George Orwell’s classic novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” warned us of a dystopian future where mass surveillance and spying are rampant, with all information flowing to an all-seeing, omnipresent figure called “Big Brother.”
But Orwell never imagined that consumers would invite Big Brother into their homes.
The last 10 years have seen the rise of internet-connected security cameras, smart speakers, doorbells, light bulbs, thermostats, vacuums and baby monitors from tech giants including Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.
Smart home devices have seen steady sales growth each year since 2016, according to market research firm IDC, which began tracking the category that year. The firm projects the devices to continue selling at a rapid clip in 2019 and over the next four years. Smart speakers and security cameras are among the most popular category.
This means consumers in this decade have filled their homes with sensors, cameras and microphones. But they have few tools to control how and when these devices collect images, conversations or any other data about them, and few laws effectively restrict how this data can be used.
Smart home devices weren’t invented in the last decade. Tech companies have been trying to push home automation since the 1990s or earlier.
But the smartphone revolution led to rapid miniaturization of technology and a rapid decrease in pricing. That paved the way for the so-called “internet of things”: the idea of embedding chips, sensors, cameras and network connectors in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. IoT applications took off among businesses first but failed to resonate with consumers for many years.
At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence made it easier and cheaper for computers to understand and respond to voice commands.
These trends came together in 2014, when Amazon launched its Echo device with its digital assistant, Alexa. It became a cultural phenomenon as sales took off, and Amazon soon expanded its lineup of voice-activated devices beyond the smart speaker to things like wireless earbuds and microwaves. Amazon said in January it has sold more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices, while a separate report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found Amazon’s Echo controls 70% of the smart speaker market.
An Amazon Echo Dot device
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Voice-activated devices created a much more compelling reason for users to allow tech giants into their homes. A 2018 study from NPR and Edison Research found 64% of participants purchased a smart speaker specifically to control other smart home devices.
For many, the convenience of asking their smart speaker to turn on the lights, lock the door or open the blinds became too appealing to pass up, kicking off an arms race among companies to integrate their AI assistants in as many smart home products as possible.
Suddenly, smart home devices weren’t just experiments in research labs or prototypes that “early adopters tinkered with,” said Florian Schaub, a University of Michigan professor who has conducted research on consumer attitudes around digital assistants. Today, smart speakers, locks and thermostats have become as easy to use as the smartphone.
“You can go into a big box store and buy lots of and lots of smart home connected devices that just function and don’t require much technical expertise,” Schaub said. “It has become a big business and market for many companies.”
As sales grew, tales of privacy nightmares grew with them.
A 2017 murder case in Arkansas ignited a debate around whether data from smart home devices should be allowed as evidence in court after police asked Amazon to turn over information from the suspect’s Echo. IRobot‘s Roomba vacuums raised concerns of data sharing after CEO Colin Angle discussed the possibility of asking users for permission to share maps of their homes with tech companies.
In 2018, users were unnerved when Amazon’s Alexa started laughing at them unexpectedly and when a stranger hacked into a Google Nest camera and started talking through it to a Houston woman’s infant son.
In 2019, users learned that people working for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple were listening to their conversations. Representatives from Amazon and Microsoft said the companies review a small percentage of deidentified users’ voice recordings and that they’ve introduced new tools to give users greater control over their interactions with digital assistants. A spokesperson for Google pointed to the company’s privacy page, in which it said it has made efforts to reduce how much Google Assistant data it collects. Facebook and Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In another case this year, a poorly protected Nest camera allowed a hacker to spout fake nuclear bomb threats at a California woman. Nest also attracted criticism after it failed to disclose a built-in microphone in the Nest Secure home security system. Then there was the revelation that Amazon’s Ring division supplies police departments with footage from its security cameras, often without consent from its users.
In a statement, a Google spokeswoman said attacks like the nuclear bomb threats were a result of credential stuffing, which occurs when a bad actor uses stolen information to access poorly secured accounts. The spokeswoman added that the company is introducing new Nest security features in the coming weeks.
