- Ben walks us through his Cortana Daily Briefing email.
- We consider this Artificial Intelligence "light" and talk about surveillance concerns.
- Visit cortana.office.com to change your settings.
- Microsoft is gathering information whether you subscribe or not.
- Also mentioned is Microsoft To Do.
- We talk about Apple's Shortcuts app for iPhone and iPad (and Automator on the Mac). See the Shortcuts user Guide. And the fun and frustration of Apple's Home app (aka HomeKit).
- Checkout The Clapper!
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Ben: Okay. So today is Tuesday, January 26th, 2021. I'm Ben Greiner. With me as always, Chad Calease and Michelle Charles. Hello, everyone.
Ben: Can you see it snowing where I am?
Chad: Yeah, it looks cool.
Michelle: Looks like Charlie Brown.
Ben: This is that app. Mmhmm is the name of it. I think I've used this before. I was just playing around with it. They added some new backgrounds, which are kind of interesting. There's the immersive rain background.
Chad: Oh, that's cool. That's awesome actually.
Ben: Yeah. And then they have this one and I'm in the bathroom now, I guess, talking to you.
Chad: Your bathroom looks small.
Ben: And now I'm in a Game Boy.
Chad: That's cool.
Ben: Anyway, we'll go with the bricks, plain bricks right now. And what we're going to talk about today is something that came through our support desk and that is artificial intelligence. And in fact, I wanted to read, I sent out an email. I don't know if you guys saw it because I know I sent it out rather late. My apologies. But I put a little quote in there. This quote is actually from a CEO of Inteva, Steven Freidkin. And he was interviewed and I really enjoyed how he ended the interview. And I'll just read it very briefly if you didn't see the email.
The next evolution in IT services will be centered on the power of artificial intelligence in harnessing data to make better, more informed decisions, even for smaller and smaller companies. There is a tremendous opportunity to use data more effectively and in an autonomous manner. As business intelligence and artificial intelligence converge, these concepts will become more relevant.
And I must admit, I have heard about artificial intelligence and I think we all kind of have a vague understanding of it, but trying to articulate that in real world scenarios that affect us and affect small business in particular, small and medium businesses, it's still kind of early days, but we're starting to see some of that. And we may not even be aware of it. And one of the things that came up in one of our questions that we got on the support desk this week was what is this Cortana email? And why am I getting it? How do I stop it? In fact, it was also I think, a little concerning. The viewer thought, how is it possible that they are looking at my email? They're looking at my calendar, they're piecing it together and making suggestions.
So I thought we'd talk about that a little bit, because I was also a little surprised at the reaction I was getting and hearing from even our own team saying, "Oh yeah, this looks kind of scary." And Chad we've talked about this before. I mean, I would say every single app out there is collecting this information. Are they making it available to us, usable to us? Probably not.
But Microsoft is starting to expose some of this in these Cortana emails. And I think it's pretty interesting. I'll share my screen just to show you an example of what I'm talking about. For anyone who uses Office 365, you probably have access to this. Maybe you could go find these emails in your inbox today. Microsoft started rolling them out in September of last year and anything Microsoft does, because they're such a huge organization, anything on Office 365, it takes months to roll this out. So I have a feeling some of us had access to this in September, and some of us are just now getting access to it or just noticing access to it. Michelle or Chad, have you guys seen these in your inbox? Have you?
Michelle: I've seen the analytics, but.
Ben: Let me pull up an example. So here's one example I just grabbed. It's called your daily briefing. There are two types that I'm aware of. One is these reminders where it's saying, I saw this, there was this exchange I had about a tax package, please review and complete all documents. So I can choose to either say this isn't relevant to me, delete it. I can choose to say, I've done this, or I can choose to say, remind me. And if I were to say done, I click this and it marks it as complete. Now what's going on is it's looking at my emails. It's looking at my to-do app or it's adding things to my to-do app to set reminders. And it's autonomous. This is artificial intelligence. Obviously there's no one reading this, and this is unique and specific to me. If I've completed something, it won't remind me again. If I don't do anything, I think it shows up in the next daily briefing.
