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Keylogging Controversy Brings TikTok Back Under US Government Scrutiny
11:08 AM | August 20, 2022
TikTok, the social app that’s so popular that some are using it as a search engine at this point, remains as vital destination as ever for Pink Sauce connoisseurs. Still, the company’s PR headaches continued this week.
Independent research performed by developer Felix Krause found code injected by the social network’s operating system enabling it to monitor all keyboard inputs and tags, even without hitting “submit,” a process known as “keylogging.”
As Krause explained on his blog, this could potentially include recording sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers. And because TikTok comes with an internal browser, this functionally gives the app the ability to monitor its users as they browse around third-party websites and services.
TikTok’s certainly not alone in checking out all of your data as you type. A previous post by Krause focused on tracking code within Meta’s Facebook and Instagram iOS apps, allowing them to potentially follow users within in-app browsers as well. A recent survey of the top 100,000 most popular websites found that 1,844 logged an EU user’s email address without their consent, and 2,950 recorded a U.S. user’s email data in some form. The keylogging protocol has also been used as a way for employers to monitor the activity of remote employees.
Though it certainly sounds sinister, keylogging is not necessary by definition malicious. TikTok claims that the code in question is used for “debugging, troubleshooting, and performance monitoring,” and in a statement, a representative denied that the company even collects specific keystroke or text input data. (The company also pointed out similar code in GitHub that’s used for an alternative purpose than keylogging, as a third party example.)
Still, the very mention of privacy concerns and TikTok in the same sentence is enough to raise some eyebrows in the U.S., where the app–which is owned by the Chinese parent company ByteDance–has always operated under a dark cloud of suspicion. Allegations in 2019 that the app was hoovering up data from underage users and censoring content on behalf of China’s ruling Communist Party led to calls for investigations from high-profile politicians. In December of that year, just as TikTok was taking over as the world’s most downloaded app, the U.S. Department of Defense was recommending that all military personnel delete it from their phones.
In 2020, President Trump signed a series of executive orders banning U.S. companies from doing business with TikTok (as well as the Chinese-owned WeChat app). These orders were later reversed by the Biden administration, which nonetheless urged Americans handling sensitive information to consider the apps a “heightened risk.”
The House of Representatives’ Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) echoed these concerns just this week following the keylogging report, issuing a “cyber advisory” about security on TikTok, noting that, despite its Culver City headquarters, it’s still “a Chinese-owned company.”
So even a U.S. government that was initially inclined to be more TikTok friendly may be having second thoughts.
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11:47 AM | June 09, 2023
At Lowercarbon Capital’s LA Tech Week event Thursday, the synergy between the region’s aerospace industry and greentech startups was clear.
The event sponsored by Lowercarbon, Climate Draft (and the defunct Silicon Valley Bank’s Climate Technology & Sustainability team) brought together a handful of local startups in Hawthorne not far from LAX, and many of the companies shared DNA with arguably the region’s most famous tech resident: SpaceX.
Here’s a look at the greentech startups that pitched during the Tech Week event, and how they think what they’re building could help solve the climate crisis.
Arbor: Based in El Segundo, this year-old startup is working to convert organic waste into energy and fresh water. At the same time, it also uses biomass carbon removal and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in an attempt to avoid further damaging the earth’s ozone layer. At the Tech Week event Thursday, Arbor CEO Brad Hartwig told a stunned crowd that Arbor aims to remove about five billion tons of organic waste from landfills and turn that into about 6 PWh, or a quarter of the global electricity need, each year. Hartwig is an alumni of SpaceX; he was a manufacturing engineer on the Crew Dragon engines from 2016-2018 and later a flight test engineer at Kitty Hawk.
Antora: Sunnyvale-based Antora Energy was founded in 2017, making it one of the oldest companies on the pitching block during the event. Backed by investors including the National Science Foundation and Los Angeles-based Overture VC, Antora has raised roughly $57 million to date, most recently a $50 million round last February. Chief operating officer Justin Briggs said Antora’s goal is to modernize and popularize thermal energy storage using ultra-hot carbon. Massive heated carbon blocks can give off thermal energy, which Antora’s proprietary batteries then absorb and store as energy. It’s an ambitious goal, but one the world needs at scale to green its energy footprint. According to Briggs, “the biggest challenge is how can we turn back variable intermittent renewable electricity into something that's reliable and on demand, so we can use it to provide energy to everything we need.”