A Ring spokesperson said the company has taken steps to limit how much information is shared with police departments from the Neighbors app, which lets users post photos and videos of crime activity in their neighborhood.
From the start, privacy advocates have warned of the dangers associated with these devices, not just because they’re embedded with cameras and microphones but because of the vast troves of data they routinely gather.
Devices like an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Amazon Ring security camera can track where you go, how many people live in your household, what your interests are and what you’re buying. The companies say that detailed information is often used to improve the user experience by reducing pain points like a wrong answer from the Google Assistant, or adding helpful suggestions, such as local traffic alerts based on your schedule.
Analysts say one of the many places Apple can still succeed is in smart home technology, like the Nest, a brand of Google that consists of smart home products, such as thermostats, smoke detectors and security systems including smart doorbells and smart locks. Ironically, the Nest brand name was originally owned by Nest Labs, co-founded in 2010 by former Apple engineers.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
But some privacy activists and experts are concerned about the rise of so-called surveillance capitalism, in which tech companies treat private interactions as raw data to predict behaviors. The laws governing how tech companies use the information are weak, particularly in the U.S., and enforcement often amounts to a slap on the wrist, with fines that are tiny compared with the tech giants’ overall revenues. If the data is poorly secured and gets into the hands of a bad actor, suddenly strangers and criminals could have access to a wealth of personal information — far beyond email addresses and internet passwords.
In the past, users might have thought they were just a “cog in the machine” whose individual activity went unnoticed, but recent privacy failures have proven otherwise, said Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
“Users have learned that they are of particular interest to these companies,” King said.
The privacy failures have not inspired people to dump their Echos and Google Homes en masse.
Instead, some consumers have adjusted how they use the devices. Some have also adopted what King calls “strategies of resistance,” like using camera covers for extra privacy or changing their device settings to limit data collection.
Additionally, many consumers don’t understand how much data these devices collect. Others are unhappy with how smart devices monitor and track them, but they’re resigned to the fact that they have little control over the process.
“As a consumer, you can either use these technologies and benefit from the convenience, or you can opt out entirely due to privacy concerns,” Michigan’s Schaub said. “There’s very little opportunity to engage somewhere in the middle.”
Calls for more control
In response to the privacy blunders in recent years, many consumers have tried to educate themselves on exactly what these devices are collecting.
Often, they’re discovering this is impossible.
Terms of service agreements are lengthy and time-consuming to parse through, while much of the language used is too dense to understand. It’s unrealistic to expect that users are capable of managing every interaction they have with their devices, especially since much of that data is transferred off their device and to the cloud, where users have little say on what happens next.
“Even those of us who are fully technically capable and have the time, understanding and willpower to make it a priority, those agreements are one-sided agreements,” said Daniel Kahn Gillmor, internet security technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If the agreement says we will share your usage information with third-party partners, I know what that means, but that doesn’t mean I consent to it.”
Tech companies have taken some proactive steps in light of the consumer outrage around privacy. Many have become more explicit about how they use and retain sensitive information, including Nest, which issued a plain-language document detailing its “commitment to privacy in the home.” Others created new tools for users to manage and delete their data, such as the command “Alexa, delete what I just said.”
Ultimately, experts say users and government officials should not be satisfied with tech companies’ attempts to regulate themselves.
Within the last year, regulators have stepped up their scrutiny of tech companies’ data collection. The Senate has gotten closer to establishing a federal privacy law, which could require companies to clearly disclose their privacy policies. Lawmakers have hauled tech executives to the Hill to face questioning about data collection and privacy, while the Federal Trade Commission has handed down privacy-related fines to Facebook and Google’s YouTube this year.
Even if regulators do enact sweeping privacy legislation, consumers will still need to be careful about what kinds of smart devices they introduce in their home.
“This is going to be a very frustrating, nearly daily continuous problem for the public, both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center of Digital Democracy. “Tech companies will continue to push the envelope in terms of data collection.”
