Broadband gets $7B in funding; beware of your smart speakers; and more

📡 1 important thing: the need to expand broadband

Lack of broadband access across a large portion of the U.S. has been an issue for millions of Americans for years. The pandemic has made the divide between those who have access to broadband and those who don’t even greater, as many services have moved online and as a larger portion of Americans have begun working and attending school from home.

Due to a lack of internet access, some families are having to park their cars in the parking lots of fast food restaurants and cafes in order to access wifi so their kids can attend to their classwork.

With the growing broadband divide in this nation, it is good to see that the recent Covid-19 stimulus bill includes $7 billion in funding for the expansion of broadband internet access.

“Broadband connections are essential for Americans seeking to get new jobs, and to access school, health care and other government services,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a statement in late December. “Ensuring working families can stay online will pay massive dividends for kids’ education, helping people find jobs and jump starting the economic recovery next year.”

Why this matters

  • Million of Americans, especially those who live in rural areas, don’t have access to high-speed internet even if they can afford it. With limited options for obtaining internet service, these families are left out of the many benefits of going online, from applying for jobs to ordering groceries during a pandemic. And with students forced to attend school remotely while their parents work from home, a lack of broadband can be crippling. Funding is much needed and will help close the broadband access gap.

👂 Beware of your smart speakers

One in five households already has a smart speaker, according to Vox, and that number is expected to grow. Smart speakers are appealing because they make it easy to get quick answers to common questions, such as the weather for the day, upcoming calendar events, and recipes.

Smart speakers are nothing more than speakers with microphones that gather data from your voice and send that data back to servers owned or used by the company that manufactures the smart speaker.

Take Amazon’s Echo, for example. Vox notes that the device itself doesn’t actually provide the assistance you’re looking for, but simply sends that data back to Amazon, which in turn sends the response back to your Echo device.

“What seems like a genius digital helper is really just a direct line to Amazon,” notes Vox in a video about smart speakers and privacy. “And while I soon forget my question, Amazon remembers it.”

The collection of data is the most common privacy issue with smart speakers, yet most owners of these devices aren’t aware of how their data is being collected, used, and saved.

Almost half of smart speaker owners incorrectly believe their data is saved only temporarily or not at all, according to Vox, which also notes that 47 percent of smart speaker owners view their data collection as unacceptable.

Additionally, voice recordings received by the smart speakers are often used for ad-targeting, meaning either the audio recorded from the smart speaker or a text read-out of that audio may be used to determine which ads users see as they browse the web.

What smart speaker owners can do

For those looking for a more privacy focused smart speaker, Apple’s HomePod and HomePod mini rank the highest. Both add encryption, anonymous IDs, and random identifiers to your requests.

As smart speakers become more common in our households, it’s important that we are aware of how our data is used and to know how data collection can be minimized. Consumers Reports offers step-by-step guides to adjusting privacy settings to reduce the amount of data that’s collected.

Need to know

  • 🐦 Trump’s Twitter account locked following violations of the social platform’s Civic Integrity policy. (The Verge)

  • ⛔️ Facebook locks Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts at least until the inauguration. (TechCrunch)

  • 🤑 Elon Musk now the world’s richest person. (NY Times)

  • 💻 Websites selling Trump merchandise are shut down. (NY Times)

  • 💉 Covid vaccine misinformation still spreading on social media. (The Guardian)