The key technology issues in 2020 are about the ‘rise of evil machines’ – yes Skynet and Terminator (cybercriminals) are lurking in the web’s murky shadows waiting to pounce and make you a slave to the machines.

Well, maybe not as James Cameron portrayed both, but the key technology issues in 2020 all come down to Internet, artificial intelligence and machine learning (Means), making easy money (Motive) and consumers ill-equipped to counter cybermasterminds (Opportunity). Regardless of whether the motive is benevolent (convenience) or malevolent (crime) it will impact everyone on the planets dreary lives.

What prompted me to ‘rant’ on the key technology issues in 2020? Well in part it was after a week of weeding through the plethora of over-hyped CES 2020 press releases all promising to make your lives easier (at a cost, of course).

And a rude awakening to find my elderly, technophobic, pensioner mum was convinced by a salesman to buy a $1000 vacuum to clean a micro-sized apartment when a $100 one would do. And she was quoted $200 extra to assemble and train her how to use it!

The key technology issues in 2020

Over complication – Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

Since when did a vacuum need assembly and training (my mum is a formidable woman). Well, since technology started driving everything. Twelve different accessories, three motorised heads, battery swap, power levels, charging stand, app… Mum would have been happy with a simple Hoover!

key technology issues in 2020

Do we need the complexity of Bluetooth Toothbrushes, smart toilets, LED showers, smart mirrors, intelligent hair dryers, smart shoe racks, talking fridges, smart washing machines, smart wearables, voice control…? And have you noticed that there is a substantial price premium for a smart device over a dumb one – often hundreds of dollars for no more real amenity?

It is getting to the stage that dumb appliances are on the way out. CES pundits say that within a couple of years almost all new appliances will require Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri’s dulcet tones to operate.

But here is the kicker. Mum does not have internet/email (as a lot of seniors don’t have or can’t afford), and the cryptic, microscopic prinT, paper-saving setup guide continually refers to the website for instructional videos. And to register your two-year warranty, you must install the smartphone app and set up an on-line account (used for marketing purposes). Otherwise, you get one year!

Rule one: No manufacturer should discriminate against those without internet access or smartphone use – devices must be able to operate without it.

I had to laugh at a $100 set of Bluetooth scales that monitor your weight.

You can get a perfectly good dumb digital set for $10 from a dollar shop and conveniently ignore the results!

These scales are made in China (as most tech is) by an obscure company. The app asks for name, email, age/birthday, gender, height, waist, chest/bust, body shape, address (it actually uses smartphone location anyway, or it will not work), phone, and then proceeds to ask a series of highly personal questions about your lifestyle in the guise of providing you with individual results that will positively impact your health.

key technology issues in 2020
Image only intended to represent the plethora of IoT based BT scales – not a specific brand

But here is the kicker – and I will summarise

  • You can’t refuse to answer any question, or it will not work.
  • You can’t opt-out of marketing emails or it will not work
  • If you use Facebook or similar sign in (as it valiantly tries to force you to do), it gains access to you your name, birth date, picture, and any other details you may have on your Facebook profile.
  • There is no Australian Privacy or European GDPR (General Data Protection) or other countries compliance statement nor does it comply with data access or deletion principals
  • There is no privacy statement meaning it can do whatever it wants with your data
  • And Norton AV tracks the server to China

Now obviously this is not from a reputable company like Fitbit, Garmin or Withing’s. But it was from a reputable chain store. Obviously, this Christmas gift will go back ASAP.

But what if my mum had bought it? An expensive paperweight at best.

Rule two: Assume privacy is down the toilet with almost all smart devices

key technology issues in 2020

We only want to help you find what you don’t know you need!

I am getting heartily tired of laser-focused advertising whenever I search on Google or Bing. So much so that I use Firefox and an ad blocker – Ghostery – for a little peace. But more and more websites now refuse to load if you use an adblocker, VPN or other privacy tools. Most offer you a single click to proceed (turning off the ad-blocker for good).

Pre-Xmas, in a moment of desperation, I went to a “Best of” website (that Ghostery said had 23 trackers) and it disabled them all. But the site would not load or later click through to the Amazon merchant page until I allowed Amazon Associates and Alexa metrics trackers.

Ghostery

Well, there are three burning issues with that.

One, I don’t want a website to know what I look at and where I end up.

Two, it turns out that by enabling those trackers and clicking through to Amazon my price is increased to accommodate affiliate commissions (to the Best Of site) and was somehow set according to my ability to pay based on some obscure profile of where I live,  what I do and what else I buy (and I refuse to use Amazon).

