Amazon’s Echo can manage your Google calendar for work

The surprising thing here is that Google Home doesn’t yet work with G Suite accounts, nor does it even let you add events to your Google Calendar. That gives the Echo a distinct advantage over Google Home, at least in terms of how it manages your daily info. Home can read out your daily agenda, so it’s not a complete bust, but being able to add items to your calendar feels like the kind of that that should have been in there on day one.

The good news is that Google’s been adding features to Home pretty rapidly — earlier today, the company released an update that lets multiple users add their own accounts to Home so they could get personalized daily agendas or commuting details. Hopefully Google will add more robust calendar features soon, but in the meantime, the Echo maintains a leg up on Home in that regard.

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Early computing pioneer Robert Taylor dies

This wasn’t Taylor’s only influential role. He went on to Xerox’s fabled Palo Alto Research Center, which he oversaw (first as associate manager and then as full manager) during one of its most influential periods. PARC broke ground on Ethernet technology, early internet development (by linking computers to ARPANET through Ethernet) and, of course, the windowed visual computing interfaces that people take for granted today. Even his later work at DEC was influential, as his research team helped usher in multi-processor workstations and sophisticated multitasking in Unix-based computers.

Moreover, Taylor was influential in laying the moral groundwork for the internet. Even in 1968, he was arguing that his connected future had to be open to everyone and not just the elite. He was also aware that the internet could be both harmful and helpful, and predicted the rise of botnets years in advance. Much like Tim Berners-Lee and other later pioneers, Taylor wasn’t just concerned about chips or software. He was thinking about the long-term social ramifications of his work, and you can arguably credit the mostly democratized nature of the internet to him.

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Self-driving cars can be fooled by fake signals

You’d think that self-driving cars would be most vulnerable to remote hacks, but the biggest danger may come from someone nearby with a handful of cheap electronics. Security researcher Jonathan Petit has determined that you can fool LIDAR (the laser ranging common on autonomous vehicles) by sending “echoes” of fake cars and other objects through laser pulses. All you need is a low-power laser, a basic computing device (an Arduino kit or Raspberry Pi is enough) and the right timing — you don’t even need good aim. Petit managed to spoof objects from as far as 330 feet away in his proof-of-concept attack, and he notes that it’s possible to present multiple copies of these imaginary objects or make them move. In other words, it’d only take one prankster to make a self-driving car swerve or stop to avoid a non-existent threat.

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Spotify finally gets serious about an Apple Watch app

Snowy was slated to have some great features, too, including Siri support, swipe-based playback controls, and watch face complications. There were even plans for offline sync capabilities, which would give you the ability to download playlists to your Apple Watch for music on the go without a connected iPhone. We can only hope that these features come to the official release.

There’s no word on a release date for Spotify’s own wrist-based entry, or whether Chang will suspend development on Snowy (though that would make sense). If nothing else, Apple Watch owners can look forward to finally having Spotify’s 30 million tracks on their wrist.We’ve reached out to Spotify and Andrew Chang.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any more details since both Spotify and Change declined to comment.

Update: The story has been updated to reflect responses to our request for comment.

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Science proves people lie for selfish reasons

Before each roll, a computer would tell the participants which types of rolls would get them the most money. There were ten rolls in the “sham experiment” (where shocks weren’t administered), and maximum earning potential was around $90. So, there was incentive to lie.

That lead to folks reporting successful die rolls 68 percent of the time, versus the honest peoples’ 50 percent. “Subjects who claimed nine, eight and seven successful die rolls were also significantly overrepresented, suggesting that many of them cheated on some, but not all possible occasions.”

the paper reads

In the non-sham experiment, the electrical stimulation dropped the misreporting of facts “significantly.” Participants only reported successful die rolls 58 percent of the time. “This result corresponds to an implied cheating rate of 15 percent, a figure that is nearly 60 percent lower than that observed in the sham condition.”

Basically, unless the lying specifically benefitted themselves, the participants were less likely to do it.

“This finding suggest that the stimulation mainly reduced cheating in participants who actually experienced a moral conflict [“to cheat or not to cheat,” basically], but did not influence the decision-making process” in people who were trying to make as much money as possible. Now we know of another use for tDCS aside from shocking away motion sickness: keeping folks honest.

