Google Listens to Your Private Conversations

Google Home

In news-that-surprises-nobody news, Google admitted to allowing employees to listen to your private Google Home audio after a disgruntled employee leaked some of the recordings. (This is why I use the work Wi-Fi when I have to Google something creepy or weird.)

If you’ve got one of Google or Amazon’s little voice-activated ding-dongs in your house, you’ve definitely wondered at some point if someone could use the device to listen in on your private conversations.

And the answer is yes. 100%. That’s what they’re there for. C’mon.

It’s literally a listening device you bought for $70.


Speak up, Karen. Our quality control center in India can’t hear you all the way over there in the kitchen.

Yesterday, Google admitted in a statement that it hires contractors to listen to your Google Home conversations. It may be a blatant invasion of your privacy, but it’s the easiest way to improve the speech recognition technology underlying this tech.

Google and Amazon love to project the idea that there’s a magic AI that gets better at identifying speech the more it listens (like some sort of genius Furby). But it’s easier to just have some guy in a developing country double-check the Google Home’s work and make manual corrections.

Now, everyone in the tech community already assumed this is how Google and Amazon’s voice recognition technology was improving so quickly. And this was pretty much confirmed in April by a Bloomberg report that discovered secret Amazon facilities all over the world where contractors listened to your Alexa recordings.

Yet Google waited to confirm that it too was listening until recordings of private conversations recorded by its Google Homes started to leak. (Because otherwise, it would have been bad P.R.)

Earlier this week, Dutch reporter Tim Verheyden revealed to The Wall Street Journal that he had more than 1,000 fragments of audio from Google Home recordings. This included conversations that weren’t directed at the device.

“I heard a couple saying, ‘Where is Franz? It’s already 11 and he should be here at 10,’” Verheyden told the WSJ.

He also heard one woman telling another woman: “It’s normal that he’s a little bit later because boys don’t grow as fast as girls.” (Wait, did Google just leak the deets on some Dutch kid’s puberty?)

Google defended the practice saying this is the way the tech works and it’s not our fault some employee leaked the recordings. (“It’s not our fault our giant privacy invasion machine invaded your privacy.”)

“We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant,” said the statement.

“We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action.”

Do you own one of these voice-activated listening devices? Do you think the benefits outweigh the cons? Or is the human-review element just too creepy?

Federal Spending Hits Record High

Here’s a list of people who are bad with money:

  1. My Nephew Derek who took out a $10,000 loan to become a Herbalife salesman.
  2. The entire U.S. government.

In the first nine months of the fiscal year, the U.S. budget gap widened 23% to $747 billion. (Oh man, our dad is going to kill us.)

On the whole, government tax receipts were up 3% this year. But it was nowhere near enough to offset the glut of government spending and interest on our debt.

As of this month, the U.S. economy has been growing steadily for a full decade. But at this rate, the U.S. deficit will hit a trillion dollars within the next few years. (And that’s bad.)

With a few exceptions, the rate of spending increases every year. But as a general rule, we should be trying to decrease the deficit. (And if it doesn’t China will send over some goons to repossess our Widescreen TVs and Dodge Chargers.)

The Treasury has warned lawmakers that the U.S. will run out of money to pay its bills and default on its debt if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. And it could happen as soon as late summer. (A bummer for Congress since they already have their sweet vacay plans locked in.)

“There have been some outside numbers talking about the debt ceiling and that is something we’re having discussions about, updating the numbers and potentially the need to do something before everybody leaves,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday.


File footage of U.S. Treasury Department.

Acosta Resigns Amid Epstein Prosecution Scandal

Secretary of Labor and human hairline Alexander Acosta stepped down from his position in President Trump’s cabinet today.

Acosta’s resignation comes in response to public outrage regarding his role in negotiating the best deal for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2008, who was (and is now again) accused of raping dozens of children.

Miami has the worst state prosecutors: Epstein’s lawyers cut a deal for him to serve 13 months allowing him to leave the prison and go to work as a billionaire investor six days a week. If you’re wondering how that’s even possible, I’ll give you a clue: It’s got nine zeroes and rhymes with “illionaire.”

Acosta defended the 2008 deal earlier this week saying it was the best his office could do, despite a police investigation that uncovered a sex trafficking network involving more than 80 girls.

But just two days later, Acosta is handing in his resignation saying he doesn’t want to take attention away from how awesome the economy is doing.

“I did not think it was right and fair for this administration’s Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy,” Acosta said, adding it would be “selfish” for him to stay.

President Trump stood with Secretary Acosta as he made his announcement on the South Lawn of the White House.

“[Acosta] did an unbelievable job as secretary of Labor. This was him not me,” said the President referring to Acosta’s decision to step down. “Because I’m with him. I hate to see this happen.”

Acosta’s resignation won’t take full effect until next Friday. So if you work in the Department of Labor, keep an eye on your stationery.

In Other News

Twitter went down for a full hour yesterday, and for the briefest moment, I was able to remember what life was like before this yawning portal of absolute nonsense was opened.

The worldwide bickering and complaining system was down in North America, Europe, and Asia, according to DownDetector.com. And I was at peace.

Twitter attributed the outage to an “internal configuration change,” which could mean anything from North Korean hackers to Dan spilled his coffee on the Twitter machine.

Ironically, the outage occurred right before a “social media summit” at the White House where President Trump met with some of the most controversial conservative voices from the internet.

At the event, which was announced on Twitter before it crashed, Former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka got into an argument with Playboy’s White House reporter. (And just like that, we come crashing back to reality.)

 

 

 

Hackers Can Access Your Webcam Directly

If you’re in the corporate world, you’ve probably used or at least heard of Zoom. (If not, I am extremely jealous of your ability to avoid contact with the outside world.)

Our organisation works with eccentric billionaires, economic geniuses who ran numbers for the CIA, some of the sharpest minds in futurism and investing, a guy who lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and a bunch of downright weirdos.

So as you can imagine, it’s a little hard to get us all in the same room at once.

The video conferencing app Zoom works for us cause it’s dead simple to use. (And I like their hold music. It’s a country song about being on hold and loving it.)

But according to tech expert Jonathan Leitschuh that simplicity leaves Zoom users on Apple computers vulnerable to attack.

By tricking users into clicking a single link, a hacker can assume control of your webcam, look into your room, and record you without your knowledge. This same trick can be used to crash a user’s computer by flooding them with requests to join a meeting.

“Without the user giving any explicit consent nor taking any explicit action, they would be instantly dropped into a Zoom meeting,” Leitschuh says. “By default, Zoom shows video but doesn’t send audio, though both settings are changeable. So depending on their video and audio settings, victims would potentially be immediately broadcasting themselves, perhaps even without their knowledge if they’re not looking at their screen.”

Zoom released a statement saying this vulnerability was a result of a function that allows the app to sidestep an issue with Safari and gave no indication that it was going to fix the issue.

For now, if you have to use Zoom and are on a Mac, turn off auto-join video by going to Settings/Preferences > Video > Meetings > Turn off my video when joining a meeting.

Or just tape a little piece of paper over your webcam. Either or.

 

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