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How private is Amazon Echo?
Put a microphone in your product, and someone is going to assume you’re listening to them. That’s one of the challenges Amazon Echo – the online retailer’s “Siri in a totem pole” – faces, with suspicion about just how much Jeff Bezos & Co. (or his algorithms, at least) are actually eavesdropping on. Given the power of Amazon’s recommendation engines and the amount of data it gathers just from casual browsing, you can certainly see where some of the paranoia might come from, too. A microphone-mute button takes pride of place on top of Echo, but will it be enough to persuade potential users that the virtual assistant is working for them and not for Amazon itself? I went hunting for some answers on just what Echo shares and how you can tame it.
Amazon bills Echo as your family’s friend: answering the kid’s questions while they do their homework, and keeping a running shopping list for the parents without making them reach for a pen in the kitchen. The concern, though, is just how much listening Echo is doing.
As soon as the product was revealed, in a quiet pre-registration launch on Thursday this week, critics were already making semi-serious jokes about how sensible it would be to pay Amazon for the privilege of bringing Echo into your home.
Echo’s technology aims to look like magic to users, but it’s actually built on top of several acquisitions Amazon has made over the past few years. Back in late 2011, for instance, the retailer bought Yap, a voice-to-text and speech recognition company that at the time was offering services like voicemail transcription.
In 2013, meanwhile, Amazon bought both Evi – a Siri-style app which had already been pulled from the iPhone’s App Store for apparently being too close to Apple’s own functionality, though was later restored – and IVONA Software, a text-to-speech specialist.
IVONA was already providing the tech which powered the Kindle Fire’s ability to read out text on-screen, part of its “Explore by Touch” feature among others.
Some of those talents have already been implemented in Amazon Dash, a barcode-scanning wand that can also be instructed by voice as to what you want to buy through the Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service. Dash’s voice recognition is triggered by a button, rather than the always-listening feature on Echo.
Exactly what Echo is listening to, though, has led to some confusion. Just as with the Moto X, “always on” actually means “always listening for a specific command.” In Echo’s case, that’s either “Alexa” or “Amazon”, either of which will wake the column up and start it monitoring for more complex instructions.
Over time, Amazon tells me, Echo will support more wake-commands, though it’s uncertain whether there’ll be support for user-customizable commands as Motorola added in the 2014 version of its phone.
What you also get is a physical microphone mute button on the top. Pressing that shuts off even the trigger word system and, in theory, stops Echo from listening to you at all.
Of course, whether people will actually walk all the way over to wherever Echo is plugged in and press that button is questionable. The device’s seven microphone array and beam-forming technology is designed to listen to you wherever you are in the room, which suggests Echo can hear clearly from a lot further away than the length of most peoples’ arms.
A spoken command to mute the microphone – which would require physically re-enabling it afterwards, though even when muted you can still trigger with the voice button on the bundled Echo remote, Amazon pointed out to me. - could be a useful addition. Amazon will be able to remotely upgrade Echo with new features, as well as add voice-controlled services in the cloud.
As with other voice recognition systems, Amazon relies on recordings to improve the quality of its algorithms. While there’s an optional Voice Training system in the Amazon Echo App, the wireless speaker will do run its own learning process in the background, too.
“When you use the wake word to talk to Amazon Echo, the audio stream includes a few seconds of audio before the wake word, and closes once Amazon Echo has processed your question or request,” Amazon told me. There’s also an optional “wake up sound,” the company said, effectively a short tone that indicates Echo is streaming audio to the cloud.
A similar “end of request” tone can be activated, too, to flag when Echo has stopped streaming.
There’ll also be access to all of those recordings if you log into Amazon’s browser-based dashboard. Interactions are grouped by question or request, Amazon says, and you can not only listen to the clip but send feedback about how well it was processed.
Individual clips can be deleted, or the entire history wiped out, though Echo’s accuracy will take a dive back to out-of-the-box condition if you do so.
Nonetheless, Amazon is still doing a little extra homework in the background as a shortcut to knowing you better. Things like your music playlists are automatically processed by Echo’s voice services, “to improve response time and accuracy”; similarly, Amazon reserves the right to share your music titles, radio stations, and zip code with “third party services”, though doesn’t confirm who they might be.
In the end, how much you trust Echo comes down to a more wide-ranging question about how you trust the cloud. On the one hand, there have been enough data leaks and privacy goofs over the past twelve months to make you understandably wary of what’s going on with the servers of other; on the other, if you want the convenience features, cloud processing is still the most efficient and flexible way of doing it.
