R . Venkatesh, a roving consultant from Delhi, has suddenly become acutely aware of the “listening powers” of his smartphone. Earlier this month, he ganged up with a couple of college friends over drinks. Among other things, they reminisced about their large cassette collections languishing at the back of some forgotten cupboard.
One of his friends mentioned hearing about a device to convert tapes to an MP3 format. The next day Venkatesh was “spooked out” when he began receiving advertisements of software to convert tapes to MP3 in his social media feed. He distinctly recalls not searching for any such product online.
What Venkatesh did not know is that his phone can eavesdrop on his conversations since virtual assistants such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Samsung Bixby reside in smartphones, tablets and laptops, and even in stationary devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers.
People typically use artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual assistants and voice AI-enabled devices including smart speakers to turn music on and off, check weather forecasts, adjust the room temperature and order goods online among other things.
These AI assistants simply convert the voice commands to text, similar to what a computer does when you type keywords or sentences, and interpret what the user means using natural language processing technology. They get better and better as you provide more voice inputs (read more data on which the algorithm trains itself), which also helps them understand your accent.
However, these smart assistants can do much more. According to a 10 May report in The New York Times (NYT), researchers can now send secret audio instructions to Siri, Alexa and Assistant, which humans can’t hear. According to the report, some Berkeley university researchers said they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. “So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list,” said the NYT report.
Further, Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. have filed separate patent applications for a number of technologies that could potentially jeopardize the privacy of consumers.
These include a system for deriving sentiments and behaviours from ambient speech, even when a user has not addressed the device with its “wake word”; multiple systems to identify speakers in a conversation and build profiles from these; a system to recommend products based on furnishings observed by a smart home security camera; a methodology for “inferring child mischief” using audio and movement sensors; and systems to insert paid content, according to a December 2017 report by Consumer Watchdog.
“While Amazon and Google may be focused on the commercial implications of their inventions, these technologies also have troubling legal and ethical implications,” notes the report.
Moreover, researchers caution that even headphones and earphones, which are physically built like microphones, can be misused by hackers. Further, software can render a PC, even one without microphones, into an eavesdropping device, say researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Cyber Security Research Centre.
Besides using antivirus programmes to reduce risks of security and data leaks, online security firm Kaspersky recommends that users should also turn off the microphone on Amazon Echo and Google speakers. “There’s a button. It’s not a particularly convenient way to ensure privacy—you will always have to remember to neutralize the assistant—but at least it’s something,” says a 28 February 2017 blog by the firm.
Kaspersky further suggests the use of Echo’s account settings to prohibit or password-protect purchasing. While these may not be foolproof measures, they may provide a start to users like Venkatesh.
Redmi Note 7 With 4,000mAh Battery, 48-Megapixel Camera Unveiled
Redmi Note 7 is the much-awaited debut smartphone of the ‘Redmi by Xiaomi’ sub-brand, and was launched in China on Thursday. It has some spectacular features at the price point, including a 48-megapixel camera in its dual rear camera setup. The Redmi Note 7 also bears a waterdrop-shaped notch, dual rear camera setup with a 48-megapixel primary sensor, a fingerprint sensor on the back panel, and a 4,000mAh battery. The Redmi Note 7 also features 2.5D glass protection up front and at the back as well, and comes with a 6.3-inch large display size. As we mentioned, the Redmi Note 7 is the first smartphone to be launched after Xiaomi announced that Redmi would operate as an independent brand moving forward.
Redmi Note 7 price, availability
The Redmi Note 7 price starts at CNY 999 (roughly Rs. 10,300) for the 3GB RAM + 32GB storage options, going up to CNY 1,199 (roughly Rs. 12,400) for the 4GB RAM + 64GB storage option, and CNY 1,399 (roughly Rs. 14,500) for the 6GB RAM + 64GB storage option. The Redmi Note 7 will go on sale from January 15, and will be made available in Twilight Gold, Fantasy Blue, and Bright Black colour options.
Redmi Note 7 specifications
As for hardware, the dual-SIM (Nano) Redmi Note 7 sports a 6.3-inch full-HD+ (1080×2340 pixels) LTPS display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 450 nits brightness, 84 percent NTSC colour gamut, Corning Gorilla Glass 5, and 2.5D curved glass protection. It is powered by the 2.2GHz Snapdragon 660 octa-core SoC paired with Adreno 512 graphics, and 3GB, 4GB, and 6GB RAM options. Internal storage is at 32GB and 64GB options with the option to expand further using a microSD card slot (up to 256GB).
Redmi Note 7 camera
As for optics, the Redmi Note 7 sports dual camera setup with one 48-megapixel Samsung GM1 sensor with f/1.8 aperture and another 5-megpapixel sensor. The cameras at the back get monochrome dual-LED flash support, PDAF, and are touted to be elevated using AI-backed software features like portrait mode, background blur, HDR, handheld super night scene mode, EIS, 1080p video recording, and more. Up front, there is a 13-megapixel selfie sensor as well with features like AI face unlock, AI smart beauty, AI single shot blur, front HDR, background blur, and more.
