5 Technology Trends Impacting State and Local Governments

Contributed by the Community Editorial Team at Comcast Business
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March 01, 2018

State and local governments stand at the cusp of a technology renaissance, as new offerings and services are available to help agencies serve their constituents faster, more effectively and more efficiently. Technologies that once were thought of as “bleeding edge” now are increasingly ubiquitous, enabling government agencies to become more customer-centric in myriad ways, from answering billing queries to proactively identifying when customer data is being targeted by cybercriminals.

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According to research firm Gartner, government CIOs expect to spend 28 percent of their 2018 budget on digital initiatives designed to increase the value of government to constituents.[1] Technologies such as analytics, automation, artificial intelligence and even autonomous vehicles all have the potential to enable governments to offer services and aid their citizens in ways that not only can improve the customer experience, but also save governments time, money and labor.

Imagine logging on to a government website and being “recognized” through facial recognition, then “telling” the site what you’re looking for in plain English and receiving the results instantly. Or imagine a self-driving maintenance truck that “sniffs out” and automatically fills potholes without human intervention.

On the surface, this may sound like the stuff of science fiction. But these scenarios are coming closer to being reality, as technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are moving closer to the mainstream. And their effect on state and local governments would be transformational in providing services and keeping citizens safe from physical and cyber perils.

TECHNOLOGIES TO WATCH

The scope of technologies that can impact government services—and, in turn, our lives—is far-reaching, from robots that clean parks to systems that can create personalized cybersecurity by observing and learning from users’ behaviors. Some technologies are still more bleeding-edge than leading-edge, while others have the potential to be in service—and of service—today.

Five technologies in particular—artificial intelligence and robotics, autonomous vehicles, digital government, automation, and efforts to increase cybersecurity—demonstrate value to state and local government initiatives.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND ROBOTICS

Of all the technologies that can reap the largest benefit for governments, artificial intelligence is perhaps the one most likely to have the biggest impact. In fact, a number of agencies already are using AI to handle tasks quickly that otherwise would take much longer for humans to do, such as sorting through massive amounts of paperwork to find relevant information.

Law enforcement agencies are looking at artificial intelligence as a weapon to help fight crime by improving video surveillance, spotting criminals in crowds through facial recognition, and even helping reduce the amount of time police officers spend writing reports.

Beyond artificial intelligence, robotics is becoming a way for agencies to spend less and do more. Consultancy firm Deloitte highlights the coming of process robotics, which it describes as “… computer-coded, rules-based software that uses ‘bots’ to automate repetitive, rules-based tasks otherwise performed by humans. Requiring minimal system integration, bots can be deployed in as little as a few weeks depending on the complexity of the process.”[2] Any high-volume, rules-based work can be performed by process robotics, which helps free employees to focus on more valuable customer-facing activities.

Bots are already being used by agencies to help improve customer service. Chatbots in particular are being used to answer questions via the web without the need for customer service agents—a technology especially useful for agencies that are understaffed and don’t have dedicated customer-facing employees.

Deloitte estimates that employing AI technology in the government space could free up as many as 1.2 billion working hours every year, saving $41.1 billion.[3]

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

While much of the conversation around government and autonomous vehicles has focused on legislating such technology, governments can benefit from the use of autonomous vehicles in multiple ways. Another Deloitte study notes that, as end users, agencies not only can improve their government-operated fleets, but also further the concepts of shared mobility and “other new types of travel through their procurement decisions.”[4]

The federal government operates a fleet of more than 600,000 vehicles, including U.S. Postal Service trucks and General Services Administration vehicles leased to various agencies.[5] In 2016, USPS vehicles were involved in about 30,000 accidents nationwide, resulting in about $67 million in repair and legal costs.[6] As a result, the agency is considering autonomous vehicles for its fleet, not only to help improve safety but also to increase productivity of letter carriers, who could ready the mail for deliveries during transit.

At the state and local level, highway maintenance departments could dispatch autonomous trucks to repair road damage such as potholes or broken curbs, clean debris from roads following a collision or events such as a parade, or clear snow and ice from roadways during inclement weather. Public transportation can also be a potential target for autonomous vehicles to help municipalities save on labor costs while keeping their fleets moving.

While autonomous vehicles can have the ability to negatively impact state and local budgets—the amount of revenue generated by traffic tickets is certain to decrease due to anticipated safer driving by autonomous vehicles—governments potentially have more to gain than lose from the technology, including decreased labor costs, increased productivity and lower legal costs related to vehicle accidents.

DIGITAL GOVERNMENT

The term “digital government” is an umbrella term used to describe technologies such as mobile services, common online identities and crowdsourcing—all designed to streamline services and improve the end-user experience.

