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This Week in Tech

RFID makes way for cameras & AI

This week has a lot of news, in many mixed areas of interest. No space for an into - just jump in and enjoy!

Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience'

I'm not sure how it slipped past, but the last post was meant to include the new Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience' shop that has just opened in Seattle.

Unfortunately there's a queue to get in...

Seriously though...

RFID was always touted as the way that shoppers would be able to pile goods in their shopping cart and then simply walk out the shop and have the sensors automatically read the price of their goods and bill them without having to stand in a queue. That dream has not (yet) materialised - and is vulnerable to people doing things like removing the RFID tag from goods, swapping tags on expensive goods for cheaper ones, etc.

Amazon thinks they have a solution. A shop where you can only enter by having your smartphone scanned, and then being watched by many, many, many cameras that track what you put into your basket so the system bills your credit card when you walk out. Several news outlets have tried shoplifting (and failed - here's Ars Technica's report on their attempt) but some youtubers have claimed success.

There are some obvious cheats - shelves are designed to try to ensure that you can't put items back in the wrong place (to make it easier for the computers to identify them)

Here's Amazon's info page.

Think of the thousands of cashier jobs that will be lost if this technology proves a success (Forbes has).

UK Airport Security takes romance into consideration.

Digital Trends has the scoop - an amusing read.

Contactless (NFC) cards and security in SA

MyBroadband has an article where banks tout the safety of the system. No research, just spokespeople...

The value of Data

MyBroadband has an article on how Vodacom makes R2 BILLION per month on data alone.

Keeping fit... leaks info on military bases

Making data sharing an opt-out feature is always a bad idea. Sure, it lets companies be confident that they will be able to slurp up data from users who don't think about the fact that they are being tracked - or are too lazy (or ignorant) to turn off data sharing for the app. But even 'anonymised' data has its risks. This week it emerged that Strava, a fitness tracking service, has inadvertently spilled the beans on military and other secret installations around the world.

Users of products such as fitbit go out for a run. Their route is tracked. The data is 'cleaned' and anonymised and uploaded. Strava thought it was a great idea to aggregate the data and display it on a global map so that fitness buffs could find popular places to run and exercise. Problem is, some of those routes are run by military personnel inside military bases... Read it at Hackaday and Nine.Com.au (some good graphics and explanations of consequences here).

More Privacy - G.D.P.R. and how tech companies are scrambling to prepare for it

This one is important. Europe has a new set of rules to protect privacy (General Data Protection Regulation) which come into effect on 25 May 2018. If your internet service breaches these rules then your company can be fined up to 4% of your yearly income. As you can imagine, big companies are working hard to make sure that they comply.

Often they take the easy way out - excluding privacy busting features of their products from the European market.

An interesting read.

More Amazon - patent granted for wristband to track workers

Gizmodo has an article on a patent that has just been granted to Amazon. The patent is for a bracelet that workers will wear - and which will allow their hand movements to be tracked. This will allow the system to see if you are slacking off - or making mistakes. As the article points out, this is only a patent (at the moment) and probably serves as a way to treat human workers more like robots until robotics advances enough to replace them.

Cartoonist predicted the problem of intrusive cell phones - more than 100 years ago!


Boing Boing has more info on the cartoon and cartoonist.

Bitcoin miner uses oil to cool his rig

Submerging your computer in oil is an effective (if messy) way to keep it cool (oil does not conduct electricity but is good at dispersing heat). The really interesting thing about the article from Motherboard is some of the statistics it reveals about the cost of mining bitcoin. If you have been carried away by the soaring price of Bitcoin in the last short while, these stats will be of particular interest to you. Summarised, they are:

    • The rig cost $ 120 000.
    • It uses 50 Kw of electricity a month (about the same as 25 households).
    • It mines 1.5 bitcoins a month.

Bitcoin and TAX

If you have made some money from Bitcoin (or know someone who has) then read this. Hope you put aside the tax man's share...