I must admit, I'm still learning how to really use this. And I ignored it for months, but then I started using it and I started to find some value in it. And I'm starting to learn more and more about it. So what I also wanted to point out is if you scroll down to the bottom of this, you're going to see your settings where you can go online and change a few things about how it gets delivered. You can read the privacy statement and you can unsubscribe, meaning can turn this off. But Chad, maybe you can talk to this. I'm guessing unsubscribing stopped you from seeing this information, but it doesn't necessarily stop Microsoft from gathering this information.
Chad: No. They're going to collect it no matter what.
Ben: Yeah .No, I was just going to show. That's one type. And then there's one other type of daily briefing. That's the same one I just looked at. These look very similar. Share. Here's the other one. Sorry, try this again. Why am I looking? Maybe it would help if I get rid of that screen and try this again. Share. Here. Okay. Does this look different? Focus time, catch up on messages. So the other briefing that I've noticed it will do is it will look ahead and look at your calendar and find blocks of time and say, "Would you like me to book some focus time, message time, take a break and learning." And I did this just to see what it would do. Obviously you can try this and change your schedule after the fact, but what it does is it literally puts one and a half hours of time on Friday. It found some areas where I should take a break. Whether or not I follow my calendar and take a break is another issue altogether. It blocked out some time on my calendar for me to focus and do some things.
And I'm just trying it out to see what it does and how it works. But I wanted to talk a little bit about it. Michelle, you said you've not noticed it. Maybe you could go find these and see if they show up. Chad, you said you've seen them?
Ben: Have you worked on or used it at all?
Chad: No, I haven't. The way that I manage my calendar is I build those things in already to make sure, but I see where this would have a lot of value for people. One of the things that I really like about this, whether someone uses it or not, is you touched on this before, these companies are collecting this information whether we know it or not. And there's nothing we can do to stop that because when we opt in, when we create an account and we sign up and we agree to the ULA and all that stuff, terms of service and everything, that's what we're agreeing to. We're agreeing to allow them to basically collect information about how we use the platform, when we use it, from what devices, with who and what context.
So it's nice to at least get some transparency into that so that we can use that information. It's GDPR compliant. If anybody has any concerns about any of this. Sure there are some issues. You have to be concerned about your privacy when you're using these messages, for example, because if you're using Cortana, for example, someone could overhear everything. If you're working on sensitive projects or sensitive things, you might not want... I'm might want to put some headphones on and protect your privacy.
Ben: Are you talking about the Siri like aspect of Cortana.
Chad: Yeah. Because within this there's other functionality where you can have your most prioritized emails read to you. It'll do a lot of things. Just scratching the surface of the things that it will do. But it's just something to think of. Every time we embrace a new tech in our lives, we just have to consider what we have to change to make sure that we're maintaining our privacy and it's not hard to do.
Ben: Yeah. The promise of all of these things, whether it's Siri or Cortana or Alexa is that they will become personal assistants to us. And I think we're starting to see some of that happen, for better or for worse. It's still overwhelming and sometimes it's hilarious or confusing what they're trying to help us with. Or sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't work well. But certainly Microsoft isn't the only one doing it. And I know Siri will make adjustments and suggestions for you based on if it sees in your calendar that you're at home, but you need to go say to the dentist, it could make suggestions like "You need to leave now in order to get to the dentist." I know it can do that. It can do some things like if I always open up the news app in the morning, then when I do a search, that news app will show up as the top automatic hit. Those are the types of things that artificial intelligence is learning how I'm using the product and making changes based on that. And sometimes it's very helpful, sometimes it's it doesn't work so well.
Chad: Yeah. That's a really important point because a lot of it also is just people's comfort levels. Everybody's going to be different. I'll use myself as an example. I may not have much use for some of these things, but I do have a use for something like, we're already using some of us, this AI in our lives in ways we may not know of, like you mentioned, Ben. Michelle and I and you... I have a nest in my house. And I like that because I don't have to interact with it. I don't have to think about it. It manages the HVAC, the heating and cooling in the house based on historical information. And it sends me an update once a month and tells me what's up and that's useful.
