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Whoops, our bad, we may have 'accidentally' let Google Home devices record your every word, sound – oops

Plus: Microsoft to dump support for Cortana on iOS, Android phones


In brief Your Google Home speaker may have been quietly recording sounds around your house without your permission or authorization, it was revealed this week.

The Chocolate Factory admitted it had accidentally turned on a feature that allowed its voice-controlled AI-based assistant to activate by itself and record its surroundings. Normally, the device only starts actively listening in and making a note of what it hears after it has heard wake words, such as “Ok, Google” or “Hey, Google,” for privacy reasons. Prior to waking, it's constantly listening out for those words, but is not supposed to keep a record of what it hears.

Yet punters noticed their Google Homes had been recording random sounds, without any wake word uttered, when they started receiving notifications on their phone that showed the device had heard things like a smoke alarm beeping, or glass breaking in their homes – all without their approval.

Google said the feature had been accidentally turned on during a recent software update, and it has now been switched off, Protocol reported. It may be that this feature is or was intended to be used for home security at some point: imagine the assistant waking up whenever it hears a break in, for instance. Google just bought a $450m, or 6.6 per cent, stake in anti-burglary giant ADT, funnily enough.

GPT-3 wrote this? No way!

A blog post written almost entirely by OpenAI’s text-generator GPT-3 attracted thousands of visitors. And only one person suspected it was generated by AI software rather than a human writer, apparently.

Liam Porr, a computer science student at the University of California, Berkeley, promoted the bogus self-help blog online. To his surprise, the post received lots of page views, though only one person noticed that although the sentences made grammatical sense, the writing lacked any substance, so they suspected foul play.

Porr revealed that, indeed, it was written using a tool based on OpenAI’s latest text generator. He fed the model up to five sentences at a time, and it would fill in the rest, producing a whole article. It took a bit of fiddling to get the best results, however, and he generated several versions and made sure to delete sentences that included fake-sounding quotes.

Porr reckons his experiment is proof that GPT-3 isn’t yet good enough for complete automation yet; human writers will still need to edit and polish copy. However, tools like GPT-3 provide a way to crank out content on the internet much more quickly, he opined.

1.7 million pre-print academic papers now up for grabs

Cornell University has collected all the content on arXiv, the free repository of scientific papers awaiting peer-reviewed publication, to build a tidy text-based dataset for machine-learning engineers to play with.

The dataset, covering nearly 30 years of publications, is now hosted on Kaggle, a Google-owned data science platform, for anyone to download. It is hoped that by making the data public, it’ll encourage developers to train AI tools like recommendation engines or help users search for interesting papers more easily.

“Having the entire arXiv corpus on Kaggle grows the potential of arXiv articles immensely,” said Eleonora Presani, arXiv executive director. “By offering the dataset on Kaggle we go beyond what humans can learn by reading all these articles and we make the data and information behind arXiv available to the public in a machine-readable format.”

The 1.7 million papers in the dataset have been released over 30 years, and will be published on Kaggle in multiple batches.

Microsoft is winding down support for third-party Cortana tools

Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Assistant, hasn’t taken off quite like its competitors.

Now, Redmond has decided to consolidate its efforts to build an AI digital assistant focused on Microsoft 365, and will pull support for Cortana on phones, and also kill off third-party Cortana apps, known as skills.

“As we make this shift toward a transformational AI-powered assistant experience in Microsoft 365, we need to adjust our focus areas of innovation and development to give our customers assistance where they need it most,” Microsoft said in a statement. “As a result, we are making changes to some US consumer-centric features and functionalities with lower usage.”

Those changes are: "To end support for all third-party Cortana skills on September 7. Then, in early 2021, we’ll stop supporting the Cortana app for mobile (iOS and Android) ... In addition, after careful consideration, we’ve decided to end support for the Cortana service integration in the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker in January 2021." ®

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Cloudflare slams AWS egress fees to convince web giant to join its discount data club

Lower your prices and play nicer, CDN goliath suggests

Cloudflare on Friday accused competitor Amazon Web Services of massive markups and hindering customer data portability, even as it invited the cloud services giant to join its discount data initiative known as the Bandwidth Alliance.

"AWS’s bandwidth pricing is bonkers," said CEO Matthew Prince, via Twitter. "And they stand alone in the industry not discounting when their customers send traffic to peered networks."

Prince and Nitin Rao, SVP of global infrastructure at Cloudflare, elaborated on that claim in a blog post that argues AWS is charging customers orders of magnitude more than its costs and makes a mockery of its parent company's mission statement that Amazon strives "to offer our customers the lowest possible prices…"

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With Alphabet's legendary commitment to products, we can't wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves

Google parent hopes to inject AI into factory machines

Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we're told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot's every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they'll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

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Google fixes 'Chromebork' one-character code typo that prevented Chrome OS logins

Programming blunder is the second such snafu this month

Bug of the week Google has fixed a bug in Chrome OS version 91.0.4472.165 that surfaced on Monday and prevented some users from being able to login to their systems.

