Must Read Bits & Bytes

How private is Amazon Echo?

How private is Amazon Echo?

Put a microphone in your product, and someone is going to assume you're listening to them. That's one of the challenges Amazon Echo - the online retailer's "Siri in a totem pole" - faces, with suspicion about just how much Jeff Bezos & Co. (or his algorithms, at least) are actually eavesdropping on. Given the power of Amazon's recommendation engines and the amount of data it gathers just from casual browsing, you can certainly see where some of the paranoia might come from, too. A microphone-mute button takes pride of place on top of Echo, but will it be enough to persuade potential users that the virtual assistant is working for them and not for Amazon itself? I went hunting for some answers on just what Echo shares and how you can tame it.

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Star Wars The Force Awakens: Episode 7 officially named

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Episode 7 officially named

This morning the next Star Wars movie was named officially - Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is Star Wars 7, the move set to be released in 2016. Star Wars The Force Awakens has completed principal photography, and it's suggested that the first trailer is also cut and prepped for delivery. Now we'll have to start guessing what vehicle it'll come in on. Any guesses on what movie it'll start before? Maybe The Hobbit? Something epic? Into The Woods? Big Hero 6? Something Disney owns, that's for certain.

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Amazon Echo puts Siri-style smarts in a column of cloud

Amazon Echo puts Siri-style smarts in a column of cloud

Amazon has revealed its latest hardware project, Amazon Echo, an unusual always-listening home assistant that promises Siri or Google Now style virtual PA features from a cloud-connected totem for your home or office. Woken with a spoken keyword - "Alexa" or "Amazon" initially, with more to come - rather than pressing any buttons, Echo can be asked for information on anything from current news or weather conditions, to play music from a particular artist, to set alarms or add items to shopping or to-do lists, or just to get the answers to questions.

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Office for iPhone debuts as Microsoft drops 365 sub need

Office for iPhone debuts as Microsoft drops 365 sub need

Microsoft refuses to slow down on its software push, with a new free Office suite for iPhone and by dropping its Office 365 subscription requirement for its iOS and upcoming Android apps, as it redoubles its efforts to grab mobile user share. The new Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPhone - taking on Apple's own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote - arrive alongside updates to the same apps for iPad, but also see Microsoft announce a new Office for Android tablets beta program. Though not quite open for business yet, Android tablet owners can sign up for when the apps are released in early 2015.

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Jawbone UP3 hands-on – Smarter sensing, cleverer coaching

Jawbone UP3 hands-on – Smarter sensing, cleverer coaching

If you're going to ask someone to wear a fitness tracker 24/7, it better be good, and Jawbone believes its come up with a killer in the new UP3. It's 30-percent smaller than Jawbone's old flagship, with a new design from Yves Behar, but this is no simple remolding of an UP24, however. Instead, it's the launch vehicle for the company's new multi-sensor platform, stepping beyond the simple accelerometer found in most wearables and adding a new bioimpedance sensor among others for not only movement, sleep, and heart tracking, but the promise of even more in-depth metrics that can be unlocked with a simple firmware update. I stopped by Jawbone to find out why UP3 could put other wearables to shame.

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Galaxy S6: pulling Samsung up by its own bootstraps

Galaxy S6: pulling Samsung up by its own bootstraps

It's called codename Project Zero, they say, and it'll change the way the Samsung Galaxy line has been evolving over the past several years. If the Samsung Galaxy S III was Samsung's coming of age, the Samsung Galaxy S6 will be a revolution. Of design, mostly - not so much on the specifications. We're in a stagnated state of affairs in the smartphone business across the board, after all. It's the physical design of the smartphone that'll be changing, not necessarily the experience.

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Facebook “I’m a Voter” sends election apathy on a guilt-trip

Facebook “I’m a Voter” sends election apathy on a guilt-trip

It's voting day in the US, and Facebook is pushing apathetic social networking addicts to get out and cast a ballot, running another highly-visible campaign to encourage activity in the midterm elections. A new banner running at the top of the Facebook wall offers the virtual equivalent of a sticker for those who take advantage of their democratic rights, while clicking the "I'm a Voter" widget takes users to a map to find out where their nearest voting station is. It's not just idle whistling, however: research indicates Facebook's timely prompts - not to mention the virtual peer pressure of seeing those of your friends who have already voted - actually gets people into the booths.

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Amazon Prime photos unlimited storage’s big caveat

Amazon Prime photos unlimited storage’s big caveat

So you're considering picking up an Amazon Prime account because you heard you get unlimited storage space for photos, yes? There's a reason you might not want to do that. When you get an Amazon Fire Phone or Fire tablet or Kindle device, you may get Amazon Prime as well. Once it expires - if you allow it to expire, that is - you might have a tough time looking at those photos you've been saving for months and months. Those photos will start disappearing.

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Self-healing maps could solve autonomous cars’ big problem

Self-healing maps could solve autonomous cars’ big problem

Nokia's HERE team is working toward a self-healing mapping system for autonomous cars, tackling the thorny issue of rapidly out-of-date navigation data by giving self-driving vehicles the intelligence to cook up their own HD maps. With cold water liberally poured on Google's self-driving cars recently given the relatively minimal area within which they can roam, questions have been raised over just how practical such vehicles might be given the constantly evolving road network. According to HERE's ambitious scheme, though, the fleet of smart cars itself is the key to keeping the data clean.

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This is the Nexus 9, Android Lollipop’s tablet vanguard

This is the Nexus 9, Android Lollipop’s tablet vanguard

Google's Nexus 9 faces more than a few challenges. Not only does it have the job of following Google's well-esteemed Nexus 7, which for two generations gave Android tablet fans an affordable and bag-friendly option, but it also serves as flag bearer for Android 5.0 Lollipop on a tablet form-factor. Throw in the fact that it also marks HTC's long-awaited re-entry into the slate segment, and that it's the first true 64-bit Android tablet courtesy of NVIDIA's Tegra K1, and that's a whole lot of pressure resting on one 8.9-inch iPad rival. So, how does it hold up?

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