Google: Headphones and Voice Magic

November 23, 2017

I read two interesting articles. Each provides some insight into Google’s effort to put the NLP and chatbot doggies in an Alphabet corral.

The first article is “Google SLING: An Open Source Natural Language Parser.” To refresh your memory, “SLING is a combination of recurrent neural networks and frame based parsing.”

The second article is “Google Introduces Dialogflow Enterprise Edition, a Conversational Apps Building Platform.” The idea is to provide “a platform for building voice and text conversational applications.”

Both are interesting because each seems to be “free.” I won’t drag you, gentle reader, through the consequences of building a solution around a “free” Google service. One Xoogler watches me like a hawk to remind me that Google doesn’t treat people in a will of the wisp way. Okay. Let’s move on, shall we?

Both of these systems advance Google’s quest to become the Big Dog of where the world is heading for computer interaction. Both are germane to the wireless headphones Google introduced. These headphones, unlike other wireless alternatives, can translate. Hence, the largesse for free NLP and voice freebies.

I read “Trying Out Google’s Translating Headphones” informed me that:

The most important thing you should know about Pixel Buds is that their full features only work with Google’s newest smartphone, the Pixel 2.

Is this vendor lock in?

I learned from the write up:

To be honest, it’s not exactly real-time. You call up the feature by tapping on your right earbud and asking Google Assistant to “help me speak” one of 40 languages. The phone will then open the Google Translate app. From there, the phone will translate what it hears into the language of your choice, and you’ll hear it in your ear.

Not quite like Star Trek’s universal translator, suggests the article. I noted this statement:

it’s worth realizing that the Pixel Buds are more than just a pair of headphones. They’re an early illustration of what we can expect from Google, which will try to make products that stand out from the pack with unusual artificial intelligence services such as translation.

A demo. I suppose doing the lock in tactic with a demo is better than basing lock in on vaporware.

Then there are the free APIs. These, of course, will never go away or cost too much money. The headphones are $159. The phone adds another $649.

Almost free.

Stephen E Arnold, November 23, 2017

AI Tech Companies Had Better Watch Their Backs

November 20, 2017

In a case of perhaps getting too big for one’s own britches, there’s a lot of scuttlebutt about how our tech giants are in for a rude awakening, either from the government or competition. We learned more in a US News and World Report story, “Tech Companies Must Regain Trust.”

With all the negative publicity organizations like Facebook and Google have gotten has raised concerns, as we saw in the article:

Google and Facebook are not natural monopolies and ought not to be regulated as such. The history of the internet is a history of defunct giants that once oozed monopolistic power: Netscape, AltaVista, MySpace, AOL, among many others. Unlike constructing a news power grid, dislodging an incumbent does not require investing billions into new infrastructure. In principle, it only requires novel ideas.

(T)ech companies themselves can do a lot themselves in order not to actively invite onerous regulation. If they can invest in editorial judgment and quality control, crack down on bots and increase the transparency of their advertising schemes, the political case for new rules will become much weaker.

It’s a moment we will look back on and see as a watershed moment. Clearly, tech companies need better policing. Now is the moment they decide whether it will be themselves who make the change. Otherwise, the Googles and Facebooks of the world will suffer either from government regulation or from competition doing the job in question better.

Patrick Roland, November 20, 2017

Ichan Makes It Easier to Access the Dark Web

November 17, 2017

A new search engine for the Dark Web may make that shady side of the Internet accessible to more people. A piece at DarkWebNews introduces us to “Ichidan: A New Darknet Search Engine.” Writer Richard tells us:

Ichidan is a brand new darknet search engine platform that lets users search and access Tor-powered ‘.onion’ sites. The format and interface of the platform bear much similitude with the conventional search engines like Bing and Google. However, the darknet search engine has been designed with an entirely different purpose. While Google was created with the aim of collecting user information and analyzing the behavior across several platforms, Ichidan specifically aims to render selfless services to the users who access the darknet and are looking for some particular Tor site to get the necessary information. Owing to its simplicity and ease of use, the darknet search engine has now managed to be an incredibly helpful tool for individuals using the dark web. Security research professionals, for instance, are quite happy with the services of this new darknet search engine.

