Three reasons to use Chatterbox instead of Alexa

Chatterbox is a build-it-yourself, program-it-yourself smart speaker for kids. But let me tell you a secret: It's not just for kids.

(Full disclosure: My son, Kevin, is the innovator behind Chatterbox.)

Gadget fans, makers and nerds of all kinds are discovering Chatterbox and signing up on the Chatterbox Kickstarter to get an early unit not because they've got kids and not because they're educators, but because they want to build and program their own Chatterbox.

There are many reasons why a grownup might want Chatterbox, but three major ones:

1. Privacy

We've learned recently that Alexa listens all the time; the audio from your home is constantly streamed into the cloud and presumably recorded. Then thousands of Amazon employees actually listen to various recordings. Amazon's privacy policy does not limit what the company can do with recordings from your home. And Amazon is not forthcoming about what it does with those recordings. Also: Amazon knows your name, address and reading preferences and tracks you all over the internet.

Chatterbox doesn't ever listen until you press the big yellow button. And Chatterbox never gathers personal information. With Chatterbox, Privacy is total.

2. Customization

Smart speaker assistants like Alexa have features out of the box, plus thousands of skills you can add. But they still frustrate users with what they cannot do. The Verge news editor Chaim Gartenberg detailed his own frustration this week with the fact none of the major assistants -- Alexa, Assistant and Siri -- can turn off a light with a timer. They can set a timer. They can turn off lights. But you can't tell them: "turn off the lights in 30 minutes."

Chatterbox is a program-it-yourself smart speaker. So, of course, it's easy to teach Chatterbox to turn off the lights with a timer. Here's exactly how you do that with Chatterbox.

You can teach Chatterbox to do just about anything.

3. Fun

Smart speakers are convenient. But they're also consumer tools. Their purpose is to make it easy for you to buy things, and to feed more personal data into the "surveillance capitalism" machine.

That's boring.

Chatterbox is for creativity. It's a tool for making and exploring and challenging oneself to think up creative new ways to interact with the internet and with smart home gadgets.

And that's fun.

Yes, Chatterbox is for kids. Like you and me.

Who’s slowing down fast 5G?


Pop the champagne! The 5G revolution is here!

This new generation of cellular networking technologies promises to usher in a world of better-than-gigabit downloads on mobile devices and enable next-generation autonomous vehicles, remote telemedicine and high-speed IoT devices.

On second thought, better hold off on the champagne.

While it appears that 5G is here, in fact it’s got a long way to go before approaching the status of ubiquitous or mainstream. And powerful forces are gathering against the deployment of 5G equipment. Here’s what you need to know about exactly who is slowing down 5G.

I get nervous when Google starts awkwardly monetizing things

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Google cancels major services like it’s a bodily function. The worst-case scenario for cancellation is Google Photos. I personally have what must be 350 petabytes of photos and videos. If Google cancels Photos, I have no place to put all those pictures and, in any event, it would take 300 years to download them.

Should I not be freaking out over Google’s addition of a fifth tab to Google photos, which seeks to monetize Photos? (I fear they’re losing massive amounts of money over storing all those photos uploaded by people like me — an incentive to cancel Photos.)

Why culture is the missing piece of your cybersecurity defenses

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You’ve worked hard to get the right security policies and best practices in place, yet more than half of your employees fail to take even the most basic security precautions in their everyday work.

Your organization’s future is at unnecessary risk because senior decision-makers don’t understand the need to pay for the tools and services necessary to prevent a financially devastating breach.

You struggle to hire top talent because the best candidates won’t join your organization, feeling they can be more effective elsewhere.

What do all these challenges have in common? They all point to a failure of company security culture.

Here’s what you need to know about organizational security culture — and how to plan for and inspire a better one.

Where I'm at: a 5,800-mile flight from Madrid to San Francisco


After spending a few days in Barcelona and five weeks in Morocco, and after flying from Morocco to Barcelona to Madrid, Amira and I have just boarded an Iberian Airlines flight from Madrid to San Francisco. We'll spend five days with family in California, then shove off to Italy for The Prosecco Gastronomad Experience! The good news is that I love flying!

Introducing Chatterbox, the smart speaker kids build themselves


My son, Kevin, who is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in the technology education space, is coming out of stealth mode with his brainchild -- an educational product of breathtaking vision. (I'm biased. But you can decide for yourself.)

His product is Chatterbox, the world's first build-it-yourself, program-it-yourself smart speaker for kids.

Chatterbox has been in development for the past year, and has been tested extensively by real kids and visionary teachers in Silicon Valley's best schools. (Kevin is formerly with Tynker and Piper. His Chatterbox team has built educational software and hardware products used by over 60 million people and 80 thousand schools worldwide.)

Chatterbox launches today; the Kickstarter starts Tuesday, April 30. (Early-bird discounts available at launch.)

