Mozilla’s 2020 list of creepy tech, Google Photos, and more tech news today


Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Thursday, 12 November 2020.

1. Mozilla’s creepy tech list grows

Mozilla *privacy not included screenshot

Mozilla’s annual *Privacy Not included buyer’s guide has reached its fourth edition and for tech devices, things are… getting worse? Sort of?

  • Mozilla’s guide released ahead of Black Friday, gives us insight into 136 products, mixing safe, secure and private products with products that may surprise you with how little privacy there is baked in.
  • Mozilla’s team continue to offer detailed guides on common devices, and has their useful Creep-O-Meter polling on devices, rating from “Not Creepy” all the way to “Super Creepy”, which sadly many products still are.
  • 37 products in the list were branded with a “*Privacy Not Included” warning label, but some good news: 22 products were awarded “Best Of” for great privacy and security practices — not selling you out, and getting the basics and the more advanced details right.
  • New this year: a section on products that use artificial intelligence to make decisions about consumers.
  • “Holiday gifts are getting ‘smarter’ each year: from watches that collect more and more health data, to drones with GPS, to home security cameras connected to the cloud,” said Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s Vice President of Advocacy.
  • “Unfortunately, these gifts are often getting creepier, too.”

Best:

Worst:

  • Some of these surprised me. Roku devices are described as a privacy nightmare and appear to be, indeed. The Moleskine Writing Set boggles the mind, while as a new pet owner, smart pet toys are interesting, but the Wickedbone Interactive Gaming Toy for Dogs (image above) has a few quibbles. More importantly: why does your dog’s toy need to track your phone’s GPS location? Bizarre.
  • The Amazon Halo, which we already panned, is an obvious inclusion.
  • And the Hamilton Beach Smart Coffee Maker that could eavesdrop and seems to meet no minimum standards is pretty sad.
  • Mozilla pointed out this to me too when I asked for their least favorite: “The Dogness iPet Robot also stands out. Putting a mobile, internet-connected camera and microphone in your house that doesn’t use encryption just seems like a really terrible idea.”

New AI concerns, and lack of smartphones in the list:

I caught up with Mozilla’s Lead of the Privacy Not Include project, Jen Caltrider, to ask about their new AI section, and why smartphones aren’t included in the lies.

Here’s a slice of that interview:

Q: Why is an artificial intelligence section included this year, and what does it reveal?

Jen Caltrider: AI is becoming commonplace in consumer devices. As I was doing research for this guide, I saw everything from kid’s toys to dog toys marketed “with AI built-in!” At least one-third of products in the guide use your personal data to make decisions for you and about you. For example: Smart speakers converse with you, thermostats learn your preferences, and cameras detect your face. 

We’re just starting to learn what all this means for consumers, and it’s important for consumers to know this because AI technology doesn’t always put their interests first. Sometimes this technology benefits consumers, but other times it benefits the manufacturer — like allowing Roku to target ads.

Q: We all have a smartphone — but there’s no breakdown of smartphones here! Could you let us know the decisions going into why smartphones aren’t included, and from there, how Mozilla determines the devices included in the list of 136 here?

Caltrider: We only have the research capacity to focus on a certain number of products. So we look at what’s most popular, and also strive to pick products from a diversity of categories (e.g. Smart Home, Toys & Games, Home Office). Since smartphones are often purchased directly rather than given as gifts, we decided not to include them. 

That said, two major smartphone players — Apple and Google — have other products in this year’s guide. Readers can get familiar with those products to better understand how these companies operate in the smartphone space. 

Final Comment:

  • This is a great list, even better than last year.
  • I wouldn’t say I’m entirely convinced as to why Mozilla leaves smartphones out here.
  • Is it just an enormously difficult area to get involved in?
  • Or have smartphones survived intense scrutiny already, making it more about app choices, and muddying the waters too much?

2. Wow, Google made a big move and will end its free, unlimited Google Photos storage on June 1, 2021, after five years of unlimited free photo backups. There’ll now be a hard 15GB cap for all new photos after that date, but existing photos and documents uploaded before then will not count against the cap. I think a lot of people are dismayed or even more upset, but there’s also an understanding that Google couldn’t keep everything free forever. Pixel phones users will still have unlimited High Quality uploads after the cutoff, too (Android Authority).

The scale is crazy: Google said 4 trillion photos are stored in Google Photos (likely much more than 4 exabytes of storage), and every week 28 billion new photos and videos are uploaded. Still, it makes one of Google’s best-ever products less attractive. My solution? I’ve been paying for Google One for a while now to store my photos (and increase my Gmail storage) at original quality, without compression. (Android Authority).

Great insight: Google’s unlimited free Photos storage offer destroyed the competition, made startups uncompetitive, and just when the market is entirely with Google, it starts charging a fee: Google Photos just made the case for breaking up Big Tech (OneZero).


3. YouTube, YouTube TV, and Google TV are back online after suffering a worldwide outage for about an hour (@teamyoutube).


4. Samsung Exynos 1080 launched: Flagship power in a mid-range chipset (Android Authority).


5. Oppo announces Inno Day 2020 event: What should we expect this time? (Android Authority).


6. PUBG Mobile announces return to India: New game, $100 million investment, India-only version with changes (Android Authority).


7. A browser extension from The Markup shows Google Search without all the related Google services. Why? Well, you find your search results like it’s 2009 or something, not just surfacing another Google property (Engadget).


8. Apple’s TestFlight, finally, added automatic update support with version 3.0, finally doing away with manual installs to update (MacRumors).


9. BMW’s new electric scooter concept aims to be your perfect cyberpunk mount (The Verge).


10. The strange and twisted tale of Hydroxychloroquine: The much-hyped drug sparked a battle between power and knowledge. Let’s not repeat it (Wired).


11. “What’s something that’s heavily outdated but you love using anyway (assuming you could, in theory, replace that thing)?” (r/askreddit)


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