Top Stories for the Week of February 14, 2018

  • Episode 543
  • February 14, 2018
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday February 14, 2018

Is Amazon planning to track its employees? A patent has been granted for an ultrasonic wristband that can monitor a worker's every move.

Amazon, it seems, wants to keep a close eye on its employees.

The firm's latest patent suggests it is working on an ultrasonic wristband that can monitor a worker's every move.

According to the patent, data about the position of a worker's hands is sent to the company in real-time.

Amazon describes the technology as a 'time-saving' device, but some have criticised the system for going a step too far in monitoring performance.

Thuy Ong at The Verge writes, “While the patent describes this tech as a time-saving system, tracking workers in this way seems dystopian.”

The Amazon patent was published by the United States Patent Office.

It describes “ultrasonic tracking of a worker's hands” that would be used to “monitor performance of assigned tasks.” Diagrams show how workers will wear bracelets on either hand, which contain “ultrasonic units.”

“The ultrasonic unit is configured to be worn by a user in proximity to the user's hand and to periodically emit ultrasonic sound pulses,” states the patent. These silent pulses would then be picked up by “ultrasonic transducers” placed around the warehouse.

The patent also outlines a feedback system, which means the device will vibrate to point the wearer's hand in the right direction.

The patent further states: “The management module monitors performance of an assigned task.”

Amazon sees the bracelets being used by workers not only in its warehouse, but also outdoors and on cargo ships.

The patent includes this tongue-twisting statement: “Existing approaches for keeping track of where inventory items are stored … may require the inventory system worker to perform time-consuming acts beyond placing the inventory item into an inventory bin and retrieving the inventory item from the inventory bin, such as pushing a button associated with the inventory bin or scanning a barcode associated with the inventory bin.

“Accordingly, improved approaches for keeping track of where an inventory item is stored are of interest.”

The company insists that this is a labour-saving measure intended to verify that correct items are being processed, and to avoid the need for “computationally intensive and expensive” monitoring.

It is not clear however, if the designs will ever actually materialise. Amazon has declined to comment on the patent.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

Data on soldiers’ running patterns, captured by fitness app Strava, has been discovered to detail the secret whereabouts of military bases.

The hidden locations of secret US military bases, patrols, and forward operating bases have been accidentally revealed by the fitness app, Strava.

Nathan Ruser, founding member of the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, initially revealed the information on Twitter; noting that data from Strava's heat map makes the US bases "clearly identifiable and mappable." In subsequent tweets, Ruser was able to identify a Russian operating area in Khmeimim, and a guard patrol, a Turkish patrol, Afghanistan FOBs, and a soldier running routes.

The revelation shows some of the dangers inherent with the growth of the Internet of Things and unrestrained shadow IT. Strava users are automatically opted in to sharing their data anonymously on the heatmap; and must manually opt-out if they wish to not share that data.

The version of Strava's heat map that was used in Ruser's analysis was released in November. According to a Strava blog post, it takes into account data from 1 billion activities and 3 trillion latitude/longitude points (10 TB of data in total). Strava's privacy policy notes that the data is anonymized, but that doesn't actually make it unusable for hackers, cyberattackers, or in this case possible military threats.

This information should serve as a wake-up call to security and IT professionals alike that even seemingly harmless apps—such as a fitness tracker—can prove dangerous to your organization. Enterprises need an IoT policy, and it must account for all devices used in connection with the company, not just the ones handling "sensitive" data.


Sent to us by: Phil Priest

Best Buy has informed music companies that it will stop selling CDs this July.

The end of the CD format might be in sight as two major retailers are set to push for change in their relationship with the industry through the end of this year.

According to Consequence of Sound, “89 million CDs were purchased in all of 2017,” paling greatly in comparison to the 800 million sold in 2001. The drop in popularity for the format has already caused a shift in how each store carries inventory—with Target, for example, only handling a limited selection now (compared to nearly 800 titles at its height) according to Billboard. Best Buy, on the other hand, is going to get rid of CDs altogether by July.

Sources are suggesting that the company’s CD business is nowadays only generating about $40 million annually. While it says it’s planning to pull out CDs, Best Buy will continue to carry vinyl for the next two years, however; keeping a commitment it made to vendors. The vinyl will be merchandised with the turntables.

Target is taking a different route. Instead of getting rid of music, they are pushing to change the payment structure for both CDs and DVDs from the movie distributors. The store has told music companies that they would like to switch to a consignment arrangement. With consignment, the inventory risk will shift back to the labels themselves.

Any push back on these new deals and sale terms could “hasten” the demise of CDs. They also note that music companies are keeping a watchful eye on what happens with DVD sales as well, before making any final decisions.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

YouTube is developing new policies to protect itself from the fallout caused by creators that are posting inappropriate content.

YouTube says it is developing new policies to deal with video-makers who damage the reputation of the website.

Chief executive Susan Wojcicki said "egregious" behaviour by video bloggers caused "significant harm" to the entire community of video makers.

The site has been under close scrutiny after video blogger, Logan Paul, made a video which showed a dead body in a so-called "suicide forest."

But many video-makers are frustrated with YouTube's policies. In a bid to stop advertisements appearing next to controversial content, YouTube has been using algorithms to identify content that it judges not to be "advertiser-friendly." Yet many of the platform's biggest stars have complained that their videos have nevertheless, been incorrectly marked as unsuitable for advertising.

YouTube creators have coined the words "demonetisation" and "adpocalypse" to describe this problem.

The platform has also been criticised for what video-makers perceive as a lack of transparency about its policies. In a blog post, Ms Wojcicki said she wanted to "strengthen the trust that our community places in YouTube through open and frequent communication."

Addressing the so-called adpocalypse, she said the company was "working on a more accurate solution" that would involve an increase in human moderators to review videos.

"We're also currently developing policies that would lead to consequences if a creator does something egregious that causes significant harm to our community as a whole," she added.

When Logan Paul uploaded the video he recorded in the suicide forest, YouTube retaliated by removing him from the Google Preferred programme, which sells premium advertising for the website's top 5% of video-makers.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


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