Author Archives: Tom Li

Avast antivirus allegedly sold identifiable personal information to third parties

Avast has never made its data collection practices a secret, but a joint report by Vice’s Motherboard and PCMag has revealed that the supposedly anonymized data can still be traced back to specific individuals.

After sifting through leaked user data and company documents, the report published today gave an unobstructed view of the type of data Avast–specifically its subsidiary Jumpshot–collected and sold. Unsurprisingly, some are deeply personal.

The data type Avast hoarded wasn’t the issue, but rather their nuance. In one example, Avast was able to precisely pinpoint a user’s Amazon purchase down to the minute. PCMag argued that Amazon could easily use this information to pinpoint a specific user. Once it’s got a match, the company could then link the user profile to the device ID, which is a constant identifier assigned by Avast for activities generated from the same device.

People took to social media quickly after the news broke to share their thoughts.


Avast allegedly avoided selling information with the device ID attached for that reason, but in 2018, that’s exactly what it sold to marketing provider Omnicom Media Group. The package also contained the users’ age, gender, and clicking timestamps down to the millisecond.

In December 2019, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox banned the Avast browser extension over its data collection practices. Following the ban, Avast issued a statement maintaining that it scrubbed all collected data free of personal information. It then continued to collect data through its antivirus software installed in the Windows operating system. These bits of data range from Google and YouTube searches to location and porn habits.

On its website, Avast stated that it has more than 400 million users distributed across 59 countries.

Jumpshot listed IBM, Microsoft, and Google as companies that it has previously worked with. In addition, PCMag also listed Nestle, Purina, Intuit and others as clients.

IT World Canada has reached out to Google, Microsoft, and IBM for comment, but none were immediately available for comment.


Hashtag Trending – Big brother’s watch in UK; YouTube mods and PTSD; Sidewalk Lab’s smart city delay

Hashtag Today is about big brother watching over UK citizens, YouTube moderators allegedly being forced into acknowledging PTSD as a health hazard, and the delay of Sidewalk Lab’s smart city in Toronto. Thank you for tuning in to Hashtag Trending, it’s Monday, January 27th, and I’m your host, Tom Li. Trending on Google, United Kingdom…

Hashtag Trending – Jeff Bezos phone hack; Microsoft exposes customer data; New budget iPhone

Today’s top story further proves that data theft can happen to anyone. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his data lifted from his phone. Furthermore, Microsoft exposed 250 million customer service records to the internet. But hey, a budget iPhone is coming soon, so that’s nice, right? Thank you for tuning in to Hashtag Trending, it’s…

Intel processor constraint to continue in 2020, says HPE

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has warned the industry to brace for an Intel processor shortage throughout 2020, specifically the Intel Cascade Lake server processors. After issuing a statement to The Register earlier this week, HPE’s Canadian division provided IT World Canada with a similar message: “HPE is experiencing a constraint on certain processors. There are other processors…

Hashtag Trending – Huawei CFO hearing; Apple bends to FBI; North shotgunning patents

Today’s top news is that Huawei’s CFO hearing is now officially underway. In other news, North’s new smart-glasses to include some cool new bleeding-edge features, and Apple supposedly abandoned encrypting iCloud backups after FBI intervention. Thank you for tuning in to Hashtag Trending, it’s Wednesday, January 22nd, and I’m your host, Tom Li. Trending everywhere,…

Hashtag Trending – Montreal teen arrested in cryptocurrency scam; EU considering suspending facial recognition; Alphabet passes the trillion-dollar mark.

Welcome listeners, hope you’re all doing well this Monday morning. The top three stories to take in right now include a Montreal teen arrested in cryptocurrency scam bust, the European Union considering banning facial recognition, and Alphabet passing the trillion-dollar mark. Thank you for tuning in to Hashtag Trending, it’s Monday, January 20th, and I’m…

CES 2020: Intel shows off Tiger Lake processors with ‘double-digit performance gains’ and new graphics

At the Intel CES 2020 conference on Jan. 6th, Intel gave a glimpse of its Tiger Lake processor, the next-gen processor that will succeed Ice Lake launched just last year.

Tiger Lake will be manufactured on 10nm+, a refined version of Intel’s current 10nm transistors. The more pluses there are behind the node’s name, the more mature the transistor process. Improved manufacturing processes usually bring better energy efficiency and higher transistor density. For example, Intel’s Coffee Lake processors are manufactured using its 14nm++ transistors.


Intel Tiger Lake, NUC, Comet Lake-H sneak peek

Through fine-tuning the architecture, Intel promised that Tiger Lake will bring “double-digit performance gains” over Ice Lake. In addition, it will be updated with a next-generation AI engine and even more robust integrated graphics based on its new Xe graphics architecture.

