Amazon home assistant recorded and sent private conversation to third party, says Portland woman

Why do people have these infernal contraptions in their homes?

Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home's heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. "The person on the other line said, 'unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" she said. "'You're being hacked.'"

That person was one of her husband's employees, calling from Seattle.

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Amazon support reportedly admitted that it happened, but could or would not tell her how. "Hacked" seems like hyperbole to me, but the way voice assistants are designed means--much like Facebook--that it's intentionally easy to get it watching you but hard to know what it's up to.

"Dark patterns" are those where a user interface is explicitly designed to fool the user into doing something they don't want. There should be a word for when poor UI design allows reasonable user behavior to result in nasty outcomes that the designer should have anticipated. Voice assistants that don't look for obvious signs they're not actually being talked to, for example. Or whatever awful arse made it so CTRL-Q and CTRL-W were right next to each other.

Alexa listened to a couple's conversation and sent it to the husband's employee without permission

A couple in Portland is accusing Alexa of doing exactly what many people have feared she might do. They say she listened in on a conversation and sent it to a random contact of theirs – one of her husband's employees.

The woman, whose name is Danielle but whose last name hasn't been disclosed, says that two weeks ago she got a call from her husband's employee, who said, "Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You're being hacked."

According to KIRO-7 in Seattle:

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn't believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

"I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"

Danielle says an Amazon engineer investigated.

"They said 'our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!"

When KIRO-7 questioned Amazon, they responded with this: “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future."

Image: Stock Catalog/Flickr

Listen to Weezer cover Toto (but not the song you think)

For six months, a Weezer fan named Mary (@weezerafrica) has been rallying support for her request that Weezer cover Toto's "Africa." It started as a joke but now is now very, very serious. (Kinda. Not really.) Anyway, Weezer finally responded by covering Toto's... "Rosaanna."

Barbie ride-on toy car modded with real engine goes 70 mph

Edwin Olding hacked together a Barbie Power Wheels Ford Mustang chassis with an old go-kart frame and a customized Honda dirt bike engine. This hot pink whip now races at 70 mph. From The Drive:

Olding told The Drive, "I wanted to find the cutest Barbie Power Wheels car online and turn it into a drift kart."

With the miniature Mustang's tiny electric motor and plastic tires, that would not be an easy task. Instead of trying to boost the Power Wheels' weak performance, Olding decided to chop out everything that wasn't the car's outer shell and drop that onto a pre-built go-kart found on Craigslist. That, however, presented its own problems. The kart's frame couldn't fit into the Mustang's 36-inch wheelbase, so it had to be cut down and welded back together.

How to make a Battlezone type movie using Adobe After Effects

I taught myself After Effects a couple of years ago so I could make this Blockchain explainer video. From the perspective of my limited skillset, I was blown away by what filmmaker Stu Maschwitz was able to do entirely within After Effects: a short film called Tank, that pays homage to the classic Atari arcade game from 1980, Battlezone. Above, the film. Below, how he made it.

Check out Disney's robot acrobat

This is "Stickman," a robot acrobat that Disney Research scientists presented at this week's IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From the abstract of their technical paper:

Human performers have developed impressive acrobatic techniques over thousands of years of practicing the gymnastic arts. At the same time, robots have started to become more mobile and autonomous and can begin to imitate these stunts in dramatic and informative ways. We present a simple two degree of freedom robot that uses a gravity-driven pendulum launch and produces a variety of somersaulting stunts. The robot uses an IMU and a laser range-finder to estimate its state mid-flight and actuates to change its motion both on and off the pendulum.

