Belkin hopes to be a big part of home automation market

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Intel wants to eliminate all wires from PCs, even the power cord

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Sears enters 21st century with ‘Connected Solutions’

Sears is launching Connected Solutions stores

Sears is launching Connected Solutions stores

Sears, the 121 year-old retailer, is making a decidedly modern move by introducing “Connected Solutions” shops within some of its stores to “bring together one of the most authoritative assortments of smart, connected home and personal automation products in the industry,” according to a statement.

Products available from the Connect Solutions stores will include home automation solutions such as thermostats, smart locks, lighting, switches and sensors along with mobile phones, tablets, smart watches, home monitoring cameras, connected baby monitors and fitness products like treadmills, heart rate monitors and connected treadmills.

Claiming to have “knowledgeable associates,”  Sears, according to Jim Pearse, vice president of consumer electronics for Sears Holdings, “is uniquely positioned to lead this category.”

Sears garage door opener texts parents when kids get home

Sears garage door opener texts parents when kids get home

One of the products Sears is touting is its Craftsman Assurelink garage door opener which can notify parents by text when the door is open and closed, “providing peace of mind when children come home from school,” according to the company.

In a press release, Sears  VP in-store experience and design Craig LaRosa said the new shops will offer “an entertaining and interactive environment to learn about the products and our dedicated sales team is ready to help customers develop solutions that are relevant to them.”

In addition to its retail outlets, Sears also has an online version of its Connected Solutions store.

Too little too late?

In his Forbes post, Why Sears Is The Dying Dinosaur Of Retailing, Walter Loeb commented that “Sears has ignored new trends, has reduced their staples and basics, and has relied on a flawed loyalty program in a flawed attempt to bring customers to the stores.”

But with this move, the sleepy retailer appears to be waking up and taking a bit of a risk by showcasing emerging technologies such as fitness watches and wearable computing devices. It’s a smart move but it may be too little too late. Sears has lost an enormous amount of momentum not only to online giant Amazon.com but even to its brick and mortar competitors like Wal-Mart and Target and of course Apple, which is also a major retailer as well as a consumer electronics store.

It’s perhaps coincidental that Sears’ announcement came out the same day that Apple announced the home automation tools that will be available for its OS 8 developers. Is Sears forward thinking or are both Sears and Apple just catching up with the world many of us already live in?

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Apple adds new features to Mac and iPhone/iPad operating systems

At its World Wide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple unveiled the latest versions of its operating systems for its Macintosh computers and its iPhone and iPad mobile devices.

Like polishing the silver or painting the house, these upgrades are necessary but — for the most part — not all that exciting.

The new Mac operating system, called Yosemite will feature a new look and new features including an iCloud drive for storing files online as well as the ability for iPhone users to answer and make calls from their Mac. Apple is also updating its Spotlight search bar with the ability to show results from search engines and Wikipedia along with what’s in your own files.

The newest mobile operating systems 8, will include a health dashboard that consolidates data from different health and fitness apps with the ability to contact your health care provider if your numbers go out of range. Apple also improved the onscreen keyboard to better predict what you’re about to type and is giving developers tools to integrate iPhones with home appliances like garage door openers, thermostats, door locks and lighting systems.

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iOS 8 photo app (image: Apple)

Pictures taken on iPhones and iPads will automatically be uploaded to users’ iCloud account so that they can be accessed from any device (even a Windows PC).  Apple is also beefing up its editing tools including an auto-enhance feature that adjusts lighting and color.

Family Sharing

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Family Sharing in OS 8 (image Apple)

Another new iOS feature is Family Sharing, which enables up to six people in your family to share apps, iBooks and music purchased on iTunes.  You can pay for all family purchases on the same credit card and parents and approve (or not) kids’ spending from their device. The Fmily Sharing feature is requires family members use the same credit card so it’s pretty much limited to real family members, not friends. 

For more, see this summary from the LA Times as well as CNET’s take and the New York Times’ summary.

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Coming in the fall

Both IOS 8 and OS X Yosemite will be available in the fall. Developers got their copies today. Apple is taking the unusual step of creating a beta test program for its Yosemite OS X version over the summer to the first million people who sign-up here.

