2021年1月25日 星期一

On Tech: Why your TV spies on you

Selling consumer electronics is hard, forcing companies to resort to shady tactics to make money.

Why your TV spies on you

Daniel Zender

We are working, learning, staying in touch and being entertained through screens. But the companies that make those devices don't have it easy. And that makes our virtual lives creepier and less fulfilling than they could be.

It's been true for years that for many companies, it's tough to make money from selling smartphones, personal computers, television sets, streaming TV boxes like Roku and video game consoles. It takes a lot of expertise and cash to efficiently make complex electronics, and it's a constant fight to beat competitors on price and catch shoppers' attention.

The dynamic creates two paths for the consumer electronics that many of us rely on. One is for gigantic companies to take over and crowd out everyone else. The other path is for companies to become money grubbing monsters. Either way, it's not great for us.

It was barely a blip for most of us, but last week the Korean electronics giant LG said it might stop making smartphones. LG was for a long time one of the top phone sellers in the world. Now it's not. LG made many mistakes, and rivals like Apple, Samsung and Huawei overtook it.

But it's also true that there's no room for relative minnows in many categories of consumer electronics. Not too long ago, there were still lots of companies making smartphones, PCs and some other categories of devices like fitness wearables. HTC gave up on smartphones. Sony mostly ditched PCs. Remember Jawbone? Dead. Fitbit is owned by Google now. These gadget categories and more only have room for whales.


Consolidation is natural when any product goes from the hot new thing to mainstream. I promise you that I'm not nostalgic for old smartphone companies. (Well, maybe I'm still misty-eyed for Palm.) But I know that we lose something when companies with fresh ideas in gadgets have little chance and don't bother to even try.

And my bigger worry is that the difficulties of making it in hardware are nudging gadget sellers do yucky things to us.

Popular brands of TV sets keep track of what we're watching and report it to companies that want to sell us new cars or credit cards. (Yeah, it's gross.) One reason they do it is that selling personal information is pure profit, whereas selling you a TV set is definitely not. Roku also makes its real money not from selling its gizmos that connect our TVs to streaming apps, but from its side gigs including its troves of information about what we watch that it uses to sell ads.

You can think of these consumer electronics companies as basically Facebook that happens to sell us the screens, too. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel less affectionate about my marathon sessions of "Cobra Kai."


Microsoft a few days ago announced — and then quickly backtracked on — a steep price increase for its Xbox online video game subscriptions. The price increase was a bone-headed move, but it also reflected the harsh reality: Selling Xbox video game consoles generates relatively slim profits for Microsoft. Add-ons like online subscriptions are more profitable.

I don't want to exaggerate what's happening. In some areas of consumer electronics, there are still plenty of new ideas flourishing. Don't shed any tears for Apple and its piles of cash. But mostly, hardware is hard. And that makes things tougher on us, too, at a time when we need our gadgets more than ever.

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Three must-have apps for every smartphone

Brian X. Chen, the personal technology columnist for The New York Times, tells us the essential apps to download now.


The most downloaded apps today include TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Netflix. Left off the most popular lists are a few staples that every smartphone needs. Here are my top three:

1. A password manager. The rule of thumb is that each password you use should be unique and complex. But it's impossible to do that and remember them all.

Password-management apps like 1Password and LastPass solve this problem. They let you store all your passwords in a digital vault that can be unlocked with one master password. In other words, you only need to memorize one password. The apps also include tools to automatically generate complex passwords for you.

2. An ad blocker. Many online ads are loaded with scripts that collect your personal information and suck up your phone battery; some even contain links to malware. Until the ad industry comes up with a better way, our best bet is using an ad blocking app like 1Blocker to prevent ads from loading in the web browser.

Some see ad blockers as problematic because they can drain revenue from websites. But many of the apps let people select their favorite sites and unblock those ads. (For Android users: Google doesn't allow ad blockers to be downloaded through its app store. To install the apps you will need to use a method known as sideloading.)

3. An encrypted messaging app. Our online conversations should be no one else's business. That makes encrypted messaging crucial.

Here's how it works: When you send a message, it becomes scrambled so that it is indecipherable to anyone but the intended recipient.

If anyone else, including a government agency, wants to see your messages, no one — including the app provider itself — can get access to the unscrambled messages. For years, my favorite encrypted messaging app has been Signal because of its excellent privacy safeguards.

