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News

LENOVO YOGA BOOK C930 REVIEWTHE UK’S INQUIRY INTO FAKE NEWS IS FOCUSED ON A LONG-DEAD BIKINI-FINDING APP

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On Saturday, the Observer published an article describing a rather incredible caper that took place in the United Kingdom. As part of an ongoing inquiry into fake news, Parliament seized a cache of documents obtained during legal discovery in a case mounted by an app developer against Facebook in an unrelated matter in the United States.

Carole Cadwalladr, who rose to prominence this year as one of the journalists who broke the Cambridge Analytica story, has the tale:

Damian Collins, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, invoked a rare parliamentary mechanism to compel the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over the documents during a business trip to London. In another exceptional move, parliament sent a serjeant at arms to his hotel with a final warning and a two-hour deadline to comply with its order. When the software firm founder failed to do so, it’s understood he was escorted to parliament. He was told he risked fines and even imprisonment if he didn’t hand over the documents.

“We are in uncharted territory,” said Collins, who also chairs an inquiry into fake news. “This is an unprecedented move but it’s an unprecedented situation. We’ve failed to get answers from Facebook and we believe the documents contain information of very high public interest.”

What, exactly, might be of interest here? In the Wall Street Journal, Deepa Seetharaman catches us up on Six4Three and why it’s suing Facebook:

The Six4Three lawsuit stemmed from Facebook’s decision in 2014 to stop giving outside developers broad access to information about users’ friends. The move was a harsh blow to developers, forcing a number of apps to shut down, while Facebook argued it helped bolster user privacy.

Six4Three was the developer of an app called Pikinis, which allowed its users to find photos of Facebook users in bathing suits. It ceased operation in 2015 because of Facebook’s decision to curtail access to its users’ data, according to the lawsuit.

The 2014 changes were, of course, the ones designed to tamp down on the kind of invasive third-party data harvesting that would eventually come back to bite Facebook this year with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

What makes the seizure of documents strange is that so little of the Cambridge Analytica story is, at this late date, in dispute. We know what data was made available to third-party developers before 2014. We know Facebook gradually became uncomfortable with how these developers were exploiting its users. We know they deliberated about it internally and eventually shut off the spigot.

Seetharaman suggests that it is these deliberations that are of interest to Collins. And perhaps some spicy emails will see the light of day. But it’s hard to square the facts of the case with the way the document cache is presented in the Observer, which is as a development somewhere on the level of the Pentagon Papers.

And in any case, it remains unclear what 2014 data privacy discussions have to do with Collins’ inquiry, which is supposed to be investigating the impact of fake news. The inquiry, which began in 2017, produced an interim report in July. Perhaps the document cache will link data privacy and fake news. Or perhaps a politician is simply casting about looking for new cudgels with which to beat Facebook in front of television cameras.

Collins’ committee will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, and may discuss the cache of documents then. (Mark Zuckerberg was invited to go, and declined.) But as we waited for those internal communications to become public, a new court filing introduced a rather amazing twist.

 

 

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Security

THE IOT’S PERPLEXING SECURITY PROBLEMS

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Worldwide spending on the Internet of Things will total nearly US$773 billion this year, IDC has predicted.

The IoT will sustain a compound annual growth rate of 14.4 percent, and spending will hit $1.1 trillion by 2021, according to the firm’s forecast late last year.

Consumer IoT spending will total $62 billion this year, making it the fourth largest industry segment, after manufacturing, transportation and utilities. The leading consumer use cases will be related to the smart home, including home automation, security and smart appliances, IDC said.

Cross-industry IoT spending, which encompasses connected vehicles and smart buildings, will gobble up $92 billion this year, and will be among the top areas of spending for the next three years.

IoT growth will get a boost from new approaches coming from firms such as China’s Tuya Smart, for example, which combines hardware access, cloud services, and app development in a process that lets manufacturers transform standard products into smart products within one day.

Shadow IoT Devices on Enterprise Networks

One third of companies in the U.S., the UK and Germany have more than 1,000 shadow IoT devices connected to their network on a typical day, according to a recent Infoblox survey of 1,000 IT directors across the U.S., the UK, Germany and the UAE.

The reported shadow IoT devices included the following:

  • Fitness trackers – 49 percent;
  • Digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home – 47 percent;
  • Smart TVs – 46 percent;
  • Smart kitchen devices such as connected microwaves – 33 percent; and
  • Gaming consoles – 30 percent.

