Safety tips to protect yourself from glitches

In the absence of proper monitoring of software safety, we want to take a moment to give you a few helpful suggestions including a few bits of advice on products you use at home and elsewhere.  First, a question:

Do you know how to regain control of a car that is racing out of control because its software has failed and has also caused the brakes to fail (including the emergency brakes)?

Likely not.  Here are some safety tips for your car, your home, and your everyday life here in the 21st Century.

Runaway Car

FACT:  Car software sometimes fails.  It operates your engine, your brakes, your doors, the windows . . . the list goes on.  One little thing can go wrong and then, BOOM!  It can race out of control and the human behind the wheel is now trapped and completely helpless because faulty software has taken over the vehicle.

What do you do?

  1. Put the car in neutral.
  2. Turn the engine off.

Try to steer the car to the side of the road and call 911.

Remember, when you’ve turned the car off it also shuts down your power steering and other features but quite frankly if your car is racing through one red light after another, it’s safer to turn the car off than let the car keep doing whatever the faulty software is telling it to do.

Cars turn themselves on in the garage (CO2 Poisoning…)

FACT:  Cars can (and have) turned themselves on while parked in the garage.  This has been reported as a “spontaneous” event (i.e., nobody knows why) but it can also happen because the car’s start button on the key was inadvertently pressed while in your pocket or got stepped on by a cat.  If it happens when you’re sleeping, you and your family are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, or worse.

What can you do?

  1. Install a carbon-monoxide alarm in your garage.
  2. Keep your car key in a place where nobody can accidently turn it on.

Electric Vehicle Car Battery Fires / Explosions

FACT:  Enormous (HUGE!!) batteries operate electric cars.  Tesla’s entire undercarriage, for example, is a battery.  That’s a big battery.  As we know, batteries can and do sometimes overheat and start fires.  Tesla keeps trying to fix this problem with software updates but unfortunately the spontaneous fires continue.

What do you do?

  1. Install a smoke / fire alarm in your garage.

Home Spies

FACT:  Your home’s baby monitor and security camera can be hijacked and your family’s private moments video-livestreamed on various websites.  Parents have reported that, while changing a baby’s diaper in their child’s bedroom, a strange man has spoken to them from their ever-watchful baby monitor.  Creepy doesn’t come close to how awful that must feel.

What can you do?

  1. For once and for all, listen to this:  PUT A COMPLEX PASSWORD on your WIFI and ALL your home devices including your security camera and baby monitor.

By the way, if you have a listening device that is voice activated (such as many TVs today or Amazon’s Alexa, etc.), you’ve already chosen to be spied upon so you’re pretty much SOL.

Spies in your pocket

FACT:  Using the “Hey Siri” on your iPhone or “Alexa” voice command on your Android phone or any of the devices that you imagine are being “helpful” by listening to your voice means that THEY’RE LISTENING TO YOUR CONVERSATIONS ALL THE TIME[i]

In fact, if the person standing next to you on the elevator or in the grocery store has this LISTEN ALL THE TIME feature turned on, YOUR conversations are being recorded whether you like it or not.  Companies that capture your conversations send these recordings to contractors to transcribe them.  These contractors have been listening to very private conversations, sex acts, violence, and general chit chat[ii].  The contractors then type it up and send it back to Apple or Amazon or Google so that they can “train” their software to listen even better[iii].

In case you’re wondering – enough information is provided so that people CAN be identified by the contractors typing up the conversation.   Here’s a link to the Belgian news exposé[iv] on the subject and you can hear some very private things thanks to a brave Belgian contractor who is now in very hot water with one of the largest corporations in the world.

What can you do?

  1. Turn the “Hey Siri” etc. feature off and just press a freakin’ button to activate Siri at a specific moment for a specific question.
  2. At dinner parties, ask who has this ridiculously invasive feature on their phones turned on and find out if there are Alexas and Echos and other listening devices in the home.  Ask to have them turned off or shoved into a closet far from the dinner table.  The only other option is for you to sit through the dinner conversation as though living in a Fascist State, knowing that your dinner conversation is being recorded and possibly sent to a corporation for their own purposes.
  3. If you imagine you don’t use the “Hey Siri” or “Alexa” voice command, please check your phone because you would be surprised to learn what the default settings are – just check for your own sake.

These companies are now claiming that they’ll put an “opt out” option that you can dig around for and to request that you not have your personal conversations shipped off for transcribing.  However, the recordings continue to happen and capture things you probably don’t want people other than your family and friends to hear.

There are very complex ways to turn off these voice-activated spying systems, including that of your 21st Century television set, but you’ll need to search for the way to do this on your own as each product is different.  Good luck.

