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11
Mar

‘The Future of Secrets’ is a digital confession booth


“I feel like I can justify the worst things I’ve done.”

“My initial connection to the majority of my partners is based on superficial sexism.”

“I once bumped someone’s phone when it was charging and it feel off a table and cracked and I just walked away.”

The experience of reading anonymous confessions is both intimate and detached. Being confronted with people’s real-life emotional baggage reveals quiet but deeply human moments, yet divorced from the person who said them there’s no human to project the resulting empathy on.

I read the divulgences above at The Future of Secrets. At the heart of this SXSW installation is a solitary laptop that asks “Do you have a secret?” You type your confession, hit enter, and it heads into a database of thousands. Seconds later, a receipt printer hums and pushes out someone else’s revelation — a reward. Meanwhile, your disclosure will be repurposed according to an opaque algorithm.

Across the room, steady robotic voices read the messages over headphones, sometimes in faint whispers, giving the sense that you’re privy to a confession. On one wall, projections of secrets pop into view then fade away, mimicking a restless mind of fleeting thoughts, some banal, some disturbing. On another wall runs an infinite scroll of the code which converts written secrets into audio. To the layperson, it appears that your thoughts are being processed and crunched but you don’t know how. A second receipt printer convulses apparently at random, spitting out secrets onto neat rectangles of thin, disposable, paper. I contributed my disclosure knowing it could appear minutes later in this room, or in several months, perhaps in in the next city the installation travels to.

For the three creators — Sarah Newman, Rachel Kalmar and Jessica Yurkofksy from Harvard University’s metaLAB and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society — the project stems from an interest in what will happen to our immortalized digital communications in the far future. This is the eighth time that a variation on this project has exhibited, while drawing on and growing the database of secrets, whether in Boston, Berlin or Rome.

It reflects what we do on social media all the time: give up secrets without knowing where they’ll end up, and receive the details of others’ lives as compensation for providing our own.

But it also differs from the way Google, Facebook, Amazon or the myriad apps we sign up for harvest our data. Online, we tap out mundane messages or buy household supplies and companies infer our secrets; here we are asked explicitly to admit to our thoughts. The Future of Secrets is also strictly anonymous: There are no cameras in the room or ways to trace a secret back to its teller. During SXSW, secrets can also be submitted online; Newman told me the website tracks nothing but the confession and its time of submission).

This strict decoupling of the confession from confessor is liberating, and draws attention to the fact that we can’t usually feel so safe in our disclosures online — there’s always a sneaking suspicion our data could be used for nefarious purposes, justified by a sentence buried deep in the terms and conditions. Like the mid-2000s postcard project PostSecret, this installation shows the value of anonymous secrets. Unlike with apps that have tried to replicate the experience such as Whisper, we can write without a creeping feeling of being tracked.

The result is a kind of catharsis. People confess that they find Bernie Sanders sexy, fear tiny doll houses or have a picture of Conan O’Brien in their retainer. Plenty admit to infidelity, sexual expression or childhood shame. While these may feel like a burden to the individual, displayed alongside dozens of others’ secrets they almost seem commonplace. People send dispatches from their darkest core and realize they’re practically trivial.

“It’s so rare that you have the opportunity to share something which really is not connected back to you,” said Kalmar. “I don’t post things on social media which I don’t want to be public and permanent because they’re connected to my persona… I wish I could say something like ‘It’s Friday night, I’d like to hang out with other people, does anybody want to have dinner?’ But I’ll never let myself post that.”

Exposure to all these authentic insecurities has a humanizing effect. You don’t know who said what, but you become conscious that a stranger — any stranger — can have their own issues and quirks.

“I actually think that one of the hopes of the piece is making people feel more compassionate and also more humble,” said Newman. “That said, it’s embedded with a certain critique of the way we rely on technology… I think there is a darker side that it’s important to be aware of.”