There were 1,570 identifiable Google Home assistants deployed on enterprise networks in the U.S. as of March, according to the Infoblox survey. There were 2,350 identifiable smart TVs deployed on enterprise networks in Germany, and nearly 6,000 identifiable cameras deployed on UK enterprise networks.

Shadow IoT devices are devices connected to the company network but not purchased or managed by the IT department, according to Infoblox.

“Often IoT devices are added to the network without the direct knowledge of IT,” noted Bob Noel, director of strategic relationships and marketing for Plixer.

“Companies need to pay attention to the deployment of IoT devices, which are regularly put online with default passwords, legacy code riddled with known vulnerabilities, and a lack of defined policies and procedures to monitor them, leaving companies extremely vulnerable,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

More than 80 percent of organizations surveyed said security was the top consideration in IoT purchase decisions, said Brent Iadarola, VP of mobile & wireless communications at Frost & Sullivan.

However, “the unfortunate reality today is that unknown assets and unmanaged networks continue to exist in enterprise networks and are often overlooked by vulnerability scanners and solutions that monitor network changes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Still, “we have started to see some movement towards integrated IoT security solutions that offer end-to-end data collection, analysis and response in a single management and operations platform,” Iadarola noted.

Security for the IoT

“IoT security is highly fragmented and many devices are vulnerable,” observed Kristen Hanich, research analyst at Parks Associates.

“There are a large number of devices out there with known weaknesses that can easily be exploited by commonly available attacks,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Most of these devices won’t receive protective updates, Hanich said, and “as most IoT devices are put in place for years or even decades, this will lead to hundreds of millions of vulnerable devices.”

Cybercriminals have been launching newer and more creative attacks on IoT devices, either to compromise them or to leverage them in botnets.

For example, Wicked — the latest version of the Mirai botnet malware, originally released in 2016 — leverages at least three new exploits.

A new version of the “Hide-and-Seek” botnet, which controls more than 32,000 IoT devices, uses custom-built peer-to-peer communication and multiple anti-tampering techniques, according to BitDefender.

“We should be preparing ourselves for many years of attacks powered by IoT botnets,” Sean Newman, director of product management for Corero Security, told the E-Commerce Times.

Cost is a problem with IoT security, Parks Associates’ Hanich noted. “Security must be built-in from the onset, which takes time and effort. It also requires regular maintenance and updates after selling the devices, potentially for many years.”

Many device makers are skipping security to keep their prices down, she pointed out, as security “does not drive unit sales of their products.”

Medical Devices and IoT Security

The IoT’s healthcare component includes connected medical devices and consumer wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Medical device manufacturers increasingly have been incorporating connectivity to the Internet, but 53 percent of healthcare providers and 43 percent of medical device manufacturers don’t test their medical devices for security, noted Siddharth Shah, a healthcare industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Few have taken significant steps to avoid being hacked, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Network-connected medical devices “promise an entirely new level of value for patients and doctors,” said Frost & Sullivan healthcare industry analyst Kamaljit Behera.

However, “they also introduce new cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could affect clinical operations and put patient care at risk,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The perceived risk from connected medical devices within the hospital is high, but steps are now being taken to prevent attacks,” said Frost’s Shah. “Still, there’s lots to be done.”

The risk to enterprise networks of being hacked through consumer healthcare-related devices “isn’t a big issue,” according to Greg Caressi, global business unit leader for transformational health at Frost & Sullivan.

“Personal devices are not commonly connected to private corporate networks other than healthcare IT vendors,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Google and Apple have been leading the charge of smart devices into the healthcare realm, with other companies, such as fitness device manufacturers, following suit.

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News

GOOGLE HOME HUB SAYS NO TO SMART-HOME CAMERAS IN YOUR BEDROOM

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The new Google Home Hub sports a 7-inch touchscreen, a fabric-encased full-range speaker, a light sensor and two far-field microphones. But even more interesting is a hardware feature it doesn’t have.

The $149 device has no camera, so you can’t use it for video calls or taking photos.

While that omission at first blush may not seem like a big deal, it raises a handful of thorny questions about how many cameras and microphones people want to have in their connected homes and how much they trust giant tech companies to protect their data and privacy in their most intimate spaces.

The Home Hub, which Google introduced at its Made By Google product launch event Tuesday in Manhattan, is a mashup of a smart speaker and a tablet that’s often called a smart display. It uses the voice-powered Google Assistant to let you play YouTube videos, check your home security camera feeds and control connected smart-home devices like lights.

The device will go up against a growing list of competing smart displays, including the Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo Show and Echo Spot, the new Facebook Portal, and the Google Assistant-powered JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display. All five of those devices include cameras for video chats.

