Apple came under considerable flack yesterday after announcing that it was delaying protections against one of the ad industry’s ways to track us. 9to5Mac readers and Twitter users were not impressed.
But ultimately Apple’s latest privacy step won’t make much difference: there’s already a new way for advertisers to track us, and there’s little Apple can do about it: device fingerprinting. Read on to find out how to test whether your devices can be uniquely identified …
Why advertisers, websites and apps want to track us
There are two reasons advertisers, websites, and apps want to track us.
First, they want to show us personalized ads. Ads which relate to our own interests and activities are more likely to be effective. If you visit a lot of tech websites, for example, then advertisers have a higher chance of catching your interest if they show you ads for gadgets rather than random stuff.
So if you visit ten tech websites, and they each drop a cookie on your device to say that you’ve visited that site, ad networks can check for the presence of those cookies, see that you like tech, and then serve gadget ads. The same thing can be done in apps – using the apps you use to determine your interests.
Things can get much more specific than that. If you visit a website about Apple Watch straps, then the cookie can be used to ensure that, later, on an unrelated site, you are shown an ad for those straps.
Second, advertisers want to know which ads are effective. Relatively few people click on ads, so that’s not a good way to measure effectiveness. Instead, if you have been shown an ad for, say, an iPhone case, the advertiser may drop a cookie on your device. If you later visit the website for that case, the site can check for the presence of that cookie and conclude that the ad was effective in bringing you there.
The cookie will also identify which website you were on or which app you were using when you saw the ad. The case maker will then be able to conclude that it’s worth spending money on that ad on that site or in that app.
Note that the advertiser has no idea who you are. It doesn’t know your name, address or any personally identifiable data. It can simply know that person X has a lot of tech cookies on their device, person Y visited an Apple Watch strap website and person Z has seen an ad for a particular iPhone case.
Apple’s three-stage approach to limiting tracking
Apple initially recognized that advertisers wanted to perform tracking (including things like Apple Search Ads), but wanted to ensure user privacy was protected. The first step it took was to come up with something known as IDFA: IDentifier For Advertisers. This is a unique identifier for each device, randomly assigned by Apple. Advertisers are allowed to use this for tracking, because Apple knows that there is no way to use it to identify a named individual.
Stage 2 was to let users go into Settings > Privacy > Tracking and set a toggle allowing or denying permission for tracking. That was no threat to advertisers, because only someone who strongly objected to tracking was ever going to bother.
Stage 3 is the change which upset Facebook, and which Apple has now agreed to delay. With this change, iOS 14 will force apps to show a popup that asks your permission to be tracked. If you say no, the app doesn’t get to use your IDFA.
Advertisers were already concerned about that, because many people think ‘tracking’ means that they can be personally identified. A typical non-tech person is also going to imagine that ‘tracking’ means something much scarier than it really does, so most people will say no.
The ad industry’s next step: device fingerprinting
Advertisers started with cookies; Apple and others let us block them.
Apple then offered advertisers IDFA, but the delayed change in iOS 14 means that most users will deny access to that.
But as much as Facebook may be making a fuss about this, the ad industry already has another way to identify devices: device fingerprinting.
Whenever you visit a website, your browser hands over a bunch of data intended to ensure that the site displays correctly on your device. A website needs to display itself very differently on an iMac and an iPhone, for example.
As time has gone on, and websites have become more sophisticated, the amount of data your browser hands over has grown. Here are some examples of the data which your browser sends to a website:
- Browser name and version (eg . Safari 13.1.1/605.1.15)
- Device operating system and version (eg. macOS 10.15.5)
- Fonts installed
- Device vendor (eg. Apple)
- Browser plugins installed
- Screen resolution
- Screen color depth
- Audio formats supported
- Video formats supported
- Media devices attached (for input and output, eg. webcams)
- Keyboard layout
- Preferred content language
- How your device renders a particular image on the webpage
Note that this isn’t a comprehensive list, it’s just examples. When a website analyses all of the data available to it, things get very specific, very fast.
The aim of device fingerprinting is to try to identify each unique device, assigning to it a device fingerprint. This can then be used to track you in exactly the same way as IDFA.