Three, there are no privacy statements anywhere on the Amazon merchant’s product pages so you can’t make an informed decision before you buy. And no warranty information either. Amazon et al., take note that you are likely breaking some ACCC rule by not offering this information upfront.

I went back to the “Best of’ site (Mashable – a reputable tech site) and vainly looked for its privacy policy.

In the end, I had to use Google Search to find it and I was directed to Ziff Davis Publishing privacy policy as it was not on the article’s page.

Now I am not having a shot at Ziff Davis and its 40+ different titles/sites, but its privacy policy is 10,500 words of legalese contained in 24 pages comprising 1,006 sentences and 302 paragraphs

It stated, paraphrased, that it collected terrific amounts of data by a vast number of means including where you have been, where you are going, what you view, what you buy etc. And, that it will use this in any way it wants to (another real kicker).

BTW – Amazon’s Privacy Policy is 2,662 words and six pages with an awful lot of exclusions and links to numerous other policies.

Privacy length

Why, just by visiting a website, had I mortgaged my first-born? By comparison, GadgetGuy’s privacy policy is 800 words, two pages and very specific about what it collects and how it uses it. Yes, I know we are a David compared to a Ziff Davis Goliath, but we have nothing to hide.

Rule 3: Use a VPN, Ghostery (or any reputable ad blocker), turn on all privacy provisions in your browser (I use Firefox as it seems more secure) and always browse in private. Oh, and if you are smart, look at privacy policies before you use a website.

Our US Correspondent Sam Bocetta has a great article on ‘Breaking up with Big Tech.’

The rise of tracking outside the web

Over Xmas, I went unsuccessfully shopping for a new pair of runners at a large shopping centre visiting Rebel, Athletes Foot, Myer and other shoe stores. Within minutes of my return home, I went on the web to see if I could find the shoes I wanted and was served results for shoes from the stores I had visited.

Your smartphone is a tracker and interacts with shop Beacons to build a profile of where you visit.

Beacons

Rule 4: Make sure you disable beacons and location tracking on smartphones. Never use public Wi-Fi at a shopping centre without a VPN.

The so-called impartiality of web search

This is a rant about the shoes but also about the way search engines, all of them, manipulate results.

key technology issues in 2020

Now I use Google Search because it delivers the best results for me. Bing is variable (usually very limited) and the privacy search Duck Duck Go may well as duck-off. I get a huge difference in search results if I use a VPN.

Some time ago the option to search for Australian pages was relegated from the front line ‘Tools’ menu to Settings, Advanced Settings, Region and you have to set it for each search! And presentation in date order – new to old (which is almost always relevant) changed to ‘Anytime’ and a drop-down box that still does not sort by date within the timeframe you select.

Now we know 96% of Google’s money comes from advertisers, so it explains why these come up first in search, but it does not explain why international reviews (OK these often have a local URL as well) and news invariably occupies the early page search results (even when set to Australia) and relegate more relevant Australian reviews to the latter pages that you don’t look at.

Rule 5 Make sure you explore Google’s advanced search options and set as many as you can to get what you want.

Rise of fake reviews

Two things happened over Christmas for this rant. First, we stayed at a 5-star hotel for two nights – Christmas Eve/Day and received such poor service and food that we gave it a one-star review. Over the next 48-hours, a raft of other genuine one-star reviews appeared – yes, the hotel was bloody abysmal.

Hotel review

But after that dozens of fake 5-star reviews instantly appeared all with a similar glowing theme and a high percentage of the same words. Obviously writers had not even visited the hotel! The result – all the one-star reviews were pushed off the front page to be buried on page seven!

Fake review
Yes, dozens of strikingly similar reviews popped up – most with obscured user names.

Second, we used Fakespot to analyse the Bluetooth Scales mentioned earlier. Out of nearly 6,000 Amazon reviews all posted in Q1, 2019, it stated 99% were suspect and had an F-grade for fail. Amazon has removed over 3,000 reviews for this product since June.

Fake reviews

Reviews are vital – Over 90% of GadgetGuy readers say they would purchase an item based on our review (credibility).

Australian research shows

  • 91% consult reviews or ratings before making a big-ticket purchase.
  • 84% of consumers trust product reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • 80% of consumers have changed their mind about a product based on NEGATIVE information – they want the truth, good or bad.
  • 63% of consumers purchase from an e-commerce site that has product ratings and reviews.
  • The overwhelming percentage of reviews are positive and unverifiable (fake)

It is so easy for companies to buy volumes of fake reviews from review factories. It is equally easy for companies to buy negative fake reviews for competitors’ products.

key technology issues in 2020

From a review perspective, we revealed the scourge of the internet where over 90% of the reviews (we suspect it is far higher) are fake – not from genuine buyers.

