235 apps attempt to secretly track users with ultrasonic audio

235 apps attempt to secretly track users with ultrasonic audio

Ultrasonic beacons (previously, previously) let advertisers build an idea of when and where you use your devices: the sound plays in an ad on one device, and is heard by other devices. This way, they can associate two gadgets with a single user, precisely geolocate devices without aGPS, or even build graphs of real-world social networks. The threat was considered more academic than some, but more than 200 Android apps were found in the wild using the technique.

In research sponsored by the German government [PDF], a team of researchers conducted extensive tests across the EU to better understand how widespread this practice is in the real world.

Their results revealed Shopkick ultrasonic beacons at 4 of 35 stores in two European cities. The situation isn’t that worrisome, as users have to open an app with the Shopkick SDK for the beacon to be picked up.

In the real world, this isn’t an issue, as store owners, advertisers, or product manufactures could incentivize users to open various apps as a way to get discounts.

From the paper:

While in April 2015 only six instances were known,
we have been able to identify 39 further instances in a dataset
of about 1,3 million applications in December 2015, and until
now, a total of 234 samples containing SilverPush has been
discovered. We conclude that even if the tracking through TV
content is not actively used yet, the monitoring functionality
is already deployed in mobile applications and might become
a serious privacy threat in the near future

Apparently it’s not very effective—consumer speakers and mics aren’t designed with ultrasonic use in mind and the authors say noise, audio compression and other factors “significantly affects the feasibility” of the technology—but the intent is clearly there on the part of advertisers and appmakers to make a stab at it. Annoyingly, there doesn’t seem to be a list of the apps that are doing this, but there is a reference to a McDonalds app.

If an app asks for access to your device’s microphone, camera, etc., and you don’t know why, delete the app.

DeepMind secretly uploaded an AI onto the internet — and it’s been beating everyone at Go

DeepMind secretly uploaded an AI onto the internet — and it’s been beating everyone at Go

The creator of a mysterious artificial intelligence (AI) that has beaten some of the world’s best human players at the Chinese board game Go over the last few days has been revealed as Google DeepMind.

Demis Hassabis, the cofounder and CEO of Google DeepMind, tweeted a screenshot of a DeepMind update that stated: “We’ve been hard at work improving AlphaGo, and over the past few days we’ve played some unofficial online games at fast time controls with our new prototype version, to check that it’s working as well as we hoped.

“We thank everyone who played our accounts Magister (P) and Master (P) on the Tygem and FoxGo servers.”

Hassabis’s announcement came within hours of a Business Insider story reporting that people were keen to know who was behind the Master AI. 

“This whole thing is just really cool,” wrote Reddit user Open_Thinker. “I hope we learn who the author(s) are soon.”

The anonymous AI had beaten more than 50 top Go players and some Reddit users were speculating that it could be world Go champion Lee Sedol in disguise. But others were quick to point out that not even the best human Go players could perform as well as the Master AI was performing. “It seems highly unlikely that any known human player could amass that record,” wrote one Reddit user. 

Go is a complex game that has been notoriously difficult for computers to crack because of the sheer number of potential moves. It is a two-player turn-based strategy game where each player puts down either black or white stones in an attempt to outmaneuver and surround the other player. It’s easy to pick up but takes years to master.

Last year, DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI managed to defeat Sedol over a five game tournament. After the opening game, Demis Hassabis, the cofounder and CEO of DeepMind, said in a press statement: “What an incredibly exciting game. Lee Sedol is a formidable opponent, famed for his fighting style, and AlphaGo decided to go toe-to-toe with him, which made for a tense, close-fought game. We still have four games to go, so anything can still happen. Whatever the outcome, we feel this match is a testament to the power of human ingenuity.”

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