Top Tech News You Need to Know: Google, G.E., Intel and More

Happy Friday, good people! It’s been a hot week down here in Austin (they are calling it “summer in October,” so that’s fun) and we’re gearing up for the second weekend of ACL. Across the country this week, the Supreme Court got back to their seats and the Ebola virus put all eyes on Texas, and thermometers in the hands of airport workers. 

If you’ve missed out of some of the week’s top big data and tech news, then, you are most definitely not alone. Not to worry though. Below, we’ve rounded up the top four stories from the past five days to catch you up before you head out for the weekend. 

Google to Remind You to Pay Your Bills, All of Them

You already know that Google and Facebook have a massive amount of personal data on their users (of which the vast majority of us are). From what you say in emails to what you post on your feed, everything is being tracked, collected and ultimately sold to third-parties for ad placements. It’s why when you tell a coworker through email or a friend on Facebook that you’ll be out of office next week for a trip to Australia, you start receiving ads for discounted flight fares (thanks, already bought ‘em, guys). 

This week, though, Google gave a bit more insight into the exact type of info they collect through your emails, announcing a new service that will alert you to upcoming bill payments. That’s right, Google can now remind users when bills are due by spotting emailed bills in their Gmail accounts and automatically reading the important details, reports the Wall Street Journal.

This program is an extension of the Google Now personal assistant technology, which attempts to anticipate user needs and usefully respond before such information is demanded. In the big data industry, we simply call this predictive analysis. The New York Times does this, as well – or, at least hired a data scientist to build out algorithms that will. 

In other words, Google Now knows how much money you owe, to whom and for what services.

“The fact that Google is reading your bills via email may unnerve some users and worry privacy advocates,” wrote Alistair Barr for the Wall Street Journal. “This has happened in the past when Google rolls out new features like this—and the reaction was especially strong when the company first announced its method of mining Gmail for advertising.”

Intel Says We Need to Rethink Data Privacy

It isn’t every day that one of the largest technology corporations in the U.S. speaks up about data privacy and security. Yet, this week, following the release of an Intel data study, Malcolm Harkins, chief privacy and security officer at Intel, spoke up.

“[People are] afraid and concerned their data is going to be misused. They’re worried that they might have higher insurance rates because they didn’t get 10,000 steps on their Fitbit, or they’ll get an unfair price on a product they want.

There’s an inherent distrust brewing. If we don’t rethink our practices, it will hinder the opportunities that are in front of us.”

Indeed, Intel’s recent study shows some pretty staggering statistics, for instance that 65% of device owners aren’t sure who has access to their data or how it is used, and that 84% assume by default that data is collected without their knowledge and sold to third parties. 

“[People are] afraid and concerned their data is going to be misused.”

Despite the fear and the anger growing due to sketchy data collection and use practices, including those by the NSA, Facebook, OKCupid and more, the study also revealed that people are willing to share their data if it results in personal or global benefits.

“We have a lot of people – 45% – who are willing to share data if it will benefit society,” he says, “but it has to be anonymized.” 

The outcome of the study is simple: people want to help, but privacy comes first. Luckily, the FEC and multiple civil rights organizations agree. Now, let’s see if we can’t get an enforceable bill of data collection and use ethics in place as soon as possible. 

G.E. May be to the Internet of Things What Apple Was to Computers & Design

G.E.’s chief executive Jeff Immelt has made the Internet of Things (IoT) a professional priority for the past three years – and it’s about to seriously pay off. 

Using sensor-equipped G.E. machines, including 1.4 million pieces of medical equipment and 28,000 jet engines, G.E. now collects upward of 50 million pieces of data from 10 million sensors, off equipment worth $1 trillion, reports the New York Times. The revenue from G.E.’s new IoT business will reach $1.1 billion this year, and IoT has hardly even yet to take off publicly. In other words, that number is set to grow.

Of course, G.E. isn’t waiting around for everyone else to catch up (and neither did Apple). Beginning next year, the company will release its analytics platform that collects and analyze all of the data from these machines to other companies. So far, Cisco, Verizon, AT&T and more all plan on using it. 

Predix, G.E.’s internal IoT software platform, will even allow other companies to build off of it, creating their own customized software applications. “Part of that approach involves using G.E.’s own modeling software, which helps a customer understand ahead of time whether making the software is justified by anticipated cost savings,” wrote Quentin Hardy for the New York Times

Intelligent machines and real-time analytics are coming together for G.E. and the company predict that their software will save as much as $20 billion across industries. 

The world cannot go on managing in a large-scale fashion using old technology practices,” said Bill Ruh, vice president of G.E. software. “This enables people to put more intelligence in their machines, and do real-time control of their equipment.”

Welcome to the Internet of Things, people. G.E. has just made it a reality.  

Twitter Sues U.S. Government Over Data Surveillance and Disclosure Rules

Twitter is going all out in their fight for their users’ rights. The company remains the lone standing tech company battling the U.S. government to ease current restrictions on public disclosure for how often the company receives federal data requests on users. 

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance,” said Ben Lee, a vice president for legal matters at Twitter, in a company blog post.

As is, technology companies have been limited in their ability to alert users to data requests from the government, which has jeopardized the data rights and even terms of use of users on platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Google and more. 

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns.”

“Technology companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ sensitive information against overbroad government surveillance, and to be candid with their customers about how their information is being used and shared,” said Jameel Jaffer in an interview with the New York Times, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We hope that other technology companies will now follow Twitter’s lead.”

This past January, Google, Apple and Microsoft settled with the Department of Justice, to disclose how many data requests they have received from the government in groups of 1,000. Twitter did not participate in that settlement.