Impossible Pork, Wawa Customers Beware, Mind-Reading Speech, Ring and Google Assistant Security

  • Episode 638
  • January 8, 2020
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday January 8, 2020

A US convenience store and gas station chain had malware that stole customer payment info for more than half of 2019. If you live in the US, stick around - you may be affected.

US convenience store Wawa recently discovered malware that skimmed customers' payment card data at just about all of its 850 stores.

The infection began rolling out to the store's payment-processing system on March 4 last year, and wasn't discovered until December 10.

It took two more days for the malware to be fully contained. Most locations' point-of-sale systems were affected by April 22, 2019, although some locations may not have been affected at all.

The malware collected payment card numbers, expiration dates, and cardholder names from payment cards used at Wawa in-store payment terminals and fuel dispensers. The advisory didn't say how many customers or cards were affected.

The malware didn't access debit card PINs, credit card CVV2 numbers, or driver license data used to verify age-restricted purchases. Information processed by in-store ATMs was also not affected.

The company has hired an outside forensics firm to investigate the infection.

People who have used payment cards at a Wawa location should pay close attention to billing statements over the past eight months. It's always a good idea to regularly review credit reports as well. Wawa said it will provide one year of identity-theft protection and credit monitoring from credit-reporting service Experian at no charge.


Sent to us by: Roy W Nash

A brain implant has been invented that can read people's minds and turn their thoughts into speech.

Scientists have developed a brain implant that can read people's minds and turn their thoughts to speech.

The team at the University of California, San Francisco says their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help people when disease robs them of their ability to talk.

Experts said the findings were compelling and offered hope of restoring speech.

The mind-reading technology works in two stages.

First an electrode is implanted in the brain to pick up the electrical signals that manoeuvre the lips, tongue, voice box and jaw.

Then powerful computing is used to simulate how the movements in the mouth and throat would form different sounds.

This results in synthesised speech coming out of a "virtual vocal tract".

Instead of scouring the brain for the pattern of electrical signals that code each word, the focus is on the shape of the mouth and the sounds it would produce.

Prof Edward Chang, one of the researchers, said: "For the first time, this study demonstrates that we can generate entire spoken sentences based on an individual's brain activity."

The technology is not yet perfect, but shows incredible promise. Here: let's listen to an actual recording of the system reading its user's brainwaves and saying "the proof you are seeking is not available in books".

[Audio Clip]

As you can hear, it's not quite perfect. But keep in mind, that was generated by reading someone's brainwaves!

In experiments with five people, who read hundreds of sentences in their heads, listeners were able to discern what was being spoken up to 70% of the time.

Beyond helping restore speech, there is also the more distant prospect of helping people who have never spoken to learn to speak with such a device. An example might be a child with cerebral palsy.

Prof Sophie Scott, from University College London, said: "This is very interesting work from a great lab but it must be noted that it is at very early stages and is not close to clinical applications yet."


Sent to us by: Bekah Ferguson

Dell’s new Concept UFO puts PC gaming on a Nintendo Switch-like device.

CES may be flooded with new tech coming out soon, but it's also a great place for companies to show off new things that they're working on.

Dell's doing just that with its Alienware gaming family, showing off a new concept device dubbed Concept UFO. It's a handheld gaming console that looks similar to a Nintendo Switch, but it's built for full-fledged portable PC gaming.

The handheld gaming console sports an eight-inch display and removable controllers on both ends. Sound familiar?

Due to the inclusion of such a large display, Concept UFO is noticeably larger than a Nintendo Switch and feels bulkier.

The working model Ars journalist Valentina Palladino got a look at "ran Windows and was able to render playable games in handheld mode; docked mode, in which the console was connected to an external display and its controllers were detached; and another portable mode in which the controllers were detached but connected by a center "bridge."


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Amazon's Ring devices were a privacy nightmare in 2019. Now, the company wants to improve its image by giving users control over their security.

With criticism mounting, Amazon's Ring revealed a web dashboard of privacy controls it hopes will slash the number of horror stories coming from customers.

Earlier this week and in time for CES, the home surveillance camera and internet-connected doorbell specialist made a point of unveiling an account control panel it hopes will allow users to better manage the access settings on their devices and keep hackers and other intruders out. The new controls will be available across all products.

Ring said in the announcement, "The Control Center will initially let you see and manage your connected mobile, desktop, and tablet devices, as well as third-party services; it will also enable you to opt out of receiving video requests in areas where local police have joined the Neighbors app."