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Cone — a smart speaker that knows what you want to hear

Aether co-founder Jason Lamb and the Cone speaker

Aether co-founder Jason Lamb and the Cone speaker (photo: Larry Magid)

At the Code conference in Rancho Palos Verdes last week, Aether co-founder Duncan Lamb showed off a new speaker called Cone that connects to your home wireless network to stream music and other audio.  So far, nothing unique about that. But unlike other wireless speakers, you control the music directly from the speaker itself rather than from a phone, tablet or computer.

Thanks to cloud-based voice recognition, you can tell it what you want to hear or  you can select a song by turning a dial. If  you don’t like the song, you turn the dial again and it picks another one. Eventually, according to Lamb, Cone learns what you like to listen to based on when and where you’re listening. It may come to realize that you like rock in the morning, folk in the afternoon and classical at night, for example. Or it may learn that you like to listen to certain music in certain rooms if you move the transportable speaker to another room.

A single (monaural) Cone speaker costs $399 and will be available early summer.

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Google complies with “right to be forgotten” but its not the “right” ruling

The European Union Court of Justice ruling about the “right to be forgotten” is more wrong than right. Of course I sympathize  with the individual who pressed the claim — a Spanish citizen who was upset that Google was linking to a notice  in a newspaper about his repossessed home from 1998. But even though the newspaper article may have been old and by now irrelevant, it was still factual and Google’s only crime was pointing to a web page without making any value judgement — something it’s proudly done since the day it was founded.

I have several problems with the court’s order. For one thing, it puts Google into the position of having to make editorial decisions about the content it points to, which kind of defeats the purpose of a search engine. I’m all for curated content, but that’s not what Google does. It simply scours the web to unearth content and makes that content available via search. If Google has to start making decisions about whether to include content that someone might want forgotten, what other editorial decisions might it make about content? Do we really want Google effectively censoring the web by failing to surface legal content?

Another problem I have with the right to be forgotten is that history is history, regardless of how unhappy someone might be to have it revealed. If something happened — even if it is outdated or irrelevant — it still happened and stories about it are part of the historical record. It’s the electronic equivalent of shredding old newspapers because you don’t like what’s printed in them.

It also creates a false sense of security because the court ruling doesn’t require that the information be taken down — just removed from saerch results. In other words, it’s still there and there may be other ways for people to find it.

Google’s Search removal request form

Google has created a web page where you can request that they “remove results for queries that include their name where those results are ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.’”

On that page, the company said that it “will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information.” Factors will include whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a “public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.”

The form is for Europeans only. The person has to select their country from a dropdown menu of 32 countries and must provide some form of identity verification and check a box certifying that the “information in this notification is accurate and that I am the person affected by the web pages identified, or I am authorized by that person to submit this request.”

People are required to provide the URL they want removed along with an explanation.

No appeal

Google has no choice but to abide by the court’s decision and, because it is the highest court in Europe, there is no appeal.

For more, see Anne Collier’s post, Remember: The ‘right to be forgotten’ is shared

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Jimmy Iovine And Eddie Cue On Apple/Beats Deal

Eddie Cue and Jimmy Iovine (photo: Larry Magid)

Eddie Cue and Jimmy Iovine (photo: Larry Magid)

(Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) Edie Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine took the stage at Recode.net’s Code Conference Wednesday night to shed light on the Apple acquisition of Beats, announced a few hours earlier.

Beats makes a popular line of headphones and operates a streaming music service called Beats Music. With the deal, both Iovine and his partner, rapper Dr. Dre (Andre Romelle Young), become Apple employees.

When asked by Code co-host Walt Mossberg why Apple acquired Beats Music rather than start its own service, Cue said “We don’t do everything… We saw an opportunity with Beats that’s unique. We thought that could really accelerate us.”

Iovine was upbeat about Apple. “We’re creating something that has to have a feel. Apple has a lot of information about music and what people listen to and what they like.” He also quipped “We wanted to move into a better neighborhood so I made a deal with Apple.” Iovine said that Apple “Moves like a small company but it’s gigantic.”

It’s quite the neighborhood. The deal, worth $3 billion, represents a big pay day for Iovine and Dre.

Cue and Iovine have been working together for a decade on a variety of music projects and when asked why they did the deal now, Iovine responded, ”How does someone date for 10 years and just get married. It happens.

When asked if Apple was buying Beats for the cool factor, Cue said “I don’t think you buy cool. You make the best products in the world and customers love them.”

Cue also said that the Beats music service would remain on the Android platform. “It’s on Android now, and we want to keep it that way.”

On his partnership with Dr. Dre, Iovine said that ”We shared something and it wasn’t music. It was the dream of music.”

