Help This Email Bot Distract Scammers From Targeting Real Humans

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iStock

Each year, online phishing scams cost Americans roughly half a billion dollars in stolen cash. One way to protect yourself is to train your eye to recognize fraudulent emails and delete them once they enter your inbox, but some experts recommend a more proactive way to deal with scammers: Engage with them. The idea is that the more time they spend answering your questions, the less time they’ll have to prey upon more susceptible victims. Sounds like a smart plan, but few people have the time or the patience to tackle the flood of spam they receive one message at a time. That’s why a New Zealand-based nonprofit developed a bot to help the cause.

According to Co.Design, Re:scam from Netsafe is designed to keep the person at the other end of the email chain distracted for as long as possible. Web users wishing to get in on the fun can forward their scam emails to me@rescam.org. From there, an artificially intelligent bot takes over the conversation. It’s programmed to ask questions that make it seem like an interested and naive respondent—a scammer’s preferred victim. But as the sample emails show, the scam never moves forward.

“Did I tell you I was moving?" the bot writes when it's asked to send its address. "We fell out with the landlord. Apparently we’re not allowed to have indoor plants in the attic cos it’s a fire hazard." It might offer to send Chevron petrol vouchers in place of cash, or to email a bank account number one digit at a time for security’s sake. It’s also capable of making bad jokes and typos just like a real person. “I understand the urgency. Time is money as they say. Does that make ATM’s time machine? Just a thought I had,” one response reads.

At some point the scammers will realize they’re being played and stop replying, but not before they’ve lost time that could have been spent going after someone else. So far, over 50,000 emails have been sent by Re:scam. All the while, the nonprofit has been analyzing the messages it receives so the data can be used to better fight scammers in the future.

If you’re lucky enough to have your inbox free of messages asking you to wire money to Nigerian princes, you can watch the video below to see how the technology works.

[h/t Co.Design]

Your Netflix Subscription Just Shot Up in Price

iStock.com/amesy
iStock.com/amesy

For the past several years, Netflix has been rolling out a steady stream of expensive original content, from Dave Chappelle comedy specials (for which he was reportedly paid $20 million apiece) to $90 million feature film spectacles like 2018’s Bright.

It appears the bill now needs settling up. Variety reports that the service has announced a price hike for its 58.4 million subscribers.

Effective immediately, Netflix subscribers on the Standard plan with two HD streams will pay $12.99 monthly, up from $10.99; the Premium plan, which includes four HD streams and 4K options, is jumping from $13.99 to $15.99 per month; while the Basic plan, with one standard-definition stream, will increase by a dollar, from $7.99 to $8.99.

In a press release explaining the fee increase, Netflix stated that the price hike is partly a product of the company’s desire to “continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience.”

Naturally, whether that represents value depends on whether users are enjoying their programming. Financially, the company spends more on content than comparable services like HBO and Hulu—by some estimates, as much as $13 billion in 2018.

Subscribers have a new season of The Punisher, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary on the doomed Fyre music festival; and a new Ted Bundy documentary series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, to look forward to in the coming weeks.

[h/t Variety]

Yes, You Have Too Many Tabs Open on Your Computer—and Your Brain is Probably to Blame

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iStock.com/baona

If you’re anything like me, you likely have dozens of tabs open at this very moment. Whether it’s news stories you mean to read later, podcast episodes you want to listen to when you have a chance, or just various email and social media accounts, your browser is probably cluttered with numerous, often unnecessary tabs—and your computer is working slower as a result. So, why do we leave so many tabs open? Metro recently provided some answers to this question, which we spotted via Travel + Leisure.

The key phrase to know, according to the Metro's Ellen Scott, is “task switching,” which is what our brains are really doing when we think we're multitasking. Research has found that humans can't really efficiently multitask at all—instead, our brains hop rapidly from one task to another, losing concentration every time we shift our attention. Opening a million tabs, it turns out, is often just a digital form of task switching.

It isn't just about feeling like we're getting things done. Keeping various tabs open also works as a protection against boredom, according to Metro. Having dozens of tabs open allows us to pretend we’re always doing something, or at least that we always have something available to do.

A screenshot of many tabs in a browser screen
This is too many tabs.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

It may also be driven by a fear of missing information—a kind of “Internet FOMO,” as Travel + Leisure explains it. We fear that we might miss an important update if we close out of our social media feed or email account or that news article, so we just never close anything.

But this can lead to information overload. Even when you think you're only focused on whatever you're doing in a single window, seeing all those open tabs in the corner of your eye takes up mental energy, distracting you from the task at hand. Based on studies of multitasking, this tendency to keep an overwhelming number of tabs open may actually be altering your brain. Some studies have found that "heavy media multitaskers"—like tab power users—may perform worse on various cognitive tests than people who don't try to consume media at such a frenzied pace.

More simply, it just might not be worth the bandwidth. Just like your brain, your browser and your computer can only handle so much information at a time. To optimize your browser's performance, Lifehacker suggests keeping only nine tabs open—at most—at one time. With nine or fewer tabs, you're able to see everything that's open at a glance, and you can use keyboard shortcuts to navigate between them. (On a Mac, you can press Command + No. 1 through No. 9 to switch between tabs; on a PC, it's Control + the number.)

Nine open tabs on a desktop browser
With nine or fewer tabs open, you can actually tell what each page is.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

That said, there are, obviously, situations in which one might need many tabs open at one time. Daria Kuss, a senior lecturer specializing in cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, tells Metro that “there are two opposing reasons we keep loads of tabs open: to be efficient and ‘create a multi-source and multi-topic context for the task at hand.’” Right now, for example, I have six tabs open to refer to for the purposes of writing this story. Sometimes, there's just no avoiding tabs.

In the end, it's all about accepting our (and our computers') limitations. When in doubt, there’s no shame in shutting down those windows. If you really want to get back to them, they're all saved in your browser history. If you're a relentless tab-opener, there are also browser extensions like OneTab, which collapses all of your open tabs into a single window of links for you to return to later.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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