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Secret Service to Pilot Facial Recognition at White House

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The Department of Homeland Security last week published details of a Secret Service plan to test facial recognition at the White House.

The program will test U.S. Secret Service (USSS) employees’ ability to verify the identities of ringers in public spaces around the complex.

“Ultimately, the goal of the FRP [Facial Recognition Pilot] is to identify if facial recognition technologies can be of assistance to the USSS in identifying known subjects of interest prior to initial contact with law enforcement at the White House,” according to the DHS document.

Currently, Secret Service members assigned to high-ranking government officials, their families, and visiting heads of state rely on photos to identify subjects of interest.

“The USSS believes that deploying facial recognition technology will allow … law enforcement personnel to conduct a facial comparison prior to interaction or engagement,” Homeland Security said.

The pilot program will be carried out in two separate areas of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: an open setting, “where individuals are free to approach from any angle,” and an indoor space that “provides a controlled flow of individuals.”

Each will use video streams from existing Crown Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera systems, and can capture facial images from as far as 20 yards.

The pilot is scheduled to end on Aug. 30, 2019, at which point all collected facial image data will be deleted from the system.

Still, thousands of people going about their daily business near the White House are having their faces scanned, and possibly falsely matched to target subjects (in this case, volunteer USSS officers).

A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service told Geek in an email that “For operational security purposes we do not comment on the means and methods of how we conduct our protective operations.”

It also didn’t actively share details of the upcoming program.

Rather, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this week highlighted the document—which reveals that “members of the public may be unaware that their facial images are being captured and used by a facial recognition technology,” but that people “cannot opt-out” of the testing.

Folks can expect public notice of the deployment, though there is no word on when the pilot will begin.

“While this pilot program seems to be a relatively narrowly defined test that does not in itself pose a significant threat to privacy, it crosses an important line by opening the door to the mass, suspicionless scrutiny of Americans on public sidewalks,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, wrote in a blog post.

“Face recognition is one of the most dangerous biometrics from a privacy standpoint because it can so easily be expanded and abused,” he continued, “including by being deployed on a mass scale without people’s knowledge or permission.”

The DHS pilot document is deliberately obscure; puzzle pieces will remain missing as a safety precaution. But unanswered questions do more to stoke the fire than put out the flames.

“The program is another blinking red light for policymakers in the face of powerful surveillance technologies that will present enormous temptations for abuse and overuse,” Stanley said, urging Congress to “demand answers” and intercede, if necessary.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 9:30 a.m. ET with comment from the U.S. Secret Service.

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Ears-On: The 4th Gen Astro A40 TR Headset + Mixamp TR Improves Upon Perfection

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If you’ve ever shopped around for a gaming headset then you’ve surely heard of Astro Gaming. For years, the company has released some of the very best headsets on the market. Its most famous product is the Astro A40 TR, which professional players swear by. The company recently released the fourth generation of its classic headset, also named the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR. I was sent a unit for review and put it through its paces. I’ve tested out many headsets in recent years and can easily say the Astro A40 TR is the best headset on the market.

The Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR comes in an oversized box containing the headset, the mixamp, and a detachable boom mic. You’ll also find a 3.0m Micro-USB Cable, 2.0m A40 TR Inline Mute Cable, 3.0m TOSlink Optical Cable, and 0.5m Digital Daisy Chain Cable. Technically, users only need to plug the auxiliary cable directly into their PC or console of choice to use the headset. However, to get the most of out the A40, you’re going to need all of those other aforementioned cables to use with the mixamp. Note that the mixamp only works with PC and PS4.

The headset is lightweight and feels great to wear, even during extended gaming sessions. Two metal tubes connect the ear cups to the headband and you can slide the ear cups up or down as needed. You can swap out the ear cushions, microphone, headband, and speaker tags. You can replace all of these parts with a separately sold modkit to give your headset a more personal touch. I really liked how the headset felt on my big head. The soft cushion ear cups that envelop one’s ears are especially comfortable. They don’t cancel outside noises as well as other headsets, but it wasn’t an issue for me. I don’t like completely cutting myself off from the outside world when gaming.

Aesthetically, the A40 TR is both stylish and practical. Black plastic surrounds the headband and ear cups, while the metal tubes connecting them are silver. The metal tubes resemble antennas and give the headset a somewhat retro vibe. On the sides of the ear cups are glossy removable speaker tags with the Astro logo on one, and the A40 logo on the other. Both look sleek and discreet. The speaker tag with Astro emblazoned on it has a hole for the boom mic, which you can use on either ear. I like how minimalist the headset is. It looks good resting on your head or sitting on your desk.

