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!Important: When an App is a Literal Lifesaver – ReadWrite

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Brad Anderson


As pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and the differently-abled know, sharing the road has inherent risks. Distracted drivers, car doors that suddenly swing open, vehicles making abrupt lane changes, and now automobiles and trucks with no drivers at all.; they all put us at risk. It doesn’t matter how vigilant a person is, every time you head out onto the streets, you’re putting your life in the hands of people and technology over which you have no control.

But now, entrepreneur and inventor, Bastien Beauchamp, has set out on a mission to change this paradigm and potentially save a million lives over the next decade. His new app, !important, is the first of its kind and could be a revolution in on-road safety if he achieves his objective of having the technology integrated into a significant number of vehicles.

A Game Changer for Pedestrian, Bicyclist and Motor-Cycle Safety

The app’s premise is smart but simple; notify drivers and autonomous vehicles that you’re in the vicinity. The !important app communicates the user’s location to nearby connected vehicles. The technology alerts drivers to your presence and can even trigger vehicles’ brakes automatically to prevent a collision with an approaching person, bicyclist, or motorcyclist.

“Until now,” says Bastien, the founder and CEO of !important, “aside from being vigilant, or using high-visibility clothing or accessories, there has been little non-vehicular travelers could do to protect themselves on the road. My app is a bit like a digital safety-belt. !important provides drivers with an early-warning system, alerting both human operators as well as AI-controlled vehicles to the presence and precise location of hard to see and less predictable travelers.”

Today, whether you’re a driver interested in reducing the risk that you’ll be involved in a collision, or a pedestrian, cyclist, or motor-cycle enthusiast who believes in taking proactive steps to remain safe, !important’s new application can be a game-changer.

Future Plans

In addition to announcing its free app release on both the App and Google Play stores, the company is taking its first steps towards integration into our transportation system.

The company announced a pilot program starting in 2021; the technology will be implemented in vehicles on the roads of Reno, Nevada (USA) as part of the Intelligent Mobility (IM) initiative in collaboration with the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR) at the University of Nevada in Reno.

The Director of NCAR, Carlos G. Cardillo, remarked that “The !important app will increase the safety of vulnerable road users and the acceptance of autonomous vehicle infrastructure by minimizing potential dangers.”

!important is also working with several automotive and truck manufacturers to integrate their technology into vehicles that have semi or fully-autonomous systems. Integrating !important’s technology into cars will allow vehicles to receive input directly from the app, alert them to pedestrians and other travelers, and where necessary, automatically applying the vehicle’s brakes when the systems sense a potential collision.

Tara Andringa, Executive Director of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), summed it up well: “… a key issue is how we will ensure pedestrian safety in an automated vehicle (AV) world. !important is tackling this problem of pedestrian safety, and their mobile app seeks to enhance road safety by improving communication between pedestrians and other road users.”

When asked what inspired the idea for this life-protecting product, CEO Bastian Beauchamp says, “When I heard about the fatal accident where the autonomous Uber vehicle hit a bicyclist, it woke me up. I kept thinking about the victim’s friends and family. Then I realized that there were hundreds of thousands of self-driving vehicles on the road within a few years. I thought that someone should do something, and then I decided that someone should be me.”

The !important app is free for download from the Google Play Store and the App Store or directly from !important

 

About:

!important was nominated by Alibaba Jumpstarter 2020 in the Top 30 Startups of Silicon Valley. !important is a company backed by groups of medical doctors and is part of the University of California Berkeley Skydeck and Ann Arbor SPARK accelerator programs. It collaborates with 12 universities.

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.

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How Blockchain Is Being Used With Smart Buildings – ReadWrite

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Saul Bowden


Whether you realize it or not, many of us live in buildings with some smart capacity. You probably have at least one smart device in your home.

With the smart device industry set to grow by $65 billion by 2024, the odds are, you’ll add more of these devices. The true potential of smart homes lies in the ability of smart devices to communicate together — and that’s where blockchain technology comes in.

How Blockchain is Being Used With Smart Buildings

On the surface, smart technologies make individual tasks easier, but the potential is much larger than that. A smart device is effectively a sensor able to collect significant amounts of data about everything, from your energy use to how well-stocked your fridge is.

