Google Accused of Tracking Student Internet Activity

Low-cost notebooks have enjoyed a popular partnership with schools for some time. It should surprise no one that Google's Chromebooks are included in these partnerships. Both students and staff have integrated the low-cost systems into their daily activities for years. No harm, no foul, except that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has claimed the notebooks are secretly tracking information of students. The organization filed the complaint with the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week.

 The accusations put Google in violation of their own promises under the Student Privacy Pledge and FTC rules against deceptive business practices. The Student Privacy Pledge is a legal document under which companies have committed to respect the privacy of students by not participating in the collection, sharing, or use of personal information.

The EFF examined Google’s Chromebook and Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which is a suite of educational cloud-based software programs used throughout the country by students. The complaint focuses on the Chrome Sync feature found on the notebooks, which is also present in the Chrome desktop browser. The foundation has taken issue with the behavior of the synchronization, which makes sure that users always have the same setup in their browser wherever they might log in. The settings are stored on Google's servers, which means they are susceptible to analysis by the company.

The EFF is calling the campaign 'Spying on Students', and they hope to raise awareness of the search giant's activities. The information that is collected includes bookmarks, surfing behavior, YouTube videos viewed, and other personal information. Students and parents aren't notified of this collection behavior, and that has raised attention since there is often no option but to use the provided systems for schoolwork. 

Google has responded by providing a setting where Chrome Sync can be disabled on the Chromebooks put out by the school. With this feature turned off, the sensitive and personal information will be unable to share data with Google’s other services and browsers. The upcoming setting switch may not assuage all the concerns in the complaint as there are also administrative settings that allow information to be shared with third-party websites. The EFF is requesting a full investigation into the actions that Google has taken, to cease the collection activities immediately, and an order to destroy all of the information the company collected that were not used for educational purposes. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Hyatt Hotels Now Available on Facebook Messenger for Support

Hyatt Hotels Now Available on Facebook Messenger for Support

December 08, 2015

Looking for information about a hotel room? How about availability? Reaching out to Hyatt hotels just got a whole lot easier. The company has been testing a new initiative to provide customer service through the social media giant Facebook. This social channel for customer service is designed to provide convenient access to customers through a tool that many people already know - Facebook Messenger. The company stands to benefit from being right in the middle of a medium that many people use to communicate.

The new system was made possible through a marketing partner called Conversocial and is part of a cloud contact center pilot program with seven other brands involved in this test program. Facebook first laid forth the plans for supporting business back in March of 2015, and the Businesses on Messenger tool was born out of this plan. Facebook has more than 700 million active monthly Messenger users.

As the public has become increasingly mobile and interconnected, social presence has become an important means of communication for individuals and companies. Increasingly, companies have gravitated towards using tools in the space to connect better to customers such as cloud contact centers. Consumers have come to expect rapid responses from companies through a variety of channels. Forrester Research reports that the percentage of people who have used Twitter for customer service grew nearly 70 percent between 2013 and 2014. This is called omni-channel and it is a trend that experts continue to grow.

Customers will be able to make reservations, chat with support staff, and ask all of the same questions that are commonly asked on other customer service channels like phone calls and on-site chats. Customers will be able to see when staff is typing, when messages have been read, status updates, and more. Responsive engagement with customers is the ultimate goal, and opening up that kind of rapid interaction is sure to raise customer satisfaction.

Hyatt been in the social support area for a while, having had a heavy presence on Twitter. The Facebook market however, is one that is opened up to a wider audience than ever before.  

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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IoT Editors Day Silicon Valley: Voice Control Could be the Future of IoT Security and Control

Google Now. Siri. Alexa. Cortana. Jarvis.

Voice command is everywhere, and getting better all the time, and, for the IoT that’s good news. Talking is how we humans are programmed to communicate as a species, and using a keyboard and mouse, or other hand-friendly input device, is going to become the exception rather than the rule as the voice tech gets ever better.

One company that’s leading the way to build safe and effective voice command software for IoT, M2M and mobile applications is Sensory, based in Santa Clara, California. We sat down with Sensory President and CEO Todd Mozer at IoT Evolution Editor’s Day in Silicon Valley, where we met with many of the Left Coast’s biggest brains in the IoT. (Editor’s note: We plan to do another one of these on the east coast sometime soon, but the next time to get face to face with me will be at the IoT Evolution Expo, January 25 to 28 in Ft. Lauderdale. See you in the sand.)

