News

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Aim to Untangle Employee Healthcare Knot

2018.02.09 01

Three corporate giants on Tuesday announced they were banding together to provide healthcare for their 1.1 million employees.

The companies — Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase — plan to form a company “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” in order to improve employee satisfaction with their healthcare coverage as well as reduce costs.

The company initially will focus on technology solutions that provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.

“Our group does not come to this problem with answers,” he continued, “but we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Aim to Untangle Employee Healthcare Knot

Alphabet’s New Chronicle Promises to Speed Threat Data Analysis

2018.02.01 02

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has launched Chronicle, a new cybersecurity venture, following two years of development at the Alphabet X research lab.

The idea behind Chronicle stems from the fact that many companies receive tens of thousands of security alerts per day, more than most teams can handle, Gillett said last week in an online post introducing the new firm. Typically, security teams can filter those alerts to a few thousand, and at best, review several hundred at a time.

Chronicle will be able to speed up the detection process by as much as 10 times, using the same infrastructure that is employed in other Alphabet programs, thus allowing those threats to be analyzed in minutes.

The real goal is to create an “immune system” for the digital world, allowing companies to predict future attacks rather than react after the damage has been done, wrote Alphabet X CEO Astro Teller, captain of moonshots, in an online post.

Alphabet’s New Chronicle Promises to Speed Threat Data Analysis

Privacy-Minded Smart Speaker May Struggle to Get to Know You

2018.02.01 01

Mycroft AI earlier this week announced that its Mark II smart speaker achieved full funding on Kickstarter in just 6.5 hours. As of Wednesday, pledges reached more than three times its US$50K goal — with 23 days remaining in the campaign.

The Mark II is positioned as an open source alternative to the dominant Amazon Echo line of smart speakers and its main challenger, the Google Home device.

One of the main draws of the Mark II is its emphasis on maintaining user privacy, an increasing concern as the market for smart home devices has exploded.

The Mark II offers sophisticated voice control technology with a built-in screen, an optional camera, and a state-of-the-art microphone array, the company said. It protects user privacy by automatically deleting user queries and utilizing open data sets.

The Mark II is the first commercial device that uses Deep Speech to understand commands in English, according to Mozilla. Its Persona technology recognizes contextual speech, which enables the virtual assistant to discern whether a user’s speech is sarcastic or serious, for example.

Privacy-Minded Smart Speaker May Struggle to Get to Know You

Alexa Now Can Dash Off Text Messages to Android Phones

2016.06.13 01

Amazon on Tuesday introduced new functionality that enables its Alexa virtual assistant to send and receive SMS messages on devices running Android 5.0 or higher. Carrier charges may apply.

Alexa, the software that powers the Echo line of smart speakers, can play and send personalized messages from contacts for users who have set up voice profiles.

Users will hear a chime when they have a new SMS message, and see a yellow light ring on their Echo device. They’ll also be notified in the Alexa App.

The SMS feature isn’t available for iOS because Apple doesn’t share its messaging API with third parties, Amazon said.

The feature currently is available only in the United States.

Text-to-911, group messages, and MMS are not supported.

Alexa’s new SMS capability is being over hyped, contended Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Accessing the feature for most will be more trouble than it’s worth, since Alexa interactions are still kind of clunky,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Alexa “works for simple instructions — but for more complicated interactions like this, most people will not bother,” Jude predicted. “It’s far easier simply to use the SMS functionality on the smartphone.”

The SMS feature “will add to the perceived utility of the Amazon offering, but will ultimately be of limited use unless it’s improved over time,” he said. “The Jude rule is, people evaluate a purchase on the basis of all the features they get, but then only use 10 percent of them.”

Alexa Now Can Dash Off Text Messages to Android Phones

New Open Source Mobile OS Puts Privacy Front and Center

2018.01.29 02

A renowned Linux innovator has developed a new mobile operating system, called “Project eelo,” in an effort to provide a level of data privacy that traditional Android and iOS devices fail to offer.

The new eelo system will allow mobile phone users to regain control over their personal information at a price they can afford, said Gael Duval, who created Mandrake Linux back in 1998.

Apple has become too expensive, too boring and is “going crazy with its products,” he said, while Google has “become too big” and is capturing too much information about what we do.

