SA’s best collection of gadgets and accessories!

Are Google and Facebook Really Spying on You?

Staff Writer / 10-02-2020 / News

Privacy has become a major concern in the always-connected age of smart devices and ever-present social networks like Facebook and tech giants like Google.

Most people do not want devices listening to their conversations, storing them, or worse, sending these private conversations back to social networks and developers through their apps. But this seems to be exactly what’s happening! So, are social networks like Facebook and search giants like Google really spying on you through their apps? The quick and easy answer to that is, “yes, they are”, but probably not in the way you think.

There’s been many reported occasions where users have had private conversations and then had adverts relating to that specific topic turn up on Facebook or even on search engines like Google. Dutch publication VRT NWS reported that Google hires independent contractors from around the world to listen to and transcribe audio recordings from Google Assistant in order to improve the technology. Amazon has also been shown to practice this with its Alexa smart assistant.

Your smartphone ‘listens’ for trigger words such as ‘Hey Google’ in order to record what you’re saying, decipher it and deliver accurate results. Without the triggers, your voice recordings are just stored on the device for a certain amount of time before being overwritten; however, the concern is that these recordings may not be out of the reach of third-party apps like Facebook or WhatsApp who use this data to target you with customised, highly specific ads.

Jason Nurse, Assistant Professor in Cyber Security at the University of Kent explains this idea further, saying, “Imagine you have just started to think about where to go for your next holiday. You spend the morning visiting travel agents to discuss the latest deals and then visit your favourite restaurant, a popular Caribbean food chain in the city. Excited about your potential trip, later that night you watch mostly TV shows on the tropics. The next day, your social media feed contains flight, hotel and tour ads with deals to Barbados. Essentially, this is how data is gathered from your smart devices and then advertisers grab the opportunity to target you.”

Surely by now you’re asking, ‘Is all this legal?’ It absolutely is. Remember those terms and conditions you accepted without reading? This is where you’re agreeing to let companies share your data with third parties. Even with new laws that try to protect people’s information, tech firms are constantly looking to push the boundaries of data gathering and algorithm design in ways that can feel invasive.

There is a way to control what Google hears. Since it’s reliant on voice-activation when it hears the phrase ‘Hey Google’, disabling its access to your microphone would put a stop to the app listening and recording your voice. Tech website komando.com states that Google introduced a new My Account tool that lets you access your recordings and delete them if you want. You can also ask Google to permanently stop recording your voice.

Here’s how to turn off the "OK Google" wake phrase: On Android, just go to Settings >> Google >> Search >> Voice and turn “OK Google” detection off.

There is also a way to disable Facebook's access to your microphone. For Android users, go to Settings >> Applications >>Application Manager >> Facebook >> Permissions >> and then turn off the mic. Disabling this will affect how you use the app itself as some of its features will not be available, such as Live Video.

To be fair, these tech firms listen to your conversations to train their AI to be better at understanding you and delivering accurate results. It also streamlines their advertising campaigns to deliver online ads that are relevant to you. The problem is that they haven’t been entirely honest or forthcoming about how these technologies work, which has understandably angered a lot of people. However, if targeted ads and an accurate AI are not important to you, a simple fix is to just shut off these services as described above, or you could just watch what you say in the vicinity of your smartphone!

TECH NEWS

previous
Bits and Bytes – July 2021 Edition

Size Matters on TikTok TikTok will soon be expanding the length of its videos to three times its existing limit. The video-sharing social network has upped the one-minute video limit and will now allow all users to create and publish videos up to three minutes long, to provide more flexibility for content creators. The S21 Ultra 5G Is Galaxies Ahead The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, recently won the best smartphone award the at Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona. The smartphone launched in January this year and came out on top despite facing some tough competition – including the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, the OnePlus 9 Pro and sister device, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G. Real-Time Translation in Zoom’s Future? Zoom wants to speak your language. The video conferencing app plans on joining forces with Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions (Kites), the creators of a real-time translation and transcription software. The acquisition would change the face of video conferencing, opening the door to more communication possibilities between speakers of different languages. LG Changing Track LG is shifting its focus from mobile phones to high-powered trains. The South Korean company has created a 55-inch transparent OLED panel with a 40 percent transparency rate which has been designed to replace standard train windows in the near future. These panels are able to serve as both a medium of content display and an additional safety measure thanks to its specialised tempered glass which absorbs vibrations better than typical materials. Smile, You’re on Canon Camera Canon China has taken an unusual route to ensure the happiness of its staff. Employees can now only enter the offices on one condition – they have to smile. The AI system was created by the company and forces staff to show off their pearly whites in order to be admitted into the building. The initiative is aimed at creating happier, more productive Canon employees.