Want to see if your device can be uniquely identified? Go to this website or this one and run the test. If you’re worried about doing this, bear in mind that any website can do the same thing – the only difference with these sites is they are showing you your data. But if it makes you feel more comfortable, amiunique.org makes its source code available, and Panopticlick is run by the EFF.
I tested both my Mac and my iPhone.
That my Mac was uniquely identified didn’t surprise me. I have a 49-inch monitor, and there can’t be too many people with a screen resolution of 5120×1440. Add that together with some of the non-standard fonts I have installed and that may already be unique. If not, a few more pieces of data would do it.
But my iPhone 11 Pro was also unique among the more than 2.5 million devices they have tested. This stuff works.
Apple’s delayed change will largely render IDFA useless for advertisers, as so many people will deny permission. But the ad industry will simply switch to device fingerprinting and carry on as usual.
Apple could fight this too, by allowing you to spoof some of the info just as you can for MAC addresses when connecting to a public WiFi hotspot. But a lot of the info can’t be spoofed, else it will stop web pages rendering properly.
The bottom line is that Apple’s delayed implementation of its IDFA popups is only really going to have one effect: it will give advertisers more time to switch to device fingerprinting. The tracking battle isn’t ending anytime soon.
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Amazon Luna, new Echo speakers, Fire TV, a flying Ring drone-cam and more: Every new product announced this fall – CNET
Amazon surprised us at its Fall Devices and Services event with its new Amazon has been developing for years have become more relevant than ever., along with the expected updates to its line of Echo, Fire TV and Ring products. The event helps Amazon generate buzz as we roll into the holiday shopping season, and for the first time, . (The annual sale is usually held in July, but this year it is slated to start on Oct. 13.) That means putting Alexa everywhere — inside homes and out — and addressing concerns, which were a big storyline in 2019 for both Ring and Alexa. In a life-at-home existence, with millions of us hunkered down for the long haul, the connected house concepts that
The company’s Echo and Fire TV products will be its first to earn sustainability badges, and it’s working on reducing power consumption across devices with a new low-power mode and an energy dashboard integrated with Alexa. Amazon also pledged to build solar and wind farms to generate energy to match the consumption of all its devices.
The company launched a cloud-gaming service on top of Amazon Web Services that runs on PCs, Fire TVs and even iOS. There’s a Luna Plus game channel with a curated set of games, and Amazon is partnering with publisher Ubisoft for Day 1 availability of some of them.
It has a custom $50 controller that connects directly to the cloud rather than the local device.
Read more: Amazon gets into game streaming with Luna
This is the custom controller that connects directly to the cloud, which Amazon says reduces roundtrip latency by 17 milliseconds to 30 ms, compared to a controller connected via Bluetooth to a PC, Mac or Fire TV.
Amazon/Screenshot by CNET
Redesigned with a new spherical shape and able to adapt to the acoustics of the room, the fourth-gen Echo incorporates features formerly in the Echo Plus. It’s also a bridge to Amazon’s Sidewalk network and includes neural network technology to accelerate Alexa.
It gets the same redesign as the spherical Echo, but now sports a stylish fabric cover and a better speaker.
Also spherical, with some kid-friendly features, the Kids Edition includes voice profiles for the children and Sidekick, which lets Alexa read to them.
It now has Zigbee and Sidewalk hubs, and is quiet when it pivots in your direction. For privacy, there’s a built-in camera shutter, and all Echo devices will have a command to review privacy settings and “delete everything I’ve ever said.” It will also support Hulu, Netflix and Prime Video.
Read more: Amazon announces the Echo Show 10
The Pro 6 is basically the same as the Eero 6, but designed to handle higher bandwidth — up to gigabit, as opposed to 500Mbps — connections.
Ring Car products: $60-$200
Three new car-centric Ring products
Amazon/Screenshot by Juan Garzon/CNET
Ring’s $200 Ring Car Cam will help users document traffic stops, collisions and other road events.
Debuting with Tesla, the $200 Connect uses a vehicle’s built-in external cameras to capture video in the event that something happens to the car while driving or parked.