“They want to know us as much as possible to sell advertising,” Duval wrote in a post introducing eelo’s Kickstarter campaign, which has more than doubled its goal with 14 days remaining.

“Information is currency, and people are going to want more control over who has information on their behaviors and habits on a mobile device,” said Ryan Spanier, director of research at Kudelski Security.

“Eelo is focused on maintaining privacy,” he told LinuxInsider, “preventing tracking and monetization of your actions without your consent.”

New Open Source Mobile OS Puts Privacy Front and Center

Google Device Bug Chokes Home WiFi Networks

2018.01.29 01

A bug in the software used by Google Cast devices such as Chromecast and Home can slow down or crash WiFi networks.

The problem — initially believed to be isolated to a particular router model made by TP-Link — appears to affect models made by other manufacturers, including Asus, Linksys, Netgear and Synology.

The Cast feature on Google’s home devices is the culprit behind the WiFi problems, according to a post on the TP-Link website. Cast sends MDNS multicast discovery packets in order to discover and keep a live connection with Google products such as Home. These packets normally are sent in 20-second intervals.

However, after a device wakes up from sleep mode, it sometimes broadcasts a large amount of the packets — more than 100,000 on some occasions — at a very high speed in a short amount of time. The longer the device is asleep, the larger the packet burst will be.

Google Device Bug Chokes Home WiFi Networks

Apple’s HomePod Set to Barge Into Hot Speaker Market

2018.01.26 01

HomePod, Apple’s long-awaited entry into the torrid smart speaker market, will be available Feb. 9, the company announced Tuesday.

The HomePod, which is not quite 7 inches tall, will be offered in white and space gray. It can be pre-ordered at Apple’s website for US$349 starting Friday.

Unlike other smart speakers, which support a variety of music services out of the gate, HomePod will support the Apple Music subscription service exclusively.

Although Apple Music has a catalog of 45 million songs, that limitation could curb initial sales of the product, noted Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

Apple’s HomePod Set to Barge Into Hot Speaker Market

The Man Who Wrote Those Password Rules Has a New Tip: N3v$r M1^d!

2017.08.08 01

The man who wrote the book on password management has a confession to make: He blew it.

Back in 2003, as a midlevel manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Bill Burr was the author of “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A.” The 8-page primer advised people to protect their accounts by inventing awkward new words rife with obscure characters, capital letters and numbers—and to change them regularly.

The problem is the advice ended up largely incorrect, Mr. Burr says. Change your password every 90 days? Most people make minor changes that are easy to guess, he laments. Changing Pa55word!1 to Pa55word!2 doesn’t keep the hackers at bay.

The Man Who Wrote Those Password Rules Has a New Tip: N3v$r M1^d!

Facebook is re-sculpting our memory

2017.07.18 03

For much of history, the only way to chronicle life was to write about it. Now, many of us take selfies on our smartphones to share on Facebook, and create picturesque albums of our daily meals on Instagram. And as the mediums we use to recall and review the past change, so do our very memories.

Daniel Schacter, a psychology professor at Harvard University, first established the effects of photographs on memories in the 1990s. In one experiment, he showed that it was possible to implant false memories by showing subjects photos of an event that they could have conceivably experienced, but didn’t. In another, he found that not only did looking at photos boost the memory of that particular event, but also impaired memories of events that happened at the same time and were not featured in the photographs. The primary focus of Schacter’s lab is on how memory relates to other cognitive abilities. His research has shown that weaknesses in our memory are positive attributes in allowing us to think meaningfully about the future.

Facebook is re-sculpting our memory

Facebook says it shouldn’t have to stay mum when government seeks user data

2017.07.18 02

Facebook is fighting a court order that prohibits it from letting users know when law enforcement investigators ask to search their political communications — a ban that Facebook contends tramples First Amendment protections of the company and individuals.

Most of the details of the case in the nation’s capital are under wraps, but the timing of the investigation, and references in public court documents, suggest the search warrants relate to demonstrations during President Trump’s inauguration. More than 200 people were detained and many have been charged with felony rioting in the Jan. 20 protests that injured police and damaged property in an area of downtown Washington.

Facebook says it shouldn’t have to stay mum when government seeks user data