"Stickman: Towards a Human Scale Acrobatic Robot"

Thoughtful, devastating critique of Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules for Life"

Jordan Peterson is really easy to make fun of -- what with the mystical nonsense and the pseudoscientific evolutionary biology -- but there are millions of (largely white, largely young, largely male) readers who've found his "12 Rules for Life" to be a balm for their souls and a rallying cry for a movement that has legitimized the most murderous strains of toxic masculinity. (more…)

Mining the Panama Papers and other leaks to reveal the hidden looting of West Africa by its corrupt elite

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists teamed up with the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (Cenozo) to delve deep into 27.5 million files from the Offshore Leaks, Swiss Leaks, Panama Papers and Paradise Papers to investigate how the super-rich in 15 West African countries have looted their countries' wealth and then smuggled it offshore through a network of tax-havens, even as their countries starve. (more…)

Why "leftism" is parting ways with "liberalism" and what it means for the future of American politics

The 2016 elections were fraught and game-changing on many axes, but one important one that is still playing out is the split between the "left" (universal healthcare, steeply progressive taxation, no more wars of aggression, free higher education, and measures to remediate historical injustices on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc) and "liberals" (more representation in corporate board-rooms, responsible business practices, limiting profits from private healthcare companies, etc). (more…)

Debugging AI is a "hard problem"

Writing code is a lot easier than fixing code! For a lot of well-understood reasons, code requires a lot of debugging to run safely and property, and different code structures and practices make debugging harder or easier. S. Zayd Enam, an AI researcher at Stanford, writes about the specific problems of debugging AI code, which is extremely difficult. (more…)

FBI sinkholes a key domain used by the malware that infected 500,000 home routers, declares partial victory and Russian attribution

VPNFilter is a virulent, sophisticated, multistage worm that has successfully infected 500,000 home routers, leaving them vulnerable to both surveillance (the malware snoops network traffic for passwords) and region-wide internet shutdowns (VPNFilter can brick the routers it infects, and an attacker could shut down most or all of the home/small business internet access in a region by triggering this). (more…)

"Failure is fuel": Abby Wambach summons "Wolf Pack" in commencement speech

Last Wednesday, soccer champion, equal pay/LGBTQ activist, and badass extraordinaire Abby Wambach delivered the keynote for Barnard College, an all-women's liberal arts college in Manhattan. She shared with the graduating class, who she deemed the "Wolf Pack," the four rules she used to unite her own soccer team "pack," the team which went on to win Olympic gold.

Here's the first rule, "MAKE FAILURE YOUR FUEL":

Here’s something the best athletes understand, but seems like a hard concept for non-athletes to grasp. Non-athletes don’t know what to do with the gift of failure. So they hide it, pretend it never happened, reject it outright—and they end up wasting it.

Listen: Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it's something to be POWERED by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel.

When I was on the Youth National Team, only dreaming of playing alongside Mia Hamm. You know her? Good. I had the opportunity to visit the National Team’s locker room. The thing that struck me most wasn’t my heroes' grass-stained cleats or their names and numbers hanging above their lockers—it was a picture. It was a picture that someone had taped next to the door so that It would be the last thing every player saw before she headed out to the training pitch.

You might guess it was a picture of their last big win, of them standing on a podium accepting gold medals—but it wasn’t. It was a picture of their longtime rival—the Norwegian national team—celebrating after having just beaten the USA in the 1995 World Cup.

In that locker room, I learned that in order to become my very best—on the pitch and off—I’d need to spend my life letting the feelings and lessons of failure transform into my power. Failure is fuel. Fuel is power.

Women, listen to me. We must embrace failure as our fuel instead of accepting it as our destruction.

As Michelle Obama recently said: "I wish that girls could fail as well as men do and be okay. Because let me tell you watching men fail up—it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to see men blow it and win. And we hold ourselves to these crazy, crazy standards."

Wolf Pack: Fail up. Blow it, and win.

To learn her other three rules, watch the video above or read the full transcript of Wambach's inspirational speech.

(Cheryl Strayed)

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The Ultimate All-Level Excel Bootcamp was on sale for $35, but it's available for a limited time in the Boing Boing Store for $29.

Police set dog on a driver who politely refuses to answer questions

WKYC Channel 3 in Canton, Ohio, posted footage of police smashing a car window, dragging out the driver and setting a dog on him after he very politely refused to answer questions. The driver, Ronald D. Wagner II, appears to be a "sovereign citizen" type who refuses to screw the number plate on their car for arcane constitutional reasons. Their excuse? The car's registered owner had a concealed carry permit, so they were frightened for their lives: "Stop fighting the dog"

Listen to his screams and ask yourself if America is great again.

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