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ZTE’s first Android Wear watch is also one of the cheapest

For that price, you’ll get a round 1.4mm AMOLED display, interchangeable 22mm band, water-resistant (rated IP67) body and, most importantly, Android Wear 2.0 and all its improvements. There is also a 500mAh battery, which is larger than the LG Watch Sport’s 430mAh cell. That should hopefully help the Quartz outlast LG’s pair of wearables, which both barely made it through a full day during our testing. The Quartz will also supports LTE, and will be compatible with T-Mobile’s Digits program that lets you use the same phone number across your smartphone and other connected devices.

But there are some tradeoffs the company made to hit that $200 price. In particular, the most notable missing features are NFC, a heart rate monitor and a rotating dial. In addition to cutting costs, ZTE also cited longer battery life, a slimmer profile and less risk of damage as reasons for leaving those out.

As a comparison, LG’s Watch Style, which also lacks NFC, a heart rate sensor and doesn’t have its own LTE radio, costs $250. The Style has a useful rotating dial that makes scrolling easy, though. The Quartz also has to content with the Asus Zenwatch 3, which costs about $255, but runs the older Android Wear for now.

To be clear, this isn’t ZTE’s first smartwatch. It already makes the Axon watch, which runs Tencent OS and only retails in China. All that really means is the company already has some experience making watches, and the partnership with Google here makes for a compelling product.

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Good luck finding a safe VPN

Before the Obama-era FCC’s privacy and security safeguards could go into effect, new FCC chairman Ajit Pai readied the hearse by suspending them indefinitely as his first big act. This ensured they’d never see the light of day, even if Congress didn’t come in for the kill with their anti-privacy-rules bill. Which they did. This was immediately followed by Trump signing that bill lickety-split, ensuring no one gets any of the protections they were promised.

When the attacker is your ISP

So, as you probably know from reading headlines over the past week, ISP’s are free to track you and sell your data to third parties. Less reported, yet equally disastrous to have taken away, is the part in the protections that gave consumers power to hold internet and cable providers accountable for data breaches.

Consumer security, the new FCC chief told Congress, isn’t the FCC’s area of interest anymore.

Good luck finding a safe VPN

Ajit Pai – FCC Chairman

The headlines quickly went from Trump signs bill rolling back FCC privacy rules for ISPs, to “hey everyone protect your privacy from ISP’s with a VPN (Virtual Private Network).”

Using a VPN for cloaking your activity from your ISP is a practical solution — especially if you combine it with tracker blocking browser plug-ins like uBlock Origin, because ads are trackers too.

With a VPN the user’s internet connection travels encrypted from computer to VPN server; from there the user’s connection travels unencrypted to their final destination (a website). This way, websites only see the VPN’s IP address and not the user’s, and your ISP only sees you visiting the VPN. The ability of any attacker to spy, intercept, attack or steal information stops at the VPN. That’s why they’re essential for personal security when you use public wi-fi.

Once the idea took hold that VPNs were the magic solution to ISP spying, tracking, and data sales, suddenly everyone and their dog was publishing an article about it. Lots of these articles tell you to use a VPN service with “the hallmarks of a trustworthy service” but few explain what that means, exactly.

Many of these explainery-think pieces, not surprisingly, are profit-seeking endorsements for affiliate VPN services. Not all of which are VPN’s you can trust, even if they come from a trusted blog or source.

And fake VPN services rolled out in waves to cash in.

Trust issues

Selecting a VPN you can trust was already an issue that took research and consideration, weighing connection speeds and pricing, learning about who keeps records and for how long, and more. VPN services are also like any other in that they change their record-keeping policies and privacy practices over time, so that’s another thing to keep up with.

In addition, these services are easy to misconfigure. Just over a year ago, VPN provider Perfect Privacy found a massive security hole in many services called “Port Fail.” It was a bug that de-anonymized users, and most VPN services ignored the problem until the press made noise about it. Many took weeks to put in a fix. One of those was a service endorsed by Lifehacker, which just shows that anyone can have problems finding a reputable VPN.

It can be overwhelming. It’s not as simple as using whatever VPN the security cool kids say is “the one,” because even popular services have been behaving badly. For example, popular service Hola VPN recently got caught selling user traffic to a botnet.

Fortunately like most infosec topics, VPNs are a bit of a fetish unto themselves for people who are into them. Just take a look at this exhaustive comparison chart at “That One Privacy Site.”

If you want to know what the hallmarks of a trustworthy VPN service are, I have a controversial suggestion for you: Torrent Freak. Every year the site asks Which VPN Services Take Your Anonymity Seriously?