Chrome OS downloads updates automatically but doesn't apply them until reboot, so only those who restarted their Chromebooks to ingest the force-fed broken update were affected.

Earlier this week, the internet titan on its Google Workplace status page said, "Our engineering team has identified an issue on Chrome OS 91.0.4472.165. The rollout of this version was halted."

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Rackspace literally decimates workforce: One in ten staffers let go this week

85% of those jobs will be rehired, just in cheaper countries

Updated Around 10 per cent of Rackspace staff, predominantly in the US it seems, got an unwelcome email this week informing them they were being let go.

Not that the work they do isn't needed. In an paperwork submitted to the SEC on Wednesday, Rackspace disclosed that 85 per cent of the positions being cut will be backfilled by workers in "offshore service centers." That'll be where wages are lower and labor laws more lax, presumably.

"The rebalance in workforce is a component of a broader strategic review of the Company’s operations that is intended to more effectively align the Company’s resources with its business priorities in high growth areas," Rackspace said.

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Punchy Italian kartist gets 15-year ban for trackside rampage... and other stories

An unexpectedly vehicular collection of chaos and confusion for your consideration

Welcome back for another compendium of tomfoolery from this week for those who enjoy a bit of light-hearted piffle. And let's face it, who doesn't?

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Latest Windows 11 Preview a well-rounded update – literally

What else is round? Oh yes, holes

While the Windows of today may have more holes in it than a 20-year-old pair of underpants, Microsoft has continued plugging away at previews for the upcoming iteration, Windows 11.

Having got the excitement of integrated Teams chat out the way earlier this week, it was business as usual for build 22000.100, released to Dev Channel Insiders last night.

This week's modifications are all about soothing users whose nerves have likely been shredded by the recent arrival of HiveNightmare.

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Apologetic Audacity rewrites privacy policy after 'significant lapse in communication'

Of course kids are allowed. Whatever gave you the impression they weren't?

Open-source audio editor Audacity this week posted an apology on GitHub in response to the entirely predictable furore over the platform's privacy policy.

An updated privacy policy accompanied the apology, in which the team insisted it had just been misunderstood, and that a look at the source would have shown its intentions.

"We are deeply sorry for the significant lapse in communication caused by the original privacy policy document," it said. The fact that it didn't regret the actual document itself seemed to alarm a good many users.

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eBay cyberstalking victims sue internet tat bazaar over former staff members' campaign of harassment

We endured enormous cruelty and abuse and feared for our lives, say couple

A couple from the US who run a small ecommerce publication have launched legal action against eBay accusing the company of a "coordinated effort to intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence" them to muzzle their coverage.

The allegations – made in a complaint lodged in the US District Court of Massachusetts this week – are the latest chapter in a long-running case that has already resulted in guilty pleas from a number of former employees in what has become known as the "eBay cyberstalking case".

Lawyers acting on behalf of the owners of EcommerceBytes – an online trade publication that covers the ecommerce industry run by journalists Ina and David Steiner - said the intimidation was so bad they were in fear for their lives.

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Anyone fancy a Snowmobile full of Bags O'Crap? It'll be on the list somewhere

Reg reader reveals colossal 821-item collection of Amazon trademarks tucked away on its site

Recently, a Reg reader* contacted us at Vulture (virtual) Towers with something odd they'd found online – a page tucked away in the little-visited “Legal Policies” section of Amazon's website containing a "non-exhaustive" list of all the trademarks held by the company.

The list is massive: 821 trademarks, sorted alphabetically and listed entirely free of context or explanation.

On first glance, the contents can be baffling, or will induce flights of fancy as to their purpose. When simply plucked out of a list of plain-text words, the purpose of, say, "6PM", "BAG O'CRAP" or "MAD DOGS" are difficult to discern.

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Subcontractors working on CityFibre's £45m Derby rollout threaten to 'rip up tarmac' in dispute over payments

Main contractor J McCann insists it takes its obligations 'very seriously'

Contractors helping to lay fibre cables under streets in Derby have threatened to scrap their work and "rip up tarmac" they've laid – unless they get paid.

A report by Construction Enquirer claims that subcontractors have also downed tools following the payment row.

The cables are being laid for digital infrastructure outfit CityFibre, which is spending £45m to install digital infrastructure in Derby.

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Reserve Bank of India official suggests country may soon have a digital currency pilot

CBDC would be released in phases to prevent volatility

India may be launching a digital currency, an official from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said today.

Speaking at a panel discussion held by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy think tank, RBI deputy governor T Rabi Shankar described the potential Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) have for India, including smoother international transactions and protections from volatility.

Addressing whether CBDCs are needed in India, Shankar said: "It is important that all central banks get on the CBDC arrangements and coordinate effectively within themselves to actually maximize the immense potentials that CBDCs carry."

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