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Roomba's Next Big Step Is Selling Maps of Your Home to the Highest Bidder

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The Roomba is generally regarded as a cute little robot friend that no one but dogs would consider to be a potential menace. But for the last couple of years, the robovacs have been quietly mapping homes to maximize efficiency. Now, the device’s makers plan to sell that data to smart home device manufacturers, turning the friendly robot into a creeping, creepy little spy.

While it may seem like the information that a Roomba could gather is minimal, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the maps it’s constantly updating. It knows the floor plan of your home, the basic shape of everything on your floor, what areas require the most maintenance, and how often you require cleaning cycles, along with many other data points. And, according to Reuters, that data is the future of its business strategy:

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” said [iRobot CEO Colin] Angle.

[...]

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years.

If a company like Amazon, for example, wanted to improve its Echo smart speaker, the Roomba’s mapping info could certainly help out. Spatial mapping could improve audio performance by taking advantage of the room’s acoustics. Do you have a large room that’s practically empty? Targeted furniture ads might be quite effective. The laser and camera sensors would paint a nice portrait for lighting needs that would factor into smart lights that adjust in real time. Smart AC units could better control airflow. And additional sensors added in the future would gather even more data from this live-in double agent.

And while Amazon seems like an obvious buyer—the kind that would pay huge money to shut out its competitors—don’t forget that Apple has its Siri speaker coming and it has a lot of catching up to do. The kind of data that iRobot is offering would give any developer a huge opportunity to fine tune the experience.

Maybe that doesn’t unnerve you, but it probably should. This is all part of the larger quest for a few major companies to hoover up every bit of data about you that they can. Now, they want to know all about your living space. Going through the iRobot terms of service, you can see just how much data is already being collected on a daily basis just by clicking like on a Facebook page or visiting a corporate website. And that data will likely be just as insecure tomorrow as it is today.

The question for iRobot and other manufacturers who are working with robovacs that use mapping is: Will users reject their product in favor of cheaper devices that offer more privacy? Angle doesn’t think that will be a problem. He tells Reuters that user data won’t be sold without permission and he thinks most people will want to take advantage of the greater functionality.

The iRobot Home app does clearly inform users that they are capable of turning off the cloud sharing functions on their Roomba. But the actual terms of service document is written in typically convoluted legal language. The privacy policy frames most data collection as something that will just make your device better and improve overall user experience. A section of the policy on sharing personal information with third parties bullet points out the situations in which iRobot could share this data.

At a glance it might seem like there’s only a narrow set of circumstances for third parties to get ahold of your info, but in reality, these guidelines give the company tons of freedom. It can share your data internally, with subsidiaries, third party vendors, and the government upon request. While a section about sharing data with third parties for marketing purposes specifies that the user must give consent, there’s this separate bullet point below that:

[We may share your personal information with] other parties in connection with any company transaction, such as a merger, sale of all or a portion of company assets or shares, reorganization, financing, change of control or acquisition of all or a portion of our business by another company or third party or in the event of bankruptcy or related or similar proceeding.

Depending on a court’s interpretation of that language, it would appear that your consent isn’t necessarily required if iRobot wanted to sell its user data in bulk to Apple. That doesn’t mean it would go forward with such a transaction without notifying users first.

Dyson, a high-end Roomba competitor, does a better job of giving users a quick breakdown of what’s in its privacy policy. But the particulars aren’t all that different than what iRobot sets out in its agreement. Dyson does promise to never “sell your personal information to anyone and only share it as outlined in this privacy policy or when you ask us to.” Of course, there’s still some wiggle room in there and Dyson also has agreements to interact with third party devices like the Amazon Echo.

And that’s the thing. If a company isn’t using simultaneous localization and mapping (or SLAM, as the mapping technology used by Roomba and its competitors is known), their robovac is probably inferior. If a company is making a robovac that uses the advanced tech, big data is the business model it should be thinking about. People will likely click “agree” to whatever terms are put in front of them. Hell, I never considered buying a Roomba until I started writing this article and thought about how much neater my apartment would be if I had one. Convenience trumps privacy every time. Just remember that the Roomba knows what room your child is in, it’s the one where it bumps into all the toys on the floor.