With Beats, Apple gets both a streaming music service and a headphone business. Cue told the  group of tech luminaries gathered at Code that Apple thinks “there’s a huge opportunity in headphones.” Iovine criticized the earbuds that companies like Apple bundle with their devices saying, “they make headphones to see if the machine works.”

And, when asked what he thinks of the relationship between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Iovine delivered one of the best lines of the night. “In the music business everyone is desperately insecure but the guys in Silicon Valley seem to be over confident.” Cue sees a “lack of respect on both sides.”

 

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Enable Voice Search in Google Chrome on PCs and Macs

Users of the latest version of the Android operating system are able to do a search by saying “OK Google” and using their voice instead of typing.  And now that same feature is available on the latest version of Google’s Chrome browser.

To enable the feature, first make sure you have the latest version of Chrome.

Run Chrome and click on the Chrome menu and select About Google Chrome. It will tell you if Google Chrome is up to date.

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Next go back to the Chrome menu and select Settings and scroll to the bottom and click on Show Advanced settings…

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At the bottom of the Privacy section make sure there is a check mark next to “Enable

OK Google’ to start a voice search.”

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Go to Google.com and you’ll know its enabled if you see a microphone to the right of a Google search box.

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To search, go to Google.com, say “OK Google” and say what you want to find.

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Missing Children’s Day — let’s bring them all home

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.13.26 AMSince it was founded 30 years ago, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has helped reunite thousands of missing kids with their families.

I have had the privilege of serving on NCMEC’s board for nearly two decades and, since that time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the recovery rate thanks to NCMEC’s dedicated staff along with alert members of the public who report sightings of missing kids. From 1984 through December 2012, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement with more than 195,300 missing-child cases resulting in the recovery of more than 183,100 children, according to the organization. The  recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62% in 1990 to 97% today.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.54.32 AMI became involved with NCMEC in 1993 during the search for Polly Klass, a 12-year-old girl who was abducted from her Northern California home, about 80 miles north of where I live. During the search I helped post Polly’s picture online. When Time magazine wrote about the effort, I was overwhelmed by requests from parents of other missing kids, which led me to contact NCMEC’s then CEO Ernie Allen who quickly realized the potential for using online tools to help find children. Even though we couldn’t save Polly, online tools such as MissingKids.com are now used routinely to help in the recovery of missing children.

Public-Private partnership

NCMEC is a non-profit organization, not a government agency, though it was authorized by Congress to serve as the national clearinghouse for information about missing and exploited children. Congress has also designated NCMEC to run the national, toll-free, 24-hour missing children’s hotline; and operate the CyberTipline for online reporting of the sexual victimization of children and inappropriate sexual content.

NCMEC is a unique public-private partnership which receives funding from both the Federal government and numerous private donors ranging from large companies individual donors from all walks of life — including young children who conduct fund-raisers or donate their pennies to help other kids.

Key facts

As you can see from the key facts below, only a tiny percentage of missing children cases involve “stereotypical’ abductions but even children who are abducted by members of their own family can be in extreme danger and deserve to be protected and returned to their lawful parent or guardian.

And it’s not just missing children. NCMEC helps prevent and prosecute cases of child exploitation, including sexual exploitation of children as young as infants. The organization also works to rescue underage victims of prostitution, helping them recover from the trauma of what is often forced or coerced and extremely traumatic exploitation by adults who profit through human trafficking.

NetSmartz workshop's "Clicky" teaches young children about Internet safety and digital citizenship

NetSmartz Workshop’s “Clicky” teaches young children about Internet safety and digital citizenship

NCMEC also operates the NetSmartz Workshop, which provides high-production value materials to help educate young people about how to stay safe on and offline.

Here are some “key facts” from NCMEC’s website.