The article notes that one way to use Ichan seems to be to pinpoint security vulnerabilities on Dark Web sites. A side effect of the platform’s rise is, perhaps ironically, its revelation that the number of Dark Web marketplaces has shrunk dramatically. Perhaps the Dark Web is no longer such a good place for criminals to do business as it once was.

Cynthia Murrell, November 17, 2017

Proprietary Software Cheats Users

November 16, 2017

Cory Doctorow is an outspoken defender of net neutrality, technology education, and user rights.  He has written and spoken about these subjects and shares his opinion on BoingBoing.  The science-fiction magazine Locus recently published one of his new essays,“Cory Doctorow: Demon-Haunted World.”  Doctorow discusses how software can be programmed to take out the human factor of like and steer things in favor of corporations who want to gobble down dollars.

Cheating is a well-established enterprise that originated long before the digital revolution, but it is getting smarter as technology advances.  While in the past it was cheating was more of a danger from outside forces, it is now nestled within the very things we own.

The software allows companies and literally anyone with the know how to cheat you out of money or precious time.  Rather than cheat en masse, the cheating is coming to your home because it is so much easier to infiltrate the individual now.  Even scarier is when he uses an alchemy metaphor, explaining how alchemists were cut-rate lab technicians who believed spirits, God, and demons influenced their experiments.  The technology used for cheating has a similar demonic presence and that is not even the worst factor.

Doctorow pulls out his trump card when he explains how outdated technology laws from the 20th century still had standing today when it is more than obvious they need to be repealed:

What’s worse, 20th-century law puts its thumb on the scales for these 21st-century demons. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (1986) makes it a crime, with jail-time, to violate a company’s terms of service. Logging into a website under a fake ID to see if it behaves differently depending on who it is talking to is thus a potential felony, provided that doing so is banned in the small-print clickthrough agreement when you sign up.


Then there’s section 1201 of the Digital Millen­nium Copyright Act (1998), which makes it a felony to bypass the software controls access to a copy­righted work. Since all software is copyrightable, and since every smart gadget contains software, this allows manufacturers to threaten jail-terms for anyone who modifies their tractors to accept third-party carburetors (just add a software-based check to ensure that the part came from John Deere and not a rival), or changes their phone to accept an independent app store, or downloads some code to let them choose generic insulin for their implanted insulin pump.

Follow Doctorow’s advice, read, test, learn, and just combat ignorance.

Whitney Grace, November 16, 2017

Russian Meddling Across Platforms

November 13, 2017

During our last presidential election, Russia sowed American division through online propaganda appearing well beyond Facebook. An article in Ubergizmo reports, “Google Finds Evidence of Russia-Linked Ads on Search, YouTube, and Gmail.”  Leave it to the search company to find these clues. Writer Adnan Farooqui tells us:

The Washington Post reports that Google has discovered evidence that a campaign by the Russian government spread propaganda through advertising on its platforms. A recent report revealed that Twitter had uncovered similar ads as well. The scribe mentions that Google’s investigation into the matter is in early stages for now. It’s said to be in the process of separating ads from legitimate Russian sources from the ones used to spread propaganda.

For its part, Google assures us they are working with researchers and with other companies to investigate ways bad actors have abused the Google ecosystem. They also emphasize their “strict” policies on targeted advertising; political ads cannot be targeted by race or religion, for example. Will their efforts be enough to stop foreign interference in its tracks?

Cynthia Murrell, November 13, 2017

What Will Marketers Do When Google Goes Away?

November 6, 2017

Wait, do not panic!  Google is still around to help you search for restaurants, test answers, and cat GIFs.  Keep your towel handy, however, because Mark Schaefer at Business Grow has some mighty interesting information about SEO and other Internet marketing strategies in, “What Happens To Your Marketing Effort When Google Search Goes Away?”  Schaefer makes a clever point in the article’s introduction that consumers are searching for reliable answers to their queries, but businesses are trying to be the number one answer or top search result at any given time.

