My favorite 2019 tech things

As we head into the holiday season, I thought I’d throw my hat in the “best of the year post” ring with a list of a few of my favorite personal tech items of the year. Some of these are bigger than others, but I wanted to list out some things I’m thankful for this […]

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Google’s smart home ecosystem is a complete mess

Google’s smart home ecosystem is a complete mess:

While Google might argue its new system will be good for users in the long run, the fact remains that customers spent money on a product, and Google is taking that product out of customers’ hands and replacing it with something different. In effect, Google just unplugged many of its users’ smart homes, all while asking them to kindly move into a new, Google Assistant-branded tenement. In the long run, Google assures us, things will get better. Its track record with killing products doesn’t inspire confidence.

I found myself nodding my head a ton while reading this article. I’m moving to Alexa/Sonos over the next few months.

Hey, Siri (and minimum wage contractors) … 

From: Siri records fights, doctor’s appointments, and sex (and contractors hear it) | Ars Technica

These cases bring up a series of questions. What can Apple and its colleagues do to better protect user privacy as they develop their voice systems? Should users be notified when their recordings are reviewed? What can be done to reduce or eliminate the accidental activations? How should the companies handle the accidental information that its contractors overhear? Who is responsible when dangerous or illegal activity is recorded and discovered, all by accident?

Now it looks like your Siri voice recordings can be heard by contractors roughly 1% of the time.

I think my issue with all of this is that it’s not opt-in other than the “by using this software you agree to …” BS all tech companies shove down our throat. I think one solution to this problem would be to allow users to opt-in to have humans review your recordings as long as they are properly anonymized. There’s still a chance an accidental wake word could trigger some of the scenarios mentioned in the article but at least give folks the ability to make decisions about how much they want to contribute to making these voice assistants better.

I’ve turned off the “raise to talk to Siri” on my watch long ago but we do have Google Home devices in our house and “Hey Siri” is still activated on my phone. I could shut off the wake word functionality on my phone but I’m not even sure you can do that with the Google Homes. I’ll be honest, I’m starting to lean toward yanking most of the voice assistant stuff out of my house in favor of dumb speakers hooked up to Chromecasts or maybe just going full Sonos (although that has it’s own privacy issues).

Update: Looks like Apple is halting the program for now and will be adding a way to disable this in the future. Good for them.

HomePod questions

Apple has been a little late getting their HomePods out to consumers, but it looks like 2/9 is the big day. In short, it looks like these 7 inch tall speakers are Apple’s take on the smart speaker, but with a heavy focus on the speaker part and less on the assistant side. It has […]

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Google Home & Pixel XL

About 6 months ago, Google announced a slew of consumer-grade products geared squarely at Apple and Amazon. At the event, they presented the Home, the Pixel, and Google WiFi and they all caught my eye for different reasons. I’m intrigued by the concept of mesh networking rather than throwing a router in one corner of […]

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Inside the failure of Google+

Mashable’s great article about the failure of Google+:

By early 2014, less than three years after its big launch, the Google+ team had moved out of its coveted building to a spot on campus further from Page. Gundotra announced his departure from the company that April — in a Google+ post, of course — to pursue “a new journey.”

 

I always felt like Google+ checked all the boxes of what features a great social network should have with the exception of one: nobody used it. Unfortunately for Google, that’s kind of the most important one.

Google’s Search Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency

Wired writes about how Google’s Search Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency:

The thing is, though, even though it’s tempting to think of algorithms as the very definition of objective, they’re not. “It’s not really possible to have a completely neutral algorithm,” says Jonathan Bright, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies elections. “I don’t think there’s anyone in Google or Facebook or anywhere else who’s trying to tweak an election. But it’s something these organizations have always struggled with.” Algorithms reflect the values and worldview of the programmers. That’s what an algorithm is, fundamentally. “Do they want to make a good effort to make sure they influence evenly across Democrats and Republicans? Or do they just let the algorithm take its course?” Bright asks.

Scary to think about the implications – intentional or not – of skewed search result data. Ultimately, people are building these algorithms and even if their intent is truly ‘good’, the possibility of pushing people one way or another is real. On a somewhat related note, there was a good Atlantic article last fall about a similar concern with Facebook.

It Just Works

Marco Arment wrote about Apple losing the ‘functional high ground’ earlier this year, and it was met with tons of discussion – blog posts, podcasts, twitter battles and more. The part that hit me was the final paragraph: I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged […]

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Finally, a Good Google Podcast

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I’ve been searching for a good Google podcast for a long, long time but my search may be over. I’ve give Material’s first 4 episodes a listen and it’s very entertaining. What makes it better than most is their keen understanding that for their chosen platform to be great doesn’t mean the competition needs to be bad. They tackle topics in a very engaging, thoughtful manner and avoid bashing the competition – instead focusing on what makes Android/Google their platform of choice. Doesn’t hurt that 2/3 of the crew are former iOS users, so they have good perspective about both platforms.

I highly recommend it, give it a shot!