Mobility in particular is an area where governments at all levels can increase the quality of their services and the efficiency of their employees. Apps can be used to access information quickly and easily, enabling citizens to, for example, see in real time where tree-trimming crews are slowing traffic or virtually check in to the local DMV office to avoid waiting in line. Mobile apps also can help government employees working offsite and in the field. Building inspectors can get instant access to building plans, permit applications and more, for example. Parks and recreation department workers can see the location and working status of every water fountain connected to an internet of things (IoT) sensor. And transportation department employees can remotely change the status of digital signage to alert motorists of changing traffic conditions.

Back-office systems that facilitate common identities for constituents also can help improve the user experience, especially when dealing with multiple agencies. Much like users can log on to various websites by connecting with social media sites such as Facebook, government agencies can use common identity systems to help simplify the process of accessing various agency sites to accomplish tasks, such as checking on the status of a request filed with the zoning commission or filing a police report for a hit-and-run traffic accident.

Crowdsourcing, once the purview of sites that harness user opinions to make recommendations on restaurants, hotels and more, is now joining the government fray, as more agencies are depending on the “wisdom of the crowd” to help collect and disseminate information. The federal government has established a site, citizenscience.gov, to help agencies encourage public participation to accelerate innovation. It features federal citizen science efforts in climatology, ecology and disaster response, among others, to help “engage the American public in addressing societal needs and accelerating science, technology, and innovation,” according to the site. At the state and local level, crowdsourcing can be used by agencies to gather real-time traffic information, monitor power outages and collect other data important to citizens, providing facts to the minute and on the fly.

AUTOMATION

Consultancy firm KPMG pegs automation as “the next step in government’s digital transformation,”[7] and with good reason: Automation is perhaps the most useful technology in terms of impacting government services from both the agency and the constituent perspectives. In particular, process automation can free employees from mundane tasks such as filing paperwork to concentrate on more meaningful projects or tasks that require their full attention, such as addressing constituent issues.

Automation is one step below artificial intelligence on the technology ladder; however, interest in “intelligent automation” is growing as a way to further enhance productivity while improving accuracy. Chatbots are a simple example of intelligent automation, while IBM’s Watson with its cognitive analytics, which has the ability to learn and solve problems, offers a prime example of more complex intelligent automation.

Automation is not a new concept in government or other industries, for that matter. However, as advances in artificial intelligence and robotics continue, automation will take on a much more important role in helping governments run efficiently and providing more valuable citizen services.

EFFORTS TO INCREASE CYBER SECURITY

As more processes and constituent interactions occur digitally, governments must do more to protect sensitive and valuable data from cyber threats. No longer should agencies worry about whether their systems will be breached; rather, they should worry about when their systems will be breached.

Researchers estimate damages from cyber crime will amount to $6 trillion worldwide annually by 2021.[8] Included in that amount are damage and destruction of data, embezzlement, stolen money, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, forensic investigation, theft of personal and financial data, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, and reputational damage.

As cyber threats continue to surge, so does the demand for qualified cyber security talent. However, a recent study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education predicts there will be a worldwide shortage of 1.8 million skilled security workers by 2022.[9] Agencies must look for new and innovative ways, then, to secure their data and keep their systems safe from breaches and malicious activity.

The cloud is emerging as one tool in the fight against cyber crime, as technologies such as cloud workload protection platforms show promise in keeping data protected no matter where data resides—on-premises, in virtual machines or in cloud environments. Deception technologies, which are designed to throw off a would-be attacker, also can help, as well as endpoint detection and response solutions and network traffic analysis capabilities.

Artificial intelligence shows the biggest promise in improving cyber security, and is the technology upon which many of the new security solutions are based. It is evident that artificial intelligence will serve as the backbone for many, if not most, of the technologies powering the next generation of government services.

HOW THE NETWORK MATTERS WITH NEW-GENERATION TECHNOLOGIES

State and local governments are quickly reaching the point where adoption of new technologies is inevitable. Indeed, the efficiency and effectiveness of any government agency is dependent on the technologies it uses to provide services and protect the health and welfare of its citizens.

In preparing for their impending technology renaissance, agencies first must prepare their networks to certify they are able to handle the increase in demand. Artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, mobility and other technologies can stress the bandwidth of traditional networks and impact performance.

Agencies need to ascertain if they have the right foundation for both customer-facing and back-office operations, as well as new opportunities yet to be imagined. Today’s efficient networks comprise multiple technologies and platforms all chosen to ensure the solutions they support operate at peak performance without issue.