To get the most out of the A40 TR, you’ll need to use the Mixamp TR. This small box has two large knobs on top. The bigger of the two is for adjusting the overall volume, while the smaller knob lets you balance between chat and game audio. There are four presets between the buttons, though I found the “AR” preset works best. The back contains a number of ports, the most important being the optical and USB ports. There’s also a switch in the back that lets you swap between PC and PS4. Professional players will appreciate the daisy chain ports that let them connect multiple mixamps. The stream port lets you connect to a PC or capture card to capture all of the audio into one source. You can do a lot via the Mixamp.

The USB and optical cables for the mixamp are lengthy. Since I had the mixamp next to the PS4, I ended up with a jumble of cables on the floor. However, if you can’t have the mixamp near your system, you’ll appreciate the cables’ lengths. Unfortunately, the inline cable you plug into the mixamp isn’t as long as the USB or optical cables. I had almost no slack while playing, requiring me to sit closer to my TV than usual. If you play using a monitor on your desk, this won’t be an issue, but it was for me. It isn’t a deal breaker, but I kept worrying I’d yank the mixamp if I moved too much.

To test the sound quality, I played The Division 2, Days Gone, and the Castlevania Collection on PS4. On PC, I played Doom and Sonic Mania. The headset does a fantastic job of transporting you into the open worlds of The Division 2 and Days Gone. Every sound came through clearly, including softly blowing winds, chirping birds, running rivers, and wandering animals (both friendly and otherwise). When the action ramped up, gunfire, explosions, and screaming came through with crystal clarity. Retro games sound great as well, even if they’re not as aurally complex.

One downside in the audio department is there’s no inline volume control. You can only adjust the volume through the mixamp, meaning you’ll either have to pause the game or wait for a lull in the action. If the mixamp is far from you (as was the case with me), the issue becomes more prominent. Every game has different sounds so you’ll need to find a balance where you hear every subtle noise but don’t have your ears blown out when the action picks up.

This is a gaming headset but you can use it to listen to your favorite tunes either at home or on the go. Though sound quality is excellent for video games, I find it comes up lacking for music. There’s a decided lack of bass, which makes music sound thin and less impactful. If you’re on the road or inside a train, you probably won’t notice this, but you will if you’re in a quiet room. I suggest using the A40 for gaming as intended and to use a different headset to listen to music.

The boom mic captures one’s voice perfectly. A lot of headsets tend to make your voice sound thin and trebly. The A40 has some of that, but definitely not as much as I’ve experienced before. I recorded myself on my PC and liked what I heard. Friends who I played The Division 2 with also said I sounded better than I do when using my beloved Hyper Cloud II headset. If you’re a full or part time streamer, you won’t have to worry about your voice sounding crappy with the A40 TR.

I can’t speak for the original version of the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR but I find its current iteration absolutely brilliant. It looks great, feels good to wear, and really pulls you into whatever game you’re playing. At $249.99 (available on Amazon), it is an expensive peripheral. However, if you’re a professional gamer or just a really dedicated enthusiast, it is worth every single penny. The A40 is now my default headset and I highly recommend it.

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The Best Streaming Media Device: Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire

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Let’s be frank: there is probably too much stuff plugged into your TV. A few companies are looking to declutter your media center by selling you an all-inclusive media streaming device with a tiny footprint that plugs right into your screen. Two popular media streaming devices are the Google Chromecast (3rd Generation) and the Roku Streaming Stick, but a few new competitors have joined the fray for your entertainment needs.

Roku has the experience coming into the fight; the company has been in the streaming business since 2008, starting with set-top boxes and introducing the first Roku Stick in 2012. Google followed suit with the Chromecast in 2013. Amazon, the internet bookseller turned one-stop shop for pretty much everything, is also making moves in the streaming media space with its Fire TV Stick. Their hardware initiatives have been uneven, but with a push for streaming video, it only made sense for them to try and carve out a chunk of the TV market.

Photo Credit: Roku

The truth is nobody really cares who makes the things that put content on their televisions, as long as the content gets there in the highest quality with as little effort as possible. Ultimately, what matters are the apps and services that come with the hardware, as well as how easy those apps and services are to use for binge-watching sessions. Comparing Amazon, Chromecast, or Roku streaming media devices really comes down to how you use your television, and what apps deliver the content you want.

Under the Hood

Roku Streaming Stick

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The Roku Streaming Stick comes with a minimal remote that’s basically just arrow keys and a few media streaming service shortcuts including Hulu and Netflix, but you can use the Roku app for iOS and Android so your phone or tablet can be used to surf channels instead. The Roku Streaming Stick is by far the simplest choice on this list, for better or for worse. Your home screen can quickly fill up with channels if you consume a lot of media, and filtering and sorting can be annoying. Not every app follows the same design guidelines, so the experience from service to service can be uneven.

