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You Know Your Smartphone is Spying on You, But It’s Worse Than You Think

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Is your phone surreptitiously monitoring you?

Yes. Of course, it is. You knew that, I knew that, it’s just a given these days. But, it’d also perhaps quite a bit worse than you may have suspected. Many top apps, for instance, are secretly taking screenshots and videos and sending them to other people, according to a new study.

That means, of course, anything that shows up on your screen could be digital fodder.

“We found that thousands of popular apps have the ability to record your screen and anything you type,” said David Choffnes told Techxplore. “That includes your username and password, because it can record the characters you type before they turn into those little black dots.”

So much is worse than we first think — especially in cybersecurity. But damn, this is bottom barrel. I’m no slouch when it comes to security, but this trumps even my memorized 28 character iPhone passphrase.  

The study started because a pair of students — Elleen Pan and Jingjing Ren — wanted to investigate the common urban legend that phones are listening in conversations and shooting out adverts based on that. I think we’ve all had that feeling when a friend tells us about a new thing and then suddenly that’s your top suggested item on Amazon. And that is the absolute worst feeling of deja vu. Unfortunately, while that isn’t exactly what’s happening, the reality is quite a bit worse.

“We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Choffnes, “and we were surprised to find several needles.”

“This opening will almost certainly be used for malicious purposes,” said Christo Wilson, another professor who supervised the students. “It’s simple to install and collect this information. And what’s most disturbing is that this occurs with no notification to or permission by users. In the case we caught, the information sent to a third party was zip codes, but it could just as easily have been credit card numbers.”

The fact that there were “no audio leaks at all,” according to Wilson leaves me with a bizarre feeling of unease though. Because we all know that happens, but, then again, if Target can figure out you’re pregnant like two months in, maybe we really are that predictable.  

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Pick: Fossil Sport Is a Stylish Smartwatch for Everyday Use

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If you need a wearable accessory that doesn’t look or feel like a bulky device, you might want to consider the Fossil Sport. This smartwatch has a versatile design, extended battery life, and it comes with great tech features, including fitness tracking and heart rate monitoring.

According to our sister site PCMag.com, Fossil Sport is one of the best smartwatches for everyday use. It doesn’t come cheap at $275, but this device features the latest Google Wear OS hardware and software, coordinates with many wardrobe items, and offers accurate health stats if you want to count your steps or check your heart rate. The Fossil Sport is available on Amazon and Fossil’s website.

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The Fossil Sport might seem like an athletic accessory, however, its minimal design works for casual or formal attire: You can definitely wear this sleek wearable to brunch, the gym, and work. If you want to customize your Fossil Sport, you can choose from 28 different watch straps, which are $25 each and sold separately.

Unlike other smartwatches, the Fossil Sport is easy to use: There are three controls on the side of the smartwatch, including a rotating crown. The rotating crown will take you through the menu and notifications, while the other two buttons can be set to open your preferred apps, including Google Fit and Spotify.

Love working out? The Fossil Sport can help accurately track your steps and monitor your heart rate throughout the day. Whether you’re jogging, walking, or lifting weights, the Fossil Sport will keep you posted on health stats and your mileage. However, if you need more advanced fitness tracking and ECG readings, you might want to consider another smartwatch since Fossil Sport covers the basics in both areas. Additionally, this smartwatch is water-resistant up to 5 ATM, so you don’t have to worry about damaging it in the shower or pool.

One more important feature to note is the Fossil Sport’s battery life: Fossil said the watch can last roughly 24 hours, however, it might require additional charging if you use it for 12 or more hours. Thankfully though, if the smartwatch battery drains to 10 percent, it will go into Battery Saver Mode, a Wear OS feature that gives the battery two extra days of power.

For more specs on the Fossil Sport, you can read the extensive review on PCMag.com. And, if you need help choosing another wearable accessory, check out our Geek Pick Review for the Fitbit Charge 3 and our Fitness Tracker Roundup for Tech Lovers.