Sensory’s team of academics and techies have been working on voice tech for more than 20 years and shipped their solutions in more than 1 billion products and are looking at making M2M devices totally hands free. The software learns and, what’s even more important, protect the privacy and security of the user through leading-edge biometrics.

Their system is called TrulySecure, and it is a combined voice and facial recognition solution that makes it nearly impossible for a non-owner to get access to any secured device or system. And it works without hiding data on a local server, so devices can remain connected to the cloud.

In contrast, conversational AI developer Cognitive Code has released its SILVIA Secure solution to reside on devices natively in order to protect the data and privacy of the users. The SILVIA security features heavily encrypt and lock private data to the owner’s device, without using the speed or storage capability of the cloud.

It’s a very different, and I’d say, short-sighted approach to a real problem in the IoT. We need to protect our users’ devices, and thereby their privacy and security, but we cannot sacrifice the functionality of connectivity to do it.

Good on ya, Sensory. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Latest Apple Rumors: Next-gen Apple Watch, iPhone 6c Coming in March

Apple fans break out those calendars. This upcoming March, Apple will unveil the next generation of its flagship wearable, the Apple Watch. Of course, this comes through the usual unofficial rumor mill; 9to5Mac, which broke the story, cited an unnamed source. So maybe mark those calendars lightly, in pencil.

That unnamed source claims that Apple’s next big reveal will come in spring, 2016. The timing makes sense. The Apple Watch was first released exactly one year prior to March 2016, which would bookend a wildly successful year for wearable tech.

The Apple fanbase is going a bit wild with speculation over the next generation of the watch. The more exciting theories predict a FaceTime camera and iPhone-independent Wi-Fi.  Those features could begin to wean the Apple Watch from its big brother, the iPhone. Until now, the Watch has been a complement to the phone, relying on the iPhone’s WiFi and Apple profile. If Apple can make its watch a more independent device, it may appeal to a broader audience.

In addition to the next Apple Watch, Apple is expected to release the iPhone 6c. The 6c would be a smaller, 4-inch version of the iPhone 6. That shrinking screen returns the iPhone to the size of the iPhone 5. The move, if the rumors are true, is likely in response to some customers’ complaints that the 5.5-inch 6s display is too large to use with a single hand.

The iPhone 6c would likely cost less than the standard 6 model. That lower price point would bring a wave of upgraders to the forefront of Apple technology.

While the iPhone 6c and the 2nd generation watch are the only rumored updates, don’t count out a big surprise. The company is notoriously tight-lipped, and last year premiered both a 12 inch MacBook and the Apple Watch in March. 

None of these developments are set in stone. Most of the information comes from unnamed sources, which are always suspect. Some of the speculation comes from Apple’s cached patents, but that’s an equally dubious source. The company frequently innovates and secures the rights to tech it never plans on using, simply to undercut competition. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Swift is Now Open Source

Join the open source community at Swift.org and help make the Swift programming language even better. You can now collaborate with other advanced developers to directly contribute features and enhancements, fix bugs, and help bring Swift to new platforms. Open source Swift includes support for building apps for iOS, OS X, watchOS, tvOS — and now, Linux. We’re excited to see where the community will take this language. To learn more, read the Swift blog.

Swift is Now Open Source

Join the open source community at Swift.org and help make the Swift programming language even better. You can now collaborate with other advanced developers to directly contribute features and enhancements, fix bugs, and help bring Swift to new platforms. Open source Swift includes support for building apps for iOS, OS X, watchOS, tvOS — and now, Linux. We’re excited to see where the community will take this language. To learn more, read the Swift blog.

The Hour of Code

In support of the next generation of innovative developers, we're hosting workshops and other special events in cities around the world during Computer Science Education week, December 7–13. And on December 10, we’ll host the Hour of Code, a free one-hour introduction to the basics of computer programming from Code.org, for kids ages six and up at your local Apple Store. To learn more and sign up, see the Apple Store website.

The Hour of Code

In support of the next generation of innovative developers, we're hosting workshops and other special events in cities around the world during Computer Science Education week, December 7–13. And on December 10, we’ll host the Hour of Code, a free one-hour introduction to the basics of computer programming from Code.org, for kids ages six and up at your local Apple Store. To learn more and sign up, see the Apple Store website.