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Every gadget has a story. A new publication from Medium about consumer technology.


In Debugger. More on Medium.

‘Smart’ home appliances are cheaper, better, and creepier. There’s only one company that might think different.

Remember when your television didn’t spy on you? Technologist and Glitch CEO Anil Dash suggested a while back that there must be some big market out there for “dumb” appliances:

Dash’s pitch is certainly appealing to those of us who don’t like giving up any notion of privacy, but unfortunately, the market for such retrograde appliances is a lot closer to zero dollars than a billion.

I’m going to explain why you don’t actually want dumb devices, why smart devices are cheap and creepy, and suggest that there’s one company that could get away with it.

The most recent breach is a stark reminder of the sorry state of our data

Illustration: Lance Ulanoff

I’ve been pwned. You’ve been pwned. We’ve all been pwned. Somewhere, somehow, some digital bit of our persona has appeared in one of countless data breaches that happen across the internet with alarming regularity.

The most recent breach—an exploitation of what may be an old and now closed Facebook vulnerability—means that records from more than 500 million users are free-floating out in the wild.

I tend to be blasé about such hacks. These companies are bad at protecting our data, and to be fair, we’ve also freely shared insane amounts of our personal information on public and only semiprivate platforms…

A DIY device that won’t hand your data over to Amazon, Google, or anyone else

Photos courtesy of the author

I like the idea of having a security camera, but there are two drawbacks to most of the options on the market. They either send video to the cloud, meaning you’re not in control of that data and typically have to pay a monthly fee, or they cost more than I want to pay.

Recently I found a fun, DIY solution: the ESP32-CAM. The ESP32 is a microcontroller, which is a small computer usually meant to run a single program. The chip has been licensed and built into tons of configurations, like boards with built-in LCD displays and GPS modules

It’s time to confront the tech industry’s data collection excesses

Photo: Jason Dent/Unsplash

Is there anything more valuable to each of us than our identity? Not the piece of plastic with our driver’s license on it but the details of who we are — our personalities, interests, likes and dislikes, familial connections, hometowns, and current homes — all those bits and pieces that coalesce into a clearly defined picture of you.

We cherish our identities while simultaneously giving almost every bit of them away.

It’s not our fault. We’ve spent almost two decades ignoring opt-out buttons, those tiny squares asking if you want to share your name and email, receive newsletters, or allow…

Thankfully, there are many good options to choose from

Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Popular password manager LastPass dropped an unwelcome surprise this week. In March, the company will restrict access to its services for users on its free tier, forcing them to either pay a regular subscription fee or limit password management features to mobile or desktop. Free users will no longer be able to use both without paying, and they will also lose access to customer support via email.

This is a hostile move that should make anyone using the software consider moving elsewhere before coughing up. What else will the company change to juice its subscription numbers?

Of course, password managers…

Try the Anonymizer tool to create a fake face that looks like you

Image: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images

If you’ve posted a photo of yourself online in the past few years, there’s a good chance Clearview AI has slurped it up and added it to the company’s massive facial recognition database of more than 3.1 billion images. The New York Times said that Clearview could “end privacy as we know it.” In January, I got my hands on my own Clearview AI profile, and its contents freaked me out.

A wide variety of legal and legislative challenges have been mounted against Clearview. My own article was cited in the American Civil Liberties Union’s landmark class-action lawsuit against the…

Gift Guide

Let your loved ones decide what privacy means to them

Photo courtesy of the author

One of the best things about the holiday season is that you get to force your own privacy preferences on others.

Maybe your family member wouldn’t normally buy a watch that tells Google when they’re asleep or a doorbell that helps them inform on their neighbors. But during this brief window each year, you can make a whole variety of fraught privacy decisions for them through gift-giving! They’ll be forced to live with your privacy choices or risk offending you by returning your thoughtful, pricey gadget to the Amazon warehouse from whence it came.

You love your friends and family…

Think twice before you buy someone an internet-connected gift

Photo: Ben Kolde/Unsplash

The wrapping paper flies into the air, twisting and turning as it falls back to the ground. One after another, perfectly parceled presents are ripped open in seconds. Excitement explodes as each gift is revealed.

Finally, the item you (or Santa) stashed under the tree is pulled out to join the frenzy. As your present is revealed, you explain what it is to the overjoyed recipient.

“This year, I bought you a device that can play music via voice control. Pretty cool, right? It may also spy on you and listen to your conversations without your permission.”

The mood somewhat…

Lance Ulanoff published his review of Apple’s new HomePod mini today, praising its sound, ease of use, and on-device privacy. Some of these features already existed in the first HomePod, and Apple has greatly improved on them in this new smaller version.

But the HomePod mini is still no Amazon Echo or Google Home. It can’t, for example, let you play Spotify without connecting to your phone. And although Apple’s promised new Intercom features supposedly lets you use your HomePod mini to talk to the members of your family through their iPads and iPhones, Ulanoff calls this feature “clunkier than…

Keep virtual villains at bay with these easy tips

Photo: designer491/Getty Images

Whether it’s a huge credit card data leak or Zoombombers usurping online classes and events, it’s become increasingly obvious that insufficient password security can lead to headaches… or worse.

As a savvy reader of Debugger, you probably already have a password manager. But perhaps you know someone who doesn’t and you’re tired of explaining why they need one, so just send them this article instead.

Using different passwords for different sites helps. But even that first step leads to a drop-off in consumer followthrough. …


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