😷 Corona why us? / Humans + Tech - #17

+ Bluetooth has cavities + An Amazon amount of data on you + HIS eyes are watching you + Choose technology like the Amish. Really!

Hi,

I’m trying a new format for the newsletter. Hope you like this better. Let me know either way by replying to this email. Here goes.

😷 Corona why us?

Online censorship is the norm in China. Angered by the handling of the Coronavirus by the Chinese authorities, and upset by the harm that censorship of speech is causing, the people are fighting back. A California based Chinese developer has created an app that jumbles the orders of words in a sentence to fool the censorship algorithms. Her app was quickly blocked by the Chinese authorities. Others are writing messages on paper, crumpling it and then posting a picture of it to evade the character recognition algorithms. And morse code is also making a comeback. I imagine that will be much easier for the algorithms to adapt to though. Read the full article [Inkstone].

+ A fake email about Coronavirus went viral in Ukraine and had people smashing buses and blocking hospitals [Buzzfeed News]

+ The world’s pharmacies may experience shortages due to the Coronavirus [Reuters]

+ China’s students will now study online because coronavirus has shut schools [MIT Technology Review]

+ Biologists rush to re-create the China coronavirus from its DNA code [MIT Technology Review]

👀 HIS eyes are watching you

Japanese hotel chain HIS Group, apologized as hackers may have watched guests through bedside robots. Their Henn na Hotel is primarily staffed by robots. A security researcher alerted them to the fact that their bedside robots were easily hackable. The vulnerability allowed anyone to stream a video of the hotel room on the internet via cameras on the robot’s head. They ignored the warning, so the researcher made his findings public, prompting the swift apology. Next time, cover the eyes of your bedside bots, people. Just in case. Read the full article [The Register].

🦷 Bluetooth has cavities

Researchers from Singapore University of Technology and Design have discovered at least 12 vulnerabilities to certain implementations of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE is used in pacemakers, blood glucose monitors, fitness trackers, smart locks, and dozens of medical tools and implants, along with other IoT and smart home devices. All an attacker needs to compromise the devices is to be within radio range of the device. They can crash the devices, restart them, or even take control of them. Don’t worry too much, especially those of you with pacemakers, as these vulnerabilities are difficult to exploit in practice. But don’t ignore it, as it’s not impossible. Check with your device manufacturer if yours is affected and if they have a fix. Read the full article [Wired].

🔴 An Amazon amount of data on you

While the natural Amazon struggles to recover from the fires last year, the digital Amazon is thriving. Thriving on data. Your data.

Leo Kelion, writing for the BBC, said he’s an Amazon user since 1999. He recently downloaded the data Amazon had on him. Among the types of data Amazon has amassed on him are:

  • 31,082 interactions his family has had with the virtual assistant Alexa

  • 2,670 product searches he had carried out within Amazon since 2017

  • 83,657 Kindle interactions he’s had since 2018, including the exact time of day for each tap

Through its store, Kindle, Echo devices, Ring cameras, Music and TV subscriptions, Amazon Web Services, Prime subscriptions, and other services and products, Amazon is collecting data in humongous volumes on each and every one of its customers. Read the full article [BBC] to understand the scale of their data collection operation, if that’s even possible.

+ This ‘Bracelet of Silence’ will prevent Alexa from eavesdropping on you [The New York Times]. The other reason you should read this article is to learn how a husband and wife channelled their disagreement over having Echo devices, into creating this bracelet. A lesson for all of us on how to resolve disputes in a productive manner.

👨‍🌾 Choose technology like the Amish. Really!

The Amish are not completely against technology. They just consider its use on how it will impact their values. Each church community of 30 families gets to vote on proposals to introduce any technology.

One of the church members wanted to purchase a hay baler that promised to be more efficient, even as it enabled him to work alone. The members discussed the proposal — yes, the new machine might increase productivity, but how would community connections be affected if he began haying without the help of others, and what would happen if his neighbors adopted the same technology? The risk to social cohesion, they decided, wasn’t worth the potential gains.

That sounds like a great way to do it. Choose the values that are important to your community or organization. Evaluate how any new technology will impact those values. Reject any technology that will impact those values negatively, even if it improves productivity and efficiency—unless of course, those are your values :) Read the full article [The Washington Post].

PS: As an introvert, the Amish way of living sounds very stressful to me. 30 families voting against me being able to work alone - no, thanks 😄.


Quote of the week

This one, from Steve Jobs, is inspired by the Amish article, but in a more relatable setting for most of us.

He talks about choosing a new washer-dryer for their home and the values that were important to them in making the choice.

"Design is not limited to fancy new gadgets. Our family just bought a new washing machine and dryer. We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them.

It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes!

It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.

We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family.

Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water?

We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.

We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. They’re too expensive, but that’s just because nobody buys them in this country. They are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we’ve bought over the last few years that we’re all really happy about.

These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years."
— Steve Jobs

Wish you a brilliant day ahead and choose your technology wisely :)

Neeraj