It might be that search results are going away.  Where are they going?  Technically, search results will still exist, but voice search tools like Siri and Alexia will be the game changer.  Schaefer said that no one has invented a vocal search marketing strategy yet.  Smart speakers are one of the latest tech gadgets and eventually, they may become indispensable modern tools, like indoor plumbing, electricity, and the Internet.  So what will happen?

From a marketing standpoint, the idea that fascinates me is that increasingly, these speakers will be the “economic on-ramp” for commerce, as Google search is now. However, Amazon will try to direct you to the Amazon eco-system and Apple will try to keep you in the Apple eco-system. This is where the real battleground will be.


Who will “own” or partner with the Wal-Mart eco-system?  Will we choose a car in the future due to the brand of smart speaker we like best?  Will one part of our home be controlled by Google, another part by Amazon, while an Apple device plays out TV and music?

Marketers are going to need to find a new way to advertise their wares.  Looking back at history, this is not new.  The same happened with radio, TV, and then the Internet.  Smart speaker “airspace” is brand new, but the concept of marketing on the new territory is not.

Whitney Grace, November 6, 2017

Big Data Less Accessible for Small and Mid-Size Businesses

October 31, 2017

Even as the term “Big Data” grows stale, small and medium-sized businesses (SMB’s) are being left behind in today’s data-driven business world. The SmartData Collective examines the issue in, “Is Complexity Strangling the Real-World Benefits of Big Data for SMB’s?” Writer Rehan Ijaz supplies this example:

Imagine a local restaurant chain fighting to keep the doors open as a national competitor moves into town. The national competitor will already have a competent Cloud Data Manager (CDM) in place to provide insight into what should be offered to customers, based on their past interactions. A multi-million-dollar technology is affordable, due to scale, for a national chain. The same can’t be said for a smaller, mom and pop type restaurant. They’ve relied on their gut instinct and hometown roots to get them this far, but it may not be enough in the age of Big Data. Large companies are using their financial muscle to get information from large data sets, and take targeted action to outmaneuver local competitors.

Pointing to an article from Forbes, Ijaz observes that the main barrier for these more modestly-sized enterprises is not any hesitation about the technology itself, but rather a personal issue—their existing marketing employees were not hired for their IT prowess, and even the most valuable data requires analysis to be useful. Few SMB’s are eager to embrace the cost and disruption of hiring data scientists and reorganizing their marketing teams; they have to be sure it will be worth the trouble.

Ijaz hopes that the recent increase in scalable, cloud-based analysis solutions will help SMB’s with these challenges. The question is, he notes, whether it is too late for many SMB’s to recover from their late foray into Big Data.

Cynthia Murrell, October 31, 2017

Instagram Milestone: 800 Million Monthly Active Users

October 27, 2017

If there were any doubts that Facebook’s 2012 purchase of Instagram was a good idea, this should put them to rest—SiliconBeat reports, “Facebook-Owned Instagram Reaches 800 Million Monthly Active Users.” Reporter Queenie Wong writes:

The photo-sharing app reached 800 million monthly active users, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, announced at an advertising event in New York Monday. That’s an uptick of 100 million monthly users since April. Instagram also grew its daily active users to 500 million and reached 2 million advertisers. Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock in 2012. So far, the social media giant’s purchase appears to be paying off. Analysts have noted before that Instagram was a good investment for Facebook because it gave the company an app that was popular among teens.

Wong concludes by reminding us that Instagram has recently been competing with Snapchat with its own version of temporary posts, Stories. In fact, Facebook just announced the ability to cross-post Stories between the two platforms.

Cynthia Murrell, October 27, 2017

Google and Its AI Crusade

October 24, 2017

The next big thing is, according to Google is that artificial intelligence “is just really difficult to do. Very few people can do it.”

How does one make more smart people? The answer is to create a “crash course” in artificial intelligence.

According to “Google Wants to Train Other Companies to Use Its AI Tools,”

Google will offer 15 hours of coding lessons and instructional videos from some marquee names in the field, like research director Peter Norvig. Google has tested the course with some universities, but hopes to train staff at large corporations in health, finance and other sectors.

