In this golden age of technology, millions of families nationwide have transitioned their homes into ‘smart homes’ with help from products produced by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon. While products such as the Ring Doorbell, or Google Nest can make lives easier, owners need not forget that they must always protect their private information. Just ask the Westmoreland’s from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Fox News reported that an incident took place earlier this month where the Westmoreland’s Google Smart Home system was breached. A hacker got into their system and started talking to the family via the camera in the kitchen, then started playing loud and vulgar music from the video system in the living room and cranked the heat up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit through the digital thermostat. Basically, he took over their entire digital house.

Samantha Westmoreland said about the incident, “My heart was racing. I felt so violated at that point. It gives me the chills just talking about it.”  The solution required that their entire network ID had to be changed through their internet service provider, all their passwords had to change and they had to install two-factor authentication to ensure this never happens again. This is a scary, precautionary tale. The lesson is that the internet connected things in your home are the most vulnerable to attack.  As these items spread, the need for more cyber security measures increases.

The allure of YouTube and other streaming services

As our world becomes smaller, thanks to things like the internet and social media, the way people entertain themselves has changed as well. In the 80’s there were VHS tapes, in the 90’s DVD’s, and the early 20’s was when digital/downloadable movies became available. In the last 10 years, streaming services and self-created content has become all the rage. While Netflix has evolved from its snail mail services, it still cannot compete with streaming services such as YouTube, Instagram, or even Snapchat when it comes to Gen Z users.

Creators and Viewers

There are two things about YouTube that is attractive to Gen Z user and Netflix doesn’t offer. First, there’s a much wider variety of content on YouTube, some weirder and odder than others. Second, because creators are able to interact with the viewers, it feels more interactive. If you think about it, it’s actually the exact opposite reason why Millenials and other older generations watch TV.

TV in the 80’s and 90’s

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, it was impossible to avoid face to face conversations. Jobs required people to work together and social events were in-person gatherings. After a long day, hanging out in front of the TV for hours, alone, wasn’t that big a deal. It might even be relaxing!

Human Interaction in the 2000’s

Today, in-person meet ups aren’t the only option that is available out there if you want to socialize. If you’re a bit shy or large crowds of strangers make you uncomfortable, you can stay home and talk to people from your phone or computer. You can even meet and screen dates now! And with remote jobs becoming more and more common, some people can go days without real human interaction.

Caveman Brain in a Modern World

While this sounds like a great option for those who experience social anxiety, it doesn’t get rid of the need for social interaction. No matter how technologically advanced we are (and shy someone is), we still have caveman brains. Humans are social creatures (probably why we get along with dogs) and do things in groups. A lone human is a dead human. That hasn’t changed today.

We all want to belong

Streaming content allows Gen Z members to feel like they are a part of a community. Except this community isn’t your local neighborhood gathering, but a million-member global gathering of viewers who enjoy a creator’s content. Instead of having a network choose what you get to watch, streaming content lets you find what you want to watch. Don’t like anything out there, make your own! No need for big production budgets or investors, all you need is a video camera and internet connection.

Keeping up with streaming services

For services like Netflix to be able to compete with streaming services, something has to change. While companies might focus on the streaming part, they shouldn’t forget about the interactive part. Because human interaction and making connections, no matter what kind, is what we’re all looking for. Source: https://www.adweek.com/tv-video/gen-z-spends-more-time-on-youtube-than-netflix-survey-shows/
Apple Store’s search engine has come under scrutiny recently for favoring Apple’s company created apps in its results.  Scrutiny by regulators in Europe and the United States forced Apple to change its search algorithm in July. The New York Times had analyzed the search results for six years and found that Apple’s own apps ranked first with at least 700 search terms used in the store. According to the newspaper, the analysis since 2013 included a ranking of more than 1,800 specific apps for 13 keywords. The Wall Street Journal confirmed The Times reporting with its review that found similar results; Apple’s own apps often took priority. Before changes to the algorithm, when one searched for common terms such as “music” or “podcast,” Apple Music or Apple podcasts would come up and you’d see unrelated Apple apps, forcing Apple’s competitors down the lists. This is a natural result of the company’s tight control of the process.  iPhone apps can only be installed from Apple’s Store and Apple’s software competes with many of the independent developers in the store. Newspapers get involved when governments get involved.  This issue is the subject of a civil lawsuit in the US and the US Department of Justice is considering an Apple investigation. The Dutch are looking into it as well. Apple told The Times that it has made changes to help users better find the apps they are looking for.  After the changes, it appears that fewer of Apple’s own apps appear at the top of search results.
Apple TV+ is entering the video streaming space to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and now Disney.  They have been working on original content to bolster their library and have already announced “The Morning Show,” the network headliner featuring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. Now they’ve released a list of other original shows:

1. Snoopy in Space

Original series from Peanuts Worldwide.

2. Oprah Winfrey Docuseries

Several documentaries and shows with Oprah.

3. Amazing Stories

Reboot from 1980’s show by executive producer Steven Spielberg.

4. Truth Be Told

Based on a Kathleen Barber novel; features Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad.

5. Dickinson

Comedy starring Hailee Stienfeld.

6. Ghostwriter

Teenage / fictional series where ghosts come to life out of books.

7. See

Sci-Fi drama where humans are born blind.

8. For All Mankind

Sci-Fi drama based on a Cold War space race that never ended.

9. Helpsters

Children’s program in partnership with Sesame Workshop.

Apple’s fall conference was packed with new product announcements. First among them are the next generation iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.  The base model comes with an attractive glass design, a choice of six colors, a 6.1-inch display, a spacial audio sound field, a dual camera system allowing for wider photos, a night mode for brightening photos taken in the dark and, what the company claims is, the highest quality video ever available in a smartphone.

The iPhone 11 Pro is even more advanced, with the highest pixel density of any prior Apple phone, a super display, machine learning accelerators, better battery capacity, water resistance and something called Filmic Pro App, which allows for making multiple videos at once in different directions.

The iPhone 11 will sell for $699 while the iPhone 11 Pro will sell for $999.

Another featured product was the Apple Watch that the company claims is helping people with health research. Multiple, ongoing studies include:

  • A hearing study researching how daily sound experiences influence long-term hearing health.
  • A women’s health study that focuses on how menstrual cycles influence infertility and osteoporosis.
  • A heart and movement study that monitors the heart to understand its influence on overall human health.

Apple’s research promises users the right to data privacy.

Apple Watch Series 5 offers several new safety features including fall detection and international emergency calling. The Series 5 Apple Watch starts at $399. The Series 3 is still available at a lowered price of $199.

The 7th generation iPad comes with a large 10.2-inch display with 3.5 million pixels, a wider viewing angle for photos and claims to be two times faster than top selling PCs.

On the content front, trailers for the Apple TV Plus program lineup where shown to what was reported to be a great response. Many of the shows will be available starting November 1st for $4.99 per month.

The company also revealed a new subscription service for accessing games, editorial content and personalized recommendations called Apple Arcade. It will be available starting on Sept. 19th for $4.99 a month – with a one-month free trial.   You’ll have to raid the piggy bank for all these toys.

Disney fans rejoiced after the D23 Expo announcement confirming the return of Lizzie McGuire to Disney + streaming service. Even more excited than the fans is the show’s star, Hilary Duff, who is chomping at the bit to work again on the project that brought her into the limelight. “I’m so excited as a fan.” said Duff. “The response has been insane. We’re back. The band’s back together!” The last we saw Lizzie McGuire, she was traveling through Italy and becoming a major pop-star in the process. This was after spending four years dealing with the ups and downs of middle school and high school life. The show will resume some 15 years later with Lizzy at age 30, living in Brooklyn, engaged to a hot chef and working as an apprentice for an interior designer. A very cool throw back from the original series will be the return of narrator Lizzie as a cartoon for those moments in which Lizzie needs to monologue inside her own head. Cartoon Lizzie will return in the form of the 13 year old Lizzie – pink shirt, blue jeans and all. A release date for the series has yet to be announced. Here is the bottom line, if Hilary is pumped for the series, fans should be too. We think this will be an absolute hit for Disney+ as they build up their original content library.