The tension between ominousness and sentimentality is what makes The Future of Secrets compelling. You can’t forget the sketchiness of data privacy issues when you see people’s revelations embedded in code. And you can’t remain purely cynical when bombarded with sentimental regrets or absurdities.

At SXSW, where the go-getters in arts, entertainment and technology are pitching their wares, “activating” their brands and networking with relentless optimism, it’s refreshing to step into a dark, silent room for a moment and reflect on the experiences we may have in common that are rarely shared out loud.

Catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2018 right here.

Images: Engadget

11
Mar

NASA wants to change the way we think about the habitable zone


“There are great possibilities in expanding the habitable zone beyond our traditional blinders on that vision where it’s Earth or nothing.”

That’s Dr. Cynthia Phillips, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She’s currently working on a mission to study Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons with a subsurface ocean. Jupiter — and, by association, Europa — is well outside of the “habitable zone,” the gauge astronomers have used for years to determine whether a planet can sustain liquid water, a major precursor for life. But in Phillips’ view, being outside of this zone doesn’t automatically mean the moon or planet is devoid of life.

At SXSW, Phillips and a panel of NASA scientists discussed how they’re approaching the search for alien life within our own solar system and beyond — and, as it turns out, they’re not necessarily looking for another Earth.

“Our solar system is just one example, but there’s this huge diversity of systems out there that look nothing like the Earth,” Phillips said. “We haven’t found any planets that are like Earth yet, and of course it’s hard to find Earths because they’re relatively small.”

One of the most exciting discoveries in recent years was the TRAPPIST-1 system — a group of seven Earth-sized planets circling a red dwarf star 40 light years away. Hopes of finding life on these planets were dashed in July 2017 after two studies from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics concluded the red dwarf was likely too dim and cool to support Earth-like ecosystems. The habitable zone, in this case, was much closer to the star than Earth is to the Sun, increasing the amount of UV radiation on these planets to an unlivable level.

At least, unlivable by Earth standards. In December, a study published on arXiV.org proposed the idea that the “habitable zone” was too narrow a search criteria when looking for alien life. Researchers were as likely, if not more, to find life on frozen planets with subsurface oceans, according to the study’s authors. That life, of course, may not look much like the organisms on Earth.

At SXSW, Dr. Tiffany Kataria expanded on this idea. Not only should scientists be looking at the surface of frigid planets, she argued, but at the mysteries below. Tidal heating is key here — this process heats up the interior of a planet or moon via the friction that gathers as it orbits a sun or planet. For example, Io, one of Saturn’s moon’s, has hundreds of volcanoes produced by tidal heating. It’s possible that this orbital process could produce liquid water, a precursor of life, under the surface of Io and other frigid moons or planets.

“We really need to revise what that construct looks like,” Kataria said. “We’ve said the habitable zone is classically defined by this rigid [ruleset], but if we look at our own Earth, there are many different conditions that contribute to life, and life can persist in absence of some of those criteria.”

Her fellow panelist, Dr. Morgan L. Cable, agreed. “And that’s still just considering life as we know it,” she said. “There are plenty of other things that are liquids that could potentially host some sort of unique biochemistry.” Things like liquid methane, liquid ammonia or liquid carbon dioxide, for example — these liquids wouldn’t necessarily be able to sustain Earth-like life, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of new organisms.

“The world is wide open, the universe is wide open, in terms of where we might look,” Cable said.

After the panel, Phillips emphasized the idea that humans can’t let their own Earth-based experiences skew the scientific possibilities. The habitable zone isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for finding life; it’s simply a known, provable foundation. What’s more interesting, perhaps, are the unproven, as-yet-unobserved criteria for sustaining life outside Earth.

“The sheer diversity of worlds out there means we can’t be biased,” she said. “We can’t just look at, OK, here’s the Earth, here’s what the Earth looks like, we’re looking for exactly this. We have to be much more creative.”

Catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2018 right here.