Services like Netflix allow you to go to a website and punch in a short code to authorize the device to your account, while others force you to navigate an on-screen keyboard to log in and start watching. Once you’ve logged in, the Roku Streaming Stick remembers your account details so you shouldn’t have to repeat the process. Plus, you can use your voice to search for your favorite movies and TV shows. The Roku Streaming Stick is available to purchase on

Google Chromecast (3rd Generation)

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Google’s Chromecast (3rd Generation) works a little differently. The dongle doesn’t store any account information because it doesn’t directly connect to streaming services initially. Instead, when you connect a Chromecast you set it up through a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. That device then hooks up the service and the TV.

That means you need to have whatever streaming app — Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, and so on — installed on that particular device. Once your media is playing, just tap the Chromecast button in the app to switch the stream to your television.

Whatever device you used to start the stream now becomes the remote, which you can use for pausing, volume control, and whatever else. The Chromecast function works exactly the same in every app, so if you’ve done it once you’re already an expert. You will need a Google Home device to activate voice commands, however, it’s worth it if you want to have an easy binge-watching session. Head over to or to buy the Chromecast (3rd Generation).

Amazon Fire TV Stick

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The Amazon Fire TV Stick tends more towards the Roku side of the fence with its dedicated remote, although it offers a few innovative features. The latest model works with an optional remote that listens to voice commands (much like the Echo unit does). Although it supports pretty much all of the same streaming apps that Roku does, the Fire Stick naturally puts Amazon Instant Video front and center. A separate Bluetooth-enabled remote rounds out the package. The Amazon Fire TV Stick can be purchased at

What’s on the Screen?

Photo Credit: Roku

Roku is by far the winner in terms of sheer volume of content. The service supports thousands of channels, from the big names like Netflix and Hulu down to niche services like The Monster Channel. The system’s search functionality is also extremely well-tuned, letting you hunt down your desired content no matter where it might live.

Photo Credit: Google

Chromecast started out with a fairly limited array of apps that it would play nice with, but that number has increased considerably. The real selling point here is the ability to “mirror” content from your devices directly on your TV screen. Even software that doesn’t have dedicated Chromecast streaming can be pushed to the device — games, websites, and so on. This can be pretty cool.

Amazon Fire Stick

Photo Credit: Amazon

Amazon’s offerings are slightly less diverse than Roku’s, but the service still boasts all of the big players in the streaming space. However, the device is tuned to prioritize Amazon Instant Video, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. Like the Chromecast, the Fire Stick can also be used to mirror device screens, but only phones and tablets.

The Final Decision

Photo Credit: Amazon

At the end of the day, it’s between Roku Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Although the Chromecast (3rd Generation) is the least expensive option on the table, it’s significantly less user-friendly and requires another piece of hardware.

Which one is right for you? It depends on how tech-savvy you are. The Roku Streaming Stick is a great unit for those new to streaming media devices. The remote is durable, the user interface is time-tested, and the content is robust and easy to search. The Amazon Fire Stick is more cutting-edge and has better performance, but it’s more cluttered and has less content overall.

Our final judgment: the Amazon Fire Stick is the Geek pick for best low-profile streaming device. If you can get past the intense focus on Amazon itself (and paying for Instant Video), it has the best mix of features and by far the more powerful hardware. Failing that, grab a Roku.

Streaming Extras to Consider

Photo Credit: Amazon

You should also keep in mind that as sticks, all of these devices are limited. It’s tough to beat the streaming content they can provide in such small, hidden form factors, and we think they’re enough for most people. However, if you’re willing to upgrade to a bigger, more expensive streaming box, you will get a little more.

Streaming boxes like Amazon Fire TV and Roku Premiere+ are faster than their stick counterparts and have more features, like 4K streaming. Meanwhile, the Apple TV is a great way to access Apple’s impressive, curated ecosystem on your television, and has recently announced its own 4K, HDR model. The Nvidia Shield TV is an Android streaming box with an emphasis on gaming. Or you could just get a full-fledged video game console, like a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, since they all also offer media streaming now.

Your streaming journey doesn’t have to end with these devices, though. There are a wide range of products and services that interact with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku Streaming Stick, Chromecast (3rd Generation), and others to cut the cord and put the exact content you want on whatever screen you want. Here are some of our favorite streaming TV services and why. Keep checking back for new additions.

DirecTV Now is live TV powered purely by the internet. You have to buy channels in bulk and still deal with commercials, but in return you get the real live TV experience delivered through streaming. (3 out of 4 stars)

Slingbox is more of a utility than a streaming service. But it’s a really convenient utility. If you’re already paying for live TV you can hook up a Slingbox and access that same TV content wherever there’s an internet connection.