The press conference heavily underscored the importance and utility of AI for professional creatives. Tools like Tapaz can sharpen blurry photos automatically; Adobe Photoshop and Premier can also take advantage of Intel’s AI engine to make better object selections and dynamic subject trimming in videos.

Gregory Bryant, executive vice-president of Intel computing group, shows off a tiny motherboard designed for Tiger Lake. Photo by Tom Li.

To demonstrate its graphics performance, Intel showed a Tiger Lake equipped laptop running several popular videogames at consistent 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution.

Tiger Lake will support Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6.

Intel supplemented the Tiger Lake news by showing off a motherboard almost as small as a smartphone. While the company didn’t announce where such a concept would be used, it can enable more computing power in ultra-compact systems such as the Intel NUC.

Tiger Lake is expected to arrive later this year.


BlackBerry adds Cylance to QNX, announces partnerships with AWS, Damon, and Renovo

LAS VEGAS–BlackBerry has merged its Cylance ML security solution into its QNX software suite for autonomous vehicles, the company announced Jan. 6th at CES 2020.

The integration is the first time BlackBerry has announced a major plan for Cylance since its acquisition last year.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly complex with added driver-assist functions. Certain assistive safety functions need high degrees of reliability. The controllers and processors that manage these functions need regular updates and therefore need security solutions to prevent tampering. The BlackBerry Cylance will be used to do exactly that.

Cylance will be used to ensure APK integrity and alert manufactures if it detects a faulty or malicious piece of software installed in the vehicle’s control system.

If it detects an anomaly, Cylance will alert the user and vehicle manufacturer. It will not, however, execute any mitigative measures – BlackBerry leaves the response up to the manufacturer and the user.

“The architecture of the cars is changing, and we’re happy to be powering the traditional systems and the new next-generation systems safety systems,” said Grant Courville, vice-president of product and strategy at BlackBerry QNX. “That brings in that need for reliability, obviously, but also a big need for security and resiliency…that’s where BlackBerry comes in with Cylance.”

Cylance was able to successfully block a malicious piece of software from loading into the vehicle during a firmware update process.

A real-time demo at the booth demonstrated the detection process using the Range Rover Defender, which integrates QNX technologies into its systems. It was shown that Cylance was able to intercept a real-world malicious software before it was able to be uploaded into the car’s systems.

Cylance will also enable identity and persona detection based on the driver’s driving patterns.

In parallel with the Cylance announcement, BlackBerry also announced a new partnership with Damon motorcycles, which will integrate QNX safety technology into motorcycles.

Damon’s all-electric motorcycle can reach a 200 mph top speed and has a 200-mile range on a full charge.

A marquee feature is a collision detection warning. A strip of LED on the motorcycle’s windshield will blink in different colours and patterns when it detects an imminent threat. It operates in the rider’s peripheral so the rider can keep their eyes on the road. This solution does not take any steering action on the rider’s behalf and only serves as an advanced warning system.

The white LED strip at the top of the Damon motorcycle’s windshield.

“We could have written it ourselves, but that takes years and millions and millions of dollars,” said Jay Giraud, Damon Motorcycles CEO. “More than anything, it’s the testing time and the amount of data that QNX has probably collected off of its vehicle performance, and debugs with dozens and dozens of car OEMs to come up with a system as robust as theirs (BlackBerry) is no small thing for us to have undertaken as a startup. We couldn’t have done it.”

Giraud said that Damon’s partnership with BlackBerry is a multi-year journey and that they’re planning on more features down the road.

Renovo was another partner that merged QNX technology into its products. Through their partnership, the Renovo’s Insight automotive data management platform combined with QNX to generate more valuable data that will be used to improve advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

The Renovo Pacifica generates over 4TB of data per hour from its various sensors.

To handle data collection, BlackBerry turned to Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) IoT network to transport data. Amazon will also be powering the cloud computing portion of the QNX platform.

An example of how data flows from the battery health monitor in an IoT sensor through the AWS cloud.

BlackBerry says QNX is being used in over 150 million vehicles today world-wide. In addition, the company is working as an advisor to the Canadian government to establish regulations surrounding autonomous vehicles. BlackBerry received $40 million from the Ontario provincial government last year to accelerate autonomous vehicle innovation as part of the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.

Numerous sensors in assistive vehicles generate vast loads of data. To prevent inundation, QNX vehicles parses most of it on the vehicle itself and only sends actionable insights.

Certain data can be inherently private. Insights into how drivers control their vehicles, where they frequent, and their breaking patterns can both help QNX fine-tune each vehicle to their primary handler and be very touchy.

“You’ll hear expressions like privacy by design,” noted Courville, “In other words: don’t design your vehicle just to be safe, secure, reliable, and then do the ‘oh yeah privacy’… no, decide it right from the beginning.”