In building a network for the next generation of government services, agencies should consider an environment that includes both on-premises, cloud, and networking technologies such as SD-WAN and high-speed broadband to make certain traffic is handled efficiently over any type of network. And networking components such as WiFi and unified communications can ensure users of the network—employees and constituents—interact with each other using their preferred method of communication.

To help ease stress on an agency’s current network—not to mention the daily burden on IT managers—managed services can be utilized to offer certain constituent services, such as bill payments, without further impacting the network. Managed services can be used to help tie disparate systems together and “fill in the gaps” as agencies update their current infrastructure, and can prove useful even after networks have been upgraded.

Working with a network service provider can help ease the burden associated with building and maintaining a network capable of handling the bandwidth-intensive needs of the next generation of government services. By working with a third-party network services provider, agencies can leverage virtual and physical private Ethernet connectivity to assure critical applications perform as expected. They also can receive all or some of their most critical connectivity functions as a managed service, including managed connectivity, WiFi, security, voice and business continuity, among others.

CONCLUSION

New technologies loom on the horizon to help government agencies better serve their constituents, from answering billing queries to protecting sensitive data from cyber threats. The network on which these technologies run must be robust and flexible enough to handle the traffic and bandwidth demands of today and beyond.

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[1] “Gartner Survey Finds Government CIOs Spend 21 Percent of Their IT Budget on Digital Initiatives,” press release, Gartner, April 25, 2017 https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3693017

[2] “Process robotics in the federal government,” Public Sector Solutions web page, Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/public-sector/solutions/federal-government-process-robotics.html

[3] William D. Eggers, David Schatsky, Dr. Peter Viechnicki, “How artificial intelligence could transform government,” executive summary, Deloitte, April 26, 2017, https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/cognitive-technologies/artificial-intelligence-government-summary.html?_ga=2.17808368.871295872.1509472479-881865455.1507121216

[4] RJ Krawiec, Vinn White, “Governing the future of mobility,” Deloitte, Aug. 3, 2017, https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/focus/future-of-mobility/federal-government-and-transportation-of-the-future.html

[5] Ibid

[6] “Autonomous Vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service,” report, USPS Office of the Inspector General, Oct. 2, 2017, https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2017/RARC-WP-18-001.pdf

[8] “Official 2017 Annual Cybercrime Report,” Cybersecurity Ventures, October 2017, https://cybersecurityventures.com/hackerpocalypse-cybercrime-report-2016/

[9] “Global Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage to Reach 1.8 Million as Threats Loom Larger and Stakes Rise Higher,” news release, Center for Cyber Safety and Education, June 7, 2017 https://www.isc2.org/News-and-Events/Press-Room/Posts/2017/06/07/2017-06-07-Workforce-Shortage

 

Handling Candidate Data Will Be Under the Spotlight in 2019

Employment screening will benefit from AI, but the technology is not ready yet

By Roy Maurer, Online Manager/Editor, Talent Acquisition – SHRM Online – January 31, 2019

This is the second article in a two-part series. The first installment detailed the growing trends of social media screening and real-time employee monitoring, as well as the emerging acceptance of job candidates with criminal backgrounds.

 

Employers that conduct employment background checks will continue to feel the pressure to safeguard applicant and employee data in 2019. HR professionals will also be interested in how artificial intelligence (AI) technology will improve the screening experience, according to experts.

Data-Breach Concerns Lead to Increased Focus on Security

Data-breach protection, information security and compliance with privacy laws will be top of mind for those managing employment screening in 2019.

“The massive data breach suffered by nationwide credit reporting agency Equifax in September 2017 that impacted more than 145 million Americans—almost half of the country—was a wake-up call for all industries to improve their information security,” said Les Rosen, founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources, a background-screening firm in Novato, Calif. “The need for background-screening firms that handle the personal data of job applicants to ensure information security has become mission critical.”

[Visit SHRM’s resource page on background checks.]

Montserrat Miller, an attorney in the Atlanta office of Arnall Golden Gregory and co-chair of the firm’s privacy and consumer regulatory practice, advised HR professionals to ask their screening partners how they are safeguarding personal data and what their notification protocols are in case of a breach.

“In addition to following the Federal Trade Commission guidance on the proper data-security practices, businesses that utilize a consumer reporting agency for their background-screening services should be sure to partner with one that has achieved accreditation with the National Association of Professional Background Screeners,” said Christine Cunneen, CEO of Providence, R.I.-based background-check company Hire Image.

Rosen said that employers should also consider using background-check firms that undergo an annual Service Organization Control, or SOC 2, audit from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to ensure high standards for the protection of privacy, security and confidentiality of consumer information used for background checks.