Having to interact with Cortana or Siri, whatever, initially requires some investment of time to set it up and make it so that it has value for you. But I think a lot of people have this impression that AI is just going to automatically do all this cool stuff. It's not really the case, we're not really there yet. We shouldn't even call it AI yet, to me. But the marketing folks, we have to collaborate with them. So one of the things about these tools is your point, Ben, have to shape the way you work around it a little bit to get any value out of it.
Ben: And you do have to use it in order to understand how to use it and in order for it to get better and to learn things. And that's where I was a little surprised yesterday when I heard some conversations about, "Oh, well, this is the beginning of Microsoft spying on employees and things like that." It's like, okay, let's calm down. First of all, I'm sure those spying on employees has been a concern for many years before Microsoft. And I personally view this as a tool that is just exposing the sheer volume of data that we have stored and making it somewhat useful. And I think it's a huge step forward and I'm actually impressed with what they're doing. And I know Apple's working on it. Obviously we've talked about Microsoft. I don't know. I got to believe Google has something like this. Do they have anything in Workspace, do we know?
Ben: We need to collect data. There's no doubt.
Chad: In everything. Everything is for them, I think tied back to Google Home. Their Alexa, their version of Alexa. I think a lot of that is integrated there at the hardware level. Everybody has a different approach. Same with Alexa. You tie your identity to a device rather than an identity. You just log in and it just does all this stuff. Microsoft has a different thing. It's tied to an identity. And then if you're using any Microsoft devices like Xbox or Windows 10 or something, it's all integrated across those too. But I know more people with Xbox that are using these tools than anything else. That Xbox seems to be a big pivot point for a lot of things, because your Xbox you can integrate with, it can be the center of your house. I can really connect to all kinds of stuff and do a lot of things. And that's been true for a long time.
I think a lot of Xbox users, a lot of gamers are very fluent. They've gotten a lot of value out of this for a long time, but you're right, Ben, this isn't new. Whatever we want to call it, if we want to think about it as surveillance, that's fine. But I think there's healthier ways to think about it. And this kind of helps, when we can see for ourselves some of the value that this data can give us. I like that transparency personally, because if they are collecting it, why can't we have access to it? Right.
Ben: Yeah. Speaking of surveillance, so our boys were home from school here and they've now gone back to school. So apparently Xbox and they have an Xbox and when they were kids, we must have set it up with an account notifying Microsoft that they were not adults and it was linked to my account. So I've got two boys home and they both spent the weekend playing Red Dead Redemption. And it was Sunday night, I got an email that said, "Colin has spent 40 hours playing Red Dead Redemption" And I went to Colin and said, "Hey, you realize you spend this much time playing Red Dead." He said, "What, how do you know that?" [crosstalk 00:16:04] I was playing all the time. Elijah did some of it."
So yes, there is certainly the potential to surveillance somebody, whether it's a child or an employee is there. And you hope that if anyone's doing that, it's in full transparency. I think the worst that we see is when organizations do ask us, Chad to say, "Hey, can we do this?" And we're like, "Well, technically, maybe. Is that in your employee handbook? Or have you notified your team about it?" And it's like, "No, but we're the business. We can do this. Right?" It's like, well, that's not really a good idea, is it?"
Chad: It's important to be transparent, I think, and set people up for success, because the three of us, we take it for granted that we work around this stuff all the time. And it's not that intimidating to us. We know that if we dig into something for a few minutes, it's going to make sense and answer questions, but not everybody perceives, experiences it that way. We're dealing with...
