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Here's why Amazon and Google are fighting to be 1st in your home –



From Black Friday sales to Boxing Day blowouts, Amazon and Google are offering their smart speakers at a deep discount — even giving them away, in Google’s case. 

But don’t be fooled by the corporate giants appearing to get into the holiday spirit. They’re looking to get you invested in their tech ecosystem and even help train their artificial intelligence.

“They’re all trying to shape your behaviour by giving you these speakers for virtually nothing,” said Marvin Ryder of McMaster’s DeGroote school of Business. He says it reminds him of when Apple debuted its iPods in the early 2000s. 

“I used to argue they should give it away because they’d sell it for $199 but it holds 5,000 songs. If I send you to the iTunes store you’ll spend $5,000 loading it, so why don’t [they] give it to you for free?”

He says the same goes for the Google Nest and Amazon Echo and Alexa devices. To get the full experience, you need more than one.

“Once you’ve got one in your home, your temptation is to go deeper and deeper and deeper,” said Ryder. “I can make more money from you down the road — whoever gets there first is going to mine you the most.”

Amazon dominates smart speaker market

Right now, said Ryder, Amazon dominates, with almost 70 per cent of the market. Google has 25 per cent, with Apple and others fighting for the final five per cent. 

“So if I can get into the home — however I can get that first thing into the home, it’s probably worth it because I can make my money down the road” said Ryder, through app purchases and add-ons like smart thermostats and video doorbells.

They also tap into millions of artificial intelligence trainers, who all contribute in their own way to machine learning and making a better, more reliable product says Graham Taylor, an AI expert who has worked on Google’s Brain Team. He’s now the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning. 

“This data is pretty valuable,” said Taylor. “The obvious value is in marketing you goods, controlling the retail channel and being able to send you ads for things it thinks you need. But the other less obvious one is around improving the system for all users.”

An ‘essential ingredient’

It comes back to a basic principle of machine learning: you’re interacting with examples provided by a system, and teaching it to learn from those examples. 

“You’re supplying an essential ingredient for the training,” said Taylor. “It’s not just the raw data, it’s the labelling and putting that data in context — something we still really rely on people to do.”

For its part, Google says its goal with the Google Nest Mini giveaway was “to reward YouTube Music subscribers. Nest Mini is a small smart speaker with big sound, making it a fun way for [YouTube Music] subscribers to listen to their favourite songs, hands free.”

A spokesperson didn’t directly respond when asked to what extent user content is used to advance its machine learning, but did say its devices would only send audio to Google when keywords like “Hey Google” are used, and you can delete any of those recordings through the Nest app. 

It also said the microphone can be turned off using a physical button on the device and pointed to its Google Nest privacy principles for more details. 

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Cyberattack exposes lack of required defenses on U.S. pipelines



The shutdown of the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline by a ransomware attack highlights a systemic vulnerability: Pipeline operators have no requirement to implement cyber defenses.

The U.S. government has had robust, compulsory cybersecurity protocols for most of the power grid for about 10 years to prevent debilitating hacks by criminals or state actors.

But the country’s 2.7 million miles (4.3 million km) of oil, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines have only voluntary measures, which leaves security up to the individual operators, experts said.

“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” Richard Glick, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said.

Protections could include requirements for encryption, multifactor authentication, backup systems, personnel training and segmenting networks so access to the most sensitive elements can be restricted.

FERC’s authority to impose cyber standards on the electric grid came from a 2005 law but it does not extend to pipelines.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline and source of nearly half the supply on the East Coast, has been shut since Friday after a ransomware attack the FBI attributed to DarkSide, a group cyber experts believe is based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

The outage has led to higher gasoline prices in the U.S. South and worries about wider shortages and potential price gouging ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Colonial did not immediately respond to a query about whether cybersecurity standards should be mandatory.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbying group said it was talking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Energy Department and others to understand the threat and mitigate risk.


Cyber oversight of pipelines falls to the TSA, an office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has provided voluntary security guidelines to pipeline companies.

The General Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said in a 2019 report that the TSA only had six full-time employees in its pipeline security branch through 2018, which limited the office’s reviews of cybersecurity practices.

The TSA said it has since expanded staff to 34 positions on pipeline and cybersecurity. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it supports mandatory protections.

When asked by reporters whether the Biden administration would put in place rules, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was discussing administrative and legislative options to “raise the cyber hygiene across the country.”

President Joe Biden is hoping Congress will pass a $2.3 billion infrastructure package, and pipeline requirements could be put into that legislation. But experts said there was no quick fix.

“The hard part is who do you tell what to do and what do you tell them to do,” Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat, said on Wednesday they have reintroduced legislation requiring the Department of Energy to ensure the security of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Such legislation could get folded into a wider bill.

The power grid is regulated by FERC, and mostly organized into nonprofit regional organizations. That made it relatively easy for legislators to put forward the 2005 law that allows FERC to approve mandatory cyber measures.

A range of public and private companies own pipelines. They mostly operate independently and lack a robust federal regulator.

Their oversight falls under different laws depending on what they carry. Products include crude oil, fuels, water, hazardous liquids and – potentially – carbon dioxide for burial underground to control climate change. This diversity could make it harder for legislators to impose a unified requirement.

Tristan Abbey, a former aide to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who worked at the White House national security council under former President Donald Trump, said Congress is both the best and worst way to tackle the problem.

“Legislation may be necessary when jurisdiction is ambiguous and agencies lack resources,” said Abbey, now president of Comarus Analytics LLC.

But a bill should not be seen as a magic wand, he said.

“Standards may be part of the answer, but federal regulations need to mesh with state requirements without stifling innovation.”


(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)

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U.S. senator asks firms about sales of hard disk drives to Huawei



A senior Republican U.S. senator on Tuesday asked the chief executives of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Seagate Technology, and Western Digital Corp if the companies are improperly supplying Huawei with foreign-produced hard disk drives.

Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said a 2020 U.S. Commerce Department regulation sought to “tighten Huawei’s ability to procure items that are the direct product of specified U.S. technology or software, such as hard disk drives.”

He said he was engaged “in a fact-finding process… about whether leading global suppliers of hard disk drives are complying” with the regulation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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Colonial Pipeline hackers stole data on Thursday



The hackers who caused Colonial Pipeline to shut down on Friday began their cyberattack against the top U.S. fuel pipeline operator a day earlier and stole a large amount of data, Bloomberg News reported citing people familiar with the matter.

The attackers are part of a cybercrime group called DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours on Thursday, Bloomberg reported late Saturday, citing two people involved in the company’s investigation.

Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual U.S. business hours.

Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that involved ransomware.


(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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