Couple's Private Conversation Recorded, Sent to Contact by Amazon

Since the introduction of smart speakers, watchdog groups have reiterated the dangers of these devices. The idea of having an always-on device listening at all times is equivalent to welcoming a spy device into your home. They have repeatedly warned that the recording of conversations held in the vicinity of these devices could fall into the wrong hands - either through the company or other malicious means.

This weeks, the warning from these organizations have been brought back to light, with a fascinating situation created by an Alexa-powered device. A couple from Oregon was called by an employee of the husband, saying that they should disable their Echo because he had received the recording of a conversation from their home, delivered by Amazon. The husband did not believe the story, until the employee mentioned that they had been discussing hardwood floors.

Following that, the couple, who had multiple Echo devices throughout their home, disconnected all of them. The couple contacted Amazon about the issue, who confirmed that it had happened by reviewing account logs. The engineer, however, did not explain what had caused the bizarre and incredibly inappropriate behavior. The couple then began spreading the story, including speaking to a local news station, KIRO 7.

After becoming public, Amazon responded publicly to the incident. The company, in their FAQs, explains how Alexa works generally with her wake keyword.

Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot use on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the Cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.

With that information in mind, Amazon explained,

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa." Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a "send message" request. At which point, Alexa said out loud "To whom?" At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer's contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, "[contact name" class="UpStreamLink">, right?" Alexa then interpreted background conversation as "right." As unlike as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.

Obviously, Alexa's trigger process was, in this case, far too easy to spoof (assuming the stated process is accurate). Amazon has agreed to look into the issue and work to make the trigger less likely to be triggered accidentally in the future. The best way to limit the behavior is to allow users to turn off the method (as well as others) easily.

This will not be the last time we hear about an issue like this. These types of services are a growing market, with smart speakers featuring Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Siri and more are on sale everywhere, even your local drug store. Smart appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, thermostats and more all feature these smart capabilities. As these products grow, it is important for the companies behind them to be more open about their policies and more careful with what can be done with their platforms.

May 20, 2018 - Episode 499 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Samsung might have lost their edge, Microsoft is trying new things and YouTube rebrands their services.

Speed Up Your Computer by Speeding Up Yourself - Episode 167 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses some of the ways that you can make your computer faster. No matter how fast or slow your computer is, most of the time it is waiting on you, not the other way around. So, to make your computing experience faster, you need to work on ways to speed up yourself. For example, learn to embrace the keyboard. Keyboard shortcuts can keep your hands on the keyboard, rather than moving back and forth to the mouse, taking extra time. Also, learning to type faster is a great way to speed up your experience.

Is Samsung More Worried About Deadlines than Reliable Tech

2018 hasn't been a great year for Samsung. It's not been the PR disaster that was 2016, but it's not been smooth sailing. In 2016, Samsung famously had the Galaxy Note7 devices explode under a variety of scenarios. Even after ending sales, a product recall and "fixing the issue," devices kept sacrificing themselves to the gods of battery technology. The company also had a recall on certain washing machines because the appliances were... wait for it: exploding.

2018 has seen a number of PR issues for the company, but nothing in the realm of product explosions. Instead, the issues facing the company have come from update issues. Early in the year, the company issued the Oreo update for Galaxy S8, S8+ and T-Mobile version of the Note 8 phones, several months after the update was made available on other devices. Shortly after the update was released, it was pulled, because it was causing numerous issues on handsets, but mainly random restarts.

This week, we saw an almost identical story unfold, as Samsung finally began rolling out the Oreo update to the Galaxy S7 and S7Edge phones, months after the S8 problems. Unfortunately, the company had to pull the update because, surprise, the phones in question began random restarts, just like their younger siblings. After 2 days, the update was fixed and re-released to the public.

This is a disturbing trend from one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world. It feels like Samsung is more interested in responding to negative reports than actually making a product that people need. Being so late to the Android Oreo party was generating negative press for the company. Why would the largest manufacturer of Android phones in the world have so much trouble releasing the latest version of Android to their flagship devices? In an apparent attempt to best the heat, they jumped directly into it, rushing the update without the proper amount of testing, despite months of additional time.