Miller added that “if HR prints the background-check reports for whatever reason, [the printouts] should be maintained in a confidential manner and not shared with anyone outside of the appropriate decision-makers.” She added that in accordance with the company’s data-retention policy, background-check reports must be disposed of properly, by destroying or erasing electronic files or shredding, burning or pulverizing paper documents.

Organizations conducting background screens of citizens of the European Union (EU) will also have to be mindful of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in May 2018. The law requires that employers receive consent to process a subject’s data, ensure that collected data is made anonymous to protect privacy, make data-breach notifications, safely handle the transfer of data across borders, and in some cases, appoint a data protection officer to oversee compliance.

“If an employer in the U.S. has international operations, and if there is going to be any exchange of personal data from employees in the EU to the U.S., then it needs to be aware of GDPR and needs to make sure it is in compliance with it and that its vendors are in compliance with it,” Miller said.

The maximum penalty for noncompliance is up to 4 percent of an organization’s annual global revenue or 20 million euros—whichever is greater.

AI Improves Background Checks But …

The use of technologies such as AI, machine learning and automation will enhance background checks in 2019, but humans still need to be involved due to discrimination concerns.

“Background screeners haven’t fully adopted AI in the screening process yet, but we are seeing signs of it where screeners continue to automate their operations,” said Jason Morris, an employment-screening consultant and industry expert with Morris Group Consulting, based in Cleveland. “In the past, we would simply throw people at processes and increase our labor for searches,” he said. “Now AI allows us to automate and put machines in places of seats, allowing for a faster and in some cases a more accurate background check. It’s exciting to see screeners innovate, and I’m confident you will see AI continue to grow in the industry.”

Conal Thompson, chief technology officer at background-screening company HireRight, said that AI will play a major role in the employee screening and recruitment processes by reducing the time to hire, improving quality of hire and improving the candidate experience.

“In today’s competitive labor market, in which a positive candidate experience in the screening process plays a major role in candidates’ decisions to accept job offers, utilizing AI to interact with job applicants faster and more effectively can make a real difference,” he said.

“Without a doubt, cutting-edge technology like AI plays a vital role in what we do to enable companies to outsource social media screening in a smarter, cost-effective and efficient way,” said Bianca Lager, the president of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Social Intelligence Corp., a leading provider of social media screening reports. “Things like finding where people are creating content online and zooming in on places and types of content that could be risky for an employer are what AI is effectively delivering right now, which is a huge time and resource saver.”

Rosen added, “While there is no doubt AI technology and automation increase productivity, streamline processes and reduce turnaround time in the screening process, background checks still need a guiding human touch until sufficiently nonbiased AI algorithms can be created to ensure that discriminatory hiring decisions aren’t made.”

Since the AI buzz began, experts have been saying that “biased AI” can be created by algorithms shaped by human prejudices or insufficient data.

“Human augmentation is still incredibly important,” Thompson agreed. “Employers should keep in mind that most AI learns as it goes, which could present risks and have unintended consequences on the screening process. For example, if an AI application, after reviewing thousands of candidates for thousands of jobs, realizes that a significant number of candidates it has recommended has certain demographic attributes, it may bias its own algorithm with a preference for candidates who first meet those criteria.”

In addition, Lager cautioned HR buyers to be aware that just because a company markets itself as providing AI and machine learning doesn’t mean that it’s true. “Companies are taking giant liberties with those words as descriptions,” she said. “The key is to understand the limitations of that technology and how it affects the deliverable of the service or product you are buying. It is imperative to ask questions about consumer compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and how data is acquired.”

Five Predictions for How Technology Will Change Sports in 2019

Might the NFL launch an esports league in 2019? (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

By , Senior Writer – SportTechie /December 28, 2018

If 2018 were the year that sports betting was legalized, major deals were reached across mobile ticketing and biometric verification, and sports streaming services launched at an unprecedented pace, threatening to dethrone cable TV, 2019 will be the year they all hit a stride.

In 2019, niche sports will continue to grow in popularity as streaming services gain steam, sports betting will become accessible at venues, biometric IDs will be used to buy beer at games, esports will create further inroads in traditional sports, and athletes will further embrace wearable technology, digital video, and virtual reality to enhance their skills and marketability.

Sports Betting at Venues

States across the U.S. are working to adopt sports betting following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in May that opened up the legalization of gambling. One thing is for certain as we head into 2019: sports betting will be more commonplace and more widely accepted.

More states will move to embrace betting while regulators start to pass laws that protect athletes, leagues, and gamblers. But another thing fans might come to expect in 2019 is access to sports betting terminals at the venues themselves. In November, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren hinted at this possibility at a conference. Murren said that MGM, which owns the Vegas Golden Knights’ T-Mobile Arena alongside AEG, was eyeing plans to test sports betting kiosks at the venue during Knights games. Murren shortly thereafter hedged that statement, saying that it wasn’t in the cards just yet. But his intention has been set.

