Tech Letter

Straightforward Tech Reporting

Author: Robert Vinet (page 1 of 23)

Technology Backlash » American farmers are buying low tech tractors that they can fix themselves

There price of well-loved, gently-used older tractors is climbing fast, at least in the American mid-west.

Car and Driver »

Tractors, like cars—electric or otherwise—are becoming more and more reliant on technology and computers, which forces repairs to be done by dealers. And as those changes are phasing out the farmer in the repair process, older tractors are becoming more sought after in the Midwest, according to a report from the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.

Now, when a tractor built in the late 1970s or 1980s goes up for auction, a bidding war tends to ensue, the paper notes. Although a lot has changed in tractors in the past few decades, what really matters to farmers hasn’t. Old tractors have similar horsepower to the tractors built today, and they’re built well enough to last the 15,000 hours a farmer expects from a tractor.

Hundreds of internal messages demonstrate attempts by Boeing to manipulate regulatory scrutiny in the development of the Boeing 737 MAX

This is criminal behaviour. This lead to two fatal crashes and the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

Reuters »

The plane was “designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys”.

The messages, disclosed on Thursday, show attempts to duck regulatory scrutiny with employees disparaging the plane, the company, the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign aviation regulators.

In an instant messaging exchange on Feb. 8, 2018 – when the plane was in the air and eight months before the first of two fatal crashes, an employee asks another: “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t”.

The second employee responds: “No”.

More » NPRABC News, NBC News, Washington Post

The Guardian correctly calls it what it is » “chaos and incompetence” at Boeing

Facebook promises to ban videos that are either heavily edited or deep fakes as it tightens policies around misleading media

Facebook has a major problem with credibility. They often state one thing and do another. Facebook’s statements and policies carry little weight.  I’m happy to wait to see what they actually do.

From Facebook » 

We are strengthening our policy toward misleading manipulated videos that have been identified as deepfakes. Going forward, we will remove misleading manipulated media if it meets the following criteria:

  • It has been edited or synthesized – beyond adjustments for clarity or quality – in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say. And:
  • It is the product of artificial intelligence or machine learning that merges, replaces or superimposes content onto a video, making it appear to be authentic.
    This policy does not extend to content that is parody or satire, or video that has been edited solely to omit or change the order of words.

US Army bans soldiers from using TikTok » The app is considered a “cyber threat”

 Justine Calma, The Verge »

United States Army soldiers can no longer use TikTok on government-owned phones following a decision to ban the app. The move comes amidst ongoing worries that the video app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could compromise national security or be used to influence or surveil Americans.

“It is considered a cyber threat,” Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa told, which broke the news on December 30th. The army reportedly used TikTok to recruit members prior to the ban.

Both the Navy and Defense Department sounded alarms on TikTok earlier this month. The Navy previously told its members not to add the app, and to delete it from government-issued devices if it was already installed. The Defense Department also instructed employees to “be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts etc., and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information,” according to

More » CNN

Related » US Navy Bans TikTok From Military Devices » Security Boulevard (Dec 27, 2019)

More » BoingBoing, The Next Web, SecurityAngle

Related » TikTok eyes global headquarters outside of China as US scrutiny mounts – Tech in Asia (Dec 24, 2019)

More » WSJ

NY Times journalists answer » What’s the worst that could happen to your smartphone data?

NY Times »

None of us really has a choice to participate in tracking or not — the system just serves up location data, usually without us noticing. So for people who do want a bit of privacy — worshipers, young people visiting Planned Parenthood, those visiting a queer space, survivors hiding from an abuser — they no longer have a real choice about their privacy. Because the tracking touches everyone, can we really give up after concluding it’s fine for us? When we participate in this system, we’re tacitly endorsing it.


Your imagination can run wild with possibilities. It runs from tracking kids to tracking the nation’s top security officials and using the intelligence for some kind of blackmail.

For us, it was talking to one group that was so concerned they didn’t want to be named. We expected them to be worried, but in conversations with them, they were downright scared. When we showed them all the device pings collected in the center of their building during a gathering, they were horrified that people could know exactly who and how many people were in the building and when. The idea that their community members were followed in the data and we could figure out where they all lived — it wasn’t an abstract threat anymore. It was real and personal for them, especially since they felt like a target already.