Lastly, Ring’s $60 Car Alarm plugs into your car’s onboard diagnostic port and uses sound and accelerometer sensors to monitor the vehicle for bumps, break-ins, tows or other events.
There are no product pages on Amazon yet but we’ll add them here when they arrive.
It’s similar to the all-new Fire TV Stick, but lacks the integrated TV controls on the remote.
Correction, Sep. 24: The Fire TV Stick’s maximum resolution is 1080p, not 4K as a previous version of this story said.
Always Home Cam: Amazon's robot drone flying inside our homes seems like a bad idea – ZDNet
I actually had to double-check my calendar to make sure today wasn’t April Fool’s. Because watching the intro video of an indoor surveillance drone operated by Amazon seemed like just the sort of geeky joke you’d expect on April 1.
But it isn’t April Fools, and besides, Google has always been the one with the twisted sense of humor. Amazon has always been the one with the twisted sense of world domination.
This was a serious press briefing. None of the Amazon execs presenting even went so far as to crack a pun. Other than Bezos’ maniacal laugh, you rarely ever see an Amazon exec even chuckle.
So the $249 autonomous Always Home Cam announcement wasn’t a joke. It’s an upcoming product expected in 2021. And, as much as it scares me and is likely to scare my wife (and it’s probably going to scare the dog), I think I have to have one.
So let’s take a moment to recap the absurdity of what we’re talking about.
Let’s welcome Skynet into our homes
We don’t have a lot of details, but the video below will give you a quick view of its basic capabilities.
This is similar in some ways to the highly autonomous Skydio, but designed for indoor flying. The device is roughly the size of a 9-inch square baking pan (but a little thinner, perhaps). It lives in its charging dock (which also blocks the camera’s view when docked). Once you launch the device from your Ring app (and, presumably, via Alexa), the little device goes airborne.
And it flies. Through your house.
Amazon says you can specify a flight path, map your house, locate points of interest, and generally instruct the eye of Skynet where to fly. Cyberdyne, uh, Amazon also says the device has built in obstacle avoidance.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Will the device be able to avoid hanging lamps or plants? What about objects high up on shelves? Will it be able to stand back when a sleep-addled adult gets up in the middle of the night to do middle of the night business? Why would it be out and about at that time anyway?
And what about the downdraft? How close can it fly to bookshelves and knickknacks without air-blasting them to the ground?
How much will it freak out your pets? My spouse? Your spouse? Just how creepy would it be for it to hover over the kids beds because you’re too lazy to get off the couch to see if they’re asleep?
Every rational fiber of my being tells me this is wrong on every level. But as you all know, I don’t have that many rational fibers left. I’m the guy with an Alexa in every room, now including the bathrooms.
What could you do with this thing?
If we weren’t living in a pandemic, I’d definitely use this to freak out my friends. Invite them over and then, suddenly, have a drone follow them. I know two or three buddies who that, alone, would push over the edge. But we can’t have friends over now, and besides, they read my column. So now they know and the surprise factor is gone. Bummer.
The Always Home Cam is primarily meant as a remote security cam. If you’re out and you get an alert from a Ring doorbell or other security device (I wonder if this will work with other trigger devices), you can virtually fly around your house and see what’s happening.
Back in the day, when I worked 12-16 hour days in an office, I would have loved to have this routinely check on my cat (I had a sweet longhair named Samantha back then). After about five or six hours at work, I always started to worry about whether she’d climbed up a drapery and gotten stuck there. This drone would have let me check.
I do see this as a laziness enabler. Let’s say you’re not sure if you locked the back door or turned off the stove. From the comfort of the couch, you could send the Always Home Cam (can we agree right now that this thing needs an anthropomorphized name?) to check for you.
I’m actually intrigued about using this to check on my 3D printers. I do have cams on many of the printers, but it would be great to be able to send it to each and see whether or not there are problems or jams.
Of course, I usually operate the printers behind closed doors to reduce the sound, so either I’d have to leave the doors open or teach Flying Alexa how to open the door.