11
Mar

Study shows Android enjoys more brand loyalty than iOS


Apple fans are a loyal lot. Some might even say they are too loyal, as some parts of the Apple fandom have earned a reputation for cult-like loyalty to the company. A new study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, however, shows that Android fans are more loyal to their choice of phone OS than are users of iOS. Tech Crunch reported on the study, which shows that Android-brand loyalty has been rising since 2016, and is currently the highest in the history of the OS.

Currently, Android enjoys a loyalty rate of 91 percent, compared to the 86 percent held by iOS. In order to measure brand loyalty, CIRP looked at the percentage of consumers who stayed with their previous OS after upgrading their phones.

With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it,” CIRP’s Mike Levin told Tech Crunch. “Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to sell products and services to these loyal customer bases.”

This may explain why both Google and Apple are heavily investing in services such as apps, music, and storage. In fact, despite seeing lower brand loyalty, Apple saw record revenues from services last November. This would indicate that the company is doing a good job of earning money from its existing customer base.

As for why Android has a stronger brand loyalty, that may be due simply to the broad range of Android devices on the market. Whereas Apple only offers a handful of premium products, Android devices ran the gamut of disposable $50 phones all the way up to high-priced flagships such as the Pixel or Galaxy S line of smartphones. Even those users who want to stay within a specific price range have a wealth of options to chose from. They can transfer their app purchases and storage content from phone to phone, whether that be a $900 flagship, or a $40 phone running Marshmallow.

One other thing worth noting is that even though Android enjoys slightly higher loyalty, there are still more Android users switching to iOS than vice-versa, simply due to how large the Android market is.

“We know Android has a larger base of users than iOS, and because of that larger base, the absolute number of users that switch to iOS from Android is as large or larger than the absolute number of users that switch to Android from iOS,” Levin told Tech Crunch. “Looking at absolute number of users in this way tends to support claims that iOS gains more former Android users,
than Android does former iOS users.”

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11
Mar

NASA plans to use nukes to save the Earth from a killer asteroid


Although there’s a very small chance it could happen, a large asteroid impacting the Earth would be a worldwide catastrophe. Government scientists have developed a plan for such an eventuality — blow it up (or deflect its trajectory) with a nuclear weapon.

According to BuzzFeed News, a joint venture between NASA, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and weapons labs from the Energy Department has resulted in designs for a spacecraft capable of saving the planet. Dubbed HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response), the 8.8-ton craft would be able to alter the orbit of an incoming asteroid, either by crashing into a small one or detonating a nuclear device on a large one.

“Smart people are taking this seriously and thinking carefully about what might be done,” MIT impact expert Richard Binzel told the website. “These are reasonable ideas — well thought out.”

As outlined in the science journal Acta Astronautica, the more time we have to prepare for such an eventuality, the more likely the chance of success: “To use a kinetic impactor for successful deflection of an NEO [near-Earth object], it is essential to minimize the reaction time and maximize the time available for the impulse delivered to the NEO by the kinetic impactor to integrate forward in time to the eventual deflection of the NEO away from Earth impact.”

Scientists are using an asteroid named Bennu for a case study. According to calculations, there is a 1 in 2,700 chance it will strike the Earth in 2135 — on September 21, to be precise. Launched in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on its way there. Later this year, it will scoop up a sample from the surface of Bennu in a “touch-and-go” maneuver before it returns to Earth.

Bennu is about one-third of a mile wide and weighs 174 billion pounds. If it struck the Earth, it would trigger a 1.13-gigaton blast, more than 20 times larger than the biggest hydrogen bomb ever tested. It was chosen for the impact scenario mainly because it’s been studied exhaustively as part of the OSIRIS-Rex mission.

“If the asteroid is small enough, and we detect it early enough, we can do it with the impactor,” physicist David Dearborn told BuzzFeed. “The impactor is not as flexible as the nuclear option when we really want to change the speed of the body in a hurry.”