MinION - Palm sized DNA Sequencer

It took a group of scientists 13 years of work and cost $3 Billion to map the human genome. Supercomputers and distributed computing techniques were needed to do the work. Now the MinION, the pocket sized device in the video below connects to your laptop or desktop using USB 3 (and is powered by UB) and can map a genome for as little as $1 000.

AR lets doctors see through your skin

Augmented Reality is so much more useful than Pokemon Go would make you think... Digital Trends has the low down on how researchers are displaying your insides on your outside to help doctors...

How much money (profit) do big companies make - per second?

Check out this interactive graphic to find out. Spoiler alert: Disney only makes $297 per second. Facebook makes $323 per second. Apple makes $1 445 per second!

What's so special about this movie?

The entire, feature length movie was shot on iPhone. No more excuses - you have the same camera tech in your pocket. Now go out and make a movie! More info available here at htxt.africa.

Paying for popularity

The New York Times has a great article on a company called Devumi that sells followers, tweets, retweets, etc for people who need to boost their metrics to prove their popularity. Some of the followers they sell are automated bots based on real people - the product of identity theft.

Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. ...

Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.

If you are still using Flash, it's time to stop!

Flash is hacked again with another zero day vulnerability out in the wild. The Hacker News has the details.

That's it for this week....

You can't repair that!

DRM VS Right to Repair

You buy something, you own it. That means you have the right to fix it if it breaks, right? That's what you might think, but that's not always the case in the world of tech - and tech driven products (which can include anything from cars to combine harvesters). The right to repair problem in South Africa is mainly limited to cars - car manufacturers refusing to provide independent repair workshops with information / parts needed to repair vehicles - people must rather use the (more expensive) manufacturers repair service instead.

In places like America manufacturers can not only obstruct repairs by third parties but they can also sue you if you try to repair the product using a third party - or try to do it yourself. They claim the the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protects the software in their product and that repairing it infringes their copyright.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has a great summary article on the concept of why we need a 'right to repair' and Motherboard has a great article on how farmers are at the forefront of the fight for the right to repair in America. More great social implications material here!

Hacking news for the week:

Hacking prevention for the week:

  • Common Craft : a video on how to avoid identity theft - designed to be used for education.
  • CSO Online : a technical look how difficult it is to automate protection against phishing and spear phishing. More for your use than the classroom.

IT Divisions - how they see themselves and others

Good summary of how IT divisions see themselves on Imgur - but if you are worried about 'flipping the bird' or feel that your learners / colleagues / parents easily take offence then don't use it in class.

Your Pacemaker can snitch on you

Even devices that you think couldn't possible reveal details of your life can and do!

A man gets in some kind of financial trouble. Decides on an old but favourite criminal solution to the problem: burn down his house for the insurance money. When the fire is done and dusted, he has an insurance claim for around $400 000 in damages (well over R 4 million). He claims he managed to save some stuff from the fire by putting it in suitcases and chucking it out the window - and then lugging it to safety. Problem is, he has a pacemaker. Police got the data from his pacemaker and it shows no evidence of the strenuous activity involved. That and the fact that firefighters have identified that the fire was started from multiple points outside the house have led to the man being charged with arson and insurance fraud.

Article at Network World.

SHIMMERS: Chip & Pin cards can be skimmed

Now you can worry about your chip and pin cards not being safe in ATM machines and POS card readers. Hackers insert a circuit between the card and the chip reader. This captures the card data before passing it through to the ATM / POS device. The bad guys can then make a duplicate magnetic stripe version of the card.

Article and pictures at Krebs on Security.

Robots VS immigration / Globalisation

Trump says American workers are losing jobs to immigrants and globalisation (sending jobs to other countries where labour is cheaper). He has forgotten about (or simply doesn't know about) the real reason for job losses: robots and automation. CNN Money has a great article and video on the topic. The video is a perfect resource for the 'social implications of IT'.

Fake news corner

This dog seen at the protests against Trump's 'Muslim Ban' says it all:

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