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Alexa: How to secure my Amazon Echo?

My feature on how to secure your Amazon Echo was published in TechRadar last week. Here is my take on why securing these intelligent home hubs is of vital importance.

Muting your Amazon Echo

Hear no Evil? Muting your Amazon Echo (Credit: Flickr / Rob Albright / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Voice-activated intelligent virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are starting to play an important role as the hub of our connected homes.

Buttons are obsolete. Simply by conversing with my Alexa I can control my central heating and the lighting around my house and garden; I can buy products with my voice, check my personal calendar, set alarms or reminders, update my things to do list, read my favourite book or play any song, album or playlist on Spotify. With my voice.

Hear no Evil

The convenience this offers is staggering and, in a little over three months since I plugged it in and powered it on, my Amazon Echo has already changed many behaviours in our household. For the better? I think so. However…

With convenience comes compromise, especially when it comes to security. We should never be blinded by the utility of any new piece of technology.

I made one mistake in extolling the virtues of our Amazon Echo above. You see, all of these amazing things and more can be commanded not only with my voice, they can be asked by anybody’s voice.

Voice Recognition versus Speech Recognition

While Alexa has enviable speech recognition – the ability to understand and interpret natural language input by speech – she has yet to learn the skill of voice recognition. Often confused, voice recognition is the ability to uniquely distinguish between different people’s voices by analysing physical and behavioural characteristics.

With voice recognition Alexa would know whether it was me (ie authorised) ordering that Nintendo Switch console from Amazon Prime, or if it was my Mario Kart-loving daughter trying her luck (sorry, denied). Did I just ask Alexa for a 2am alarm call or was somebody outside my living room window attempting to play a prank?

Amazon has no plans to introduce voice recognition into the Amazon Echo just yet. Nevertheless, there are steps that Echo owners can take to make sure they enjoy the convenience of a virtual assistant without the worry of being woken up by a 2am prank alarm call.

Pop over to TechRadar to read my 8 top tips to lock down your Alexa.

Have You Backed Up Your Smartphone Snaps?

Earlier this week I appeared on BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs show You and Yours to talk about how to keep your smartphone photos and videos safe and secure.

Following a post on the BBC CBeebies Facebook page, a disturbing number of parents reported pictures had been lost through theft, accident or a broken device.

I say ‘pictures’, but often these are precious, irreplaceable family memories.

Here’s a clip from the show:

Estimates suggest we shared one trillion pictures from our phones in 2014. When smartphone photography is so simple that it requires almost no thought, it’s easy to take the snaps we take for granted.

But that becomes a big problem if when phone begins to run out of storage space, or worse if it gets lost or stolen. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to back up your photos and keep them safe.

The simplest backup of all is to store them in ‘the cloud’, what I often describe as a giant USB stick somewhere on the Internet.

Both of the major phone families – iOS found on Apple’s iPhone and Android installed on Samsung, Sony and HTC handsets among others – provide methods to back up your settings and app data along with photos and videos.

Apps such as Dropbox (and now Carousel), Flickr and Microsoft OneDrive provide seamless background image copy; Google Photos offers unlimited free cloud storage for images up to 16 MP and videos up to FullHD 1080p, more than satisfactory for most smartphone users.

Carousel, from Dropbox (Image Credit: Dropbox)

Carousel, from Dropbox (Image Credit: Dropbox)

With any cloud storage security is paramount (as some celebs found to their embarrassment recently) so ensure you understand any terms, use secure passwords and two factor authentication where available.

If you want to find out more about securing smartphone photos and videos drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Technology Corner

BBC Radio CumbriaBBC Radio Cumbria first invited me to join them for a weekly technology spot in their morning show in summer 2014 and I’ve been a regular ever since.

In Technology Corner recently I’ve been exploring everything in science and tech from the rise and fall of Google Glass, smartwatches and the latest in wearables, to alternative fuels, eco-homes and upgrade culture.