Yesterday, a friend of mine, her daughter, her 12-year-old daughter committed suicide. And it was a result of a lot of these kinds of things, right? The parents monitoring devices really hard and surveilling that and trying to solve a cyber bullying problem that she was having. And they went about it the way a lot of non-technical parents not a lot of experience in technology would do it. They put surveillance apps on her devices. But still were communicating with her in person and trying to maintain the relationship. And who's to say that that was the reason. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that we have to be really, really careful because it's easy, whether people are right or wrong, if they feel that way, we have to validate that and we have to work with them and maybe circle back in another way. But that's why the first impression really matters.
And when organizations just inflict this stuff on people, they're going to get pushback, but if they go about it in a way that's a little more intentional, it might be slower. But with intention and educating people about this and showing them the kinds of value that they can get out of it, I think it can really make or break a program like this, because it just is way too easy for people to get the wrong idea.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. If you can get value out of it, that makes sense. But Chad, this turned dark.
Chad: Been a hard couple of days.
Ben: Parents greatest fear, losing a child in any way.
Chad: So they feel horrible, because they thought they were just doing the right thing. But some of the messages that she left behind were contrary to that. It's really hard to justify that when you feel there's a need and it's really hard to resist that when you feel there's a need and that parents are just doing the best they can. But I bring that up because that is one end of the spectrum where this kind of stuff can go really south and make someone feel they don't have any agency, they don't have any freedom. And we got to be careful with that messaging.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. I'm kind of speechless right now. But I appreciate you sharing that because I think that's... I don't know, I'm not going to say anything other than that's terrible. And I feel for them. I feel greatly for them.
Chad: It's hard.
Ben: So let's see. We can wrap it up here. We don't need to take the full time, but I did want to just make sure everyone was aware that Cortana or at least the daily briefing part of Office 365 rolled out late last year. By now everyone who has Office 365, I think, should have this as part of their routine, unless you unsubscribed. If you unsubscribed and you would like to resubscribe, I believe there is a way to do that. And I think you go to-
Chad: Go to settings.
Ben: Yeah, cortana.microsoft.com. Yeah. C-O-R-T-A-N-A.office.com. Sorry, office.com. And you can turn your Cortana briefing on or off. In fact, let me just share my screen here and we'll do one more quick share.
Chad: And keep in mind, turning that off does not Microsoft from collecting these statistics. So those analytics are going to continue to be generated behind the scenes. It's just that we're no longer going to be in the loop.
Ben: That's right. If you log in to office.com and you go to cortana.office.com, there might be an icon. I don't know. I just know this is how I got to it. And if you click the unsubscribe button, this is where you will be taken. At least for one of those daily briefings. It might be slightly different for the other one. So I can turn this on or off. I can decide when to get it. I can change my time zone. And then I can learn more about exactly what this is doing. Why am I getting this? Something to note is if you're using Outlook, Outlook web access on the web or Outlook for Mac, you're going to get the full featured version, the adaptive version. If you're using anything else, like Apple Mail, for example, to view your Office 365 email, you're going to get the HTML version, which does not have all the features. So keep that in mind.
If you're like Ben, how did you set the reminder or tell the app that you completed your task, I can't do that. It may be because you're using the HTML version. So this really gives you a lot more information, including additional links. And then I also found this, which I included in the email today that I sent out, what can you do with the briefing emails? This is a really good summary. And of course it works on iPhone or the Mac, and it's very short and you can opt out. All the standard stuff, including an FAQ. So be aware of it, try it out, turn it off if you don't like it. But certainly know that that doesn't stop Microsoft from collecting that information.
So I think it's a good thing. I recommend take advantage of it. See if it does help you. Obviously, if it doesn't, turn it off. But all of this stuff, [crosstalk 00:22:51], whether it's... It's worth trying out. Whether it's Microsoft, whether it's Siri, all this stuff is getting better. And I think what's frustrating is when it doesn't work. It worked last week, why is it not working this week? And I always have to tell myself that this is still an amazing thing. When we were kids, the fact that I could speak out loud and say, "Hey, Siri, turn off the dining room lights," and it would just do that was science fiction. Siri just said okay. She just turned off the dining room lights.