Household Hacks

FACT:  Any device connected to your WIFI system at home can be hacked and controlled by someone else.  It’s estimated that hackers took over tens of thousands of household products (such as printers, refrigerators, security cameras, etc.) connected to the household WIFI and used their communication capabilities to take down vast swathes of the Internet back in October of 2018. 

Just for practice, I suppose.  What’s next?

What can you do?

  1. COMPLEX PASSWORDS, people!

How many times must experts beg you not to leave the product’s default password in place or not to use passwords like “abc123” or “password” as your password??  Really?????

  • Go and update passwords for your printer, your refrigerator, your computer, your TV, and all the other gadgets you have chosen to connect to your home WIFI.
  • Ask yourself whether everything in your home really needs to be accessible to the internet (via home WIFI…because once it’s on WIFI, it’s potentially open to the world). For example, do you really need WIFI-enabled Christmas tree lights?  Really?

As a friend told me, the best password is a password that looks like you smashed your face on the keyboard.  That might be a bit extreme, but you get the point.

Anything and everything you own that is connected to WIFI (the Internet) needs a very complex password but even then, hackers can find “back doors” to the electronic devices in your home so ask yourself how exposed you wish to be to these people.  The cheaper the WIFI-enabled product, the more likely it can be hacked.  Why?  Because it takes a lot of time and money to design and test high-grade products that apply the latest security techniques. 

Cheapo dollar-store products don’t receive a lot of time and attention on the security and safety front.

If you have WIFI-enabled Christmas tree lights or other low-cost WIFI-enabled trinkets, I’d take a good, hard think about whether they’re worth the hacking safety risk.  Up to you.

Deadly medical device software failures

FACT:  Software flaws are now the leading cause of medical device recalls. 

Pacemakers, artificial hearts, anesthesiology machines, insulin and chemotherapy pumps, and breathing machines (and many more devices) have been recalled due to software flaws. 

People have died because their medical devices failed when they needed them most. 

What can you do?

  1. Nothing.

At some of your most vulnerable moments in your life, you have no control except to hope for the best.  That is, until lawmakers step into the 21st Century and start to focus on doing the right thing by us.

Banking systems fail

FACT:  Bank systems can fail for weeks on end, blocking people from their money and making a right mess of things.

What can you do?

  1. Keep your money in two completely separate banks.
  2. Have two different types of credit cards (e.g., MasterCard and Visa …. but not two of the same if you only have two).
  3. Keep cash on hand and tucked away in small denominations. 

Don’t believe the baloney about the wonders of a cashless society.  When someone else’s computer systems can decide at all times whether you can access your own money, someone else is holding power – not you. 

Cash is still King.

Zero software safety laws

FACT:  Faulty software is the invisible killer of the 21st Century yet we have no software safety laws.   

What can you do?

  1. Don’t be hoodwinked by the notion that protecting people from dangerous software is too complex and difficult to do.  It’s not.  It just requires people to lay claim to their democratic right to expect lawmakers who are paid to protect the public to do just that.
  2. Don’t be numbed by the sense of “magic” that technology seems to offer.  It’s not magic.  Technology is built by people.  People tend to be self-interested and companies want money.  Fair enough.  But their profits should not so easily come at the cost of your family’s well-being and safety.  Protect your own self-interest by demanding that regulators regulate the safety risks of software.
  3. When reading a news report about the impossibility of applying improved safety techniques to the technological world we live in, pay attention to who is making that claim.  If it’s a manufacturing or tech company, think about their motivations for making that claim.  Read between the lines.
  4. And keep reading this book.  There are more helpful suggestions but I just needed to get this bit out of the way. 

[i] Your TV’s probably listening to you all the time, too.  Not mine, though.  It’s too old.

[ii] Hern, Alex,  “Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings”, The Guardian, July 26, 2019,  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/26/apple-contractors-regularly-hear-confidential-details-on-siri-recordings, accessed July 26, 2019

[iii] Hern, Alex, “Amazon staff listen to customers’ Alexa recordings, report says”, The Guardian, April 11, 2019,   https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/apr/11/amazon-staff-listen-to-customers-alexa-recordings-report-says, accessed August 12, 2019

[iv] Van Hee, Lente and Van Den Heuvel, Lente and Van Den Heuvel, Ruben and Verheyden, Tim, and Baert, Denny, “Google employees are eavesdropping, even in your living room, VRT NWS has discovered”, VRT News, July 10, 2019,   https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/en/2019/07/10/google-employees-are-eavesdropping-even-in-flemish-living-rooms/, accessed August 11, 2019

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