During the BBC’s WW1 centenary commemorations in 2014 I presented a special item on technology that has changed the world over the last 100 years.

Here’s a clip of an item I broadcast on the Kevin Fernihough show in March 2015 on the emergence of Virtual and Augmented Reality:

You can listen live to BBC Radio Cumbria just here or via the BBC iPlayer Radio app. (I’ll usually post an update on Twitter before I’m on)

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Create Now World Tour comes to London

Adobe Creative CloudI will be hosting the UK leg of the Adobe Create Now World Tour live from the spectacular Kings Place in London on Tuesday 4th June 2013.

I’m thrilled to be working with the team once again after fronting the daily live broadcasts for Adobe’s UK Creative Week last year. As well as being live-streamed online this year there will also be a 400-strong live audience in the theatre.

The show (#CreativeDays on Twitter) is part of a larger worldwide event in which Adobe’s evangelists show off the exciting new features and workflows coming up in the next release of Adobe Creative Cloud.

During the day I’ll also be interviewing some exciting luminaries from the creative industry including photojournalist Nick Danziger, designer and typographer Swifty, and author of The HTML and CSS Book Jon Duckett.

Here’s a teaser trailer we filmed to promote the show. Hats off once again to the superb team at Flint London.

You can find out more and watch the live stream between 10am and 4:45pm by clicking here, and the show will also be available afterwards on demand.

5 top tips to safeguard against inadvertent in app purchases

In app purchases have been in the news again recently following the revelation that one junior gamer unwittingly racked up a £1700 bill on his dad’s credit card during a particularly prolific 15 minute gaming session.

The BBC One Rip Off Britain team paid a visit earlier this week to ask me what in app purchases are what the so-called ‘freemium’ business model means; plus I demonstrated how you can very easily be no more than three screen taps away from expensive in app purchases within a supposedly free game.

We also filmed a lovely sequence of me and my 3 year old daughter Evie playing CBeebies games together on our iPad.

If you let your children play on your smartphone or tablet then here are my 5 top tips which I suggest will safeguard you and your family from any inadvertent in app purchases:

In app purchase

  1. Never share your password, even if it’s to download a so-called ‘free’ app.
  2. Enable restrictions on your device. At present they aren’t enabled by default so you must take action to make your phone or tablet safe.
  3. If the game doesn’t need a network connection then turn on your device’s airplane or flight-safe mode – this will disable its network connection preventing any purchases.
  4. Regularly check your purchase history, make sure you recognise all of the downloads on there – each app store has its own easy link to do this.
  5. Supervised play – vet the games you let your kids play and supervise when they play. Not only can you keep an eye on what your children are playing it’s a great way to share in their excitement, entertainment and education.

I’ve written in the past about how adults can safely introduce their children to smartphones and tablets, most recently for the National Childbirth Trust. This item on in app purchases for the BBC will be broadcast on later on this year.

Apple iPhone 5

BBC Local Radio Interviews on iPhone 5 Announcement Day

Apple iPhone 5On the day of the iPhone 5 announcement I was appearing on various BBC local radio stations (and some commercial ones too) throughout the UK talking about the  unveiling, offering my insight into which new features it might include.

Apple’s annual announcement of its latest and greatest iPhone generates more tweets, posts, column inches and airtime than any other consumer technology product launch.

On air I also discussed some research carried out by gadget recycling website cashinyourgadgets.co.uk revealing what we do (or rather don’t do) with our old gadgets after we’ve upgraded. I’m as bad as anybody with several old laptops, mobile phones and cameras slowly gathering rust in my drawers contributing to the estimated £1 billion of old, unused tech cluttering up our cupboards in the UK alone.

Listen to an excerpt from one of the interviews where I chat with Tony Fisher from BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester:

Like most other pundits my predictions for the iPhone 5 came true, hardly surprising given all of the leaks ahead of the launch.

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