Wyze exposes 2.4M customer records by failing to secured a database [Updated]

This is happening much to often. Unless and until companies and their officers are held accountable, the unfortunate trend of exposing people’s personal data will continue.

Update » Wyze executives blame employee – Ars Technica Are you surprised?

Duncan Riley, Silicon Angle »

Internet-connected device maker Wyze Labs Inc. has suffered a data breach, though the company claims there’s no evidence the data was accessed by any nefarious third parties.

The data breach, first detailed by 12 Security Dec. 26, involved an unsecured Elasticsearch database with 2.4 million customer records. The database included the user names and emails of those who were using Wyze cameras along with various details such as the model of the camera, connection times, account and camera login tokens, and WiFi network names.

Emphasizing how the data in the unsecured database could be used to identify users, security information firm IVPM took the data and matched it to its own staff who had reviewed Wyze products in the past.

More » Security Boulevard, Security Affairs, The Verge, CNET, The Mac Observer, 9to5Mac, GeekWire, NY Times

New York medical doctor sues to stop Apple from selling it’s Apple Watch with atrial fibrillation detection technology that saves lives

If Dr. Wiesel gets his Christmas wish, he gets richer. Otherwise, he wants to stop this life saving technology from reaching people who might need it, and therefore, he is willing to let people die if Apple doesn’t deposit a truck load of money into his back account on a regular basis.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of today’s silent killers. It often goes undetected, as it can be intermittent, resulting in late diagnosis, stroke, or even death.

Dr. Wiesel is not the kind of cardiologist I would want on my team.

Susan Decker, Bloomberg »

Dr. Joseph Wiesel, who teaches at NYU School of Medicine, filed a suit Friday against the tech giant, in federal court in Brooklyn. Wiesel claims the Apple Watch infringes his patent for a method to detect an irregular heartbeat.


Wiesel said his invention covered “pioneering steps” in atrial fibrillation detection by monitoring “irregular pulse rhythms from a succession of time intervals.” He said he first contacted Apple in September 2017, giving the Cupertino, California-based company detailed information about the patent.


He wants the court to order Apple to pay him royalties and, barring that, to block the company from using his invention without permission.

More » Engadget, SlashGear

Russia, China, Iran start joint naval drills in Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman

Reuters »

Iran, China and Russia began joint naval drills on Friday in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, in what Moscow said was an unprecedented exercise in naval cooperation and training.

Waters around Iran have become a focus for international tensions, with the United States exerting pressure for Iranian crude oil sales and other trade ties to be cut off.


The Gulf of Oman is a particularly sensitive waterway as it connects to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes and which in turn connects to the Gulf.

More » Associated Press, The Hill, Agence France Press

ToTok is a United Arab Emirates (UAE) spy tool [Updated]

If you have messaging app ToTok on your smartphone, you will probably want to delete it. It is actually a repressive government’s spying tool.

Apple and Google have removed the app from their app stores.

Mark Mazzetti, Nicole Perlroth, and Ronen Bergman, writing in the NY Times (paywall) »

But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

ToTok, introduced only months ago, was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. While the majority of its users are in the Emirates, ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States last week, according to app rankings and App Annie, a research firm.

More » Associated Press, Security Boulevard, The Mac Observer, The Register, Wired

There are similar concerns with other apps »

» U.S. Navy bans TikTok from government-issued mobile devices – Reuters

Updated Saturday December 28

» Not surprisingly, UAE denies developing the app as spy tool – SecurityWeek

Be paranoid about privacy

Kara Swisher, NY Times (paywall) »

Privacy has been losing badly, as users have become the online equivalent of cheap dates to these giant tech companies. We trade the lucrative digital essence of ourselves for much less in the form of free maps or nifty games or compelling communications apps.

We’re digitally sloppy, even if it can be very dangerous, as evidenced by a disturbing New York Times story this week about an Emirati secure messaging app called ToTok, which is used by millions across the Middle East and has also recently become one of the most downloaded in the United States.

The name was obviously used to place the app adjacent to the hugely popular TikTok, already under scrutiny by American officials because of its Chinese origins and possible link to the Beijing government. In the case of ToTok, according to the Times report, it turns out that it is a spy tool “used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.”

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