It’s difficult to map the exact trajectory of these giant rocks hurtling through space, as they are subject to various gravitational forces and buffeted by solar winds. Strapping nuclear weapons to giant rockets and launching them on a collision course is hardly a sure thing, so the sooner scientists can identify possible threats, the better.

Detection of potentially dangerous NEOs needs to remain one of NASA’s priorities, said Bizel. “Time is the most important factor,” he added. “If you have more time, this problem gets much easier.”

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11
Mar

Flippy gets fired: Burger bot shut down after one day on the job


Miso Robotics

After debuting to much fanfare, Flippy the burger-flipping robot, who started a new gig at CaliBurger, has been sidelined — at least temporarily. It turns out the automated fast-food worker created by Miso Robotics was a victim of his own success.

When USA Today visited the Pasadena location on Thursday, the robotic arm was still on display but someone had pulled the plug. Anthony Lomelino, the chief technology officer for Cali Group, explained that they needed more time to train the human workers to keep pace.

“Mostly it’s the timing,” he said. “When you’re in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it.”

That means preparing the burgers before and after Flippy does his thing — seasoning the patties, adding condiments, and serving them to customers.

The six-axis robot arm is bolted to the kitchen floor and receives orders via digital tickets. Flippy is equipped with thermal and regular vision to monitor each patty as it cooks. Cooking times displayed on a screen tell the human employees when to add cheese or prepare the buns. Flippy also rotates spatulas, using different ones for raw and cooked burgers.

The robots, which run about $60,000, were designed for the CaliBurger chain and are exclusive for the next six months. Once Flippy gets back to work, the company hopes to have 50 locations operating by the end of the year, including restaurants in Seattle and Annapolis.

Robots have been popping up in more and more food and beverage industry positions. Sally the robot can make you a salad, and the Café X robot barista will whip up a killer latte. The robot revolution is already here.

There’s no doubt that automation is taking jobs away from humans, but it’s difficult to keep trained employees at fast-food restaurants like CaliBurger, which pays $13 or more per hour. “We train them, they work on the grill, they realize it’s not fun … and so they leave and drive Ubers,” said CEO John Miller.

According to the Washington Post, up to 50 percent of fast-food restaurant staff leave within a year. The prevailing cause is low wages, but the industry spends about $3.4 billion annually in recruiting and training. Employment in the fast-food industry is climbing faster than health care, construction, or manufacturing, with a 40 percent increase in the last decade.

“The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots,” David Zito of Miso Robotics said in an interview. “This technology is not about replacing jobs. We see Flippy as that third hand.”

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11
Mar

Stealth startup launches four unauthorized rogue satellites into orbit


The Indian-built PSLV-C40, which launched in January, had 31 satellites onboard. It carried a lot of cool stuff into orbit, including the Arkyd-6 satellite which could lead to asteroid mining, as well as the first commercial satellite for Finland.

It also carried an unauthorized payload: four tiny satellites from a stealth startup called Swarm Technologies, which didn’t have permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The nearly undetectable satellites could pose a hazard to the thousands of other orbiting spacecraft, the agency said.

IEEE Spectrum has a detailed report on the launch of the four SpaceBee satellites, which it called “the first ever unauthorized launch of commercial satellites.”

According to CNBC, Swarm Technologies is a stealthy startup founded in 2016 by Sara Spangelo and Benjamin Longmier, former engineers at Google and Apple, respectively. The SpaceBee satellites, much smaller that CubeSats at about the size of a paperback book, were deployed as a demonstration of their space-based concept for an Internet of Things (IoT) communication network.

Swarm claims that their cutting-edge technology will enable worldwide communication for such things as transportation networks and agricultural technologies for far less than current options. Using solar-powered gateways, the satellites would connect to existing IoT devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and transfer that data to Internet-connected ground stations.

