The robots are taking over. Brace(let) yourself


February 18, 2020

Our war against the machines has begun, folks. But humanity’s hope for salvation doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it looks more like… an oversized bracelet. That’s right: There’s a new “bracelet of silence” that’s designed to save you from the robot overlords… or at least mess with Alexa. Today:

  • Humankind’s war against robots is getting real
  • America’s pro soccer league got a raw deal
  • In the age of esports, chess still has appeal
Fashion’s New Frontier

Hey Alexa, quit eavesdropping — tech to protect you from tech is on the rise

Do you want your smart speaker to stop snooping? Try on the “bracelet of silence.”

The funky-looking gadget was designed by computer-science professors to jam the Amazon Echo and keep any nearby microphones from listening in on your conversations.

The researchers say they could manufacture the device for just 20 bucks. That’d give us a thrifty (but oh-so-chic) way to tell Bezos to butt out.

The bracelet is more than a cyberpunk fashion statement

It’s part of a growing economy of gizmos and apps that are meant to protect us from the rise of the machines. 

With smart speaker sales booming and facial recognition tech taking off, privacy armor might be the next big trend on the runway.

  • A project called CV Dazzle uses avant-garde hair and makeup styling techniques to fool facial recognition algorithms.
  • An eyewear company is selling frames and lenses called Reflectacles. They reflect infrared light to obscure the wearer’s face on security cameras.
  • An artist once created a line of metallic hoodies that mask body heat to thwart the thermal cameras of overhead drones.

This new wave of anti-tech highlights a weird phenomenon: Companies have been slow to patch the problematic parts of our smart infrastructure. So entrepreneurial types are selling products to mitigate the downsides of connected tech.

It’s a whole new market for privacy apps

Services like Disconnect.Me and Jumbo work like digital cloaks — to shield your devices, not your face. 

They’re designed to help you manage privacy settings and put more layers between your personal info and the snoopers who might be after it.

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Soccer suckers

Soccer is becoming more popular in the US — but MLS broadcasting deals haven’t kept up

MLS has come a long way: 15 years ago, the league had 12 teams, and 1 ownership group paid just $7.5m for the right to start a new franchise.

Today, there are 26 teams in the league, and one billionaire paid a $325m fee to launch a new team. 

So, the increasing number and price of these teams must mean they are turning huge profits, right? Not exactly.

The majority of MLS teams lose money

Pro soccer is gaining in popularity among US viewers (soccer is the 2nd most popular spectator sport among Americans 18-34 after US football), but the MLS has struggled to negotiate lucrative broadcast contracts.

But despite booming popularity, the broadcasting biz is backwards

Last season, average per-game attendance in MLS was 21.3k, while average attendance at NBA games was just 17.9k.

But the MLS broadcast deal with ESPN, Fox, and Univision (which doesn’t expire until 2022) brings in just $90m annually, while the NBA’s broadcast deal (which extends through 2025) guarantees the league $2.6B in annual revenue.

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Board Battles

Chess pawn stars could be the next kings and queens of esports

The grandmasters are going online. And they’re making old-school chess look like checkers.

NBC News reports that a new breed of chess champions is using Twitch, the livestreaming platform, to reach big audiences — and maybe even make money.

If only Bobby Fischer could see them now

Compared to video games, the audience for streaming chess games is small — but growing fast.

  • Time spent watching chess has shot up 500+% since 2016, according to Twitch data.
  • In 2017, Twitch teamed up with Chess.com — which has around 33m members — to promote chess streaming.
  • A company called Chessbrah has 6 full-time programmers for its Twitch and YouTube channels.
  • Alexandra Botez is one of the most well-known streamers — she has 60k+ Twitch followers.

Botez is famous for pioneering a power move called the Botez Gambit — screwing up and accidentally losing your queen. (Look, ma, we’re just like the pros!)

But checkmate ≠ checks, mate

Making money off the game can be difficult — even for the most decorated knights of the chess board. 

In some years, a world championship hasn’t been held because there isn’t enough sponsorship money.

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The Hustle Says

On average, Americans read 12 books a year. Our Media Strategist is going for 50. This week, she recommends The Correspondence by J.D. Daniels. Jiu Jitsu, janitorial work and morning beer. 

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Dr. Google

Google Health is growing — despite privacy concerns and a federal inquiry

Google has moved 500+ employees under the banner of its booming health business, according to CNBC.

The search giant’s health biz dates back more than a decade, but its 1st “Google Health” product was terminated back in 2012. 

These days, the health unit is working on improving the search results that consumers see when they consult Dr. Google, and making it easier for real docs to search medical records.

One of those efforts got Google into hot water

A couple years back, Google quietly teamed up with Ascension, the 2ndlargest health system in the US, to start Project Nightingale. The partnership gave Google access to Acension’s trove of medical records. 

Google says they’re organizing these records into a database for doctors and nurses. The data will feed algorithms designed to identify lung cancer, eye disease, and kidney injuries.

The feds are currently investigating whether Google and Ascension are protecting patient data sufficiently.

Google’s not the only company keeping an eye on your health

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are also in the space. David Feinberg, the head of Google Health, says they’re in it for the greater good, not for profit (the health division isn’t connected to Google’s ad business).

Although he gets why people have privacy concerns, he’s asking the public to just trust Google. 

Here’s why that might be a hard sell

Google’s efforts raise a few red flags: The company hasn’t always been clear about exactly what it’s going to do with all this data, and in some cases, the info is personally identifiable. Feinberg has expressed reluctance to let patients opt out in some cases, too.

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Snippets

🌍 Jeff Bezos said he’s committing $10B to fight climate change through a new effort called the Bezos Earth Fund.

🛋 Another sign of trouble in retail land: Pier 1 has filed for bankruptcy protection.

💻 A first-of-its-kind prosecution: The owner of a small web-services company was charged with wire fraud after buying 800k IP addresses.

🗺 Google Maps redraws the lines around controversial global territories depending on where you’re viewing them from.

🚦 Uber and Lyft promised to ease congestion in traffic-choked cities. But multiple studies say they just make it worse.

🧷 It’s every parent’s dream: the connected diaper.

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