Now even the FBI is warning about your Smart TV’s security

If you just bought a smart TV on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the FBI wants you to know a few things.

Smart TVs are like regular television sets but with an internet connection. With the advent and growth of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, most saw internet-connected televisions as a cord-cutter’s dream. But like anything that connects to the internet, it opens up smart TVs to security vulnerabilities and hackers. Not only that, many smart TVs come with a camera and a microphone. But as is the case with most other internet-connected devices, manufacturers often don’t put security as a priority.

That’s the key takeaway from the FBI’s Portland field office which posted a warning on its website about the risks that smart TVs pose.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,” wrote the FBI.

The FBI warned that hackers can take control of your unsecured smart TV and in worst cases, take control of the camera and microphone to watch and listen in.

Active attacks and exploits against smart TVs are rare, but not unheard of. Because every smart TV comes with their manufacturer’s own software and are at the mercy of their often unreliable and irregular security patching schedule, some devices are more vulnerable than others. Earlier this year, hackers showed it was possible to hijack Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

In fact, some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but were stolen. The files were later published online by WikiLeaks.

But as much as the FBI’s warning is responding to genuine fears, arguably one of the bigger issues that should cause as much if not greater concerns are how much tracking data is collected on smart TV owners.

The Washington Post earlier this year found that some of the most popular smart TV makers — including Samsung and LG — collect tons of information about what users are watching in order to help advertisers better target ads against their viewers and to suggest what to watch next, for example. The TV tracking problem became so problematic a few years ago that smart TV maker Vizio had to pay $2.2 million in fines after it was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data. Earlier this year, a separate class action suit related to the tracking again Vizio was allowed to go ahead.

The FBI recommends placing black tape over an unused smart TV camera, keeping your smart TV up-to-date with the latest patches and fixes, and to read the privacy policy to better understand what your smart TV is capable of.

As convenient as it might be, the most secure smart TV might be one that isn’t connected to the internet at all.

Techcrunch.com

 

Dog-Like Robot Used by Police

Imagine seeing this thing coming through the door.

Massachusetts State Police (MSP) has been quietly testing ways to use the four-legged Boston Dynamics robot known as Spot, according to new documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. And while Spot isn’t equipped with a weapon just yet, the documents provide a terrifying peek at our RoboCop future.

The Spot robot, which was officially made available for lease to businesses last month, has been in use by MSP since at least April 2019 and has engaged in at least two police “incidents,” though it’s not clear what those incidents may have been. It’s also not clear whether the robots were being operated by a human controller or how much autonomous action the robots are allowed. MSP did not respond to Gizmodo’s emails on Monday morning.

The newly obtained documents, first reported by Ally Jarmanning at WBUR in Boston, include emails and contracts that shed some light on how police departments of the future may use robots to engage suspects without putting human police in harm’s way. In one document written by Lt. Robert G. Schumaker robots are described as an “invaluable component of tactical operations” that are vital to support the state’s “Homeland Security Strategy.”

Strangely, it appears that the relationship between Boston Dynamics and the Massachusetts State Police started through a personal connection, rather than a sales call. In one email from September 1, 2018, a member of the state police K-9 division explains to Lt. Schumaker that, “My friend is the current safety officer for Boston Dynamics and he suggested to the R&D team that they show Spot to law enforcement to obtain feedback for development and marketing to the Law enforcement community.”

Spot has a rechargeable and replaceable battery that lasts for 90 minutes and 360-degree video capabilities, along with plenty of other various sensors. Spot has a max speed of 3 mph and a max payload of about 30 pounds. The dog-like robot can even open doors with a special arm that extends from the robot’s “head.”

The agreement between Boston Dynamics and MSP also includes plenty of curious provisions, including a line stating that the police department is forbidden from posting public photos of the robot. In fact, the agreement says that Massachusetts State Police weren’t even allowed to take photos of Spot. But that didn’t stop Boston Dynamics from showing its own video of Spot being used by MPD at a conference from earlier this year.

Obviously we’re on the cusp of something new here as robots, autonomous or otherwise, start following cops around and go knocking on doors. The next step will surely be putting weapons on these things.