Elsewhere in the sports world teams and leagues will continue to work sports betting capability into new and existing apps. Interactive mobile game maker Xperiel is currently working with MGM Resorts and the New York Jets to build sports betting into the Jets’ existing in-app prediction game, “I Called It.”

“Sports gambling becomes less of a gamble,” said Xperiel cofounder and CEO Alex Hertel in a note on 2019 tech predictions. “We will see a rift between the desires of the gambler and the regulating bodies that could end up driving some sports betters away. Immersive technology that engages fans will help make them stay.”

Mobile Ticketing and Biometrics

In 2019, mobile ticketing might not just become commonplace to pass through many venue gates, but it may become required. Meanwhile fans will be increasingly incentivized to use their biometrics for verification.

In 2018, major ticketing companies, from Ticketmaster to Seatgeek, moved to couple together the primary and secondary ticketing markets to help teams maintain control over prices and attendance data. After the NFL expanded its partnership with Ticketmaster in 2017 in an attempt to control more secondary-market sales, in 2018 a number of teams started to embrace a mobile-first ticketing strategy. This will continue into the new year, but with the added integration of biometrics.

In the MLB, biometric verification company Clear (which has a presence alongside TSA Pre✓ at airports) entered into a multi-year deal this past year with the league and its ticketing partner Tickets.com to do just that. As part of the deal, Clear agreed to leverage Tickets.com’s API to enable members to link their Clear profile with their MLB.com account to gain entry into games with a fingerprint scan. In the near future, facial recognition is expected to be added as well. The partnership was piloted at select MLB ballparks this past season, with a broader roll-out planned for 2019.

Also next year, biometric verification will expand beyond the gates and into venues. Clear was approved in the state of Washington this year to use its services to verify identities of people looking to purchase beer at Seattle Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders games. The company has since been in talks with regulators in other states to expand this elsewhere in the U.S.

Streaming and Consolidation

A number of streaming services offering extensive live sports programming launched in the U.S. this year, from ESPN+ to DAZN. This has created a fragmented market for sports streaming, while enabling fans to reduce their dependence on traditional cable. In 2019, streaming brands will scoop up new digital rights at a rapid pace, spanning not only major sports but niche ones as well.

We’ve already started to see this, with NBC adding a number of niche sports (from skiing to motocross) on its paid streaming service NBC Sports Gold. ESPN+ has similarly emphasized lesser-known sporting events, while DAZN has entered the U.S. market with a focus on combat sports.

In the new year, digital rights will continue to find their way into the hands of these major players, which will help to tighten their hold on the market. This might also give some of these streaming companies the fuel to begin trouncing (and potentially even scooping up) some rivals, igniting a more mature wave of consolidation within the industry.

Wearables and Privacy

In 2018, Whoop, the wearable company that partnered with the NFL Players Association last year to track player strain and recovery, secured a $25 million Series C funding round led by UAE71 Capital with participation from the NFLPA, Kevin Durant, and former NBA Commissioner David Stern.

In 2019, wearables and RFID trackers will continue to be pushed onto athletes to meet the insatiable appetite of fans and coaches for data. But with this proliferation of wearable devices in professional sports, innovation will continue to push against privacy.

The NFL’s CBA is set to expire in 2020. The next wave of negotiations between the league and NFLPA will likely begin in 2019, bringing many of these issues to the forefront. Under the terms of the NFLPA’s deal with Whoop, NFL players maintain ownership of their health data, and are also able to commercialize that data through the NFLPA’s licensing program.

According to Sean Sansiveri, the NFLPA’s vice president of business and legal affairs, if a market for athletes’ biometric data should ever arise, the union will have an established mechanism in place to ensure that professional football players are not only protected but also well-positioned to profit off their private data if they choose to do so. The Supreme Court’s ruling on sports betting in May, and the expanding state-by-state legalization of sports betting, might well create exactly that market.

NFL Launches an Esports League

While esports and traditional sports merged at an unprecedented rate this year with the launch of the NBA 2K and investments in esports teams by sports franchises, this trend will accelerate in 2019. NASCAR has already announced that it is hopping on the esports league bandwagon heading into the new year. The NFL has been slower to adopt esports, however the league earlier this year posted a job looking for a “head of gaming and esports” that would be based in its New York headquarters and lead the “strategic planning, partner management and execution of the League’s gaming efforts.” Perhaps 2019 is the year that Madden NFL gamers can go pro.