Realizing that their tiny satellites would raise red flags at the agency, the company installed GPS responders and covered the satellites in radar-reflecting material to make them easier to track.

The FCC disagreed, however, and rejected Swarm’s application for its satellite launch in December, citing safety concerns. Thousands of tiny pieces of space debris already pose a hazard to orbiting satellites.

Aerospace professor Marcus Holzinger told Spectrum that it’s not necessarily the mass of the SpaceBees, it’s the velocity. “Even at that size, you’re talking about a substantial energy transfer should they hit something,” he said. “Anything that size impacting at orbital velocities can be catastrophic.”

Swarm proceeded with their launch plans anyway, using a broker called Spaceflight Industries to get their payload placed aboard the Antrix rocket. Spaceflight was unaware of the concerns raised by the FCC, and received an e-mail days before launch that assured them that regulatory approval was imminent. “Spaceflight has never knowingly launched a customer who has been denied an FCC license,” they said in a statement to Spectrum. “It is the responsibility of our customers to secure all FCC licenses.”

The FCC has come down hard on Swarm, revoking authorization for its next four satellites, which were scheduled for launch on a Rocket Labs mission in April. CEO Peter Beck, last seen sending a giant disco ball into orbit, issued a statement saying, “Rocket Lab will not launch spacecraft that do not have the relevant regulatory approvals or licenses.”

According to Spectrum and CNBC, Swarm Technologies has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

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11
Mar

Xbox One will automatically use your TV’s game mode


Many TVs have a game mode that disables image processing to reduce lag, but it can be a pain if you regularly do things besides gaming. Do really want to switch the mode off every time you want to watch Netflix? You might not have to before long. Microsoft has unveiled a bevy of upcoming Xbox One updates that include support for Auto Low Latency Mode. If you have a compatible TV (some Samsung models will qualify), it’ll recognize your Xbox and invoke its low-lag mode only when you’re actually playing — all your TV’s processing will come back the moment you curl up with a movie. The improvement arrives later in 2018.

Another improvement will enable variable refresh rates for Xbox One S and One X systems hooked up to PC monitors that support AMD Freesync, in case you’re the sort to play at your desk instead of the living room. You can also expect the Edge browser to support downloads and uploads (say, a picture you want to use as your Xbox’s wallpaper) and Twitter sharing that displays media in-line. And as the company hinted at earlier in March, you can soon share your game controller with viewers when you’re livestreaming on Mixer. These updates should be ready later in the spring.

Source: Xbox Wire

11
Mar

Study Suggests AliveCor KardiaBand for Apple Watch Can Be Used With AI Algorithm to Detect High Potassium


AliveCor, the company that makes an FDA-approved EKG band for the Apple Watch called KardiaBand, teamed up with the Mayo Clinic for a new study that suggests an AliveCor EKG device paired with artificial intelligence technology can non-invasively detect high levels of potassium in the blood.

A second study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic also confirms the KardiaBand’s ability to accurately detect atrial fibrillation.

AliveCor’s KardiaBand
For the potassium study, AliveCor used more than 2 million EKGs from the Mayo Clinic from 1994 to 2017 paired with four million serum potassium values and data from an AliveCor smartphone EKG device to create an algorithm that can successfully detect hyperkalemia, aka high potassium, with a sensitivity range between 91 and 94 percent.

High potassium in the blood is a sign of several concerning health conditions, like congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes, and it can also be detected due to the medications used to treat these conditions. According to AliveCor, hyperkalemia is associated with “significant mortality and arrhythmic risk,” but because it’s typically asymptomatic, it often goes undetected.

Currently, the only way to test for high potassium levels is through a blood test, which AliveCor is aiming to change with the new non-invasive monitoring functionality.

AliveCor says that the AI technology used in the study could be commercialized through the KardiaBand for Apple Watch to allow patients to better monitor their health. Vic Gundotra, AliveCor CEO, said that the company is “on the path to change the way hyperkalemia can be detected” using products like the Apple Watch.