But more importantly, recently a fake review factory in the Philippines was shut down – an estimated 60,000 ‘writers’ out of a job. The scam involved giving reviewers a unique ‘code’ to purchase goods on Amazon (setting them up as a verified buyer). But the codes also means the merchants never ship the products! Tens of thousands of fake reviews were generated. Amazon says fake reviews are not allowed but common sense says otherwise.

It is similar to the Chinese fake review factories that desperately plead with Western media to do reviews on everything. We get hundreds of poorly written requests to review Chinese made tech every week – sorry no! We also get hundreds of requests to publish so-called independent reviews and articles on our site – ditto!

Fake reviews are everywhere – travel, accommodation, tours, restaurants, shops – anything you buy.

Forbes has an excellent article on the Chinese scams here.

Rule 6: Reviews are vital but make sure you look at different sources rather than rely on e-commerce site reviews. Look for reviews from independent sources.

Scams – one involving GadgetGuy’s good name

In December we started getting calls from people who had bought items from GadgetGuy – but we don’t sell anything! Our investigations are not complete, but it appears that our website was scrapped (cloned) by an Asian cybercriminal and a fake e-commerce site set up to rip off customers. Fortunately, the web-hoster shut it down very quickly but here is the kicker – read what the perpetrators said (sic) when we tracked it back

  1. We do not offer identical copy of Gadgetguy.com.au.
  2. We do not offer source code of Gadgetguy.com.au.
  3. We are not (in anyway) associated to Gadgetguy.com.au.
  4. Our services (website design/ development) are not endorsed by Gadgetguy.com.au.
  5. This page features information already in public domain.
Fake websites
Typical fake site – not the URL

Rule 7: Read how to spot a fake website

The Rise of Fake News

Then you have poor Jennifer Dudley-Nicolson, respected Courier-Mail (NewsCorp) IT journalist who is supposed to be endorsing Samsung Galaxy S10 phones for $3. The link to the Facebook scam is here (and in case it ends up behind NewsCorps paywall here are some details).

key technology issues in 2020
This is an authentic-looking genuine fake

Basically, the fake article widely posted on Facebook purports to be written by Jennifer championing the deal as part of a ‘marketing strategy’ to artificially inflate Samsung’s popularity over Apple. Readers are encouraged to click a link to ‘claim their offer’, which leads to a copied (cloned) Samsung website that extracts their name, address, phone number, email address and their credit card details to pay for the $3 phone. Wave goodbye to your money and identity.

We are seeing is the rise of paid celebrities, influencers or bloggers to peddle what the client wants.

Now I know a few of these bloggers (basically anyone that does not have journalist training and does not abide by the Journalist Code of Ethics) and they have no shame in lying about products or companies as long as they get money. They regularly tell porkies and break that at least four fundamentals of the code.

  • Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
  • Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
  • Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
  • Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.

Rule 8: An oldie but a goodie – if it is too good to be true, then it probably is.

The rise of ID theft

Not a day goes by that I don’t get phishing emails (some remarkably good) or someone tries to scam me by phone, SMS even snail mail.

ID Theft

Last year my aged Aunt was within a bee’s whisper of ID Theft when cybercriminals got control of her Telstra account. They dumpster-dived to get a hard copy of the phone bill, sent her a letter on Telstra letterhead asking her to call a fake 1800 number urgently or her phone would be cut off. They asked for her Drivers Licence number and DOB as ID ‘evidence”. All that was required to take over her account – and they did.

Telstra rang her number to tell her it was to be cut off, so she rang me (as her power of attorney) in a panic. It took hours to fix and Telstra seemed more interested in supporting the scammers than us. Yes, compensation was paid – bloody Telstra.

Rule 9: Stop falling for scams – read our ’10 tips to protect you from Identity Theft’.  

GadgetGuy’s take – The key technology issues in 2020 enable Motive, Means and Opportunity and consumers are the losers.

I love technology. I have not seen such a rapid escalation in tech over the past 40 years as I have seen in the previous two.

But tech has gone from being your helper to your faux friend that does more for the maker/developer and less for you. The world has gone mad, and your data is the new gold. That data is constantly used against you either by retailers or cybercriminals.

If there is one parting rule for 2020

Rule 10 – don’t overshare online. Don’t trust online, especially click through offers from Fakebook or any social media.

Fakebook

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