A minor software tweak could certainly improve Echo’s usability in getting a temporary respite from its eavesdropping, and it’s not something that would be too tricky for Amazon to implement. Still, for the truly privacy-concerned, any sort of microphone – no matter how many buttons to turn them off they have – is going to be a no-go area on a device.
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Amazon Echo, the voice controlled, AI powered personal assistant and home automation device, is certainly a futuristic piece of technology. It can stream music and podcasts, provide real-time news updates, make to-do lists, control other devices, and do a lot more, all with voice commands. Now, generally, Amazon Echo sits in a fixed place, constantly listening for voice commands. But there might be times when you need to take the device with you. And for that, you need a carry case.1. Fintie Protective Case for Amazon Echo
One of the best cases available for Amazon Echo, the Fintie Protective Case is a must have accessory. It’s made up of premium synthetic leather, lined up on the inside with soft, non-scratch microfiber material. Furthermore, the cover has speaker vents made with nylon fabric, that doesn’t hinder the audio output. The removable carrying strap design lets you use the case both for carrying Amazon Echo, as well as use it perfectly while it’s sat down. And what’s life without a little variety? The Fintie Protective Case is available in over 15 funky colors and designs, so you can be sure of finding one that suits your taste.2. ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve
True to its name, the ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve is a premium case that fits your Amazon Echo like a second skin. The cover’s exterior is made up of Polyurethane (PU) leather, while the soft interior protects the device from scratches and abrasions. There are precise cuts for all features and controls, and Amazon Echo can be perfectly used with the cover. Want to carry the device with you? Just hook up the provided strap, and you’re good to go. The ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve comes in 6 different colors (e.g. Crocodile Brown). Oh, and did we mention that it’s backed by a lifetime warranty?
Price: $17.59, regardless of color chosen3. co2CREA Travel Carrying Case for Amazon Echo
It may not be heavy on the bling factor, but the co2CREA Travel Carrying Case is great for securely hauling the Amazon Echo anywhere. The case is made up of two semi-cylindrical halves, both lined up on the inside with soft, cushiony EVA padding. The cover snugly closes around the device by means of a zip fastener, and has a taut handle for easy portability. But what’s best about the co2CREA Travel Carrying Case is that it also has a separated chamber, that you can use to carry the Amazon Echo’s power adapter, along with the device itself.
Price: $19.994. Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case for Amazon Echo
Want a rugged solution for lugging your Amazon Echo everywhere? Look no further than Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case. It’s made from a 5 mm thick durable EVA based material that’s not only shock-resistant, but looks good as well. The molded inner side is built from a felt material, and has separate compartments for both the Amazon Echo and its power adapter. Moreover, the case’s carrying handle is reinforced with rubber for a stronger grip. Other than the usual Black, the Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case is also available in Pink and Green.
Price: $34.995. Lightning Power Lycra Zipper Carrying Case for Amazon Echo
Price: $11.886. Octobermoon Soft Case for Amazon Echo
Offering reliable protection without adding any heft, the Octobermoon Soft Case is a solidly built cover for the Amazon Echo. The case has a hollow cylindrical design, and you can just slide the Echo into it, and close the zipped cover. It’s made up of soft diving material, and is perfect if you intend on packing the Amazon Echo with other stuff in a bigger luggage bag. However, the Octobermoon Soft Case doesn’t include any space for carrying the device’s power adapter, so that’s a bit of a letdown. There are quite a few color choices available, such as Yellow and Blue.7. Pushingbest Protective Bag for Amazon Echo
The Pushingbest Protective Bag offers a nice way of carrying Amazon Echo with you anywhere. It’s made up of Premium PU (Polyurethane) Leather, and has zipper openings on both sides for sliding the Amazon Echo in and out of it with ease. The fit offered by the case is quite good, and the mesh design is a nice added touch as well. Also, the base of the cover features a hole for passing through the power cable, so Echo can be plugged in while still being covered. That said, the cover does hamper the working of the device (at least a little) bit, and thus is best suited for carrying purposes only.
Price: $16.99 (White color); $21.99 (Black color)
SEE ALSO: Top 15 Amazon Echo SkinsCarry Amazon Echo with you everywhere
Amazon has thousands of employees listen to Echo audio clips as part of improving Alexa’s machine learning so that the personal assistant could better respond to voice commands.
These people are listening to what some Alexa owners tell the assistant, reviewing, transcribing and annotating audio recordings to help train Alexa’s machine learning model.