Smart Technology Works Better in Swarms

On its own, this data is valuable; when combined with data from other devices, its usability becomes game-changing. A properly connected smart home would be able to automatically adjust the heating to your preferences while minimizing bills, ordering your favorite groceries, monitoring and adjusting energy usage, sending repair notifications if something breaks, and much more.

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are already used extensively in supply chain management. They help efficiently manage products passed through multiple stakeholders and verify that products are what the label says they are.

Catching Slave Labor in Fishing Supply Chains

One example where smart technology has been useful is in tracking fishing supply chains. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has used IoT to track sustainable tuna fishing.

The Western and Central Pacific tuna trade is rife with illegal fisheries — and, in some cases, slave labor — because tracking is either done via an easily-forged paper trail or not at all. However, savvy consumers and brands are demanding more accountability from the tuna industry.

The WWF’s branches in New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji have combined forces with blockchain software studio ConsenSys to implement secure traceability and track to address the problem.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) or QR codes capture information as a fish moves through the supply chain from the boat to grocers. Tracking information is automatically saved in blockchain, making it nearly impossible to forge.

Privacy and Compatibility Remain a Concern

Although smart technology has many uses in enterprise settings, it becomes a thornier prospect for individuals. IoT devices collect huge amounts of data which can reveal a lot about their owners. Additionally, they are often poorly secured, creating significant security challenges.

Most smart devices must run on centralized platforms controlled by major tech companies, notably Amazon and Google.

There have been significant privacy concerns about both companies due to their access to an extraordinary amount of personal data.

Amazon Alexa’s Vulnerabilities

Setting aside concerns about microphones, Amazon’s voice-activated assistant Alexa also presents other significant security concerns.

Although Amazon provides some privacy protections, with 100 – 200 million Alexa devices and over 100,000 skills already deployed, there is a significant concern about malicious developers taking advantage of security holes.

For example, developer names aren’t verified, allowing a malicious developer to stage a phishing attack posing as a different company. This risk is especially high with some skills that link to email, banking, or social media accounts.

After a skill has been approved and added to the marketplace, a malicious developer can change its coding without getting Amazon’s approval or notifying the customer. Many developers also have misleading privacy policies — or none at all, meaning that customers will have no idea how their personally identifiable information will be used.

Lack of Device Compatibility

The second challenge is compatibility. Early adopters are painfully familiar with the concept of device divorce, where two smart devices cannot speak with another. Part of the problem is that Amazon and Google are used as primary smart home controllers, and there isn’t a platform-agnostic solution widely available to most consumers.

Blockchain Technology is the Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Blockchain technologies are working to provide the solution to these challenges and others since they can enable P2P connections without the need for a centralized validator.

With blockchain, it would be possible to connect numerous smart devices without being forced to hand that data directly over to the device manufacturer, mitigating privacy and security concerns. It can also provide increased transparency over how data is used, helping users understand what data their smart home is collecting and what it’s used for.

Blockchain technology is also hardware agnostic. Thus, it would be possible for users to pair together devices from different manufacturers without worrying about compatibility.

IOTA’s Tangle vs. Traditional Blockchain

One of the best examples of this vision is the IoT-focused blockchain IOTA.

It is important to understand that we are not talking about financial blockchain technology like Bitcoin. Blockchains based on traditional Proof of Work (PoW), like Bitcoin, lack the speed and scalability necessary to process the millions of data points produced by smart devices.

Instead, we are looking at smart device-focused technologies, most notably IOTA. IOTA uses a Tangle specifically designed for data and value transfer.

Blockchains like Bitcoin are essentially long chains of blocks containing transactions. The Tangle, on the other hand, is constructed as a directed acyclic graph (DAG), which is a collection of vertices connected by edges.

Eliminating Validators

IOTA’s implementation is designed in such a way that each new transaction (vertice) must approve two previous transactions when it enters the Tangle. This eliminates the need for Proof of Stake (PoS) or PoW consensus methods.

Because these transactions don’t require always-online validators, they are feeless and contain metadata that makes them suitable for micropayments and data transfer.

IOTA’s Partnerships

IOTA is interesting because the technology is more mature than many other IoT-focused blockchain solutions. The project has experienced past problems, but the roll-out of its improved Tangle has allowed it to secure some important partnerships, primarily in areas designed to improve transparency.