This comes after Ring found itself under fire on a number of fronts for its privacy policies and security protections. Civil rights groups have raised concerns since the cameras provide officers excessive levels of surveillance power. In short, Ring encourages its customers to share their web-connected camera footage with neighbors and the police, opening up a whole can of worms regarding privacy and consent.

While it's clear there are privacy concerns over cheap surveillance devices being installed in people's homes, hopefully the move to a user-controlled dashboard will help improve security.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

The company that brought us the Impossible Burger is now doing a plant-based meat substitute as well.

A plant-based pork substitute has been launched at CES by one of the leading "alternative meat" producers.

A food product unveiled at the CES tech show? You betcha! There's some serious tech involved in creating this sustainable alternative to meat.

The new product contains no gluten, animal hormones or antibiotics, and is designed to comply with kosher and halal rules.

The firm's sausage and plant-based pork products, similar to its ground beef substitute, are made using heme, a molecule derived from plants that contains iron and that resembles blood.

Heme is found in real meat but can be produced without farming animals.

Impossible Foods' founder and chief executive, Patrick Brown says of their expanding product line, "We won't stop until we eliminate the need for animals in the food chain and make the global food system sustainable."

Beyond that, Impossible Pork contains around half the calories of sausage meat and is also significantly lower in fat.

Until recently, China was home to around half the world's farmed pigs - but millions of them have died or been culled due to the spread of African Swine Fever, a viral disease that infects pigs and has no known cure.

Pork is in huge demand in Asia. China alone produces and consumes more of the meat than any other country. Impossible Foods says their synthetic pork product will suit a variety of Asian dishes.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Google is adding new privacy and scheduling features to their virtual assistant.

Google announced on Tuesday all of the new capabilities it's adding to its voice assistant, including various additions to the way it handles privacy.

One of the Assistant's new privacy features will allow users to delete a record of the most recent command by saying, "that wasn't for you".

This means users can delete voice recordings immediately if someone else starts a separate conversation in the background, or if the user decides that what was said should not be shared.

Users can also ask "are you saving my audio data?" to learn about their privacy controls and go directly into the settings screen to change their preferences, as well as delete voice assistant activity from a Google Account by saying things like "delete everything I said to you this week."

The Assistant has had its fair share of privacy concerns, with Google confirming in August that third-party workers were "systematically listening" and leaking private Dutch conversations collected by the assistant.

It had been revealed that more than 1,000 files had been leaked from these workers, including recordings from instances where users accidentally triggered Google's software. After the incident, Google paused all of its language review operations.

These new privacy features come not too long after Google decided to revamp its Assistant privacy policy last year. The changes from last year included Google making it default for the voice assistant to not retain audio recordings once a request is fulfilled, meaning that users have to opt-in to let Google keep any voice recordings made by the device. It also added a feature that allows users to review and delete past, historical audio recordings.

Besides the security enhancements, other additions to the Assistant announced by Google on Tuesday include the ability to schedule certain tasks. For example, users that have a Google Home-integrated washer or dryer can schedule a load of laundry with the Assistant. This feature is set to be rolled out later this year.

Google has added support for various new smart device categories such as AC units, coffee makers, vacuums, and smart bathtubs, among others.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Sony's latest displays are made specifically with the next-gen PlayStation 5 console in mind.

As expected, the PS5 is shaping more than the future of gaming. The next-gen console is inspiring their home cinema devices as well, with Sony's newest TVs made specifically with the PS5 in mind, along with its 8K resolution.

The flagship Z8H can play at both 8K and 4K with a Full Array LED and a built-in audio system that outputs sound based on the location of images onscreen. It's also an 85-inch screen.

There are more mid-range LCD models in the lineup as well, with five different sizes able to support 120HZ 4K.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Sony has developed an impressive electric car.

Sony -- yes, Sony -- has even demonstrated its electric car concept. They didn't suggest that this is meant for the public, but rather is being used as a platform for them to demonstrate some of their up-and-coming sensor and entertainment tech.

The Vision S dashboard is flanked by an ultra-wide panoramic screen for driving information and entertainment.

Among the internal features of the car is sensing technology that can detect occupants of the vehicle and recognise them, in order to allow for gesture control of the entertainment systems.

In total, Sony has included 33 sensors in the Vision S prototype. The Japanese firm is known to have developed powerful image sensors that can be used to analyse the road in front of a vehicle.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson


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