Bloomberg has the story:
The work is mostly mundane. One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as ‘Taylor Swift’ and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist.
So far so good, but…
Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.
I get sharing a customer’s audio recording with a fellow worker for the purposes of getting the job done. But sharing an audio clip with a colleague just because the user might have happened to say something funny or stupid feels totally wrong and unprofessional to me.
Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress.
While Amazon has a process in place for its workers to follow whenever they hear something distressing, some employees were rebuffed in no uncertain terms with the explanation that it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.
For those concerned about privacy, the report claims that people on this team are listening to only some of the voice recordings that were captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.
We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience.
For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.
Sudio files are stripped of identifiable information like a user’s full name and address. That being said, Amazon could’ve been more transparent with its data collection:
The Alexa voice review process, described by seven people who have worked on the program, highlights the often-overlooked human role in training software algorithms. In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa ‘lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.’ But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching.
Users can adjust settings to stop Amazon from using their voice recordings to improve Alexa.
The online retail giant acknowledges that Alexa requests are being used “to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” but this is buried in a list of frequently asked questions on their website. No matter how you look at it, contextual voice recognition is a tough nut to crack but machine learning promises to be the right solution. The problem is, machine learning models must be trained.
Amazon has teams of people labeling and categorizing Alexa voice queries
For instance, Apple has trained Face ID with more than a billion photographs of people’s faces. As for speech recognition, achieving high accuracy does require large amounts of labeled data.
That’s why launching Siri in a new language isn’t possible without having enough data to train the acoustic models, and that data has to come from real people performing real voice queries. The only difference between Amazon and Apple is that the former has humans listening to some of those recordings while the latter, presumable, does not.
Now that you know that Amazon has a global team listening to Alexa audio clips, are your more or less likely to continue using Echo products?
A private Wi-Fi address protects your privacy by reducing the tracking of your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple Watch across different wireless networks. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to enable a private Wi-Fi address on your Apple devices to further protect your privacy.
About Wi-Fi addresses
To communicate with a Wi-Fi network, a device must identify itself to the network using a unique network address called a media access control (MAC) address. If the device always uses the same Wi-Fi MAC address across all networks, network operators and other network observers can more easily relate that address to the device’s network activity and location over time. This allows a kind of user tracking or profiling, and it applies to all devices on all Wi-Fi networks.
With iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and watchOS 7 you can set your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple Watch to use a different MAC address for each wireless network. Doing so reduces the risk of tracking, boosting your online privacy. With the newfangled MAC addresses, the network cannot extract identifying information such as your device’s name, brand, type and so forth.
Dave Mark, The Loop:
So if you always use your device’s actual MAC address at, say, your local Starbucks, it becomes easy to uniquely identify that device and track you. Since a randomized address is seen as a new network device, this might cause you to see a ‘new network device’ alert each time you get on your home network.
Thankfully, you can change your Wi-Fi settings to turn private addresses on or off.
How to use a private Wi-Fi address
Follow the tutorials in the sub-section included right ahead to learn how to randomize your device’s MAC address with just a few quick steps. Keep in mind that this is a per-network setting that must be manually enabled for each and every wireless network you use.
iPhone and iPad
To switch your iPhone and iPad from using actual MAC address to randomizing its MAC address, you’ll need to enable the “Private Address” toggle in the Wi-Fi settings:
Open Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
Choose “Wi-Fi” from the root list.
Touch the name of the network you joined.
Slide the switch “Private Address” to the ON position to enable the feature.
With the feature enabled, connect to Wi-Fi as you normally do.
Conversely, slide the switch to the OFF position to disable the feature. If the device is currently using the network without a private address enabled, you may see a privacy warning.
To switch your Apple Watch from using its actual MAC address to a randomized MAC address, you must enable the “Private Address” toggle in the Wi-Fi settings:
Press the Digital Crown on your Apple Watch, then open the Settings app.
Choose “Wi-Fi” from the root list.
Touch “i” next to the name of the network you joined.
Slide the switch “Private Address” to the ON position to enable the feature.
With the feature enabled, connect to Wi-Fi as you normally do.
Conversely, slide the switch to the OFF position to disable private Wi-Fi addresses.
Issues with private Wi-Fi addresses?
Some routers can be configured to notify you if a new device (as determined by its unique MAC address) joins the network. For instance, your router may support this feature to let you know if a neighbor or a rogue actor is trying to connect to your network. In that case, you may see a notification when your own device with a private address first joins the network.