The most recent, comprehensive national study for the number of missing children estimated in 1999: [1]

  • Approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 were reported missing.
  • More than 200,000 children were abducted by family members.
  • More than 58,000 children were abducted by nonfamily members.
  • An estimated 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These “stereotypical” kidnappings involved someone the child did not know or was an acquaintance. The child was held overnight, transported 50 miles or more, killed, ransomed or held with the intent to keep the child permanently.
  • To find the number of children missing from a specific state or territory contact the state’s Missing Child Clearinghouses.
  • The first three hours are the most critical when trying to locate a missing child. The murder of an abducted child is rare, and an estimated 100 cases in which an abducted child is murdered occur in the U.S. each year. A 2006 study indicated that 76.2 percent of abducted children who are killed are dead within three hours of the abduction. [2]
  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 193,705 missing children since it was founded in 1984. Our recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62 percent in 1990 to 97 percent today.
  • The AMBER Alert program was created in 1996 and is operated by the U.S. Department of Justice. As of April 2, 2014, 688 childrenhave been successfully recovered as a result of the program. [3]
  • As of Dec. 2013, NCMEC’s toll free, 24 hour call center has received more than 3,899,964 calls since it was created in 1984. Information about missing or exploited children can be reported to the call center by calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
[1] Finkelhor D., Hammer H., Schultz D., Sedlak A. National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview, U.S. Department of Justice, 2002.
[2] Brown K., Keppel R., McKenna R., Skeen M., Weis J. Case Management for Missing Children Homicides: Report II, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and U.S. Department of Justice, 2006.
[3]AMBER Alert, U.S. Department of Justice.

 

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Internet security is a global issue that requires global cooperation

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

PARIS — The National Cyber Security Alliance, or NCSA, is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes online security and safety. Its board consists of representatives from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Comcast and other U.S. companies, and it works closely with the Department of Homeland Security to provide security advice for American businesses and consumers. I’ve attended meetings in Washington, Pittsburg and Silicon Valley with NCSA staff, and the agenda has always focused on U.S. security issues.

NCSA, along with the Anti-Phishing Working Group, is the main force behind the “Stop. Think. Connect.” campaign, at StopThinkConnect.org, that seeks to raise awareness by encouraging people to pause and think about what they do before they “connect.” It’s kind of the cyber equivalent of the “buckle up for safety” campaign that promotes safety for motorists and passengers.

So I was a bit surprised when NSCA invited me to participate in an international online safety awareness meeting in Paris, attended by representatives of nonprofits, governments, universities and companies from several countries. The event was hosted by Microsoft and took place at its Paris office.

But I was reminded of the global nature of cyberthreats on the day we convened our meeting last Tuesday as news broke that the Justice Department, with the help of law enforcement agencies from other countries, issued indictments in connection with the Blackshades Remote Access Tool (RAT) “that enabled users around the world to secretly and remotely control victims’ computers,” according to the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which said the bust involved more than 90 arrests in 19 countries.

The Blackshades RAT is malicious software, or malware, that has been used by criminals in more than 100 countries to “infect computers throughout the world to spy on victims through their Web cameras, steal files and account information, and log victims’ key strokes,” according to the Justice Department. The alleged co-creator of Blackshades, Alex Yucel, who is from Sweden, was arrested in Moldova and is awaiting extradition to the United States. Brendan Johnson, who is charged with helping to market and sell malware, including the RAT, and provide technical assistance to its users, was arrested in Thousand Oaks, California.

Blackshades provides a good example of how you could be sitting in your home in Palo Alto and be victimized by a criminal on another continent or vice versa. Thanks to botnets, where malicious software spreads itself from computer to computer without the knowledge of the machine’s owners, it’s possible for a computer from Estonia to infect your home PC and for your home PC to then infect someone else’s PC in Germany.

There are plenty of other examples of international cybercrime. I’m on the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which regularly cooperates with counterparts in other countries to try to stem the tide of illegal child pornography across borders. John Carr, a child safety adviser to the United Kingdom government, told me that a “substantial proportion” of the illegal images that make their way to the UK come from the United States.

Privacy is also a global issue, as we were reminded last week when the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that search engines (the biggest two being U. S.-based Google and Microsoft’s Bing) can be required to delete search listings of posts, including stories in newspapers, that may be dated or irrelevant, even if they happen to be true. This ruling could not only affect U.S. companies that offer search, but also those of us in the United States and other countries who use these services, even though the delete order was issued by a court on another continent.

At the Paris meeting, the discussion turned to international cooperation, and it was generally agreed that it’s a good idea for organizations in countries around the world to coordinate at least some of their messaging because of the similarities of the issues that we all face. That doesn’t mean that a campaign that works in Istanbul will necessarily resonate in Indianapolis. But in our increasingly globally connected world, there are plenty of common themes and practices that we can share.

In an interview, NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser summed up the purpose of the meeting. “We are trying to reach everyone on the globe because we’re all connected to the same Internet and, unless we’re all safe and secure, we won’t have a safe and secure Internet.”

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