I’d love to be able to use this as cam for filming YouTube videos, especially if it can run a specific path and station keep. It’s not clear how much flight time a battery charge holds, but if it’s anything like the drones I fly now, we’re looking at about 10-20 minutes, which would be enough to film any one process for a video.
My guess is that the capabilities (and especially the extended use options) will be very limited on launch. But as we’ve seen with Alexa, it’s quite likely that new features will be added over time.
David’s final thoughts
I don’t know. The more I think about this, the more I want one…bad. But the more I think about it, the more I think it has to be a bad idea. The potential hacking threat is disturbing. The idea that someone could decide to launch a drone inside my house and watch me remotely is unsettling.
Personally, I’m not too concerned because my home life is already almost fully documented online, the aspects of my life you don’t see are boring, and no one wants to watch a middle-aged man walk around the house.
But the implications of abuse by law enforcement and possible stalkers is troubling. If someone has one of these Always Home Cams, can a court order compel Amazon to allow law enforcement to conduct an airborne search of a suspect’s home? Can a hacker or a stalker gain access to the video feed (remember, all it takes is a user name, password, and possibly an authentication code) and watch a victim from the comfort of his or her evil lair?
Amazon does say the device emits an obvious and clearly identifiable sound while flying, so you can hear the machine coming. But what about those who are hard of hearing?
On the other hand, the possibilities for elder care are interesting. If an aging or infirm parent doesn’t answer a call, it might be possible to launch a drone to make sure the elder hasn’t fallen on the floor away from any way to call for help. On the other hand, how much would something like this freak out an elder, especially one that might be cognitively impaired?
Again, I have to say “I don’t know.” If this thing works, it’ll be a game changer and we’ll have to do a lot of thinking about implications and appropriate use.
One thing’s for sure. Amazon doesn’t just want to hear you at home. It wants to be a full-fledged housemate. Whether that’s good or bad, only time will tell.
What about you? Is this something you desperately want or something you’re desperate to avoid? Let us know in the comments below.
You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.
Xbox explains why Series X and S storage expansion cards cost $220/£220 – Video Games Chronicle
Xbox Game Studios (Microsoft)” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/companies/microsoft/”>Microsoft has detailed the custom storage options that will be available to Xbox Series X | S” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/scarlett/”>Xbox Series X and S owners when the next-gen consoles launch this November.
Xbox” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/”>Xbox Series X comes with 1TB of internal storage, while Series S has 512GB. 1TB storage expansion cards, which are manufactured by Seagate, will cost $220/€270/£220.
In a blog post, Xbox director of program management Jason Ronald said players will be able to unplug their existing external USB 3.1 HDD or SSD from their Xbox One” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/xb1/”>Xbox One and connect it to Xbox Series X/S and play of all of their current-gen games.
Players will also be able to use USB 3.1 storage to house next-gen games for transfer and play on Series X/S.
But existing USB 3.1 storage options can’t be used to play games optimised for Xbox Series X/S and won’t replicate the speed and performance of the next-gen internal SSD. These features will require a Seagate expansion card.
“You can play directly from the Storage Expansion Card and you will have the exact same experience and performance as if the game was running from the internal SSD,” Ronald said.
“Not only does this apply to games optimized for Xbox Series X|S, but also your favorite backwards compatible Xbox One, Xbox 360″ href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/x360/”>Xbox 360 and original Xbox games. When backwards compatible games are played directly from either the internal SSD or the Storage Expansion Card you will see significant improvements in load times due to the next generation performance of Xbox Series X|S.”
Ronald was also asked to explain why 1TB storage expansion cards cost $220.
“The Xbox Velocity Architecture is a key innovation of our next generation consoles, delivering unprecedented speed and performance enabling transformative gaming experiences never before possible on console,” he responded. “This level of consistent, sustained performance requires advanced components which comes at a higher cost than traditional hard drives or SSDs often found in PCs.
“By partnering with an industry leader in Seagate, we worked together to deliver an expandable storage solution which delivers identical performance at the lowest cost possible and available this holiday.”
Amazon Luna, new Echo speakers, Fire TV, a flying Ring drone-cam and more: Every new product announced this fall – CNET
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