10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2019

By KBB.com Editors | January 9, 2019 1:14 PM – Kelley Blue Book

New car buyers would do well to spend less time looking under the hood and more examining all the technology in the car. Of course, the powertrain still matters, but more important is how the driver and vehicle occupants interact with today’s increasingly sophisticated automobiles. That’s why we’ve come up with our 10 Best Automotive Technologies of 2019.

These are the things to look for when buying a new car this year. You may not find them all useful, but regardless of price point it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a vehicle that has most of them. If you want to see the best of the best, find out which two all-new cars took home our 2019 Best Auto Tech Awards.

1. Connected Mobile Apps

It’s no exaggeration to say that the smartphone has changed everything, including how we interact with our cars. Most carmakers offer some sort of connected smartphone app, but some are better than others. Look for one that lets you remotely lock and unlock the doors, check the status of things like fuel and tire pressure, and even remotely start the car to warm things up on a cold winter’s morning.

Make sure to ask if there is a monthly or yearly subscription fee for the service, as it can vary from carmaker to carmaker.

2. Teen Driver Technology

Handing over the keys to your teenager can be a nerve-wracking experience, but some clever new tech might ease your mind a little bit. Several cars have some type of teen driver limitations built in that can notify you if the car is driven over a certain speed, disable the stereo if seatbelts aren’t used, and even keep the stereo from being turned up past 7 — never mind full blast!

Chevrolet’s Teen Driver feature also offers a Report Card that will tell parents if safety systems like ABS or forward collision alert have been triggered while Junior was behind the wheel.

3. Stolen Vehicle Tracking Software

Experts estimate that more than 750,000 motor vehicles will be stolen in 2019. While that number sounds alarming, nearly 46 percent of those vehicles will be recovered — and that number continues to improve. Much of the credit goes to innovative technology that automakers are building into their vehicles, such as the ability for the stolen car or truck to tell law enforcement when it is being held.

The technology is bundled into the vehicle’s assistance and security systems, such as BMW’s Connected Drive or GM’s OnStar. While those advertised features allow effortless diagnostics, concierge, and post-crash notification for summoning rescue services, they may also be used by law enforcement to pinpoint the exact location of a vehicle that is no longer in the owner’s possession. Criminals beware.

4. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Though they are loath to admit it, many manufacturer infotainment systems — the do-it-all screens that control stereo, navigation, and climate control — aren’t very user-friendly. That’s why we like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Plug in your smartphone and it takes over that big screen, replacing it with something that looks a lot more familiar and easy to use.

You’ll get a simplified control scheme to access your music, maps, and your phone’s built-in voice-control features while avoiding the unnecessarily complicated system that comes with the car. Basically every manufacturer has promised support for at least one or both Apple and Google’s systems, but not all trim levels will support them. Make sure to verify your car has the right options, and that it matches your mobile devices.

5. Adaptive Cruise Control

Commuting is no fun. But advanced driver assist systems like adaptive cruise control can take a lot of the stress out of the experience. By using an array of sensors built into the car, adaptive cruise control can match the speed of the car in front of you, meaning you don’t need to constantly hit the gas and brake in highway traffic.

Some systems even allow the car to be brought to a complete halt and then resume automatically, making stop-and-go traffic considerably less frustrating. It might make you uneasy handing over some amount of control to the car, but we promise: use it once, and you’ll never want to go back.

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6. Exit Warning to Protect Cyclists

People riding bicycles in congested urban areas are often as concerned with parked vehicles as they are with the vehicles on the road — an unexpected opening car door spells doom for cyclists and injury for hapless passengers. Automakers are beginning to address this common danger with rear-looking sensors that detect approaching bicycles and traffic.

The systems are engineered to work for several minutes after the engine has been turned off. If the sensors see an approaching bicyclist or close vehicle, they alert the passenger with a series of bright lights. If the warning is ignored, the most advanced systems will physically lock the door to prevent it from being swung open into the path of the approaching object.

7. Rear Cross-Traffic Alert

Parking lots are extremely common sites for low-speed — but pricey — car crashes. Backing out of a parking spot, even with a rearview backup camera, can be a perilous exercise. That’s why rear-cross traffic alert is so useful.

Thanks to sensors built into the rear of the car, the system can alert you to approaching vehicles, shopping carts, or pedestrians who might wander behind your car without you noticing. Loud beeps are standard with these systems, but some cars can even automatically brake before a collision occurs.

8. Lane Departure Warning

Distracted driving happens. Whether it’s a quick glance at the stereo to change the channel or a child urgently asking for your attention, sometimes we pay a little less attention to the road than we should.

