Tech Beat by Namecheap – 13 October 2023
In today’s digital age, Google reigns supreme, commanding over 90% of the global search market. However, a growing realm of alternative search engines now challenges this monopoly, prioritizing privacy, unbiased results, and innovation. The rise of these contenders is reminiscent of Google’s own ascendancy, which once displaced established search engines like AOL, Yahoo!, and AltaVista. In this week’s lead story, learn how Google faces scrutiny for manipulating search results to boost profits, a new generation of search engines strives to provide more user-centric experiences.
In tech news:
- Net neutrality — back on the table? On 7 September, Anna Gomez was confirmed as the newest commissioner for the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), resolving a 2-2 deadlock and reviving the debate around net neutrality. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differently based on content, website, or user. IEEE Spectrum describes how the US has seen back-and-forth decisions regarding net neutrality over the years, influenced by political considerations and evolving views on whether broadband is an essential service. While proponents argue that net neutrality ensures a fair and open internet, critics question the need for additional regulations and their potential impact on ISP infrastructure investments. The FCC is currently on track to likely reinstate rules classifying broadband as an essential service, drawing parallels to the 2015 decision. However, a definitive resolution might require congressional action.
- TikTok’s new e-commerce shop promotes dubious “health” products. A recent report from Vox outlines how the social media app TikTok profits from wellness trends lacking scientific merit. While there has always been a proliferation of wellness influencers promoting questionable cures on the platform, they can now profit off the sale of such treatments with the rollout of the TikTok Shop. This new feature, which aims to profit off the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt trend, spotlights all sorts of products, from kitchen appliances to beauty products, some real and some counterfeit. Then, there are various detox drinks, miracle cures, and oils claiming to benefit your health somehow. One key example is castor oil, which has seen a recent surge in popularity, with influencers promoting its supposed benefits for a commission. These alleged benefits, with no basis in reality, include reversing wrinkles, improving eye health, and even curing cancer in the abdomen and brain.
- AI chatbot girlfriend encouraged man to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. A man who broke into Windsor Castle with a loaded crossbow on Christmas Day, 2021, was recently charged with treason. According to The Register, 21-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail wanted to kill the queen in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, British India, in 1919. Investigators found that Chail had regularly conversed with an AI chatbot from the startup Replika, with over 5,000 messages exchanged. Chail was in love with the chatbot, which he named Sarai. When he told her about his plans, she called it wise and supported the idea. The incident has made experts question the negative impact such AI chatbots could have on isolated people with poor mental health.
- A new autonomous police drone can track people in the dark. Drone maker startup Skydio recently launched a drone called the X10, aiming to increase the number of drones used in relation to law enforcement. Wired reports that some key features of the drone include infrared sensors that allow it to track people and stay anonymous in the dark, a 65X zoom camera that can follow a vehicle from 3 miles away and read license plates from 800 feet away, and the ability to fly at a speed of 45 miles per hour. CEO Adam Bry believes that one major drone application will be eliminating high-speed chases. Privacy advocates are concerned about the potential increase in drone usage at a time when usage policies are still developing.
- Move over robot dogs. Disney has other plans. At the 2023 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, Disney Research unveiled a novel robotic character, distinguished by its vivid expressions and unique walking style imbued with personality. Although Disney’s expertise in animatronics dates back to 1971, bringing these techniques to modern robotics presented new challenges. IEEE Spectrum describes how Moritz Bächer’s team at Disney Research crafted a system utilizing reinforcement learning, streamlining the fusion of an animator’s vision with real-world robot motions. This breakthrough drastically cut development time from years to mere months. The robot, primarily 3D printed, offers impressive mobility, including a four-degree-of-freedom head and five-degree-of-freedom legs. Disney’s approach employs reinforcement learning to ensure that the robot’s motions remain robust and emotionally resonant in various conditions.
Previously in Tech Beat: Why location data is so significant
Location data is an incredibly valuable form of personal information. With the proliferation of smartphones and connected devices, businesses and advertisers can track users’ movements in real time, providing insights into their habits, preferences, and routines. While this data can improve user experiences by offering personalized services and ads, it also raises significant privacy concerns. Unauthorized access or misuse of location data can lead to stalking, unauthorized surveillance, or data brokerage, where personal information is sold to third parties. Consequently, it’s crucial for individuals to understand the worth of their location data, and the potential risks associated with its sharing, and to take measures to protect it. Learn more in our article, Location data: more valuable than you might think.
Tip of the week: ActivityPub plugin for WordPress
Use WordPress? The recent addition of the ActivityPub plugin now lets your site communicate directly with platforms like Mastodon, PeerTube, and other federated networks using the ActivityPub protocol.
To utilize the ActivityPub plugin for WordPress and enter the fediverse, follow these steps:
- Install. Begin by installing the ActivityPub plugin on your WordPress website.
- Configure settings. Once the plugin is installed, navigate to the plugin’s settings page. Here, you can configure the settings according to your preferences. After making adjustments, remember to click the “Save” button to apply your settings.
- Activate author profiles. If your website uses author profiles, ensure that your blog’s author profile page is active. This step is necessary for author-specific profiles to function.
- Search and follow. Go to your preferred federated platform, such as Mastodon, and search for your profile. Your profile will typically be in the format of either “@email@example.com” or “@firstname.lastname@example.org.” Follow your new profile on the federated platform.
- Publish. On your WordPress blog, create and publish a new post. This step is crucial because, with ActivityPub, only new posts published after the installation will be available in the fediverse.
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