Properly Validating Smart Device Data Is The First Step

IOTA’s most important partnership for smart homes is undoubtedly Project Alvarium. The biggest challenge posed by IoT — and smart devices in general — is the sheer volume of data collected. The vastness of information makes assessing what data is trustworthy and useful difficult, especially in an automated environment.

To solve this problem, Dell and IOTA teamed up to create Project Alvarium, designed to provide a simple way to assess the trustworthiness of data gathered.

Project Alvarium’s system logs every datapoint as it travels across the system. Each interaction is given a trust rating, which is logged on the IOTA Tangle to prevent tampering. This provides a simple way to find problems or deliberate tampering within a network of data.

Blockchain Can Help Resolve Security Concerns About Smart Security

When smart home users are certain that they can trust the data being generated by their devices, it opens up a world of opportunities that could transform our daily lives.

The most immediate use of blockchain technology is in improving building security. The most high-profile problem is undoubtedly Amazon’s Ring. In late 2020, dozens of people sued Amazon over accusations that their Ring doorbells had been breached.

The breach enabled hackers to watch people inside their homes and talk to individuals in the house over the Ring speakers.

Additionally, the product’s privacy policy is porous and allows Amazon to share video and microphone data with numerous third parties, removing any expectation of privacy.

The Blockchain Difference

Blockchain has been shown to resolve both the problem of data breaches as well as hacking takeovers. Capturing a blockchain-powered device would require compromising the entire blockchain itself compromised.

But proper validation, such as that proposed by IOTA, allows malicious devices to be pruned from the network, significantly improving security.

Additionally, blockchain could enable consumers to understand how their data is being used, helping to make smart devices more privacy-focused.

Smart Building Management Solutions are Already Being Tested

The value of blockchain technology becomes even bigger at scale. One of the most impactful uses of IoT and blockchain technology is in building management. Whether for an apartment building or an office building, it’s often difficult to effectively manage a building’s heating, lighting, and security in a way that minimizes waste.

Example: How Blockchain Could Manage Heating Bills

In a traditional setting, most buildings are managed centrally. If there is a unified heating system, it is often controlled by the local administration. Although this system is more efficient than individually-heated buildings, there is significant room for human error. That’s because the system is not optimized to account for more efficient heating higher up in the building as heat rises.

A network of heating sensors could be used to automatically measure the temperature in each apartment or office in a building. If the different thermostats could communicate with each other, it should be possible to input all the data into a blockchain solution.

A scheme like this would allow the building operators to create a proper heat map of the building and understand the most efficient usage of energy. It would also enable residents to access the data and understand why the system works the way it does.

Theoretically, it could also enable a user to select a target temperature for their apartment by leveraging rising heat from lower apartments.

Solutions on the Horizon

This kind of project is already being tested. For example, Brickschain offers several products that minimize difficulties with building management and handover on sale. There are also an increasing number of studies looking at how blockchain can be positively implemented into the building management process.

The Future of IoT: Many-to-Many Marketplaces

When buildings are utilizing IoT devices and blockchains, a bigger opportunity opens up: decentralized marketplaces.

Currently, it can be difficult to get the best deal on energy or heating bills because it is a marketplace with many customers but only a few providers. Switching providers can be difficult and doesn’t guarantee a competitive rate.

However, with blockchain, it would be possible to change providers based on real-time pricing data. This setup would create a competitive many-to-many environment where many providers are looking to sell energy to many customers. The competition among providers would drive down energy prices and improve overall efficiency in energy markets.

Swedish District Heating Study

Sweden has conducted studies to investigate the utility of blockchain for a district heating market. The setup allows apartment blocks already utilizing blockchain to automatically select the most affordable provider at any given moment, minimizing bills without requiring micromanagement.

The same concept could be applied to many aspects of building management.

Decentralized Governance

One interesting idea is the concept of decentralized governance. This type of network could empower tenants and apartment owners to vote on changes to their apartment block’s management proceedings.

For example, renters could vote in favor of using only green energy sources or for changes to living space regulations. Building administrators could then better understand their occupants’ needs and create a better living environment for all involved.

Blockchain Will be Needed to do IoT Correctly

Adoption of IoT and smart technologies will likely increase. Governments like the UK are already pushing hard on smart meters and many of us have already adopted some form of smart technology in our homes.

This rush to adopt new technology will undoubtedly come with significant scaling problems as well as security concerns and significant privacy issues.