Read More...

Bits and Bytes – June 2021 Edition

Lego Inspired Smartphone has Entered the Chat Building your own, customisable phone may no longer be just a fantasy. Xiaomi has requested a patent for the Lego Smartphone, a three-piece device each housing a different smartphone aspect – camera plus PCB, battery and speaker / USB function. While not a new concept, the Chinese electronics company could be the first to execute the idea to its full potential and give smartphone users the capability to modify parts of their device as and when they choose. Huawei – The Right Time for A New Smartwatch? The tech giant plans on releasing a smartwatch range without Android in June. Since Google cut ties with the company, the Huawei Watch 3 and the Huawei Watch 3 Pro will be the first to run on the company’s own operating system – the HarmonyOS. Only time will tell if the new system will meet consumer expectations. A WhatsApp Mixed Bag WhatsApp recently announced it would no longer hinder users who did not accept its updated privacy policy which came into play on 15 May. In the lead up to the change, WhatsApp faced worldwide backlash – including from South Africa’s Information Regulator which suggested it would pursue legal action of over the inconsistent terms and conditions of the policy and wrote to the mobile messaging app requesting a revision. The heat is still on the Facebook-owned app in various countries but earlier this month, WhatsApp released some happier news. Soon users will be able to operate on four devices using a single account. This is just one among a host of other upgrades promised by Facebook head himself, Mark Zuckerberg. Other promised upgrades include the “view once” feature, allowing users to share images and videos with their contacts that will disappear after only one viewing. A Good Dose of Horror Boosting tourism and immune systems go hand-in-hand in Transylvania – the birthplace of the vampire. Bran Castle, the inspiration behind author Bram Stoker’s book Dracula, opened its doors to tourists in search of a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Tourists were given the shots for free and later gained free entry into the museum's “Medieval Torture Instruments” exhibit where they were encouraged to check out “jabs of a different kind”.

Read More...

The Hisense Infinity H50 Lite – Loaded Performance

The Hisense Infinity H50 range hit South African shores in April and has been making waves ever since. The latest edition is the Infinity H50 Lite. This device is the smallest in the series – the H50 and H50 Zoom being its predecessors – but it remains big on providing superior performance and style. Under the Hood The Infinity H50 Lite holds its own against other Android devices in its price range. The smartphone is powered by an Octa-core engine with a MediaTek chipset, a Helio P70 CPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB of built-in storage capacity – all factors that increase the phone’s smooth operational aspects. The device comes loaded with Android 10 straight out the box. Screen and Body With a 6.55” HD+ O-Infinity display, this smartphone is proudly 84% screen – a major plus for anyone who wants a phone that doubles as a video streaming and gaming device. The H50 Lite fits comfortably in hand and the design is not at all hampered by the largely plastic body and frame. The glass front adds a sleek touch and the iridescent colour options, including a deep green and blue which enhance the high-end feel of the smartphone. The speaker is located at the base of the phone and comes equipped with a nifty noise cancellation feature. Camera Quad camera capabilities are the norm right now and the H50 Lite is no exception. The phone boasts a 2 MP macro lens, a 2 MP depth camera, 5 MP wide-angle camera and 48 MP HD main camera that come together beautifully to create clear and colour-intense images. The bokeh effect is also active here, ensuring faces and people really stand out in a pic. The 16 MP front-facing camera’s beauty mode ensures the perfect selfie every time by reading and adjusting to the environment. Battery The Lite is powered by a 5100 mAh battery so expect longer usage times. Fast charging is possible thanks to the MediaTek Pump Express 2.0, which drastically reduces charging times. Verdict If you’re in the market for a device that doesn’t compromise on style or performance – even on a budget, the Hisense Infinity H50 Lite could be the one for you!

Read More...

next