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Oops: Facebook Stored ‘Hundreds of Millions’ of Passwords in Plain Text

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It’s time to change your Facebook (and Facebook-adjacent-apps) password.

Security researcher Brian Krebs on Thursday revealed that “hundreds of millions” of user passwords have been stored in plain text—easily searchable by social network employees—for as long as seven years.

Facebook said it spotted the breach during a routine security review in January (yet kept it a secret for two months, until Krebs forced their hand).

“Our login systems are designed to mask passwords using techniques that make them unreadable,” Pedro Canahuati, VP of engineering, security, and privacy at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

In security terms, the company “hashes” and “salts” codes, allowing it to replace actual passwords with random, incomprehensible sets of characters.

It’s unclear, then, why so many private keys—between 200 million and 600 million—were exposed to more than 20,000 Facebook employees.

“In this situation what we’ve found is these passwords were inadvertently logged but that there was no actual risk that’s come from this,” Facebook software engineer Scott Renfro told KrebsOnSecurity.

Citing an anonymous Facebook insider, Krebs reported that access logs showed some 2,000 engineers and developers made approximately 9 million queries for data elements containing plain-text user passwords.

“To be clear, these passwords were never visible to anyone outside of Facebook,” Canahuati confirmed. “We have found no evidence to date that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed them.”

The social network has since fixed the issue, and is notifying anyone whose passwords were stored incorrectly—including Facebook, Facebook Lite, and Instagram users.

It’s always a good idea to switch up your passwords following a security breach. Folks are encouraged to choose strong, complex, and preferably unique phrases, and enable two-factor authentication when possible.

“There is nothing more important to us than protecting people’s information,” Canahuati wrote on the blog. “And we will continue making improvements as part of our ongoing security efforts at Facebook.”

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Watch 20 Minutes of Ads to Earn Free Movie Tickets

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Summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders don’t come cheap: The average price for a cinema ticket in 2018 was more than $9, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

But what if you could watch first-run movies, in theaters, absolutely free?

That’s the idea behind PreShow, established by Stacy Spikes, co-founder of MoviePass and the Urbanworld Film Festival.

Since it launched Thursday on Kickstarter, the project has collected more than $9,000 from 251 backers, putting it well on its way to reaching Spikes’ $10,000 goal.

Inspired by the $11-billion-a-year product placement business, the movie-loving entrepreneur wants to bring advertising and audiences closer together.

Enter PreShow, a platform that allows people to attend films for free by watching branded content ads.

“The only people that will be able to participate are from the Kickstarter community,” Spikes said. “This is your invitation.”

Get your invitation on Kickstarter (via PreShow)

Choose from one of three Kickstarter tiers to join; each member also receives a limited number of codes to dispense among cinema-going mates:

  • $15 for you and five friends
  • $25 for you and 10 friends
  • $60 for you and 30 friends

(The obvious tactic is to charge pals per code, easily earning your money back.)

After the campaign ends in April, PreShow will start rolling out computer-generated keys to backers—first to big spenders in July, then second-wave supporters in September, and finally cheapskates in November.

Once connected, download the mobile app and log in to choose any 2D film playing at any theater.

You’ll need to watch a 15- to 20-minute video of branded content before receiving a virtual credit, which can be used to purchase tickets in advance, “the same way you normally would,” according to the project page.

Don’t expect to simply press play and walk away, though. A built-in facial recognition feature automatically pauses the video as soon as you look away from the screen or move out of view.

But with great technology comes great responsibility: PreShow promises privacy is a “top concern.”

“Nobody is recorded, no personally identifiable data is shared, all data is aggregated and anonymized to brand partners,” the site said. “If a member chooses to opt into a brand offering, they will be connected directly to the brand.”

You have 36 days to join PreShow, or convince a friend to back the campaign.

Spikes’ former firm MoviePass this week launched a new version of its “Uncapped” subscription service, now available for a limited-time price of $9.95 for 12 months, or $14.95 per month.

For reference, the standard price of MoviePass Uncapped will be $19.95 per month.

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