Chatterbox is more or less like an Amazon Echo or Google Assistant smart speaker, but with six key differences:

  1. Chatterbox is made out of cardboard. Kids build it themselves, so they understand what's inside a smart speaker.

  2. Chatterbox only does the things that kids program it to do, so there's no manipulative "captology" by a corporation with a commercial agenda to make kids dependent or addicted.

  3. Chatterbox never listens until kids press the big button on top. Kids don't get used to the idea of constant surveillance.

  4. Chatterbox is private. No personal data is harvested or stored. (It's 100% COPPA compliant.)

  5. Chatterbox is an open system designed to be understood; it turns kids into makers, builders and designers, not passive consumers. The more kids teach Chatterbox, the more they learn about engineering, problem solving, language construction and critical thinking.

  6. Chatterbox is environmentally friendly. Every Chatterbox component is recyclable or renewable.

Using the easy-to-use LEGO-like Chatterbox Skill Builder, kids as young as seven can build unique skills to get the weather, ask questions, control lights or listen to music.

Most or all of the consumer technology in children's lives is designed for passive consumption, engineered to be addictive and distracting. Chatterbox is the opposite. It invites active engagement and non-stop learning.

One of the biggest problems with technology is screen addiction, which is extremely unhealthy for kids. Chatterbox gives kids an internet-connected platform without a screen.

Chatterbox will ship to consumers and schools in December and cost $179.99.

Please get involved and support Chatterbox. Let's fix the kids-and-technology problem!

Even Google employees don't know who runs Google

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Google’s specialty these days seems to be confusing everybody. Their communications strategy is muddled. The most active users hesitate to embrace Google products because they fear the company will add those products to the long list of terminated Google properties.

Google confused everybody by renaming Google “Alphabet,” then naming one of the companies under the Alphabet umbrella “Google.”

Sundar Pichai is the official CEO of Google. But Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are assumed to run Alphabet.

So who’s in charge? Even Google employees don’t know. A new survey asked them, and they were divided on who’s in charge.

Around 59 percent say Sundar Pichai is in charge, while 41. percent say Larry Page and Sergey Brin are running things.

Among the “tech” employees, the responses were closer to 50-50.

You know there’s a leadership crisis when employees don’t even know who’s running the company.

Can we trust Facebook to control millions of microphones in our homes? (Spoiler alert: no)


CNBC broke the news that Facebook is working on a virtual assistant, apparently to power their hardware products like the Portal smart speaker, the Oculus VR platform and future hardware products.

An assistant appliance (also called a smart speaker or smart display) represents a unique object in our lives -- its an internet-connected microphone in your home directly controlled by the company that sold it to you, without any intervening, third-party scrutiny. So you have to trust that company.

Can Facebook be trusted?

Facebook this month was caught requesting email passwords from new users signing up for Facebook, then using those passwords to copy and transfer the email contacts associated with those email accounts without user permission.

The EFF said Facebook is behaving like a criminal hacking organization. “For all intents and purposes, this is a phishing attack,” the EFF said in its official response to the event.

But even the most generous interpretation is that Facebook recklessly ignored minimal standard practices for safeguarding data by requesting email passwords.

A common theme in Facebook scandals is the reckless handling of personal data. There are dozens of instances in the past years revealing Facebook's untrustworthiness -- whether incompetence or criminal malice.

The AI personal assistant user interface revolution is coming. And it’s going to put microphones everywhere.

And that’s why we must all reject Facebook’s participation in this revolution — especially after the repeated trespasses against user privacy that are at least incompetent and at worst malicious or even criminal.

Facebook simply can’t be trusted.

Read my column.

Word of the moment: "captology"

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Financial Times is reporting on laws intended to crack down on manipulative tactics used by Facebook and other companies to confuse, trick and addict users. The UK is talking about banning "Likes" on Facebook. The US Senate is going after "dark patterns" design -- software designed to make choices beneficial to the company much more likely.

The article uses a word I hadn't heard before: "captology," defined as persuasive technology that exploits human psychology for commercial gain.

Common Sense media lists some of the techniques social networks, games and other sites use to hook kids.

The Financial Times piece is really about legislation. How do you ban persuasion — especially when the techniques are as subtle as a “Like” button or a simple notification?

What to do about the problems technology is creating for kids

My son, Kevin, is the founder of a startup, called Chatterbox. They’re about to come out of stealth mode.

Kevin wrote a manifesto describing why he created Chatterbox. From the manifesto:

On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

If you’re a parent — or just care about the future of humanity — please give this a read.

If you’d like to stay in touch with the Chatterbox project and mission, please go here to sign up for Kevin’s mailing list, and he’ll keep you posted.

Found an Indiana Jones pinball machine in Essaouira

This bad boy was tucked away on the top floor of a cool furniture store and cafe in the Essaouiran medina near our riad.