Rushing on their phone updates isn't the only place where they're having problems, either. Samsung was #9 on LAPTOP Mag's Laptop Showdown this year, prompting Sherri to recommend they give up the ghost. While we would never suggest that they give up on building Android phones, we do need them to put more of an effort into supporting the devices that are already in the field. 6 months is too long to wait for an update, and breaking those phones with the update is unacceptable behavior.

Vivitar MPT-600 Magnesium Series Pro Tripod (PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed)

The Vivitar Metallic Tripods give you a high strength and lightweight solution for all your photographic needs. The metallic construction is extremely durable, providing solid performance that is compact and ideal for travel.

Vivitar DKS-20 Series One Digital SLR Camera Travel Backpack (PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed)

The Vivitar Medium Sling Backpack is perfect to bring on an all-day photoshoot. Camera, laptop, and all of your photo accessories easily fit inside. Featuring a strap on the outside to easily carry along your tripod. Two cushioned shoulder straps for comfortable carrying. Side zippered pocketed for camera and lens allows for easy access and side Velcro pocket for memory cards and batteries. Light weight design allows for easy carry.

Gourmia FryPod Digital Air Fryer (GAF365) (PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed)

Healthier cooking options are hard to come by these days. With rapidly increasing schedules and so many fast food options available, it's no wonder we all have less time to cook and prepare healthy meals that are good for our bodies. That's why Gourmia is presenting you with an amazing piece of technology that will change the way you eat and cook - The Digital Air Fryer Classic!

April 22, 2018 - Episode 498 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, mobile messaging gets more confusing, Capcom shows why free-to-play is annoying and AT&T announces a new streaming service under oath.

Best and Worst Laptop Brands 2018 - Episode 166 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses our favorite topic of the year: LAPTOP's Best and Worst Laptop Brands. Every year, the company creates a report card for the top 10 brands, with LAPTOP reviews, design, support & warranty, innovation and value & selection all factoring into the scores. This year, Lenovo once again reigns supreme, and Samsung and MSI sit at the bottom. Avram explains why and what it means for consumers.

Google Doubles Down on Unbelievably Confusing Messaging Strategy

Over the past few years, it has been nearly impossible to understand what Google is up to when it comes to messaging. They have rolled out several services, all with a similar and tragic fate: abandonment. When the service isn't abandoned entirely, it has features stolen for another platform, as was the case with Google Hangouts, which lost features to Google Allo. Google Allo, the not quite WhatsApp clone, is the most recent service to be abandoned by the company. The service was never widely accepted, possibly because at launch the service didn't really work - at least not how anyone would have wanted.

The service launched with only an iPhone (not iPad) and Android phone (not tablet) app. To use the app, you needed to use your phone number (like WhatsApp), but only on a single device. If you logged in using the same number, the original device would log out and delete your profile and chats. It seemed that absolutely nothing was saved on the internet. That also explained why it took a full year before you could use the service on desktop, though the sign-in process was even more insane and still only supported a single desktop.

After only 19 months in service, Allo is officially being retired. That's probably file, being as no one was using it. The entire development team is being transitioned to a new project within Google named Chat (not Google Chat). While it would seem that Google's next desperate attempt at messaging would be an Android-focused close of iMessage, the company has another idea that is even less likely to succeed.

Chat is designed to be a carrier-backed Rich Communication Services platform, intended to help carriers support the decade-old messaging standard. RCS supports almost everything that iMessage supports, while being carrier and platform agnostic. In the US, the big 4 all support various and fragmented versions of RCS, but only Sprint supports the full standard. Chat would give carriers another way to implement the technology. Interestingly, the reason Sprint supports the full standard is because they use a platform called Google Jibe, which seems like it would be a direct competitor to Chat, another confusing decision from the company.

Google has worked with most of the carriers around the world, as well as over 50 manufacturers, to implement the technology. While Google claims that they expect it to be available within the year, comments from some carriers suggest otherwise. T-Mobile is expected to be complete in by the end of June, but Verizon and AT&T have not announced a timeline, while US Cellular has said they have no plans to implement it at all.

In addition to phased roll-out, the other issue with Chat being carrier-dependent is that, like SMS, it is not encrypted communication. That means that it will be susceptible to the same privacy issues as SMS. Governments can request your Chat history from your carrier, and the data they receive will be easily readable. Since RCS is internet-powered, someone on an unprotected Wi-Fi network could also get your data. This is different from how iMessage, Signal and Telegram, which are similar services, all perform, being fully encrypted.

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