detects movement. As Kano is keen to demonstrate to curious new coders of all ages, there are no limitations.

Source: Kano


Target’s Prime Pantry competitor expands to Denver and Dallas

Amazon may have introduced Instant Pickup today, but Target has news of its own. Yesterday, we reported that Target had purchased Grand Junction, a same-day delivery company. Now, the company has announced that its next-day delivery service, Target Restock, is expanding to Denver and Dallas.

This service, which is an Amazon Prime Pantry competitor, allows you to visit Target Restock and choose from over 15,000 essential items. You can add up to 45 lbs of merchandise to your order (roughly the size of a shopping cart, according to Target). If you order by 2:00 PM local time, Monday through Friday, your items will be delivered to you the next day for $4.99 (including Saturday delivery).

Initially, Restock was a test program confined to the Minneapolis area only, and it only was open to Target REDcard members. It’s now open to anyone who lives within the metro areas that Restock is offered. Additionally, Target has expanded the items available to include such essentials as baby food and school supplies.

Target’s Restock service is $1 less than Amazon’s Prime Pantry, and the items will arrive more quickly. It remains to be seen whether this will attract Amazon loyalists back to the brick-and-mortar retail giant, but this seems like a great new feature to keep Target competitive.

Source: Target


Uber agrees to 20 years of user privacy audits in FTC settlement

Uber has come under fire more than once for failing to protect privacy, and now it’s facing the consequences. The ridesharing outfit has settled with the US’ Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it not only didn’t adequately safeguard data, but misrepresented how secure that info really was. Uber didn’t monitor staff access to personal info as closely as it said it did, the FTC says, and it also gave a false impression of how secure that info was when stored on third-party servers. Instead, employees needed just a single key to get full access to data, and it stored some information (including customer locations) online in plain text. It even ditched an automated staff monitoring tool after less than a year.

There’s no mention of a fine in the settlement, but that doesn’t mean Uber is off the hook. In addition to being barred from misrepresenting privacy and security, it’ll have to implement a “comprehensive privacy program” and undergo third-party privacy audits every 2 years for the next 20 years. That’s par for the course as far as FTC settlements go, but it’s a long time in Uber terms — the company may have fulfilled its driverless car ambitions by the time the audits are over.

In a statement, Uber tells us that it welcomes the end of the investigation and sees this as an “opportunity” to prove that it has turned a corner. You can read the full statement below.

The settlement comes right as Uber is in the midst of trying to fix a toxic corporate culture that many blame for Uber’s lax approach to privacy. Uber recently ousted CEO Travis Kalanick, who was frequently blamed for the company’s tendency to test (and sometimes break) legal boundaries. Other executives accused of dodgy behavior have also left the company. The FTC-mandated reforms could still be helpful, but Uber may be better prepared to implement them than it was just months earlier.

“We are pleased to bring the FTC’s investigation to a close. The complaint involved practices that date as far back as 2014. We’ve significantly strengthened our privacy and data security practices since then and will continue to invest heavily in these programs. In 2015, we hired our first Chief Security Officer and now employ hundreds of trained professionals dedicated to protecting user information. This settlement provides an opportunity to work with the FTC to further verify that our programs protect user privacy and personal information.”


Source: FTC


Stream Sling TV on the web from the comforts of Chrome

Today, the popular live TV streaming service Sling announced a new browser-based player for Google Chrome. The feature is in beta but it’s available to all current Sling users.

Sling touts the fact that users don’t have to download any sort of app onto their computer, nor do they have to install plug-ins for their browser. It can be incredibly frustrating when you just want to watch something you pay for, yet have to jump through hoops to actually get it to work, so this is welcome news for anyone interested in using this feature. Currently, the beta viewer includes “My TV” and “Continue Watching,” along with access to account settings and parental controls. The company plans to continue developing features for the browser version of its viewer, including a cloud DVR and grid guide.

To watch Sling in Chrome, you must have a current Sling TV plan and the latest version of Google Chrome. It’s only currently supported on Windows and Mac OS devices. New users who sign up for Sling TV will also have access to the Chrome beta. Sling is available across a variety of platforms; it’s nice to see a company that is trying to make it as easy as possible for paying customers to use their services.

