This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about the vulnerability in WhatsApp and what that means, University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, your rights at the Canadian border, and the PS4 exclusive, Days Gone.
Tech round-up for May 15: WhatsApp vulnerability patched, online Security Planner, Canada Border Services Agency and your digital devices, Days Gone will have you running
This week, how to be safe online, protesting what can happen to your devices at the border, and fleeing a zombie horde. But first, watch for spyware on your smartphone.
Update your WhatsApp software now
This week we learned about a vulnerability in the messaging software WhatsApp that allows spyware to be installed on smartphones.
Researchers at University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab suspect that the spyware is the product of NSO Group, which has been accused of selling its Pegasus software to Saudi Arabia and other countries with records of human rights abuses.
The New York Times reported that a lawyer from London who was targeted by the WhatsApp security flaw contacted the Citizen Lab for help.
Meanwhile, a patch for WhatsApp was released on Monday.
Get advice about being online from Citizen Lab’s Security Planner
The Citizen Lab is all about “the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security.”
One of its projects is the Security Planner, which can help you be more secure online by giving you personalized advice.
At the website, you answer a few questions about the devices you use, your chief concerns about online security, and any special conditions, and the system kicks out an action plan with specific recommendations on what you can do to be more secure.
Tips include things like enabling two-factor authentication, how to detect suspicious emails, and installing a password manager.
Advocating for changes to what Canadian border agents can do with your devices
The WhatsApp security flaw comes on the heels of a story out of Toronto earlier this month of a lawyer who’s mobile phone and laptop were seized by Canada Border Services Agency.
He had refused an order by a CBSA officer to provide passwords to allow a search of his devices on the grounds that they contained information that was protected by attorney-client confidence.
The CBSA claims that it can examine all digital devices and media, along with digital documents and software.
OpenMedia has since created a website where you can learn about what rights you have when coming into Canada. You can also sign a petition to pressure federal politicians to update policies around digital privacy at the border.
Days Gone gives us a new zombie horde to run from
Available now as an exclusive to PlayStation 4 is a new post-apocalypse survival set in Oregon. And while the creatures that threaten you are called “freakers” they are similar enough to zombies that you’ll have a sense of what you’re in for. They move slow during the day and fast at night.
The game was developed by Bend Studio and the studio has come up with solid mechanics for riding a motorcycle, battling horrific creatures, and sneaking around. Days Gone is genuinely fun to play and it requires that you conserve your supplies and plan carefully how you’ll approach threats.
It can feel tedious, though, if you’re the kind of gamer who quickly tires of action games that have you repeating missions for non-player characters.
My major quibble with Days Gone is that it leans far too heavily on tired tropes and cliches. In the game you play as an army veteran turned biker outlaw named Deacon St. John. Imagine all of the stereotypes that character description brings up and you’ll find them here.
Even the conspiracy tale that’s woven here feels recycled. And as you discover the source of the pandemic that created the freakers the game sets itself up for the story to continue.
The world is astonishing, though, and the contrast between the stunning Pacific Northwest geography and the masses of freakers that populate it is unnerving.
And when those hordes start chasing after you, you’d better be prepared to fight them or ready to run. The freakers in Days Gone do not relent.
This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about news from Google I/O, announcements from F8, and the online leak of the Detective Pikachu movie.
Tech round-up for May 8: Pixel 3a, Nest Hub, Instagram likes disappear, new Oculus VR, Facebook bans, Detective Pikachu leaked online, Toronto's Call of Duty pro team
This week, news from Facebook’s F8 conference, new Facebook bans have been announced, Pokemon’s Detective Pikachu movie has leaked online maybe (maybe not), and Toronto’s getting a pro Call of Duty team. But first, Google’s new Pixel 3a handsets and the Google Nest Hub.
Google developer’s conference first day highlights
I/O, Google’s annual developers conference, runs this week, and in a keynote yesterday to kick off the event, the company had plenty to announce. Here’s a rundown of the big news.
New, cheaper Pixel handsets
Available now is the Pixel 3a smartphone, which packs all the main features you want in a handset into a more affordable package: $549 for 5.6-inch and $649 for the 6-inch (Pixel 3a XL).
You can get these in three colours and the device is made of polycarbonate (plastic) and not metal, like the Pixel 3 devices. Other things that make these cheaper are a slower processor, no wireless charging, and no water resistance.
But Google claims the camera on the 3a is the same as on the Pixel 3 and will deliver just the same stunning photos.
Google Nest is the brand for all smart home stuff
Formerly known under the “Home” moniker, the Google connected devices that make your home smart are being tagged with the “Nest” brand now, leveraging the name established by the first smart thermostat.
The Nest Hub is a new product with a seven-inch screen, designed to be the assistant that provides central access to thermostats, lights, can act as a speaker and also a digital photo frame. You can preorder the Nest Hub for $169.
More from F8, Facebook’s developers conference
In a keynote address, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would be reducing the impact of the news feed on user streams, and instead would be highlighting posts coming from groups that you’ve joined. The idea is to encourage users to expand their connections through groups.
This seems like it’s part of the shift to provide an experience that is less fraught and less open to influence by “bad actors”.
Messenger is also being refocused, giving you the opportunity to prioritize the people you are connected with there.
With Instagram, meanwhile, Canada will be the location of a trial in which “likes” are hidden on feeds. In a release, the company said this is being tested to see the result of users being able to “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get”.
New VR headsets announced
Facebook owns Oculus, the company that helped pioneer modern virtual reality headsets, and last week announced that the two new iterations of the technology are being released this month.
The Oculus Quest is a self-contained system that doesn’t need a computer to operate and the Oculus Rift S is an update to the more powerful kit that replaces the need for external cameras with what’s called an “inside-out” tracking system.
Both systems are priced at CAN$549. A Quest with double the storage space (128 GB is available for $700).
Facebook bans individuals and organizations that promote hate
Last week, Facebook escalated its efforts to scrub extremists from its platform. It designated a number of individuals and groups – including Alex Jones, Infowars, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Gavin McInnes – as “individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate”.
They have been banned from Facebook.
While this seems like it’s happened before – Jones was officially banned late last year, but managed to maintain a presence nevertheless – the new Facebook initiative is different because it extends to any individual or group who promotes the banned individuals or shares their material.
Detective Pikachu movie leaked online
It doesn’t hit theatres until Friday, but Detective Pikachu, which stars Ryan Reynolds as the cute little pocket monster, is already available on YouTube.
At least, that’s what Reynolds would have you believe. In a Twitter post this week, he appears to call out the apparent plagiarism.
Watch the video – embedded below – for a great troll: a full 100 minutes of Pikachu dancing to ’80s-era synthesizer music.
Toronto is getting a Call of Duty eSports team
Since 2016, Activision has been running the Call of Duty World League, in which gamers compete in Call of Duty matches.
With prize pools that are regularly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – championship purses are in the millions – the CWL World League is massive. And now it’s being further professionalized with a city-based Call of Duty league.
The five teams announced to date are based in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris, and Toronto.
This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about Facebook and privacy in Canada, problems with McDonald’s Canada smartphone app, using video games to detect dementia.