Anyone remember how old fashioned classes used to work. The teacher would give a test and only a few people got top marks. None of that gold badge which said, “Also Participated.”

How many effective machine learning programmers will emerge from the Google program. Even Malcolm Gladwell pegs expertise at 10,000 hours. So with 15 hours of instruction, that’s only a few hours short for mastery.

But what if “Tensorflow Sucks” is spot on? The blog post states:

Take the React Javascript library as an example, the standard choice today for interactive web applications. In React, the complexity of how data flows through the application makes sense to be hidden from the developer, since Javascript execution is generally orders of magnitudes faster than updates to the DOM. React developers don’t want to worry about the mechanics of how state is propagated, so long as the end user experience is “good enough”.

Note the “good enough.” Cupcakes on maps. Pixel phone displays which are drab. The Google assertion about the end of lousy”poorly designed or poorly maintained deep learning frameworks.

Google wants to do better. With costs soaring for traffic, the Google needs a really big winner. Education it is. Just like the “free” Lexis and Westlaw for law students. Focus on the commercial solution because it is just, well, so much better than any other way to find what one needs quickly.

Instant AI and machine learning expertise sounds like a big PR program to get Google’s approach adopted in order to benefit the Google? Of course not, gentle reader.

Only if you Google them.

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2017

Online Fraud: Loophole, Soft Freeze, Hard Freeze, or Just Business in 2017?

October 19, 2017

Consumer Alert: A credit freeze may not do what one expects.

After the Equifax data loss, I promptly put a credit freeze on my unwanted “credit rating” accounts.

As you know, a consumer (even one who writes books about online fraud and lectures to law enforcement and intelligence professionals) has zero choice with regard to dealing with Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. I thought the credit freeze meant that my personal financial information would not be released to third parties.

I learned from a cheerful person named Kelly Lurz, who presumed to write me a personal and confidential email, that there is a “hard” freeze of credit information and a “soft” freeze of credit information. I did not know that. In fact, after freezing the release of my credit details, none of the documentation I received from Equifax, Transunion, and Experian used this terminology. Quite an oversight in light of the security issues related to personal credit information.

Let me share the personal email with you, gentle reader. I received this email from an outfit doing business as Pearl Solutions, an automotive technology innovator. You can find out about this marketing company at this link. Kelly Lurz does not work at Pearl. She did know enough to tell me that she was not the sender of the “personal” email to my business email address. She was, in retrospect, quite a font of information with the hard and soft freeze data and the ability to shift the blame to an outfit named Pearl, the automotive technology innovator.


First, the email has as Volvo logo. My last interaction with the Volvo dealer in Louisville was an unpleasant one, a fact I communicated when I received a $900 invoice for an annual service check. The Volvo dealer just smiled and said, “That’s what it costs.” Now this outfit wants to buy or lease another Volvo? I don’t think so.

Second, the email is sending me a “personal” note and wants to make a “private” offer. In this era of online fraud, fake news, and general duplicity—I am going to get a personal note sent to me from What? Personal, private, pearl? This hit me like those ad for personal services we have analyzed in the course of our research for CyberOSINT and the Dark Web Notebook.

Third, the letter is signed by the aforementioned “Kelly Lurz.” I called Ms. Lurz, and she informed me that I was on a list, the letter really was not “personal,” was not “private”, and was nothing more than a pitch to dump my 18 month old automobile and move into a brand new Volvo. Well, a letter using the terms “personal” and “private” from a person named Kelly Lurz (a female, by the way, judging from her voice and LinkedIn page) struck me as stupid and perilously close to harassment of a 74 year old male who is quite happy with his automobile.

Fourth—and this is the big issue, even bigger than harassment-type terminology—is the logo of Experian, one of the credit agencies whose data I froze by providing proof of my identity and paying money for the aggregator to keep my information private. (I did not choose to give Experian my information; Experian collected the information and now charges me to keep it private. Nice business model because of the hard and soft freeze distinction.) Obviously the PIN number, the information about paying money to make my credit information available, and the new approach to security were confections, mere fabrications, digital illusions designed to create a new cash stream for the credit agencies.