The Future of MSP IT Companies
MSPs require tools that enable them to provide a comprehensive managed services experience, which means having one platform with all of the essential productivity, data availability, and security tools combined into an easy-to-use package.
This is one of the many pros of MSPs, as they can offer a one-stop shop for all of your IT needs.
Cybersecurity and emerging technology, including automation, are major trends for MSPs who look forward to the future. In coming research briefs we’ll address these topics more in-depth.
Opting for the appropriate managed service provider (MSP) for your business is a critical decision, which has far-reaching effects on daily operations. Finding a partner that is reliable and can meet all of its IT needs is essential to meeting those objectives successfully.
A reliable MSP will conduct an intensive assessment of your company’s infrastructure and processes to fully comprehend your IT requirements, offering services that best suit them for data plans, telecom options, business applications, and hardware needs.
MSPs also provide 24/7 monitoring and support, meaning if a problem does arise it can be handled instantly compared to waiting for assistance from an overburdened in-house tech team. This ensures consistent service, reducing downtime and lost revenue as a result.
As an MSP, your goal should be to expand the services you offer and increase revenue – whether that means expanding customer bases or adding innovative technologies.
But it is also essential to bear in mind that not all changes are scalable; some could impede on your business’s efficiency, leading to more expenses than profits – this phenomenon is known as diseconomies of scale, and it could spell doom for your enterprise.
Implementing new software solutions such as Tanium may require upgrading your infrastructure, which takes time and money. Working with an experienced IT partner is highly recommended to ensure that any upgrades made are scalable – they have evaluated many solutions that may work for your business and know which are ideal.
MSP companies can provide businesses with essential cybersecurity services that will assist in maintaining security. MSP companies can assist businesses with software deployment, patch management and configuration control as well as the creation and implementation of an unified threat detection and response platform to detect evolving threats.
An MSP can be an invaluable asset to smaller businesses with limited IT resources, but it must balance client needs against budgetary limitations and the risk of cyber breaches.
Customers should review MSP contracts carefully to ensure they provide adequate security measures, limit attack surface by enforcing multifactor authentication (MFA) on all accounts, and track unexplained failures in authentication. In addition, it’s wise to regularly review and delete MSP accounts when they’re no longer managing infrastructure.
An outstanding MSP provides more than just scalability; they also have the flexibility needed to help clients find solutions tailored specifically to meet business needs and budget constraints, helping to avoid costly organizational downtime.
Working from home and cloud management are driving managed services market growth well past 2020, so MSPs that offer their clients access to tools and support will be well positioned to capitalize on this market shift and remain profitable long term.
An MSP that can offer additional services will also be able to reduce customer churn and boost its revenue per client, such as IT strategy consulting or backup and recovery solutions.
MSPs offer many businesses an efficient and cost-effective method for handling IT. Their services tend to be much cheaper than what it would cost an enterprise to implement and manage on their own, and provide more flexibility and scalability than when the task falls on them alone.
MSPs typically specialize in specific aspects of technology or vendor management, enabling them to provide more effective IT solutions than an in-house team could. A good MSP also serves as a single point of contact and becomes familiar with their client’s business over time.
Outsourcing certain technology functions to a Canadian IT company can also lower overhead costs by freeing up internal employees to focus more on revenue-generating activities, leading to greater productivity and efficiency within a company.
Apple Releases iOS 17 With StandBy, Live Voicemail, Improved Autocorrect, FaceTime Video Messages and Tons More
Apple today released iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, the latest operating system updates that are designed for the iPhone and iPad. As with all of Apple’s software updates, iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 are available for free. iOS 17 is compatible with the iPhone XR/iPhone XS and later, while iPadOS 17 runs on the iPad mini 5 and later, the iPad 6 and later, iPad Air 3 and later, the second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and later, all 11-inch iPad Pro models, and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
Apple’s updated software, which is build 21A329, can be downloaded on eligible iPhones and iPads over-the-air by going to Settings > General > Software Update. It can take a few minutes for the updates to propagate to all users due to high demand.