[Reuters]

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chrishiestand
1 day ago
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San Diego, CA, USA
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I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration.

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From top climate policy official to accounting. Welcome to Trump's Department of Interior.

On July 19, the former top climate policy official at the Department of Interior filed a complaint and a whistleblower disclosure form with the Office of Special Counsel. The official, Joel Clement, says the Trump administration is threatening public health and safety by trying to silence scientists like him. On July 19, former top climate policy official at the Department of Interior Joel Clement, filed a complaint and a whistleblower disclosure form. (Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

(Adriana Usero,Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

By Joel Clement By Joel Clement July 19 at 4:10 PM

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

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I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

Alaska’s elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back.

While I have given small amounts to Democratic candidates in the past, I have no problem whatsoever working for a Republican administration. I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies. But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.

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Scenes from the Republican’s early months in the White House.

July 19, 2017 President Trump speaks at a luncheon with Republican leadership about health care in the State Dining Room of the White House. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

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Now that I have filed with the Office of Special Counsel, it is my hope that it will do a thorough investigation into the Interior Department’s actions. Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful.

Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered.

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chrishiestand
6 days ago
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San Diego, CA, USA
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GOP Seeks to Close Federal Election Agency

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WASHINGTON—House Republicans are seeking to defund the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the sole federal agency that exclusively works to ensure the voting process is secure, as part of proposed federal budget cuts.

The defunding move comes as the EAC is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine an attack late last year on the agency’s computer systems by a Russian-speaking hacker.

House Republicans say...

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chrishiestand
8 days ago
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"House Republicans are pressing to defund the sole federal agency that exclusively works to ensure the voting process is secure"

I hate linking to a Rupert Murdoch owned rag but this is important.
San Diego, CA, USA
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Disdainful of H-1Bs, Trump expands a different foreign worker visa

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(credit: John Barker via Flickr)

President Donald Trump has said he's going to set more limits on the H-1B visa program, which allows tens of thousands of technology workers into the US each year. But yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security moved to expand another type of visa, the H-2B, which allows lower-skilled workers in on a seasonal basis.

The Department of Homeland Security said yesterday it is going to allow an additional 15,000 workers to come in under the H-2B visa category, which is typically used by US businesses in industries like tourism, construction, and seafood processing. The program normally allows for 66,000 visas, split between the two halves of the year. That means the DHS increase, announced yesterday, represents an increase of more than 40 percent for the second half of 2017.

Businesses can begin applying for the additional visas right away, as long as they attest under penalty of perjury that their business will "suffer irreparable harm" if it can't employ additional H-2B workers in 2017. The expansion is a temporary one, and it only applies to the current year.

The H-2B visa program specifically excludes agricultural workers who are covered under the H-2A visa.

A DHS official told The Washington Post that the increase in visas "absolutely does" fit in with Trump's promises to push a policy of "buy American, hire American."

"We're talking about American businesses that are at risk of suffering irreparable harm if they don't get additional H-2B workers," the DHS official told the newspaper. "This does help with American businesses continuing to prosper."

As a presidential candidate, Trump said he would "end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program," with "no exceptions."

Since taking office, Trump hasn't taken action on H-1Bs. His executive order on the matter only authorizes a study on the program. Members of Congress from both parties have introduced bills that would reform the program, but those proposals haven't moved forward, either.

The H-2B visa is used extensively by Trump's own businesses, including his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida. During the presidential campaign, Trump explained his use of H-2B visas by saying that "getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible."

Mar-a-Lago's 64 workers on H-2B visas come primarily from Haiti and Romania. The Palm Beach Post reported on the resort's 2017 visa applications, showing that most workers got about a 1 percent raise, while some had their pay cut. At Mar-a-Lago, cooks are paid $12.74 an hour, wait staff are paid $11.13 an hour, and housekeepers are paid $10.17 an hour.

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chrishiestand
8 days ago
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Yet again Trump and ask a policy that benefits his own family. How is this not a conflict of interest again?
San Diego, CA, USA
acdha
8 days ago
Because if you squint hard enough you can see the R after his name and then it's okay
acdha
8 days ago
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Washington, DC
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Episode 784: Meeting The Russians

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Bill Browder

That meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer was two decades in the making. It began in 1996, when an adventurous American went to Russia, trying to make a buck.