For the Cleveland Clinic study, cardiologists aimed to determine whether KardiaBand for Apple Watch could differentiate between atrial fibrillation and a normal heart rhythm. The researchers discovered that the KardiaBand was able to successfully detect Afib at an accuracy level comparable to physicians interpreting the same EKGs. The Kardia algorithm was able to correctly interpret atrial fibrillation with 93 percent sensitivity and 94 percent specificity. Sensitivity increased to 99 percent with a physician review of the KardiaBand recordings.

KardiaBand, which has been available since late last year, is available for purchase from AliveCor or from Amazon.com for $199. Using the KardiaBand also requires a subscription to the AliveCor premium service, priced at $99 per year.

AliveCor premium paired with the KardiaBand offers SmartRhythm notifications, unlimited EKG readings, detection of atrial fibrillation or normal sinus rhythm, and unlimited cloud history and reporting of all EKGs.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 4Tag: AliveCorBuyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)
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11
Mar

Amazon makes it easier to give Alexa follow-up commands


It’s easy enough to summon Alexa on one of Amazon’s speakers, but when you’ve got a million things to ask the voice assistant, it can be a pain having to say “Hey, Alexa” over and over again. Now, Amazon has rolled out a new feature, which gives its Echo speakers the ability to listen to back-to-back commands for the assistant. When you switch on Alexa’s Follow-up Mode, your Echo speaker will continue listening for a second command for a few seconds after you issue the first one — no need to wake it up again by saying “Hey, Alexa.” You’ll know for sure if the device is listening if its blue indicator is on.

Take note, though, that your speaker won’t wait for a follow-up if it’s in the middle of playing music or audiobooks. Also, Alexa won’t respond until it’s “confident you’re speaking to” it. You’d have to talk clearly and audibly, otherwise it won’t be able to separate what you’re saying from background noise. You can also ensure that Alexa won’t think that you’re issuing follow-up commands when you’re talking to someone else by ending the conversation: simply say “stop,” “thank you,” “cancel” or “go to sleep.”

If this sounds useful, because you pepper Alexa with questions and tasks, just fire up the voice assistant’s app and head to Settings. Select the device you want, scroll down, toggle on the mode and you’re good to go.

Via: CNET, TechCrunch

Source: Amazon

11
Mar

FBI arrests CEO of company selling custom BlackBerrys to gangs


Custom, extra-secure BlackBerry phones remain a staple of the criminal underworld, and a recent bust just illustrated this point. Motherboard has learned that the FBI arrested Vincent Ramos, the founder of the well-established phone mod seller Phantom Secure, for allegedly aiding criminal organizations that include the Sinaloa drug cartel. The company altered BlackBerry and Android devices to disable common features (including the camera and web browsing) while adding Pretty Good Privacy for encrypted conversations. And it wasn’t just turning a blind eye to the shady backgrounds of its customers, according to investigators — it was fully aware of who was involved.

Reportedly, undercover agents running a sting operation not only heard Ramos say that buying one of his phones was “totally fine,” but that the phones were modified “specifically” with drug trafficking in mind. It even singled out Hong Kong and Panama as areas it thought would be “uncooperative” with police. A convicted Sinaloa cartel member also stated that the gang had bought Phantom’s phones to conduct its drug trafficking business. The FBI estimated that there were as many as 20,000 of these handsets around the world, half of them in Australia with others selling in countries like Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.

Neither the FBI nor Ramos’ attorney has commented on the case.

The arrest highlights the perpetual dilemma with encrypted communication. While encryption is vital to preserving privacy, there are people who will exploit tough-to-crack communications to conduct shady business. And there’s no easy answer. Despite what officials say, there’s no such thing as an encryption backdoor — a vulnerability that’s open to police is also open to hackers. Operations like Phantom Secure may be difficult to completely avoid so long as there’s a serious interest in secure data.

Source: Motherboard

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