Tech Friday


  • Senator proposes a ban on "loot box" apps that "target" kids:
  • US Senator Josh Hawley is proposing to ban so-called "pay-to-win" apps that allow in-game purchases of digital items for kids
  • Many apps are free, but allow users to pay for upgrades that can give them an advantage over competitors
  • Critics say that this technique can foster addiction and gambling
  • It can also lead to large unexpected costs for parents
  • The Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act targets this growing revenue stream of over more than $50 billion for game makers
  • Hawley said "And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences."
  • Hawley used Candy Crush as an example. The game allows players to purchase a $149.99 "Luscious Bundle" that includes virtual currency and 24 hours of unlimited lives
  • Amazon was found to have unfairly charged parents for purchases made by their children while using apps that were advertised as free in 2016
  • The Entertainment Software Association, a video game lobbying group, argued that some countries including Ireland and Germany have determined that "loot boxes" are not gambling
  • A "Cyber event" disrupted the U.S power grid:
  • TheDepartment of Energy (DOE) reported that a"cyber event" interrupted grid operations in parts of the western United States last month
  • The incident occurred on March 5th and lasted from 9 AM until nearly 7 PM, but did not cause a power outage. You can see the summary here:https://www.eenews.net/assets/2019/04/30/document_ew_03.pdf
  • Up to this point, the flow of electricity has never been disrupted by a cyber attack anywhere in the United States
  • U.S. utilities are required to notify DOE of any successful cyberattack within 1 hour. Companies that fail to can be fined up to $2,500 per day
  • DOE uses a broad definition of "cyber event". They define it as any disruption to an electrical system or grid communication network "caused by unauthorized access" to hardware, software or data
  • While that definition leaves the possibility that a utility employee or trespasser triggered the March 5th event, ifhackers interfered with the grid in California, Utah and Wyoming, it would be unprecedented and disturbing
  • The Western Electricity Coordinating Council, responsible for monitoring grid reliability and security across western North America, declined to provide additional information
  • It is known that Russian hackers briefly cut off power to parts of Ukraine in 2015 and again in 2016
  • Yes, Alexa has been spying on you:
  • The ctpost recently confirmed that Amazon's Echo has been spying
  • Amazon retains a copy of everything Alexa records after it hears its name. This is not unique
  • Apple's Siri does the same thing and so did Google's Assistant until recently
  • This is done purported to train the artificial intelligence behind these products
  • The reporter listened to four years of his Alexa archive
  • Geoffrey Fowler wrote "Alexa keeps a record of what it hears every time an Echo speaker activates. It's supposed to only record with a "wake word" - "Alexa!" - but anyone with one of these devices knows they go rogue. I counted dozens of times when mine recorded without a legitimate prompt. (Amazon says it has improved the accuracy of "Alexa" as a wake word by 50 percent over the past year.)"
  • The only way to completely defeat this functionality is to mute the microphone or turn the device off
  • The author also discovered that other "smart" devices in his home are collecting lots of information and may share it with Amazon if Alexa interfaces with the it
  • There are instructions on how to listen to your Alexa archive here:https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602040
  • Read the article here:https://www.ctpost.com/business/article/Alexa-has-been-eavesdropping-on-you-this-whole-13822095.php