(Image credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

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chrishiestand
10 days ago
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Well worth the listen. Why Donald Trump Junior's meeting with the Russian lawyer has much more significant implications than they let on
San Diego, CA, USA
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Yes. Violating Certain Campaign Finance Laws Is a Criminal Offense

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Screenshot of President Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow responding to  Sean Hannity's interview with Donald Trump Jr. on Fox News on July 11, 2017.

Screenshot of President Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow responding to Sean Hannity’s interview with Donald Trump Jr. on Fox News on July 11, 2017.

 

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, has been making the rounds of radio, and network and cable TV shows trying to put out the fire set by Donald Trump Jr.’s release of emails which confirm that Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who claimed to have compromising material about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

Listen to Sekulow on Hannity Show

On The Sean Hannity Show, Mr. Sekulow makes many claims about why this meeting is not a crime. One of them seemed to be a claim (the audio is a bit garbled) that the federal campaign finance laws are not criminal laws or that violating them is not a crime. If this is what Sekulow meant, he is wrong.

While most of campaign finance laws are enforced administratively (when they are bothered to be enforced) by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with civil fines, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has concurrent criminal jurisdiction over willful violations of the campaign finance laws, including the longstanding prohibitions on federal candidates receiving contributions from foreigners.

This is the part of the law (52 USC § 30121), which appears to have been violated by the Trump campaign when they solicited foreign campaign contributions from members of Parliament in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world in the summer of 2016. If special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at potential crimes by the Trump campaign, then that is some low hanging fruit as MPs literally complained about it in real time.

The US Supreme Court clearly recognizes that campaign finance laws are criminal laws.

But this law could have also been violated in the Donald Trump Jr./Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting. As President Obama’s former White House counsel Robert Bauer explains at the Just Security blog: The criminal prohibition on foreign contributions to federal candidates includes the solicitation of such contributions. And the law is not limited to asking for classic contributions like cash money. He notes that the law covers “things of value” as well. Should Mr. Trump (the younger), or Kushner, or Manafort or even Veselnitskaya be charged with violating this part of the law, they will likely argue that the offer of damaging information about Secretary Clinton wasn’t “a thing of value.” But that’s not the same thing as saying 52 USC § 30121 is not a criminal statute.

As I show in a forthcoming law review article, “Dark Money As a Political Sovereignty Problem,” the DOJ has prosecuted individuals for violating the prohibition on foreign political contributions. DOJ’s interest in prosecuting this part of the law peaked under Attorney General Janet Reno’s tenure in the late 1990s when she established the Campaign Financing Task Force to investigate allegations of campaign financing violations in the 1996 election cycle that supported candidate and sitting President Bill Clinton’s campaign. As an old press release still available on DOJ’s website shows, “26 people and two corporations [were] charged by the Campaign Financing Task Force” many of them for violating the foreign prohibition.

But DOJ has not given up on enforcing this part of the law. In 2009, the DOJ charged a man for making $60,000 in illegal foreign contributions to presidential candidates. As recently as 2014, the DOJ charged a man for making $600,000 in illegal foreign contributions to federal candidates. And in 2016, a Florida man pled guilty to funneling $80,000 in illegal foreign campaign contributions to candidate and sitting President Obama’s campaign in 2012.

The US Supreme Court clearly recognizes that campaign finance laws are criminal laws. Indeed, the present Supreme Court often points to the criminal consequences as one of the problems with campaign finance laws. For example in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the majority complained about the corporate expenditure ban that was invalidated by the case, that “[t]he law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions.”

And if Mr. Trump (the younger), or Mr. Kushner, or Mr. Manafort, or Ms. Veselnitskaya are hoping that the Roberts Supreme Court’s hostility to campaign finance law will save them in the end, they need to get their lawyers to look up Bluman v. FEC, a little noticed case from 2012. In Bluman, the Supreme Court upheld the prohibition on contributions from foreigners in federal elections, the very law at issue here.

The post Yes. Violating Certain Campaign Finance Laws Is a Criminal Offense appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

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chrishiestand
13 days ago
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Strange that this would be controversial even among those who despise trump. How is this not straight forward?
San Diego, CA, USA
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