Recommendation systems – the systems that help services from Amazon to Netflix suggest things you would might like based on your past choices – have a bias problem that is largely because the data comes from users who put their biases into action when interacting with streaming technology. To combat it, more than a decade ago, Netflix announced The Netflix Prize to attract scientists and programmers to write predictive algorithms with the goal of making the company’s recommendation engine 10% more accurate.  The winning prize was $1 million. Team Belkor was the winner due to their inclusion of new factors that recognized a film’s popularity might change over time and that users have certain biases causing them to rate movies differently at different times. The frequency at which people rate movies was also added as a factor. Addressing bias issues to make recommendations better will continue to be a major goal for many in the tech world as it has since The Netflix Prize was awarded.

American Airlines has just launched facial recognition technology as an alternative to boarding passes. They are not the first to use the technology. According to the Washington Post, as of 2018, 14 airports were using facial recognition technology for the boarding process. It’s being used by Lufthansa at Los Angles’ LAX, at Singapore’s Changi airport and London’s Heathrow. Lufthansa commented that it provided “faster and more convenient processes for guests to move through airport.”  While Heathrow Airport claimed that after its 2018 trial, it could be used to “reduce average passenger’s journey time by up to a third.” American Airlines is using facial recognition as an option at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  Passengers will still need a boarding pass and an ID to get through security. Currently the technology is only being used for international flights at Terminal D. The airline called the new service an “additional convenience during the departure process,” though if you still need your boarding pass and ID, how is that more convenient? Beyond convenience, many people have expressed concerns about the technology’s potential for violation of privacy rights. American Airlines said that the photos of people’s faces won’t be saved, but that scanned images will be sent to US Customs and Border Protection. Alarm bells. Debates about the technology will continue as it further integrates into our lives.  Laws that limit potential abuses will be part of the debate
In the never ending search for kid-safe products, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids’ Edition seems to be one that’s carefully designed and surprisingly attractive. This model comes with parental controls, games and skills designed to encourage young imaginations to run wild, but with everything under control. The $70 Echo Dot Kids Edition is the same device in all respects as the third-generation Echo Dot, but it includes an annual FreeTime subscription, Amazon Parental Service, thousands of audible books, hundreds of Alexa games and child-friendly skill-development tools, as well as Amazon Music without the advertising. The FreeTime package costs $36 for Prime members and $60 for non-members. Considering that the standard Echo Dot costs $50 before discounts, you get more for the money with the Kids Edition. Also, note the books and movies available through the FreeTime subscription can be accessed on an Amazon Fire, Kindle, iOS or Android device. The Echo Dot Kids Edition is guaranteed for two years compared to 90-days for the standard Echo Dot.  Good deal.

1Issues such as performance inhibiting gamer-score limits and the inability of players to buy and sell games easily were the least of the problems for Xbox One. What really annoyed users was that conversations at home were recorded and heard by Microsoft’s “quality control” people as revealed in a recent report from Motherboard.

A former contractor from Microsoft informed Motherboard that most of the recordings classified as “personal conversations” were inadvertent – like picking up unintentional Skype calls – and were triggered by players who had given inadvertent orders to Kinect, the voice command system of Microsoft’s Xbox One or Cortina, the voice assistant.

It’s not as if many people at the product’s launch hadn’t voice concerns about privacy. They had, but their concerns were allayed by claims that Kinect for Xbox 360 was designed and implemented with the best possible privacy checks.  Blah, blah. A Microsoft spokesperson has responded to the issues raised since the release of Motherboard’s report, explaining that interception of audio recordings is no longer a necessary quality control step for the company. A few months ago, Microsoft stopped listening to Xbox One audio.  Additionally, the company appears to be working on updated privacy policies to give users more control over how their personal information is stored.