In these extensive posts, TF talks to dozens of top VPN services and asks them what their record keeping policies are, as well as “various other privacy related issues.” If a VPN gets a great review one year, has a less great review the next, and then drops off the list completely (like TigerVPN did), then definitely take that as a “buyer beware.”

So if a VPN is recommended somewhere, do a little homework before you fork over your data (and your cash). Names that come up as trusted include Perfect Privacy, Freedome, TorGuard, Tunnelbear, Black VPN, and others.

Good luck finding a safe VPN

Should you have one for your phone? Absolutely, and most VPNs have mobile apps — though look out for the bad ones. Google’s Project Fi (the company’s phone service provider) automatically secures users on a Google VPN in every public wi-fi situation.

The drawbacks? They can slow your connection down, and they may not work with services like Netflix that want to know where you’re physically located. Some public places block the use of VPNs, which should be your sign that the network isn’t safe to use anyway.

Once you’re set up, use the steps in this post to test your VPN to make sure the outside world can only see your VPN’s IP address, and make sure you’re not leaking your actual IP.

When the trend is people turning to VPNs for protection from their own internet service providers — in their own homes — it’s safe to say the privacy and security situation for most Americans has gotten pretty bad.

It’s not all terrible, at least insofar as general security literacy goes. But the trade off is probably not worth it.

The murder of the FCC’s privacy rules are a sign that any war for the soul of consumer protection in the era of the internet is lost. I just hope that someday we can find our way home from here, before it’s really too late.

Images: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Ajit Pai); Prykhodov via Getty Images (VPN)

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Scientists control soft robots with magnetic fields

The scientists used their fresh approach to build three robots that take advantage of this newfound flexibility. One is a cantilever (the “lifter” you see above) that can carry up to 50 times its weight. An accordion bot can expand and contract like a muscle, while a valve can squeeze to act as a pump.

There’s no question that it’ll take a long time to make this method viable for real robots. You’d need an external device to produce the field, for a start. However, the potential uses are already easy to see. The accordion and valve robots would be particularly useful for robots that have to mimic organic functions, not to mention prosthetics, implants and other health care equipment.

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UK reports 70 drone near-misses at Heathrow in 2016

Two of the three were classified as “category A” or the most serious of near-misses. In one incident, the pilots of an A320 passenger plane saw a UAV flying below their vehicle’s right wing 10,000 feet in the air as they prepare to land at the airport. That’s about 9,600 feet higher than the legal altitude for drones in the UK. According to investigators, the UAV with multiple rotors seem to be custom-made and not something off the shelf. They also said that “providence had played a major part in the aircraft not colliding” with the device.

In the second category A incident, a pilot taking off from Heathrow spotted a drone around 150 feet away from his plane’s wing at 3,000 feet in the air. Authorities believe they “narrowly avoided” a collision, as well. The third drone sighting at the airport within that three-week timespan was less dangerous than the other two, but it still came within 200 feet of an aircraft.

Overall, the report says there were 70 near-misses between planes and drones in 2016 compared to the 29 incidents in 2015. As more people start flying drones as a hobby or for business, we’ll likely see that number grow unless authorities find a way to spot UAVs before they get too close to airports.

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Tech’s biggest players tackle climate change despite rollbacks

Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are some of the 154 companies that agreed to embrace clean energy during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The American Business Act on Climate Pledge set ambitious, concrete goals like reducing emissions by 50 percent and water usage by 80 percent, achieving zero waste-to-landfill and purchasing 100 percent renewable energy.

“We believe that strong clean energy and climate policies, like the Clean Power Plan, can make renewable energy supplies more robust and address the serious threat of climate change while also supporting American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth,” the companies said in a joint statement.

But, President Trump’s executive order targets those environmentally friendly policies. Under the order, the current administration can rewrite carbon emission rules for new and existing power plants, and it won’t have to consider how federal actions might impact climate change when conducting National Environmental Policy Act reviews. The order will also restart the federal coal leasing program, which allows energy companies to buy the rights to mine on federal lands.

Their stance is in opposition to lobbyist organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, who support the executive order. They believe it will stimulate the US energy market and the economy, and allow for the construction of more highways, bridges and railroads.

Still, many companies are expressing disappointment with the order, and say they still support Obama’s policies. “Most big companies in the US recognize that climate change is real,” Geoffrey M. Heal, a professor at Columbia Business School, told Bloomberg. “They need to move ahead on the climate change front no matter what Trump’s government does.”

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