→ How to connect to Wi-Fi networks from Control Center
“If you erase all content and settings from your device or use the Reset Network Settings feature, your device will use a different private Wi-Fi address the next time it connects to the Wi-Fi network,” Apple clarifies.
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show was dominantly a battle between Amazon and Google for the most part, with the latter unveiling a bevy of new smart display devices in a move to take on the former’s smart speaker with a built-in screen announced in May last year. But the Mountain View, the California-based internet giant isn’t just settling with one smart display, but four, thanks to its partnership with Lenovo, Harman-owned JBL, LG, and Sony.
The alliance between those tech giants has given Google Assistant a new face literally, bringing the virtual assistant from your phone and from smart speakers to the bigger screen. The Lenovo Smart Display from the Chinese OEM, for example, is powered by Google’s voice-enabled personal assistant. The same is true with JBL’s Link View (8-inch and 10-inch variants), the LG ThinQ, and Sony’s as yet unnamed smart display.
Echo Show vs. Lenovo Smart Display vs. JBL Link View vs LG ThinQ
But how exactly do these Google Assistant-powered smart displays differ from the Echo Show? While details about the smart display offerings from Lenovo, JBL, and LG have been made already, no word yet about Sony’s bet. In this post, therefore, we’re limiting our comparison to the Echo Show, Lenovo Smart Display, JBL Link View, and LG ThinQ.
In terms of design, the four smart displays we’ve seen so far vary slightly in a number of ways. Let’s discuss the dimensions first. The Echo Show measures 187 x 187 x 90mm while the Lenovo Smart Display has a dimension of 311.37 x 173.87 x 136.02mm for the 10-inch variant. The JBL Link View, on the other hand, measures 330 x 150 x 100mm, making it the biggest in the competition, thanks to its oval shape.
Speaking of shape, the Echo Show has a trapezoid shape on the back that helps the device lean backward. It has a square face as well, which the same to that of the Lenovo Smart Display. The LG ThinQ has a rectangular face, meanwhile.
Additionally, the speaker grilles on the Echo Show sit under the landscape display while those of the Lenovo Smart Display are found at the left corner of the screen. When considering which smart display to choose once they go on sale, keep in mind that the JBL Link View includes an IPX4 rating, so it has the upper hand over the others.
When it comes to screen sizes, the Lenovo Smart Display comes in two variants as mentioned above, so there’s a couple of options for you, with the 10-inch variant sporting a full HD IPS display and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The 8-inch version has a slightly lower resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. On the other hand, the Echo Show sports a 7-inch touchscreen that you can use for a wide variety of voice-assisted tasks. It has a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels.
The JBL Link View comes with an 8-inch high-definition touchscreen with a built-in camera and the LG ThinQ has the same screen size as JBL’s. However, resolutions of these smart displays are not immediately known at present, so it’s safe to assume that the Lenovo Smart Display is a better option if you wish to watch a video or sift through your photo album using voice command.
New Android Go phones to be available soon
The Lenovo Smart Display is using Qualcomm’s new Home Hub Platform powered by Snapdragon 624 while the Echo Show is fueled by an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor. No word yet on what’s fueling the JBL Link View and the LG ThinQ, but Google recently confirmed that the latter is running on Qualcomm’s SD624 Home Hub Platform while Qualcomm previously announced that Harman is using its platform. Nonetheless, there’s really no telling what hardware performances better until all of the Smart Display contenders are subjected to actual testing.
Additionally, the JBL Link View includes a pair of 10W front-firing stereo speakers and is equipped with a rear passive radiator while the Lenovo Smart Display has a pair of 10W speakers with dual passive radiators. The LG ThinQ, on the other hand, has a pair of “Tuned by Meridian Audio” speakers flanking the device while the Echo Show boasts a pair of 2-inch stereo speakers in the front, promising a great sound experience overall. Guessing from the aforementioned specs, we expect the Echo Show to take the lead in this respect.
At its core, the JBL Link View, Lenovo Smart Display, LG ThinQ and Sony use a modified version of Google Assistant, offering a new type of experience for a fresh type of screen with a simpler interface since it’s a whole lot different from the Google Assistant installed on your smartphone. However, the overall experience doesn’t vary much from that of Google Home or your Google Assistant-equipped smartphone, except that you can’t install Android apps to these smart displays since they’re not another Android device. Nonetheless, you can still use them to ask for directions from Google Maps displayed on the screen in addition to switching off your lights.