Additionally, a market dominated by a handful of major tech companies like Amazon and Google could prove damaging to the consumer in the long term.

To counter these eventualities, we’ll need a platform-agnostic solution that allows a more diverse field of producers to create new IoT devices.

Blockchain technology still represents the best way to utilize IoT for everyone’s benefit. If solutions like IOTA are implemented into existing smart homes, then we could build a new decentralized marketplace that will give us better control of our data, while improving the efficiency of our homes.

Image Credit: pixabay; thank you!

Saul Bowden

Saul writes about tech & business, he’s covered everything from cryptocurrency to the oil & gas industry. He spends time working with start-ups and writes for commodity.com.

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Social Sign-on: Sure, it’s convenient. But is it really safe? – ReadWrite

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social sign on's


Remembering passwords is always a hassle, especially when you have innumerable websites that require logging in to view or interact with their content. To make the process simpler (as little as a couple of clicks), webmasters worldwide have accepted and implemented social logins on their websites.

Social Sign-on: Sure, it’s convenient. But is it really safe?

So, what exactly is social login? How different is it compared to the traditional method of inputting your credentials such as username, email address and password manually? More importantly, is it safe enough for use on all kinds of browsing activities?

Disadvantages of Social Sign-On

In this article, we answer all the above questions and more, helping you understand what social sign-on is, and what the disadvantages of this convenient method are.

The history of social logins

Social sign-on as a method of hassle-free authentication has been around for over a decade now. Back in the nascent days of the modern internet in 2008, Facebook launched Facebook Connect, a service aimed at simplifying registrations on websites.

Once webmasters enabled FB Connect on their websites, visitors to the site would no longer need to fill up lengthy registration forms to sign up for the website’s offerings.

All they needed to do was connect their existing Facebook account to the website, enabling direct access to the site with a click of a button.

In 2009 and 2010, Twitter and LinkedIn respectively enabled their users to socially login to other sites using their existing social network credentials.

Google+ followed suit in 2011, and although no longer active as Google+, it still supports social sign-on using a Google account.

While it all sounds very convenient, social sign-on has many drawbacks and challenges that impact both website visitors and website owners.

Social Sign-on: The challenges and disadvantages

The Trust Factor

Most internet users do not trust the websites they browse to store and utilize their personal information safely and responsibly. Often, website visitors are concerned about how the information they have shared will be used.

In a June 2020 survey conducted by Insider Intelligence, 32% of US Facebook users felt that they somewhat disagreed that the platform could keep their data and privacy secure.

Not everyone has the time or patience to read the data handling and privacy policy put forth by a website, so they simply choose to be cynical of the data they share on such sites.

Data Accuracy

People tend to be wary of the private information they share online; they often resort to uploading falsified or inaccurate information about themselves on social media.

Considering that these social media sites do not verify or vouch for the authenticity of their user’s information, this could be less than ideal for a website looking for accurate data while accepting new user registrations.

In 2019, Facebook released data that said that 16% of the accounts on its platform are fake/duplicate accounts created by individuals or companies. What’s more worrisome are the findings of the research team at NATO StratCom that suggest 95% of the reported fake accounts still continued to remain active, with no action taken by the social media website.

With no checks on the actual profile that’s being used to socially sign-on to your website, you could soon have an imposter, Donald Trump or Joe Biden signing up for your global warming newsletter or purchasing a bag of your freshly powdered Mexican coffee.

Not everyone’s social — nor on social

While we talk about social media, we need to understand that although it is a global phenomenon with an insanely large number (read 3.6 billion) of people using it, there is still a sizeable chunk (>50%) of the population that is not on social media.

Using a restrictive method, you risk alienating a section of society that could be your potential target audience.

Transfer of Power

Enabling social sign-on seems pretty enticing at first, considering it would cut down your authentication work significantly. But this very ‘benefit’ could end up costing you dearly, as you lose control over your visitors’ data to a third-party service provider, i.e., the social media network.

Should there be any downtime at the social media service’s end, your website visitors would be stranded, unable to login to your site or access their data?

Access Control Issues

Many internet access places tend to have controls in place when it comes to accessing social media. For example, corporate and educational networks generally block access to social websites. Certain countries like Iran, China, Syria, and North Korea have blanket bans on the most popular social websites.