While you download iOS 17, make sure to check out our dedicated iOS 17 roundup for a full rundown of all of the features in the update. We’ve highlighted a few of the most notable additions below, but this is a huge update with hundreds of changes.
iOS 17 expands on last year’s Lock Screen updates with the addition of interactive widgets and StandBy, a new feature that turns the iPhone into a mini home hub when it is charging. You can now see voicemail transcriptions in real time, and leave video messages in FaceTime. FaceTime also now works on the Apple TV with tvOS 17.
With NameDrop, exchanging contacts is as simple as touching two phones together, and Messages has been overhauled with new safety features and updates to the way that stickers work. Autocorrect is better than ever, Spotlight search has been improved, private browsing in Safari is more secure with Face ID lock, and there’s now a mood tracking feature in the Health app.
Passwords can be shared in iCloud Keychain and AirTags can be shared among family members too, plus there are new features for the AirPods Pro. Apple has also added updates to Siri, Mail, Reminders, Notes, Home, and more. Full release notes for the update are below.
iOS 17 brings big updates to Phone, Messages, and FaceTime that give you new ways to express yourself as you communicate. StandBy delivers a new full-screen experience with glanceable information designed to view from a distance when you turn iPhone on its side while charging. AirDrop makes it easier to share and connect with those around you and adds NameDrop for contact sharing. Enhancements to the keyboard make entering text faster and easier than ever before. iOS 17 also includes updates to Widgets, Safari, Music, AirPlay, and more.
– Contact Posters let you customize how you appear on other people’s devices when you call them with a customized poster
– Live Voicemail displays a live transcription as someone leaves a message and allows you to pick up the call
– Stickers iMessage app brings all your stickers into one place including Live Stickers, Memoji, Animoji, emoji stickers, and your third party sticker packs
– Live Stickers can be created by lifting the subject from photos or videos and stylizing them with effects like Shiny, Puffy, Comic, and Outline
– Check In automatically notifies a family member or friend when you arrive at a destination safely and can share helpful information with them in case of a delay
– Audio message transcription is available for audio messages you receive so you can read them in the moment and listen later
– Search improvements help you find messages faster by allowing you to combine search filters such as people, keywords, and content types like photos or links to find exactly what you are looking for
– Swipe to reply to a message inline by swiping to the right on any bubble
– One-time verification code cleanup automatically deletes verification codes from the Messages app after using them with AutoFill in other apps
– Leave a video or audio message to capture exactly what you want to say when someone does not pick up your FaceTime call
– Enjoy FaceTime calls on Apple TV by using your iPhone as a camera (Apple TV 4K 2nd generation and later)
– Reactions layer 3D effects like hearts, balloons, confetti, and more around you in video calls and can be triggered with gestures
– Video effects allow you to adjust the intensity of Studio Lighting and Portrait mode
– Full-screen experience with glanceable information like clocks, photos, and widgets designed to view from a distance when iPhone is on its side and charging in places such as your nightstand, kitchen counter, or desk
– Clocks are available in a variety of styles including Digital, Analog, Solar, Float, and World Clock, with elements you can personalize like the accent color
– Photos automatically shuffle through your best shots or showcase a specific album you choose
– Widgets give you access to information at a distance and appear in Smart Stacks that deliver the right information at the right time
– Night Mode lets clocks, photos, and widgets take on a red tone in low light
– Preferred view per MagSafe charger remembers your preference for each place you charge with MagSafe, whether that’s a clock, photos, or widgets
– Interactive widgets let you take actions, like mark a reminder as complete, directly from the widget by tapping it on the Home Screen, Lock Screen, or in StandBy
– iPhone widgets on Mac enable you to add widgets from your iPhone to your Mac desktop
– NameDrop lets you exchange contact information with someone new by bringing your iPhones close together
– New way to initiate AirDrop allows you to share content or start a SharePlay session over AirDrop by bringing your iPhones close together
– Improved autocorrect accuracy makes typing even easier by leveraging a powerful transformer-based language model (iPhone 12 and later)
– Easier autocorrect editing temporarily underlines corrected words and lets you revert back to what you originally typed with just a tap