Lane departure warning systems use cameras to determine if a car has drifted across a marked lane line, giving a visual or audible notification (or even a vibration through the seat or steering wheel) that you’ve moved too far out of your lane. The system turns itself off when you use a directional, so there’s no fear of accidental engagement.

More advanced tech, sometimes called Lane Keeping Assist, can even help nudge you back into the proper lane, which can be a literal life-saver if you were heading into opposing traffic.

9. Automatic Emergency Braking

Automatic Emergency Braking or AEB uses a variety of sensors to determine if a forward collision crash is imminent and automatically applies the brakes to diminish the severity or avoid a crash entirely.

The auto industry agreed to make AEB standard in cars by 2022, but many vehicles have it available today. The systems are extremely good, though you absolutely shouldn’t rely on it to stop you — it’s meant as a last resort for when the driver isn’t paying attention, and it’s extremely alarming when the system does engage. While Apple CarPlay and smartphone apps are important, this one could save your life, so it’s worth making this one a high priority on your shopping list.

10. 360-Degree Camera

Insurance claims from low-speed crashes are some of the most common in the industry. Usually occurring during parking, a 360-degree camera system can make life a lot easier for folks who might not realize just how big that new SUV is.

By combining cameras on every side of the car with some clever computing power, your car’s display can show a virtual top-down view of your surroundings. It can show the sides of your garage, whether you’re lined up in the parking spot at the grocery store, or provide invaluable assistance while parallel parking.

The systems are getting cheaper and cheaper, and are available on even moderately priced cars these days. If you’re in the market for a small hatchback, you might not need this one as much — but a big SUV? You could find it invaluable.

 

5 things you can do in 5 minutes to boost your internet privacy

It’s time to break out of some bad habits before they come back to bite you.

With social networks working overtime to fight off fake news and fake users, data-harvesting apps sneaking onto the Play Store and some websites trying to turn your computer into a cryptocurrency generator, you may be getting a little anxious about the privacy of your personal data.

Thankfully, the process of getting your house in order isn’t complicated or even time-consuming. You’ve probably been thinking about trying some of these things already, and you just haven’t found the right time. The signs indicate that the right time can’t wait much longer, at the rate things are going in the cybersecurity world. So here are five major things that you can do in a matter of minutes to boost your privacy online.

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Get a password manager so you can stop using bad passwords everywhere

Unless you are a savant, your brain can only handle so much complexity when it comes to creating and then remembering a robust password. If you’re like most people, your password is based on personal details that are trivial to figure out, like birthdays, street addresses and anniversary dates.

And we say “password” because you’re also likely to be using the same one for multiple logins. Maybe you change a letter or number here or there, but let me tell you: When push comes to shove, this will not be enough.

Thankfully, you can defeat this bad habit in just a few clicks, thanks to password managers. These are apps and browser extensions where you only need to remember one “master password.” The manager generates the rest of them, and you just paste these into a login screen when you need to.

The good managers even recognize what website you’re on, and they’ll present the correct entry, instead of requiring you to look it up. You won’t even need to know the password that the manager generates — just log into the manager, click the relevant entry and paste your password in the browser or app.

If you’re logging into something on a mobile device, you’ll also usually find an “Autofill” option if you long-press the location where you enter your password. Choosing this option should automatically open your password manager app and swap you over to it. Then you can copy and paste your password with a few taps.

Bitwarden (download for iOS or Android), LastPass (download for iOS or Android) and 1Password (download for iOS or Android) are all solid choices, based on our testing.

Set up app-based two-factor authentication to protect your online accounts

For websites and services where you need to ensure the security of your account, like your bank, passwords alone simply are not enough anymore. In this scenario, you need two-factor authentication (2FA) — specifically, the kind where a mobile app generates login codes for you. Not the kind where you are sent an SMS text message, because those can be intercepted or just fail to arrive.

With app-based 2FA, you log into an app or website like normal, then you open an app that generates a special six-digit code every 30 seconds. This authentication app is synced with the other app or service so that your code matches the one that the main app or service expects to get. You enter the code from the authenticator app into the app or website that’s asking for it, and then your login is complete.

Google makes its own free authenticator app for iOS and Android. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized method for setting up your account with 2FA. Amazon, PayPal, eBay and your bank will all use slightly different systems and terminology.

Arguably, the fastest way to getting them all up and running is to just do a Google search naming the website or app where you want to set up 2FA and adding the phrase two-factor authentication to your search request.

Set up a VPN or Tor to protect your internet connection from prying eyes

The last few years have seen an explosion of virtual private networks that are designed specifically for personal use. For those of you not familiar with a VPN, it creates an encrypted tunnel within your internet connection that’s difficult for someone to intercept.

