Voice-Activated Assistants Can Hear Messages Hidden in Songs and Commercials

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iStock

The voice-activated assistant boom has inspired fears of tech companies playing Big Brother and eavesdropping on consumers' most intimate conversations. New research reported by The New York Times suggests that a bigger threat may be third parties sending messages to Alexa and Siri that their owners can't hear.

In 2016, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Georgetown University demonstrated that hijacking someone else's smart device to activate airplane mode or open a webpage without their knowledge was as easy as hiding the command in white noise. Some of those same researchers from Berkeley further explored this vulnerability in a new study. They found that voice assistants can hear commands concealed in regular recorded audio. Many voice assistants can be programmed to make online purchases, unlock doors, and make digital payments—all commands that hackers could potentially use for their own gain.

Even with all their privacy concerns, voice-activated assistants continue to gain popularity. Over 20 million homes use devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home to do things like make calls, search the web, and control appliances hands-free. But without the proper security measures in place, features that are convenient in one moment can quickly turn disastrous. One way to protect yourself is by password-protecting sensitive commands like online shopping, or disabling them all together. And remember that connecting your whole life to Alexa, including your accounts, passwords, and contacts, leaves you vulnerable to a single attack.

You can set up every privacy protection imaginable, but in the end there's not much you can do to hide your information from the corporation that owns your home assistant. As long as it's on, it's always listening and recording every noise it hears. Remember to delete your saved recordings on a regular basis. You can also switch off the microphone whenever you want your personal conversations to stay private and to delete your recordings regularly.

[h/t The New York Times]

Twitter Bug Accidentally Alerted Users When Someone Unfollowed Them

iStock/bigtunaonline
iStock/bigtunaonline

Social media networks may notify you every time your former high school classmate has a birthday, but there's one piece of information most sites choose not to share with users. When someone unfriends or unfollows you, platforms like Facebook and Instagram will save you the pain of knowing about it. This is normally the standard on Twitter, but thanks to a new bug, some Twitter users have received notifications when people unfollowed them, Vice reports.

For several days in June, many Twitter users reported receiving push notifications on their phones every time one their followers removed them from their feed. The notifications didn't clearly reference the awkward situation: The bug told users that someone had “followed them back” when they had actually hit the unfollow button. People eventually caught on to what was really happening.

The bug apparently didn't affect all users, so if you unfollowed someone on Twitter in the past week or so, there's a chance they didn't notice. Though if they really wanted to know, there are third-party apps that show Twitter users who unfollowed them.

According to Fast Company, Twitter has resolved the issue and users no longer risk getting their feelings hurt every time they check their notifications. So feel free to continuing curating the list of people you follow in privacy.

[h/t Vice]

This Amazingly Simple Google Docs Hack Is a Game-Changer

iStock/ardaguldogan
iStock/ardaguldogan

The seconds it takes to manually open a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide on your computer are short compared to the time you spend working in them. But if you're already feeling stressed or tempted to procrastinate, the process of going to Google Drive, selecting New, and opening a blank document can be annoying enough to disrupt your workflow. For people looking to maximize as much of their time as possible, Google introduced a hack late last year that creates a new Doc, Sheet, or Slide in seconds.

According to TechCrunch, you can launch a blank Google Doc in less time than it takes to type out a full web address. If you're already signed into your Google account, simply go to your web browser, type in doc.new (no www. required) and hit Enter to go to your fresh, new document. For Google Slides, do the same for slide.new, and for Sheets, use sheet.new. It doesn't matter if you pluralize the name of the app: Typing doc.new or docs.new will bring you to the same place.

Google owns the .new web domain, which allowed it to create these convenient hacks for its users. If you're a frequent user of Google's applications, you can bookmark the addresses so they pop up in your browser suggestions with just a couple keystrokes.

The new document shortcut is pretty straightforward, but there are several more Google Docs features that make life more convenient for users in unexpected ways, including features for automatically transcribing audio and outlining documents.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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