Before we go …

  • The largest unionization effort at Amazon: Workers at a company warehouse in Alabama are scheduled to vote next month on whether to unionize. My colleagues Michael Corkery and Karen Weise detail what both Amazon and some of its employees want, and how this union campaign is connected to poultry processing plant workers.
  • Getting more children online fast: New York officials said it would be "impossible" to quickly install Wi-Fi in homeless shelters for students to participate in online classes. Some shelter operators have proved them wrong with imperfect but functional internet gear, The Times's Andy Newman writes.
  • Black, deaf and extremely online: On TikTok and other apps, young people are drawing attention to Black American Sign Language, a variation of ASL that scholars say has long been overlooked, writes my colleague Allyson Waller.

Hugs to this

Baby owls! In a bucket! Don't miss the little ones that need a nudge on the rump. (Thanks to my colleague Sandra E. Garcia for tweeting this.)

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2021年1月23日 星期六

Boundaries Are Our Friends!

Don't tell anyone your baby's name before birth.
A roundup of new guidance and stories from NYT Parenting.
Golden Cosmos

In my ongoing quest to stop bumming you out, I bring you two entertaining pieces about baby names — a topic that allows us all to bring some judgmental glee to even the gloomiest day. My personal advice to you: Don't tell anyone your kid's name until that child is born and the ink on the birth certificate is dry, otherwise you're going to get an earful from half the people you know. "You're naming your daughter Molly? There was a Molly I hated in high school!"


First, we have Jancee Dunn on the baby names that are trending during the pandemic. She talked to Pamela Redmond, chief executive of the website Nameberry, who told Jancee that parents want names with a positive spin:

Views of the name Zora, for example, which means "dawn" and suggests new beginnings, are up 40 percent, Redmond said; while Alma ("soul" in Spanish) is up 37 percent. Lucius, which connotes "light," is up 24 percent. Other risers include Vivienne (from the Latin root Vivus, meaning "alive" or "lively"), Aurora (Roman goddess of the sunrise), Felix ("happy"), Frida ("peaceful") and Zuri ("good" in Swahili).

Also this week, Paula Span has a piece about when grandparents want a say in naming their grandchildren. (A good companion article: How to deal with interfering grandparents, by Carla Bruce-Eddings. Boundaries are our friends!) Lindsay Patterson recommends podcasts that your little kids will love (and you will be able to tolerate). Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li report on a celebrity scandal involving a Chinese actress and surrogate pregnancy in America that is revealing complicated feelings about reproductive technology.

Our national desk has a wonderful series of articles about this unusual and challenging year for public school students: "13,000 School Districts, 13,000 Approaches to Teaching During Covid." It is worth your time to read about how very different districts from Providence, R.I., to Lubbock County, Texas, have handled the pandemic, and what we might learn from their successes and setbacks.

Finally, many parenting questions boil down to: Is this a thing, or is something wrong? We run an occasional series explaining why certain things seem to happen to your kid (or to your body or to your relationships) as your child grows. If you have a question for a future "Is this a thing?" email us.

Thanks for reading!

— Jessica Grose, columnist, NYT Parenting


Article Image

Nicolás Ortega

From 'Alma' to 'Zuri,' Parents Are Looking for Positive Baby Names

They're searching the heavens, and through family history, for strong monikers in a pandemic.

By Jancee Dunn

Article Image

Luke Wohlgemuth

Generation Grandparent

When Grandparents Want a Say in Naming Their Grandchildren

The expectant parents spend weeks deciding on their new baby's name. Then the grandparents weigh in.

By Paula Span

Article Image

Maddy Price

A Big List of Podcasts for Little Kids

To keep your little ones occupied, look no further than the world of podcasts. Here are a few ideas for kids ages 2 to 6.

By Lindsay Patterson

Article Image

Visual China Group, via Getty Images

A Chinese Celebrity Scandal Puts Surrogate Births on Trial

The state news media excoriated an actress accused of abandoning babies born in the United States. Others say China's limits on reproductive techniques at home are outdated.

By Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li

Article Image

Jenn Ackerman, Philip Keith, Christopher Lee and Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

13,000 School Districts, 13,000 Approaches to Teaching During Covid

To assess how public schools have navigated the pandemic and the impact on students, The Times examined seven representative districts. The answers were strikingly different.

By Kate Taylor


Tiny Victories

Parenting can be a grind. Let's celebrate the tiny victories.

My almost 11-year-old asked to set up a virtual sleepover with his three best friends — they had dinner over Zoom and then played video games together remotely while talking the whole time over FaceTime and staying up extra late. They were thrilled. — Jill Daino, New York City

If you want a chance to get your Tiny Victory published, find us on Instagram @NYTparenting and use the hashtag #tinyvictories; email us; or enter your Tiny Victory at the bottom of this page. Include your full name and location. Tiny Victories may be edited for clarity and style. Your name, location and comments may be published, but your contact information will not. By submitting to us, you agree that you have read, understand and accept the Reader Submission Terms in relation to all of the content and other information you send to us.

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