Let me come back to Ms. Lurz’s explanation of the “hard freeze” and a “soft freeze.” Her company, a car dealer in Louisville, was using the “soft freeze” data and was, therefore, breaking no laws. Her LinkedIn profile suggests that she has a degree in elementary education, not law. She also has a degree in biology. That’s interesting, but not directly germane to understanding the bright white lines of financial regulations. I guess I am old fashioned but dissecting a frog falls short of the standard for interpretation of statutes.

With some forcefulness in her verbal statements to me, she told me that she knew I had a Mercedes and only “wanted to offer me an opportunity” to buy a new Volvo. Right, but she knew my business email, my financial status, the type of vehicle my wife drives, and where I lived. Right. A soft freeze.

But the email was Pearl’s not hers and not the Louisville Volvo dealership. As a direct result of here unwillingness to accept responsibility for using my personal information to sell me a car I do not want, I poked into Pearl, the automotive technology innovator. (I liked that catchphrase for a company engaged in the use of personal information to sell cars.)

I called the 800 number of Pearl, the automotive technology innovator, and went to a voice recording. I left a message with whoever the operator connected me to to the effect that I was going to write about this use of personal informati0n and include the email in my next lecture to law enforcement and intelligence professionals. The reason is that the confidential information about me is in the possession of: Volvo (see the letter), Kelly Lurz (sales person), Pearl, and Experian. So much for control.

At 640 pm Eastern on October 17, 2017, I received a phone call from an alleged Pearl employee. I pointed out that I was eating dinner. The Pearl professional sounded eager to speak with me, so I left the dinner group and spoke with the Pearl professional who represented the innovator in automotive technology. On a napkin, I noted these points conveyed by the Pearl professional:

  1. What Pearl is doing with financial data is legal. Furthermore, the Pearl professional promised to mail me the pertinent regulations. (Yes, Pearl has access to my email, but the promised information has not arrived.)
  2. The Pearl professional told me that I should really be talking to Experian because Pearl was not responsible for the information in the email.
  3. The Pearl professional told me that Ms. Lurz did not have access to information about the type of vehicle I had nor how I was paying for that vehicle. Unfortunately for the Pearl professional, Ms. Lurz did have that information. The possible falsehood caught my attention.
  4. The Pearl professional insisted that somewhere along the line I had provided permission for Pearl and Ms. Lurz to contact me.

Upon reflecting about this situation, I formulated several observations:

First, the “freeze” appears to mean nothing. Zilch. The credit entities release data of individuals who have taken the steps to “freeze” data and then ignore that request. I will include this information in my next law enforcement lecture when I address online identity theft.

Second, the email letter references two companies and one individual who is writing me a private and personal letter. I find this a quick way to increase online security vulnerabilities. Experian releases the data, Pearl converts it to direct mail spam, and Ms. Lurz has her name and contact information included in a personal and private communication. Good business practice or security nightmare? My view is that it is a security problem and an illustration of poor business judgment.

Third, the no replay email does little to create the impression that Pearl, the automotive technology innovator, is a legitimate operation. We have been examining the email addresses used by Dark Web vendors. The similarities of multiple identities, the obfuscation of the email, and the effort taken to mask the identity of who uses private information jumped out at us.

Fourth, Pearl and Ms. Lurz are not signing from the same hymnal. Doesn’t this suggest a certain looseness with the facts? The one thing the two humans had in common was an eagerness to blame someone else. Now that’s accepting responsibility for one’s action handled the millennial way!

What’s the fix?

I suggest that others take a closer look at the business practices of outfits like Volvo, Pearl, and the hapless Ms. Lurz. I don’t think she really wants to have a private and personal relationship with me even thought she wrote to me in that offensive manner.

What’s clear is that what these players are delivering are ersatz pearls. Sad. Sad. Sad. Too bad I take things “personal” and “private” to heart. Others don’t. Therefore, this sad, sad, sad business anecdote.

Stephen E Arnold, October 19, 2017


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