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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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General

This Alexa-Enabled Talking Fish Twerks and Responds to Your Voice

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Amazon has the perfect “catch” for quirky gift-givers this holiday season: an Alexa-enabled fish that twerks, sings, and acts like a mini personal assistant.

Meet Big Mouth Billy Bass, a wiggly wonder that’s only $39.99 and a step up from the conventional smart home set-up. This bad boy gets groovy to the original song “Fishin’ Time” and has a personality of his own. The best part? You can connect Big Mouth Billy Bass to a compatible Echo device and receive all the Alexa perks, including voice-recognition commands, reminders, and more.

Once Big Mouth Billy Bass is synced with a compatible Echo device, he’ll dance to songs played through Amazon Music, perk his head up when you say “Alexa,” and move his mouth to lip-sync with Alexa responses. Plus, he also moves around when an Alexa alarm, reminder, or timer is triggered.

You’ll scare any guests that visit your house, because they’ll think that Big Mouth Billy Bass is a stationary home decor decoration. Once the tacky fish responds to Alexa activity, they’ll be totally surprised and caught off guard.

If you’re still not “hooked” on Big Mouth Billy Bass, see what customers had to say about this hilarious fish and why they bought it for their homes.

Gary McKnight, an Amazon customer, writes:

“I bought this because it looked terrifying having Alexa’s voice coming from a mounted fish and I was not disappointed. This thing creepy. The way is swings it’s head and tells you with cold dead eyes that your package has arrived is amazing.”

And Dr. B.L., another Amazon reviewer, says:

“I have a lot of art in my house, but none of its makes me laugh. Billy Bass does! It’s “ketchy,” [and] it’s plastic, but that’s what makes it fun. And, it’s responsive…in a hysterical way.”

If you know someone who could use some humor around the holidays, gift them Big Mouth Billy Bass. For only $39.99, you’ll delight them with a weird and hilarious present that’s smart-home compatible and will generate lots of laughs.

Buy Big Mouth Billy Bass here

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Report: Amazon Go Eyes Airports For Checkout-Free Stores

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Amazon reportedly wants to bring its checkout-free store format to airports, according to Reuters.

First introduced in Seattle early this year, Amazon Go invites customers to “just grab and go”—no checkout required.

The setup—already operational in California, Illinois, and Washington—is ideal for hungry, time-pressed travelers, Reuters said, citing public records and “a person familiar with the strategy.”

Customers can simply sign into the Amazon Go mobile app to enter the store, shop as usual, and walk out the doors without touching a wallet or pin pad.

Relying on computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning (the same functions used in self-driving cars), the company’s so-called “Just Walk Out Technology” automatically detects when a product is removed from or returned to shelves, and keeps track of them in a virtual cart.

Upon departure, your Amazon account is charged and a receipt is sent.

The company, which built its fortune as an online bookseller, has opened seven outposts since January: in Chicago, its hometown Seattle, and, most recently, San Francisco.

Moving into airports certainly makes sense: Hundreds of millions of passengers board flights at the country’s busiest airports every year. And who can be bothered to chat with a cashier or wait in long lines while connecting between flights? The grab-and-go strategy is effortless—particularly when hauling luggage.

It’s not as easy as installing scanners and prepping food, though: Airport employees must gain security clearances; square footage is expensive to lease; and public bids are often required.

That doesn’t seem to have stopped Amazon from at least exploring the possibility.

Citing email correspondence between the e-commerce giant and “top U.S. airports,” Reuters tipped possible launches at Los Angeles International (the second-busiest airport in the country) and San Jose International.

The news comes just one week after The Wall Street Journal reported plans for Amazon to bring its cashier-less technology to bigger stores.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

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Apple

Oops: Apple’s Squid Emoji is Upside Down

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Silicon Valley has a habit of not learning from its mistakes.

The Internet made a scene early this year when Unicode revealed 157 new emojis—including something vaguely like a wheeled transport device, a backwards Deoxyribonucleic acid, and an anatomically incorrect shellfish.

Now, we all send texts featuring modern skateboards, right-handed double helixes, and 10-legged lobsters … and, apparently, upside-down squid.

On Wednesday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California tweeted the alarming fact that “Apple’s squid emoji is upside down.”

“Not even squidding,” the museum wrote. “The siphon should be behind the head. [Right now] it just looks like a weirdo nose.”

The muscular structure, located on the mantle, is used for respiration and discharge of waste, as well as locomotion. Water gets sucked into the mantle cavity, then pushed out of the funnel in a fast, strong jet. Its direction can be changed to suit the traveler’s route.

But no matter what, the siphon can not physically move from one side of the body to the other.

In Cupertino’s version, the cephalopod looks like Karl Malden.

“I noticed the error when I first saw the game but had some pressing ocean issues prioritized ahead of it,” Patrick Webster, social media content creator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said in a statement emailed to Geek. “[Wednesday] morning, a meme template with a penchant for biologically accurate emoji asked to use our Twitter feed for a quick PSA, and now here we are.”

The squid emoji was first introduced in 2016. But folks must have been too incensed by Google’s upside-down cheeseburger to even notice.

More than 70 new emoji were released as part of Apple’s recent iOS 12.1 update; iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac users now have access to characters with red, grey, or curly hair, more emotive smiley faces; and additional representations of animals, sports, and food (including a cream cheese-covered bagel).

There is no word on whether the squid issue will be resolved. Apple did not immediately respond to Geek’s request for comment.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Friday, Dec. 7, with comment from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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