Social sign-on still depends on an API call-back to the social networking site to authenticate the user. Thus, by having social sign-on set up on your website, visitors authenticating on your site through these networks would end up facing a website with broken functionality.

Security concerns

Social media accounts are often the target of several hacking and phishing attempts. Thus, if your user’s social media account is hacked, it could lead to their account on your site being compromised as a result.

A University of Maryland study revealed a hacking attempt every 39 seconds on average, affecting a third of Americans every year.

Hacked social accounts could have an adverse impact on your website as well, by performing activities that might eat up your server resources or corrupt your files, if your security is not up to the mark. Secure authentication is the need of the hour, and knowledge of the security practices will help solve these concerns.

Too much to choose

People use many social media websites, so keeping a single social login can be counterproductive. However, providing multiple methods to login could likely confuse or overwhelm your visitor, leading to lower conversion or sign-up rates.

Lesser data to work with

Using a social sign-on for your website would mean limited access to user data, especially email. Not every social media network allows websites to access the customer’s email address. For businesses that rely on customer information for lead generation, this would be a major deal-breaker.

Awareness of all the security practices and malpractices (sawolabs dotcom) will help educate users as well as the website owners.

If not social sign-on, then what?

All the above drawbacks would make webmasters question the efficacy of social sign-on. But then, is there a better alternative that does not include such shortcomings?

Say hello to passwordless authentication powered by SAWO Labs. A new-age solution designed to address all concerns of security, compatibility and functionality.

Image Credit: yellow graphic — from author; thank you!

 Top Image Credit: karolina grabowska; pexels; thank you!

Akshay Shetye

Akshay Shetye

“SAWO – Secure Authentication Without OTP – is a B2B2C service-based company whose API Integration enables one-tap authentication on your app (Android, iOS) and web to provide a passwordless and OTP-less authentication experience. We are a secure, sustainable, and cost-effective solution to making a business passwordless and OTP-less.”

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3 Ways Companies Can Be More Sustainable – ReadWrite

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Eric Lander


I’m thinking about our planet today — I think about our planet every day. Our planet is hurting, and many businesses are encouraging their employees to live more sustainably. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry and agriculture account for approximately 32 percent of direct emissions.

3 Ways Companies Can Be More Sustainable

Here are a few ways companies can encourage sustainability in their employees and work to lower the remaining 68 percent.

Employ a hybrid work model

With so many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve inadvertently been doing Earth a huge favor. The EPA shows that transportation is responsible for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with about half of that coming from personal vehicles that burn gasoline and diesel. Because many companies instituted a work from home policy, there were fewer cars on the road and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Companies can continue this progress by instituting a hybrid work model once the pandemic is finally over.

Reduce waste in the office

One big way to reduce waste in the office is by offering snack and drink options that eliminate single-use plastic. For example, TechnologyAdvice uses a Bevi machine in the office, offering still, sparkling, and flavored water without single-use plastic. You might also consider snacks that don’t need to be individually packaged, like fruits or nuts.

While you may not be able to completely eliminate office waste, you can work to offset the waste you do generate. Make it easy for employees to recycle and encourage them to do so. You can create an employee-led recycling program, keep an “I don’t know” bin for those items that don’t always fall into the normal categories, and create challenges around recycling goals.

Continual education about climate change

However you decide to encourage sustainability in your office, it’s important that both you and your employees engage in continual education about climate change. Thanks to the different forms of media available today, educating yourself about climate change has never been easier.

For podcast listeners, consider checking out How To Save A Planet. It’s a Spotify original podcast hosted by scientist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and journalist Alex Blumberg, and it is the exact opposite of what people think when they hear “climate change resource:” it’s inspiring instead of depressing, entertaining, so accessible, and has great intro music.

Another Earth-friendly podcast you should listen to is Stories for Earth, which examines how climate change is discussed in pop culture.

If you like documentaries, check out Before the Flood, which was made by Leonardo Di Caprio and National Geographic. If you are a reader, consider these three: No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg, All We Can Save edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine Hayhoe, and The Future Earth by Eric Holthaus.

Image Credit: karolina grabowska; pexels; thank you!

Eric Lander

Content Writer

Eric Lander serves as the Director of Audience Development for TechnologyAdvice, a full-service B2B media company that engages technology buyers through websites, email newsletters, and phone conversations. Lander, a father of children with speech and language impairments, currently resides in Topsail, North Carolina.

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