The question that remains is whether the American public will simply accept robocops as our reality now. Unfortunately, it seems like we may not have any choice in the matter—especially when the only way that we can learn about this new robot-police partnership is through records requests by the ACLU. And even then, we’re still largely in the dark about how these things will be used.

 

Technology and the Environment

Smartphones Are Killing The Planet Faster Than Anyone Expected

Researchers are sounding the alarm after an analysis showed that buying a new smartphone consumes as much energy as using an existing phone for an entire decade.

Before you upgrade your next iPhone, you may want to consider a $29 battery instead. Not only will the choice save you money, it could help save the planet.

A new study from researchers at McMaster University published in the Journal of Cleaner Production analyzed the carbon impact of the whole Information and Communication Industry (ICT) from around 2010-2020, including PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones, and servers. They found remarkably bad news. Even as the world shifts away from giant tower PCs toward tiny, energy-sipping phones, the overall environmental impact of technology is only getting worse. Whereas ICT represented 1% of the carbon footprint in 2007, it’s already about tripled, and is on its way to exceed 14% by 2040. That’s half as large as the carbon impact of the entire transportation industry.

Smartphones are particularly insidious for a few reasons. With a two-year average life cycle, they’re more or less disposable. The problem is that building a new smartphone–and specifically, mining the rare materials inside them–represents 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for two years. That means buying one new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.

Yet even as people are now buying phones less often, consumer electronics companies are attempting to make up for lost profits by selling bigger, fancier phones. The researchers found that smartphones with larger screens have a measurably worse carbon footprint than their smaller ancestors. Apple has publicly disclosed that building an iPhone 7 Plus creates roughly 10% more CO2 than the iPhone 6s, but an iPhone 7 standard creates roughly 10% less than a 6s. So according to Apple, the trend is getting better, but the bigger phones companies like Apple sell seem to offset some gains. Another independent study concluded that the iPhone 6s created 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s. And despite the recycling programs run by Apple and others, “based on our research and other sources, currently less than 1% of smartphones are being recycled,” Lotfi Belkhir, the study’s lead author, tells me.

In any case, keeping a smartphone for even three years instead of two can make a considerable impact to your own carbon footprint, simply because no one has to mine the rare materials for a phone you already own. It’s a humbling environmental takeaway, especially if you own Samsung or Apple stock. Much like buying a used gasoline-fueled car is actually better for the environment than purchasing a new Prius or Tesla, keeping your old phone is greener than upgrading to any new one.

Smartphones represent a fast-growing segment of ICT, but the overall largest culprit with regards to CO2 emissions belongs to servers and data centers themselves, which will represent 45% of ICT emissions by 2020. That’s because every Google search, every Facebook refresh, and every dumb Tweet we post requires a computer somewhere to calculate it all in the cloud. (The numbers could soon be even worse, depending on how popular cryptocurrencies get.) Here, the smartphone strikes again. The researchers point out that mobile apps actually reinforce our need for these 24/7 servers in a self-perpetuating energy-hogging cycle. More phones require more servers. And with all this wireless information in the cloud, of course we’re going to buy more phones capable of running even better apps.

As for what can be done on the server end, Belkhir suggests that government policies and taxes might make a difference–whatever needs to be done to get these servers migrated over to renewable energy sources. Google, Facebook, and Apple have all pledged to move to 100% renewable energy in their own operations. In fact, all of Apple’s servers are currently run on renewable power. “It’s encouraging,” says Belkhir of these early corporate efforts. “But I don’t think it’d move the needle at all.”

If this all sounds like bad news, it’s because it absolutely is bad news. To make matters worse, the researchers calculated some of their conclusions conservatively. The future will only get more dire if the internet of things takes off and many more devices are hitting up the cloud for data.

“We are already witnessing internet-enabled devices, ranging from the smallest form factor such as wearable devices, to home appliances, and even cars, trucks and airplanes. If this trend continues . . . one can only wonder on the additional load these devices will have on the networking and data center infrastructures, in addition to the incremental energy consumption incurred by their production,” the team writes in the study. “Unless the supporting infrastructure moves quickly to 100% renewable power, the emergence of IoT could potentially dwarf the contribution of all the other traditional computing devices, and dramatically increase the overall global emissions well beyond the projections of this study.”