The Echo Show provides a basically similar experience. You can ask for calendar entries or a list of ingredients for your dinner using your voice and see them on a visual display. This is thanks to Alexa, which offers a full suite of features to let you control all sorts of smart home devices, play games, or listen to music, among others.
Upcoming Android Go phones
The Echo Show has the lead over the other smart displays since it’s already out on the market for $229, though Google Assistant seems to be smarter than Alexa when accepting commands. Nonetheless, if you wish to get your hands on a smart display at an affordable price right now, Amazon’s bet is your only option, though that may change soon.
Facebook privacy is something that many Facebook users fail to consider. However, knowing how to make photos private on your Facebook account is important to keep pictures of your children, home, and other sensitive personal images out of the prying eyes of the general public.
There are scammers regularly searching every social media platform for enough information about you so that they can customize things like phishing emails or cold calls to fool you. In some cases, local thieves might even review your public photos for security vulnerabilities around your home.
Table of Contents
Facebook offers different levels of privacy for your Facebook page. You can apply Facebook privacy settings to hide photos, your profile picture, or entire Facebook albums. It’s also possible to set the privacy for all of the future photos you upload to Facebook.How to Make Photos Private on Facebook
To make individual photos or photo albums private on Facebook, you just need to adjust the privacy settings for those items.
Note: If you make your cover photo (your Facebook profile photo) private using the steps below, your profile image will appear as a default gray profile to anyone on Facebook who isn’t a friend.How to Make Albums Private on Browser
Open Facebook and go to your Facebook profile page. Select the Photos tab.
Find the album you want to change privacy options for and select the three dots at the top right corner. Select Edit album.
On the Edit Album page, you’ll see the current privacy settings at the upper left. This button may say Friends, Public, or something else. To change the privacy of the entire album (and all photos in it), select that button.
This will open the audience selector window. This is where you can change the album privacy. To make the album private, set this to anything other than Public.
The following privacy settings are available:
Only me: This will make the album completely private so that only you can see any of the photos in that album.
Friends, Friends except, or Specific Friends: Allow all or only some of your friends to see the album and all photos in it.
Custom, Close friends, or Exclusive Friends: Customized lists where you can choose exactly who from your friends list gets to see the album and its photos.
Once you make this change, the entire album will be private. It will not be viewable when anyone who isn’t your friend (public Facebook users) reviews your Facebook profile or your Facebook news feed.How to Make Albums Private on Android or iPhone
To make an album private on the Facebook app:
On your profile, select the Photos button.
Select the Albums tab.
Select the album you want to edit. Select the three dots at the upper right.
In the menu that opens at the bottom of the screen, select Edit.
In the Edit Album window, select the privacy section (will likely currently be set to either Public or Friends).
In the Edit Privacy window, set the privacy to anything other than Public.How to Make Individual Photos Private
To make a single photo private on Facebook, you’ll just need to open the photo and adjust its privacy settings.How to Make Photos Private on Browser
With the photo open, select the privacy icon at the upper right of that photo post.
Select anything other than Public in the list of audience options to make the photo private.
The privacy settings available here are the same as with albums. You can adjust it to only yourself, all or only certain Facebook friends, or any customized list you like.How to Make Photos Private on Facebook Mobile App
To make a photo private using the Facebook mobile app:How to Set Photos to Private by Default
If you’d rather not have to make photos private on Facebook every time you post them on your Facebook timeline, you can have Facebook set photos to private by default instead.
To do this:
Log into Facebook using the browser and select the dropdown arrow at the far right at the top of the page. Select Settings & privacy.
On the next drop-down menu, select Settings.
On the privacy settings page, select Privacy in the left navigation pane. Find the Your Activity section on the right, and select Edit to the right of Who can see your future posts.
You’ll see this section open and a privacy dropdown will appear. Select this dropdown button and change the default privacy of your posts to anything other than Public.
Once you make this change, all future posts you make on Facebook will have this non-Public setting for its privacy. This way, if you actually don’t want the post or photo you’re posting to be private, you can change it to Public after the fact.
This is much easier than making every post or photo private individually. Especially if most of the time you want your photos to be available only to your friends or a customized list of specific friends.
If you prefer to leave the default to public, you can make photos and posts private after making an individual post. Just do this by selecting the privacy dropdown that has the “Public” setting.
Change this to anything other than Public and that post or photo will be private and only visible to those you’ve set the privacy setting to.
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