Arc: Hosting the panel was Arc, an electric boating company that’s gained surprising momentum, moving from design to delivering its first e-boats in just two years of existence. Founded in 2021, the company’s already 70 employees strong and has already sold some of its first e-boats to customers willing to pay the luxury price tag, CTO Ryan Cook said Thursday. Cook said that to meet the power needs of a battery-powered speedboat, the Arc team designed the vehicle around the battery pack with the goal of it being competitive with gas boats when compared to range and cost of gas. But on the pricing side, it’s not cheap. Arc’s flagship vessel, the Arc One is expected to cost roughly $300,000. During the panel, Cook compared the boat to being “like an early Tesla Roadster.” To date Arc Boats has raised just over $35 million, according to PitchBook, from investors including Kevin Durant, Will Smith and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Clarity Technology: Carbon removal startup Clarity is based in LA and was founded by Yale graduate and CEO Glen Meyerowitz last year. Clarity is working to make “gigaton solutions for gigaton problems.” Their aim? To remove up to 2,000 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere through direct air capture, a process which uses massive fans to move chemicals that capture CO2. But the challenge, Meyerowitz noted in his speech, is doing this at scale in a way that makes an actual dent in the planet’s emissions while also efficiently using the electricity needed to do so. Meyerowitz spent nearly five years working as an engineer for SpaceX in Texas, and added he’s looking to transfer those learnings into Clarity.
Parallel Systems: Based in Downtown LA’s Arts District, this startup is building zero-emission rail vehicles that are capable of long-haul journeys otherwise done by a trucking company. The estimated $700 billion trucking industry, Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule said, is ripe for an overhaul and could benefit from moving some of its goods off-road to electric railcars. According to Soule, Parallel’s electric battery-powered rail vehicles use 25% of the energy a semi truck uses, and at a competitive cost. Funded in part by a February 2022 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Parallel Systems has raised about $57 million to date. Its most recent venture funding round was a $49 million Series A led by Santa Monica-based VC Anthos Capital. Local VCs including Riot Ventures and Santa Monica-based Embark Ventures are also backers of Parallel.
Terra Talent: Unlike the rest of the startups pitching at the Tech Week event, Terra Talent was focused on building teams rather than technology. Founder Dolly Singh worked at SpaceX, Oculus and Citadel as a headhunter, and now runs Terra, a talent and advisory firm that helps companies recruit top talent in the greentech space. But, she said, she’s concerned that all the work these startups are doing won’t matter unless we very quickly turn around the current trendlines. “Earth will shake us off like and she will do just fine in 10,000 years,” she said. “It’s our way of living, everything we love is actually here on earth… there’s nothing I love on Mars,” adding that she’s hopeful the startups that pitched during the event will be instrumental in making sure the planet stays habitable for a little while longer.
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Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.
03:49 PM | October 14, 2022
Thanks to a new bill passed on October 5, California drivers now have the choice to chuck their traditional metal license plates and replace them with digital ones.
The plates are referred to as “Rplate” and were developed by Sacramento-based Reviver. A news release on Reviver’s website that accompanied the bill’s passage states that there are “two device options enabling vehicle owners to connect their vehicle with a suite of services including in-app registration renewal, visual personalization, vehicle location services and security features such as easily reporting a vehicle as stolen.”
Reviver Auto Current and Future CapabilitiesFrom Youtube
There are wired (connected to and powered by a vehicle’s electrical system) and battery-powered options, and drivers can choose to pay for their plates monthly or annually. Four-year agreements for battery-powered plates begin at $19.95 a month or $215.40 yearly. Commercial vehicles will pay $275.40 each year for wired plates. A two-year agreement for wired plates costs $24.95 per month. Drivers can choose to install their plates, but on its website, Reviver offers professional installation for $150.
A pilot digital plate program was launched in 2018, and according to the Los Angeles Times, there were 175,000 participants. The new bill ensures all 27 million California drivers can elect to get a digital plate of their own.
California is the third state after Arizona and Michigan to offer digital plates to all drivers, while Texas currently only provides the digital option for commercial vehicles. In July 2022, Deseret News reported that Colorado might also offer the option. They have several advantages over the classic metal plates as well—as the L.A. Times notes, digital plates will streamline registration renewals and reduce time spent at the DMV. They also have light and dark modes, according to Reviver’s website. Thanks to an accompanying app, they act as additional vehicle security, alerting drivers to unexpected vehicle movements and providing a method to report stolen vehicles.
As part of the new digital plate program, Reviver touts its products’ connectivity, stating that in addition to Bluetooth capabilities, digital plates have “national 5G network connectivity and stability.” But don’t worry—the same plates purportedly protect owner privacy with cloud support and encrypted software updates.
5 Reasons to avoid the digital license plate | Ride TechFrom Youtube
After the Rplate pilot program was announced four years ago, some raised questions about just how good an idea digital plates might be. Reviver and others who support switching to digital emphasize personalization, efficient DMV operations and connectivity. However, a 2018 post published by Sophos’s Naked Security blog pointed out that “the plates could be as susceptible to hacking as other wireless and IoT technologies,” noting that everyday “objects – things like kettles, TVs, and baby monitors – are getting connected to the internet with elementary security flaws still in place.”
To that end, a May 2018 syndicated New York Times news service article about digital plates quoted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which warned that such a device could be a “‘honeypot of data,’ recording the drivers’ trips to the grocery store, or to a protest, or to an abortion clinic.”
For now, Rplates are another option in addition to old-fashioned metal, and many are likely to opt out due to cost alone. If you decide to go the digital route, however, it helps if you know what you could be getting yourself into.
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Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
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