Photo Credit: Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll is the definitive anime streaming service. Subs>>>Dubs. (3.5 stars out of 4. Geek Pick)

CuriosityStream has a nearly endless supply of educational shows and documentaries on everything from nature to technology to culture. Learn something! (3.5 stars out of 4)

Boomerang is a solid source of retro cartoons like Looney Tunes or Scooby-Doo. It may not mesh as well with kids’ modern tastes, but it’s a nifty animation time capsule. (3 stars out of 4)

FuboTV is the escape from cable that sports fans are looking for. It’s pricey, but being able to easily stream live sports and more from dozens of channels with only one subscription might very well be worth it. (3 stars out of 4)

Brown Sugar has all of the classic Blaxploitation movies you could want and then some. It’s niche, but it’s one of the most impressive niche libraries we’ve seen. (3.5 stars out of 4)

FilmStruck is for the true cinephile. Its library collects classic films from all eras and countries, including Criterion Collection movies. (3.5 stars out of 4)

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Netflix / Hulu / HBO Go Accounts

So many streaming TV services to choose from. Where do you start?


Netflix is still arguably the biggest name in streaming TV.


Hulu trial screen

Although it no longer has a free option, Hulu is a great streaming TV service that is worth paying for.


From buying to renting to subscribing to individual channels, Amazon offers a bevy of streaming TV options.


YouTube Red subscribers can watch original shows from streaming stars, but YouTube TV lets you watch actual live TV.


Hook up a Slingbox and watch the cable and live TV you’re already paying for anywhere.


You have to buy channels in bulk and still deal with commercials, but with DirecTV Now you get the real live TV experience delivered through streaming.


Crunchyroll is the best anime streaming service if you’re all about subtitles.


If dubs are more your thing, Funimation Now is the anime streaming service for you.


If you want to stream shows and documentaries that actually teach you something, go with CuriosityStream.


AMC Premiere just focuses on current AMC shows, but for Walking Dead super fans that might be enough.


With Boomerang, tons of retro cartoons, from Looney Tunes to Scooby-Doo, can all come back to you


FuboTV may be the escape from cable that sports fans are looking for. It’s pricey, but being able to easily stream live sports and more from dozens of channels with only one subscription might very well be worth it.


Brown Sugar has all of the classic Blaxploitation movies you could want and then some. It’s niche, but it’s one of the most impressive niche libraries we’ve seen.


For the true cinephile, FilmStruck has a large collection of classic films from all eras and countries, including movies from the Criterion Collection.


CollegeHumor’s Dropout provides premium streaming online laughs.


DC Universe offers live-action adaptations of less familiar superheroes, like Doom Patrol.


Along with presenting streaming services like Netflix and Sling through one box, Dish AirTV also lets you watch local over-the-air channels with an additional installation.


Get a streaming media device to enjoy these services on your TV. Our favorite is the Amazon Fire Stick.



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Best Gifts for Grads: Tech Presents for Class of 2019

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High school, college, or graduate school is done and now, it is time to start a new chapter in your life. If you are a member of the Class of 2019, you are most likely getting ready for that exciting next step, whether it is moving to a new place, traveling abroad, starting a new job, or continuing your education. Regardless, you will need some savvy gadgets to help you along the way. Here are the best (and most useful) tech gifts for the graduate in your life, whether it’s you, a family member, friend, or coworker.

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Photo Credit: Amazon

If you like to workout, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 can help you keep track of time and give you vital health stats, including VO2 max and fitness made estimates. Unlike other wearable devices, this smartwatch is not too bulky, includes more than 15 preloaded GPS and indoor sports apps for yoga, running, and other exercise activities, and you can stay updated on smartphone notifications whenever you’re at the gym.

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Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

Photo Credit: Amazon

Dining hall days are over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be an amazing cook on your own. This Instant Pot Pressure Cooker will step up your daily meal game: Soup, stew, rice, and oatmeal can easily be made in this kitchen-friendly (and space-saving) gadget.

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Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones

Photo Credit: Amazon

Walking or taking public transit to work? You’re going to need a good set of wireless, noise-canceling headphones, such as the Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones. You can listen to your favorite playlists or podcasts without having to use an annoying pair of earbuds. 

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Portable Phone Charger

Photo Credit: Amazon

Wouldn’t it be great if every place you went to had outlets? Sadly though, this isn’t in the works anytime soon. However, you can always keep your smartphone powered up with a portable phone charger, like this one from Luxtude. It works with most Android and iPhone models and easily fits in a backpack, purse, or briefcase.

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Keurig Coffee Maker

Photo Credit: Amazon

Save money on your daily Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or bougie coffee shop trips and invest in a Keurig Coffee Maker. All you need to do is buy the K-Cup pods, which honestly save you from using filters and ground coffee, put it into the machine, and bam, you get a cup o’ joe on the spot with minimal effort.

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Fire TV Stick

Photo Credit: Amazon

Binge-watching sessions are essential for downtime, so why not keep all your favorite entertainment sources in one place with the Fire TV Stick? This streaming media device makes it easy to control and launch Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services right from your bed, couch, or desk. Plus, Amazon Alexa can help you search for flicks, dim the lights, and order takeout for the perfect movie night.

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