Source: Business Wire


Google’s latest Daydream VR series puts you in Kendall Jenner’s closet

The latest Google Daydream series will give you a VR look into the closets of supermodels like Kendall Jenner and Cindy Crawford. The series — aptly called Supermodel Closets — was made in partnership with Vogue and Condé Nast Entertainment as a build up to the publication’s famed September issue and 125th anniversary.

Supermodel Closets is one of the first projects to make use of Google’s newest Jump camera — the Yi Halo — which allows for 360 degree views and 4K images. Google notes that the cameras were even able to give great views in tight closet spaces, but these closets are larger than most Manhattan apartments. So, I’m not sure that’s a terribly informative measure.

The first episode, which is out now, features Kendall Jenner and not one, but two of her closets. She starts her tour in the more traditional closet, which is packed to the brim with clothes, shoes, bags and a few sets of the matching pajamas her family wears on Christmas. The second room is described as a fitting room and has even more clothing and accessories as well as some of her quirkier pieces.

Other Daydream productions have followed up-and-coming baseball pros and the NFL. Jenner’s episode is out today on YouTube and more will air over the coming weeks.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Google


MoviePass’ $9.95 ‘unlimited’ deal is one movie a day

Going to the movies isn’t cheap and MoviePass wants to fix that. The company has just announced a $9.95 no contract subscription plan that’ll grant subscribers access to one movie per day in a theater without blackouts. Previously, users were limited to two movies per month for $15, and in Los Angeles and New York, that price bumped to $21. As Variety notes, this won’t apply to 3D or IMAX screenings. But how it’ll actually play out and what any other restrictions might entail aren’t clear at the moment.

MoviePass currently works with 91 percent of theaters across the country, including AMC, Cinemark and Regal along with independent chains. So, there’s a good chance your favorite multiplex is on board.

Sure, the summer blockbuster season is winding down, but we still have Blade Runner 2049, the It remake, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League to look forward to. Even if your local theater only charges $12 a ticket, you’re getting a deal if you only see one of the above. The savings only add up the more movies you go see.

If you’re interested, signing up might be difficult today. I downloaded the app on iOS and got multiple error messages at every step of the sign-up process. MoviePass’ website is extremely slow to load as well, so this could mean the servers are getting crushed by folks who want in on the service. After a few tries though, I was able to sign up for my free trial on desktop.

CEO and Netflix cofounder Mitch Lowe says this new subscription service was the direct result of being bought by Helios and Matheson Analytics. “This is about getting funded in order to launch our new price point,” he told Variety.

We’ll have to wait and see how viable this is considering that when the company was much smaller and charging $20 a month, it had a hard time keeping the lights on.


Apple and Other Companies File Brief Arguing Against ‘Rigid Analog-Era’ Fourth Amendment Rules

Apple, Twitter, Snap, Facebook, Microsoft, and a collection of other technology companies have filed a legal brief this week, aimed at the Fourth Amendment and its “rigid analog-era” protections that lag behind protecting users in the modern age (via Reuters).

The brief was filed in regards to the case Carpenter v. United States, which is a Supreme Court case focusing on the warrantless search and seizure of historical smartphone records, and whether or not such data collection by the government is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizures.

Carpenter v. United States specifically ties to smartphone data held by a third party — or any company that has access and can store personal user data — and includes information revealing the “location and movements” of the user over 127 days.

With the new filing, which is in support of neither party, the companies state that customers should not be “forced to relinquish Fourth Amendment protections” against intrusion by the government, simply because they choose to use modern technology.

“To resolve this case, the Court should forgo reliance on outmoded rules that make little sense when applied in the digital context. In particular, the third-party doctrine and the content/non-content distinction should not operate to categorically foreclose Fourth Amendment protection; instead, Fourth Amendment law should favor a more flexible approach that assess reasonable expectations of privacy in light of new and evolving technologies and the highly sensitive data they implicate.”

Other companies included in the brief included Airbnb, Google, and Dropbox. The case in question dates back to 2011, when Timothy Carpenter was convicted on robbery charges after investigators uncovered smartphone data with his past location information without a warrant. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case in June 2017, and it’s now on the Court’s term docket for October 2017.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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