Redmi Note 7 battery
The Redmi Note 7 packs a 4,000mAh battery with Quick Charge 4 support. The company touts up to 251 hours of standby time, 23 hours of talk time, 13 hours of video playback, and 7 hours of gaming.
Redmi Note 7 connectivity
Connectivity options on the Redmi Note 7 include USB Type-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, 4G VoLTE, GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth v5, and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac.
Redmi Note 7 other specifications
The Redmi Note 7 measures at 159.21×75.21×8.1mm, and weighs 186 grams. Lastly, sensors on board the Redmi Note 7 include gyroscope, accelerometer, distance sensor, electronic compass, fingerprint sensor, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, and infrared sensor.
Apple Plans to Launch 3 iPhone Models in 2019, Including an LCD-Based iPhone XR Successor: Report
Apple reportedly plans to introduce three iPhone models this year, including a follow-up to the company’s much debated iPhone XR. The other two iPhone models will be the direct successors to the iPhone XS ? 94,050 and iPhone XS Max ? 104,395 phones, revealed a report. The Cupertino-based company is said to be bringing new camera features to the upcoming iPhone models, including a possible triple camera setup in the iPhone XS Max successor. The company has had a troubling 2018 because of the dwindling iPhone sales in China and other markets.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Apple will continue with the three iPhone models release in 2019, citing people familiar with the matter. The company is said to be bringing follow-ups to all three 2018 models. The specifics of the upcoming iPhone models are a mystery at this point, but WSJ does add that the highest-end iPhone will feature a triple rear camera setup, whereas the other two iPhone models will pack two cameras on the back like the iPhone XS. The camera setup will be a change for the iPhone XR ? 72,190 successor as the existing model has a single camera on the back.
The report also reveals that Apple will continue with an LCD screen for the iPhone XR, partly since the “planned product has been in the product pipeline for months, and can’t be altered easily”. While 2019 planning are at an advanced stage, they are not completed, the report added. However the company will drop LCD entirely for the 2020 lineup and stick with the OLED panels, the report adds, citing some of the people. The current OLED panels used in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max phones can be considered to be capable of offering better contrast than the LCD panel present on the iPhone XR. Apple’s 2020 plans are apparently in early stages right now and could be changed by the company. Apple traditionally introduces the new iPhone models in the Fall.
Unlike the previous years, Apple is struggling to keep the iPhone sales momentum and the follow-up models to the current crop will have a lot of pressure to perform for the company. It will be interesting to see if the company opts for the pricing strategy revision as that has been blamed as one of the reasons why the latest iPhone models are selling less in several markets.
The iPhone maker recently downgraded its first quarter sales guidance and blamed the weakening economy in China and lower-than-expected iPhone revenue. Over the past few months, several reports have come out claiming the company has reduced the production targets multiple times for the iPhone models.
Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this week stated that the company plans to announce new services this year. He did not share exactly which services we are going to see, but it is being speculated the company will finally launch its much-anticipated streaming TV platform.
Mi Soundbar by Xiaomi Debuts in India: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About It
Xiaomi launched the Mi Soundbar in India, alongside the Mi LED TV 4X Pro 55-inch model and Mi LED TV 4A Pro 43-inch model. The company had live streamed the launch on Mi.com and Flipkart, and as a part of which, Xiaomi revealed the new Mi TV models’ price in India, as well as their availability and specifications. The Mi Soundbar received the same treatment. Xiaomi claims the Mi Soundbar can be set up in just 30 seconds, which is one of its highlight features, and packs two 20mm dome speakers and two 2.5-inch woofers. With the launch, the company claims that it has forayed into the home audio market in India. The Mi Soundbar will go on sale next week alongside the new Mi LED TV models.
Mi Soundbar price in India
The Mi Soundbar price in India has been set at Rs. 4,999, and it will be available from 12pm IST on January 16. Xiaomi says it will be available via Mi.com and Mi Home stores. As we mentioned, Xiaomi also launched the Mi TV 4X Pro 55-inch model and Mi TV 4A Pro 43-inch model in India on Thursday.
Mi Soundbar specifications
The Mi Soundbar features two 20mm dome speakers to cover the higher frequencies, apart from two 2.5-inch woofers for the low frequencies, and four passive radiators for the extreme low-end, Xiaomi said. As we mentioned, Xiaomi claims the Mi Soundbar can be set up in just 30 seconds.
In terms of connectivity options, the Mi Soundbar features Bluetooth v4.2, S/PDIF, Optical, Line-in, and 3.5mm aux-in. Xiaomi claims it will work on any TV.