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Top Stories For The Week of December 21, 2016

  • Episode 483
  • December 21, 2016

Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday December 21, 2016

Your health tracker is poised to provide your personal data to the highest bidder.

If you use a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you probably love the health insights you get from your wearable. You know how much you move, how well you sleep and have likely started tracking patterns and trends as soon as you have enough time logged.

But you're not alone. There are tons of advertisers and big pharma companies interested in your personal health data — and, according to researchers, they can get it almost as easily as you can.

An extensive report published by the Center for Digital Democracy and American University tackles the complicated issue of health wearables and big data systems from every angle. It comes to a troubling conclusion: there are almost no privacy safeguards in place for consumer health data, and multiple industries are ready and willing to mine the system for profit.

According to the report, there are benefits of a connected-health system, like personalized insurance policies and improved emergency services. Wearable makers Apple and Fitbit have even partnered with healthcare companies in an effort to collect user data for just that reason.

But the good of a connected-health system could be marred by its potential for abuse by unscrupulous data practices.

The report warns, "Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal health data in order to influence consumer behavior.”

You can assume the data your wearable collects isn't just between you and your app. That might not bother you for now — but as the devices and the connected-health system evolve, more and more of your private life might be up for grabs.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

Mario is available for iOS.

Games company Nintendo has now rolled out Super Mario Run to iPhones and iPads.

Nintendo had initially shunned smartphones, preferring to focus on its own hardware.

However, weak sales of its Wii U console and a decline in demand for its 3DS handheld caused the firm to sustain large financial losses, putting it under pressure to change tack.

The app marks the first time the firm has created a smartphone game based on its most famous character.

It follows the successful release of Pokemon Go earlier in the year. Nintendo owns a minority stake in the Pokemon Company, but the title was developed by a third party.

Super Mario Run takes the Super Mario Bros format - where the character sprints from left to right, collecting coins, jumping over obstacles and squishing enemies - and tweaks the gameplay to make it easy to play one-handed on a touchscreen.

For now the title is restricted to Apple's iOS platform, but Nintendo has said it will come to Android "at some point in the future".

Nintendo's domestic rival Sony is also making an effort to create games for iOS and Android based on its PlayStation brands: It revealed last week that a new "Parappa the Rapper" title and an "Everybody's Golf" game are currently being developed.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Yahoo was hacked again. Big time. Years ago. And it's just coming out now.

Yahoo has said data from more than one billion accounts may have been hacked, and this is separate from the hack they revealed back in September.

Should you be worried - and what can you do to protect yourself in the future?

People might suppose the breach is unlikely to affect them because the attack happened three years ago and there was no widely reported abuse of the data in the meantime.

However, hackers might have targeted users' emails.

Yahoo has said it is also investigating a later, separate issue that might have made some accounts accessible without passwords.

Yahoo has reassured its users: "We continuously enhance our safeguards and systems that detect and prevent unauthorised access to user account."

Some may not think of themselves as Yahoo users but the firm has provided email service for several ISPs as well, such as BT, Sky and Rogers.

It's also worth remembering that Yahoo acquired Flickr in 2005.

Yahoo has said, though, that accounts for Tumblr - which it also owns - would not have been affected.

Change your password, but once this password is changed, it is also recommended that you change your password on all other accounts you use and make sure that you use a different one for each.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Lonely and live alone? A Japanese company is now selling lifelike anime girlfriends. The catch is, they are very tiny, and can't leave their cage.

The future is apparently here. And it's creepier than we ever imagined! A Japanese company called Vinclu is now taking pre-orders from Japan and the United States for a new interactive, artificial-intelligence driven home automation system--or as the promos make it appear; a "virtual girlfriend" for lonely businessmen.

Called Gatebox, the new Internet-of-Things product takes Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, Spike Jonze's film Her, and the "holographic" anime characters of Vocaloid concerts to their unified natural conclusion.

While it may appear Gatebox is a cage for a subservient little anime princess, part of the device's backstory is that Gatebox is in fact a gateway to the dimension the character lives in.

Gatebox, priced about $2,700 US, is targeted at young lonely guys, and anime-obsessed nerds, promising the experience of "living with your favorite character" while in reality living with no one.

It's roughly the size of a home coffee-maker and its main feature is a clear projection tube that displays a computer-animated avatar for the AI's "character."

Vinclu is planning multiple possible personalities for Gatebox.

Gatebox's website proclaims. "She will always do all she can just for the owner." Voiced by Japanese actress Yuka Hiyamizu, the character has her own website with a backstory manga that explains how she was invited to cross dimensions for a "homestay" with a master on Earth.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

At least two major players in the space race claim they have working prototypes for a new type of space engine that can get us to Mars in just 10 weeks... with no fuel.

The EmDrive propulsion system seems to cherry pick from the laws of physics and science fiction to produce an engine capable of getting humans to the moon in 10 days or Mars in 10 weeks, without any fuel.

A leaked paper from the NASA was posted online last month suggests that not only have researchers at Johnson Space Center in Houston been tinkering around with the idea, which a lot of people knew - but they have one that actually works.

And now China has announced that it, too, has created a working prototype. It's one of the previously closely guarded experiments being conducted on the Chinese space lab recently put in orbit.

At a press conference in Beijing yesterday, researchers with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said the government has been funding the research for six years and all that the NASA results do is confirm what they have already achieved.

CAST also plans to put their "impossible" reactionless engines to work powering satellites as soon as possible.

The EmDrive engine defies Newton's Third Law of Motion - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Jet engines burn fuel to power turbines to suck in air and blast it out backward to produce forward thrust. The EmDrive however, ejects no opposite-directed mass or particles to produce forward thrust. Instead, it bounces microwaves around inside a cone-shaped metal chamber, which, because of the shape, produces thrust at the wider end.

The concept is for the unit to convert sunlight in space into the needed microwaves, making a self-sustaining power plant that never needs a refill.

Li Feng, chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology's communication satellite division, said the technology being tested in orbit right now is "in the latter stages of the proof-of-principle phase" with the goal of making it available in satellites "as quickly as possible."


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson



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