Tech Friday

  • Is Facebook planning to spy on you using inaudible messages in TV ads?
    • Facebook recently filed a patent for technology that surreptitiously embeds audio clips in TV commercials
    • The patent application is named "broadcast content view analysis based on ambient audio recording"
    • The audio clips are outside the range of human hearing but can be heard by your phone
    • The sounds trigger the phone to begin recording all the background noises in your home or office
    • The patent application says the technology would rely on "a non-human hearable digital sound" to trigger your phone’s microphone
    • This noise would consist of "machine recognizable" Morse code-style beeps that would cause your phone to start recording
    • The patent application says that your phone would capture "distant human speech" among other sounds
    • Allen Lo, a Facebook vice president and the company's head of intellectual property, told the New York Times "Most of the technology outlined in these patents has not been included in any of our products, and never will be"
    • Lo also said "It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies" 
    • Facebook has repeatedly refuted claims that they use audio taken from mobile phones for targeting advertisements
  • Are 3rd-party Gmail apps allowing their employees to read your email?
    • About a year ago Google said they would stop scanning Gmail user's email for information used to personalize ads
    • At that time, Google said they wanted Gmail users to "remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount"
    • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported that Google has continued to allow hundreds of outside software developers scan Gmail
    • Google allows users to connect 3rd-party services which request permissions including the ability to "read, send, delete and manage your email"
    • Apparently, this is a fairly common practice that has gone largely unnoticed until now
    • Millions of Gmail users signed up for email-based services that scan their email
    • The information available to 3rd-party developers includes email addresses, time stamps, and message content
    • While user consent is required for acccess, it's not clear when users grant permission that human beings can read the email
    • It's now apparent that Google does little to police 3rd-party developers and it has been reported that some of those developers have allowed their employees to read Gmail user's email
    • Google told WSJ that employees may also read emails but only in "very specific cases where you ask us to and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse"
    • There are many companies that have access to email from technology titans such as  Salesforce and Microsoft to lesser known companies such as Return Path and Edison Software
    • WSJ spoke with both Return Path and Edison Software who indicated that they had human engineers read email messages to train their software
    • At this point, there is no evidence that 3rd-party developers have misused data, but in light of the Cambridge Analytical scandal, that's little comfort
    • You can use the Google Security Check-up to view and manage permissions you may have granted to 3rd-party developers here: 
  • Is a robocall tidal wave headed to your mobile phone?
    • Robocalls are a hot topic of ongoing debates regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991
    • A strong financial motive has lead industry groups to push for changes, they have said that the rules are outdated
    • Over 50% of U.S. households do not have landlines and that percentage is rising. It reaches as high as 70% for adults between 25 and 34 years old
    • Under current rules, unless the caller has received prior consent, telephone calls and text messages to cell phones using "autodialer" are not allowing in many instances
    • Virginia O’Neill, senior vice president of American Bankers Association's Center for Regulatory Compliance said "We have encouraged the commission to pursue smart, modern policies that aggressively target scammers and illegal telemarketers, while allowing banks and other businesses to protect their customers through timely communications that alert them to suspicious activity or provide account updates that may help them avoid fees"
    • Consumer groups are suggesting that rule changes could make it too easy to send even more unwanted texts and robocalls to mobile phones
    • At the moment, restrictions for calling mobile phones are tighter than those for calling landlines, and many of these limits could vanish if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issues new rules
    • Consumer watchdogs are pushing to keep strong laws that limit robocalls and allow consumers to easily opt-out
    • The three main topics being debated are:
      • What's allowed in regards to calling mobile phones
      • How can you do to opt-out of calling
      • What happens when a business is calling the wrong number
    • Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center said "The industry smells blood. They really believe, and they may be right, that they can convince this FCC to define autodialer in such a way that it will not cover any systems out there, which would make tens of millions of robocalls ungoverned and unstoppable"
    • Saunders said she is hopeful that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will keep his promise to provide consumers a means to to control unwanted robocalls
    • You can weigh in on the debate by filing a public comment with the FCC under Docket 02-278 here:
    • There are some tools available to help block robocalls. Check with your mobile carrier for services they may provide to block calls
    • There are also services that can block some calls. For example, Nomorobo can block some calls for $1.99 a month per device. They also offer a free service for VoIP landlines
    • You can also sign up for the free national Do Not Call Registry at
    • The The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned about phishing e-mails telling people that their Do Not Call registration is expiring
    • The FTC has said that "Registrations never expire. Once you add a number to the Do Not Call Registry, you do not need to register it again"
Brian Thomas

Brian Thomas

Based in Cincinnati, OH, the Brian Thomas Morning Show covers news and politics, both local and national, from a conservative point of view. Read more


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