– Enhanced sentence corrections can correct more types of grammatical mistakes when you finish sentences (iPhone 12 and later)
– Inline predictive text shows single and multi-word predictions as you type that can be added by tapping space bar (iPhone 12 and later)
Safari and Passwords
– Profiles keep your browsing separate for topics like work and personal, separating your history, cookies, extensions, Tab Groups, and favorites
– Private Browsing enhancements include locking your private browsing windows when you’re not using them, blocking known trackers from loading, and removing identifying tracking from URLs
– Password and passkey sharing lets you create a group of passwords to share with trusted contacts that stays up to date as members of the group make changes
– One-time verification code AutoFill from Mail autofill in Safari so you can log in without leaving the browser
– SharePlay makes it easy for everyone to control and play Apple Music in the car
– Crossfade smoothly transitions between songs by fading out the currently playing song while fading in the next so the music never stops
– Intelligent AirPlay device list makes finding the right AirPlay-compatible TV or speaker even easier by showing your devices in order of relevance, based on your preferences
– Suggested AirPlay device connections are proactively shown to you as a notification to make it even more seamless to connect to your preferred AirPlay devices
– Automatic AirPlay device connections are made between your iPhone and the most relevant AirPlay-compatible device so all you have to do is tap “Play” to begin enjoying your content
– Adaptive Audio delivers a new listening mode that dynamically blends Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency to tailor the noise control experience based on the conditions of your environment (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with firmware version 6A300 or later)
– Personalized Volume adjusts the volume of your media in response to your environment and listening preferences over time (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with firmware version 6A300 or later)
– Conversation Awareness lowers your media volume and enhances the voices of the people in front of the user, all while reducing background noise (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with firmware version 6A300 or later)
– Press to mute and unmute your microphone by pressing the AirPods stem or the Digital Crown on AirPods Max when on a call (AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd generation), or AirPods Max with firmware version 6A300 or later)
– Offline Maps allow you to select an area you want to access, search, and explore rich information for places to download for use when your iPhone doesn’t have a Wi-Fi or cellular signal
– EV routing improvements give you routes based on real-time EV charger availability for supported chargers
– Option to say “Siri” in addition to “Hey Siri” for an even more natural way to make requests
– Back-to-back requests can be issued without needing to reactivate Siri in between commands (iPhone 11 and later)
Visual Look Up
– Expanded domains in Visual Look Up help you discover similar recipes from photos of food, Maps information from photos of storefronts, and the meaning of signs and symbols on things like laundry tags
– Multiple or single subjects can be lifted from the background of photos and videos and placed into apps like Messages
– Visual Look Up in Video helps you learn about objects that appear in paused video frames
– Visual Look Up for subjects in photos enables you to look up information about objects you lift from photos directly from the callout bar
– State of Mind reflection allows you to log your momentary emotion and daily mood, choose what factors are having the biggest impact on you, and describe your feelings
– Interactive charts give you insights into your state of mind, how it has changed over time, and what factors may have influence such as exercise, sleep, and mindful minutes
– Mental health assessments help you understand your current risk for depression and anxiety and if you might benefit from getting support
– Screen Distance leverages the TrueDepth camera that powers Face ID to encourage you to increase the distance you view your device to reduce digital eye strain and can help reduce the risk of myopia in children
– Sensitive Content Warnings can be enabled to prevent users from unexpectedly being shown images containing nudity in Messages, AirDrop, Contact Posters in the Phone app, and FaceTime messages
– Expanded Communication Safety protections for children now detect videos containing nudity in addition to photos that children may receive or attempt to send in Messages, AirDrop, Contact Posters in the Phone app, FaceTime messages, and the system Photo picker
– Improved sharing permissions give you even more control over what you share with apps, with an embedded photo picker and an add-only Calendar permission