Indeed, tech’s carbon footprint is beyond what any one designer, one company, or even one government regulator can contain. As consumers, we have more reason than ever to hesitate when it comes to our next shiny tech splurge. The bottom line is that we need to buy less, and engage less, for the health of this entire planet.

Fastcompany.com

‘Textalyzers’ to catch texting drivers

Privacy advocates worry about implications of handing over your phone

“We literally are running into a crisis proportion of pedestrians getting hit, struck, killed and hurt,” Brown said. “We don’t always have to be last in safety.”

Privacy worries
Distracted driving fatalities have surpassed those caused by impaired driving in some parts of Canada, according to data from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). In Ontario alone so far this year, provincial police report that distracted driving has accounted for 44 fatalities, while impaired driving has led to 34 deaths.

Brown said he met with Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney about a month ago to talk about vulnerable road user laws, and raised the issue with her.

The province said in a statement that it is continuing to monitor the effectiveness of Ontario’s distracted driving laws, new research and what’s happening in other jurisdictions.

“Any new or enhanced enforcement tools are reviewed as a part of this ongoing monitoring and evaluation process,” the statement reads. Toronto police would not say if the device would be a help in investigations, and instead referred questions to the province.

It’s not just traffic safety. People are missing other things.

If they want to stop texting and driving. Do as they do in Alaska:

Alaska has the harshest distracted driving penalties of any state. Texting while driving has been illegal in Alaska since 2012.

  • Texting and driving is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in prison.
  • If the collision results in injury, the charge becomes a Class C felony, with a fine of up to $50,000 and five years in prison.
  • If someone is seriously injured, it is a Class B felony, with a fine of up to $100,000 and ten years in prison.
  • If someone is killed, the charge is a Class A felony, with a fine of up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison.

Imaginings from 1900 about what Life would be like in the year 2000

In 1900, German chocolate company Hildebrands produced a series of postcards imagining the wonders of life in the year 2000.

The optimistic renderings envisioned people in Victorian fashions enjoying lives of boundless leisure and comfort enabled by a century of technological advancement.

The predicted innovations range from accurate (live broadcasts of plays) to absurd (cities covered by weather-proof glass roofs) to depressingly plausible in the near future (summer holidays at the North Pole).

Movable sidewalks.

 


Moving an entire city block by rail.

 

 

Strolling on a lake with the aid of balloons.

 

A live audiovisual broadcast of a theatre performance.

 

Weather-controlling machines.

 

A hybrid railship.

 

Tourist submarines.

 

Personal airships.

 

Tourism at the North Pole.

 

X-ray surveillance device.

 

Weather-proof city roofing.

A 21,000 Car Parking Lot

As part of the settlement after it got caught cheating on its emissions tests, Volkswagen has bought back about 350,000 of its U.S. diesel vehicles. The automaker so far has spent more than $7.4 billion on the cars, according to court filings seen by Reuters.

Where does VW put all those cars? Wherever it can find the space.

The German automaker has 37 remote storage facilities across the U.S., and they’re not just parking lots. The sites include a former football stadium in the Detroit suburbs, an old paper mill in Minnesota and a giant patch of land in the California desert.

A court filing seen by Reuters said that, “Volkswagen had reacquired 335,000 diesel vehicles, resold 13,000 and destroyed about 28,000 vehicles. As of the end of last year, VW was storing 294,000 vehicles around the country.”

The Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, Calif., is already well-known as an “aircraft boneyard” — a sort of desert purgatory for old airplanes.

Now VW has made it a major place to store its diesel VWs and Audis.

“These vehicles are being stored on an interim basis and routinely maintained in a manner to ensure their long-term operability and quality, so that they may be returned to commerce or exported once U.S. regulators approve appropriate emissions modifications,” VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said in a statement to Reuters about the Victorville facility.

VW reportedly leased 134 acres at the site. That is enough to hold 21,000 cars while the company decides their fate: whether to be fixed — or scrapped for parts.

The aircraft area