The Hub comes out at time when tech companies are facing greater scrutiny for how they manage users’ data and how much of that information they keep. Just this week, Google shut down its unpopular Google+ social network after the company was forced to disclose a bug that put users’ data at risk. Earlier this year, Facebook sustained a torrent of criticism after the data of millions of people landed in the hands of consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which exploited the information for targeted election ads.

Simultaneously, many of these same companies are asking consumers to add more and more cameras, mics and sensors to control their homes.

So far, smart-home customers haven’t raised persistent concerns about these devices tracking them, instead focusing more on the convenience they can offer. But that dynamic has the potential to quickly change if there’s ever a major breach related to the audio, video and shopping data these electronics can track.

When the Hub comes out on Oct. 22, consumers will get to decide whether they want to make the Hub a bigger success than its many rival camera-toting smart displays. Whether they side more with the privacy of having no camera or the convenience of video features may signal what direction smart home technology will go in the future.

“It’s kind of less is more,” said GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart, who attended the Google event. “They’re omitting a piece of hardware that costs money and does raise some privacy implications.”

Google’s view on going camera-free

While Amazon in particular has pushed full-force into offering smart speakers with cameras, including those marketed for the bedroom, Google took a decidedly different approach with the Hub.

“For us, in general, it’s not about one product or another, just the word camera — hey, put a camera in your bedroom,” Mark Spates, Google’s product lead for smart speakers, said at Tuesday’s event. “It’s a comfort thing. For us, we wanted to make sure that you could use this anywhere in the home.”

Google wanted to give customers that option after finding that people put the Google Home Mini — its most popular smart speaker — in hallways, washrooms, bedrooms and everywhere else in their homes, he said. Looking to build on the Mini’s success and avoid limiting where the Hub can go, he said, Google opted to leave out a camera.

Diya Jolly, Google’s vice president of product management, added that the company saw an opportunity to offer a different kind of smart display, after several competing devices already offered a camera. She said Google was willing to explore adding a camera to a later version, but “we wanted to see how consumers reacted and how they liked” the new Hub.

“We wanted to give users a choice of not having a camera,” she said. “There are many other devices out there that have a camera, but none that doesn’t have a camera.”

amazon-echo-spot
A marketing picture from Amazon of the Echo Spot as a bedroom nightstand clock.Amazon

In stark contrast with the Hub, competing smart displays are heavily promoting their video capabilities. The new Facebook Portal was created especially for Facebook Messenger video calls, and Amazon’s Echo Show and Spot have been marketed for their video call functions. Amazon even included a “drop in” feature that lets people connect automatically with a Show or Spot if they’ve been approved to do so by the device’s owner.

Amazon also created another product called the Echo Look that’s marketed for your bedroom or closet. It uses a camera to take pictures of your outfit choices to give you AI-powered fashion advice. The Spot, too, is marketed as a replacement for your bedroom nightstand clock.

Privacy in focus

In a nod to privacy concerns, Facebook, JBL and Lenovo offer physical privacy shutters for their smart displays’ cameras. Amazon doesn’t, instead offering a button to disable the mic and camera on the Show and Spot.

“Customers have made millions of video calls this year alone, and they tell us that they love the ability to drop in from room to room within their homes or take a photo on our devices, which is why we believe the camera is important,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

“We also built these devices with privacy in mind from the beginning,” she added, mentioning that when you press the microphone/camera off button, it cuts off power to both pieces of hardware. Also, a red light on the device is used to reinforce the fact that the mic and camera are off. “We will continue to learn from our customers and adapt our products to best meet their needs.”

facebook-portal-plus-messenger-chat-2306
Say hi to the Facebook Portal.James Martin/CNET

Following Facebook’s privacy blunders, the company took pains to emphasize the Portal’s privacy features, including the ability to turn off the mic and camera with one tap and the use of a passcode to unlock the screen.

Both Amazon and Facebook said they don’t record, store or listen to your calls through Facebook’s Portal or Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices.

JBL and Lenovo didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

By leaving out a camera Google avoids the privacy concerns raised by Amazon’s rival products and prevents a potentially messy video breach from ever happening. Amazon faced criticism for the Look, with one writer for Forbes suggesting its camera may someday be able to identify skin cancer or depression. Amazon strongly denied these claims.

“Amazon is trying something completely different,” Greengart said. “I don’t think it hurts Google to omit it, and for people that do want a camera, there are those options from Amazon and Google’s partners.”

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