This is particularly important because Congress ended a privacy rule in March 2017 that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) — like Comcast, AT&T and Charter — from selling your browsing habits to advertisers. If you want them to keep their noses out of your internet connection, a VPN (or Tor) is probably your best bet.

In fact, with a VPN, the websites that you visit don’t even get to see your personal IP address, nor can your ISP see where you’re ultimately going. Comcast, for example, can only see that you’re connecting to a VPN service, and the website you’re visiting can only see the IP address of your VPN server. That kills a lot of location data harvesting practices in one fell swoop.

Tor is similar to a VPN. Instead of a paid service, its servers are donated to the network in the interest of collective privacy and security. The tradeoff is that Tor is not fast. It’s built for anonymity rather than speed, so you won’t be streaming 4K video from Netflix.

In fact, Netflix and other media streaming services generally take a dim view of VPNs and Tor, because these networks are frequently used and sometimes abused to get around regional content restrictions.

You can access Tor on Windows or MacOS through a web browser that’s based on Mozilla Firefox (download for iOS or Android). Unfortunately, iOS still lacks an official Tor browser, due in part to Apple requiring all web browsers on iOS to use its own Safari app under the hood. However, there is an official Tor browser for Android.

Based on our testing over the years, you can probably trust IVPN (download for iOS or Android), NordVPN (download for iOS or Android) and ProtonVPN (download for iOS or Android). ProtonVPN is relatively new, but it’s also a product of the same people who make ProtonMail (download for iOS or Android), which is one of the most respected high-security email services around.

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Set up a phone screen lock and keep your apps and operating system up-to-date

Your account security is only as good as the security that you use to lock down the devices that can connect to them. For mobile phones, this means having a legit lock for your lock screen. In the same way that passwords alone do not cut it any more, neither does swiping to unlock your phone.

Of course, at least on Android, the method to set this up varies from one phone to the next. But if your phone’s settings section has a search function, try the phrase lock screen. This should pull up a shortcut to the section of your phone’s settings that lets you set up a PIN code, fingerprint or facial recognition.

With a screen lock, someone who steals your phone doesn’t have access to everything that it can do — and it will lock out the generally nosy people around you. If you create an emergency contact on your phone, that will be accessible via the lock screen; so if someone finds your lost phone, or if you’re in need of medical assistance and can’t use your phone yourself, you’re not out of luck.

Keeping your apps and operating system up-to-date helps to close security holes, sometimes before they’re even publicly known. If the brand of phone you usually buy isn’t updating your operating system several times a year, we’d recommend switching to a brand that takes your security more seriously.

For operating system updates, Apple is by far the best all-around choice in this department — but not everyone likes iOS, iPhones lack headphone jacks, the devices can get eye-wateringly expensive, and services like Apple Messages can be difficult to disentangle yourself from if you want to switch to a non-Apple ecosystem.

On the Android side, Google’s own Pixel phones get monthly security updates, though they’re also lacking headphone jacks these days. If that’s not a blocker for you, then a Pixel is a pretty good choice for phones that get updates. If you take a lot of photos, in fact, the Pixel 3 is generally regarded as having the best mobile phone camera on the market.

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Americans Think Apple Leads in 5G (Spoiler: It Doesn’t)

Android phone makers will have a hard time winning iPhone buyers over with their new 5G phones, according to a new survey.
 
American consumers think Apple is the leading phone vendor when it comes to 5G, by a crushing margin over Samsung. That’s a little shocking, because most observers believe Apple is going to introduce 5G phones a full year later than Android phone vendors.

The result from an exclusive PCMag survey of 2,500 US consumers shows Apple’s unstoppable brand power in the US. Even as Apple sales have cratered in China, the company’s reputation appears to be intact in its home market. Only 11 percent of iPhone owners surveyed said they would switch away from the iPhone for 5G.

Samsung is anticipated to be the first into the US market with a 5G phone when it announces the 5G version of its Galaxy S10 in late February. It got the No. 2 spot as to which company will lead in 5G in the survey. The No. 3 position went to Google, whose Pixel phones are currently exclusive to Verizon.

Apple’s anticipated delay in 5G comes from a few sources. Right now, Qualcomm has the only US-compatible 5G modem chips, and Apple is at war with Qualcomm. Apple has switched its modem provider to Intel, which has said it won’t have 5G modems before the end of the year.

But delaying on new wireless networks hasn’t hurt Apple in the past. The first iPhone was 2G in a 3G era, and Apple came to 4G two years later than many other manufacturers. Apple tends to like to wait for networks to become more fully rolled out before jumping on board, so iPhone users can have a consistent experience wherever they live.

 
 
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