– Link tracking protection removes extra information from links shared in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing that some websites use in their URLs to track you across other websites, and links still work as expected
– Assistive Access distills apps and experiences to their essential features in Phone and FaceTime, Messages, Camera, Photos, and Music, including large text, visual alternatives, and focused choices to lighten cognitive load
– Live Speech lets you type what you want to say and have it be spoken out loud in phone calls, FaceTime calls, and for in-person conversations
– Personal Voice enables users who are at risk of losing their voice to privately and securely create a voice that sounds like them on iPhone, and use it with Live Speech in phone and FaceTime calls
– Point and Speak in Magnifier Detection Mode uses iPhone to read text out loud on physical objects with small text labels, such as keypads on doors and buttons on appliances
This release also includes other features and improvements:
– Roadside Assistance via satellite lets you contact AAA to help you with vehicle issues when out of Wi-Fi or cellular range (iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max)
– Pets in the People album in Photos surfaces individual pets in the album just like friends or family members
– Photos Album widget lets you select a specific album from the Photos app to appear in the widget
– Item sharing in Find My allows you to share an AirTag or Find My network accessory with up to five other people
– Activity History in Home displays a recent history of events for door locks, garage doors, security systems, and contact sensors
– Grid Forecast in Home shows when your electrical grid has cleaner energy sources available (Contiguous US only)
– Grocery Lists in Reminders automatically group related items into sections as you add them
– Inline PDFs and document scans in Notes are presented full-width, making them easy to view and mark them up
– New Memoji stickers in Keyboard include Halo, Smirk, and Peekaboo
– App Shortcuts in Spotlight Top Hit offer you app shortcuts to your next action when you search for an app
– Redesigned Sharing tab in Fitness provides highlights of your friends’ activity like workout streaks and awards
– Email or phone number sign-in lets you sign into your iPhone with any email address or phone number listed in your Apple ID account
– New drawing tools in Freeform include a fountain pen, watercolor brush, ruler and more to create expressive boards
– Crash Detection optimizations (iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max)
Unity Overhauls Controversial Price Hike After Game Developers Revolt
(Bloomberg) — Video-game tool maker Unity Software Inc. said Monday it’s backtracking on major aspects of a controversial new price hike, telling staff in an all-hands meeting that it’s now considering changes including a cap on potential fees.
Unity, which operates and licenses a suite of video-game development tools called the Unity Engine, set off a firestorm last week when it announced plans to charge customers for every new installation of their game after a certain threshold. The decision triggered widespread protests, leading several video-game makers to say they would boycott Unity until the policy is changed.
Under the tentative new plan, Unity will limit fees to 4% of a game’s revenue for customers making over $1 million and said that installations counted toward reaching the threshold won’t be retroactive, according to recording of the meeting reviewed by Bloomberg. Last week, Chief Executive Officer John Riccitiello delayed an all-hands meeting on the pricing changes and closed two offices after the company received what it said was a credible death threat.
The company apologized to customers on Sunday and said it would be making changes to the pricing policy.
Marc Whitten, a Unity executive, said the company hasn’t yet announced the latest changes because executives are still running them by partners and don’t want to repeat last week’s communications debacle, which led to several clarifications.
One of the most controversial elements of the policy concerned how Unity would track installations of its software. Although the company first said it would use proprietary tools, Whitten said Monday management will rely on users to self-report the data.
In the meeting, Riccitiello emphasized that the new policy is designed to generate more revenue from the company’s biggest customers and that more than 90% of Unity users won’t be affected. Several employees asked during the meeting how Unity would bounce back from what appeared to be a breach of trust. Executives said the company will have to “show, not tell” and handle future communications more carefully.
“I don’t think there’s any version of this that would have gone down a whole lot differently than what happened,” Riccitiello said. “It is a massively transformational change to our business model.”
But, he acknowledged, “I think we could have done a lot of things a lot better.”
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