Michelle: It's an improvement from The Clapper.
Ben: When you really think about it, what's that Michelle?
Michelle: It's an improvement from The Clapper, turn on, turn off.
Ben: That's right, the old Clapper. I remember that. Yeah, what's the history of that type of stuff? The Clapper is a good example of the early iteration of clap on, clap off.
Chad: We used to use it for the stereo. We didn't plug it into lights. We just plugged it into the radio and double clap and you have music on. That was as good as it got. You had a fixed station or whatever it was, but that was pretty rad. That's come a long way for sure.
Ben: Very cool. There's probably a way to, "Hey, Siri, when you hear a clap, do something," probably build that in. What does Apple call their framework for building things like that, Chad? You remember?
Chad: AR Kit. Your home kit.
Ben: They made a easier gooey version where you can piece things together. Not Automator. That was the early.
Chad: Yeah. Automator's awesome. That is a triumph.
Ben: What is the? It's on iOS.
Chad: Shortcuts you're talking about.
Ben: Is it shortcuts?
Chad: I use shortcuts a lot. In fact, the kids and I-
Ben: Yeah, shortcuts.
Chad: Shortcuts is awesome. It is really awesome to be able to, for example, LJ and I, our 13-year-old, or soon to be 14-year-old, she was like, "Hey, Chad, do you know how I can," because she's my stepdaughter. She calls me Chad, not Dad. "How can we convert video to a GIF? Isn't there a way we can just do that without downloading in my app?"
And I was like, "Oh, there's got to be." So we went through this whole, spent like some of our evening after dinner figuring out how to make this. And you can, you can literally do pretty much... I don't want to say ditch the App Store, but you almost couldn't ditch the App Store with the power of shortcuts. It's amazing.
Ben: Yeah. Shortcuts is available on iOS. It's not, at least not on Catalina. I don't know if it's available in Big Sur. I haven't looked into it, but I remember playing around with it in the video to GIF feature I see is right here, Chad. And they give you a bunch of things based on what your home kit settings are. Because I see a lot of nest features built in here because I have a nest.
Chad: Just be careful. There's a caveat. A lot of folks are not going to be enterprising enough to make their own shortcuts, even though you can in a few short steps. A lot of folks have made their shortcuts available to download. Just be cautious. We haven't seen malware embedded in shortcuts yet, but I'm sure it's coming because a lot of kids are into it, especially the kids are doing shortcuts crazy. And so just be mindful of where you're downloading your shortcut [crosstalk 00:26:32].
Ben: Yeah. As always, be careful. Get it from Apple approved sources, the App Store or it looks like they have a shortcut gallery. And that reminds me, one last thing I'll mention is the early days of automation, before Home Kit, you would use maybe a dedicated app. What's the one I'm trying to think of? I had some outlets that I could turn on or off with an app.
Ben: I think is the brand. And of course there's the smart thermostats and there's all this stuff. So recently we had a light that was turning on or off at the time we did not want it to. And for the life of me, I could not figure out which automation was controlling that light, because there were just too many ways in, and every way I looked I'm like, I can't find it. Why is it doing this? So that can be a frustration too.
Chad: And that brings up the larger conversation too, of it's really easy, you hear me use fancy words like attack surface and threat models and things like that. But our attack surface is really how easy we make it for criminals to choose our number. When they're walking down the proverbial street and looking at bicycles to steal, we want to try to make our lock look intimidating. And one of the things that we can do to make that our lock look more formidable to a criminal is to consolidate those platforms. So if we have six apps that we use to manage our house with our attack footprint is huge compared to what it could be. So we want to think about that. If we're using one for lights and one for thermostat and one for this and one for that, there are some ways to consolidate those things and that can give us some peace of mind.
Ben: Yeah. And as the technology gets better, it's easier to do that.
Chad: It is.
Ben: So certainly looking back on it, I think I ended up resetting everything and just doing it through Home Kit. So to your point, it was easier for me. And my attack surface was smaller.
Chad: A bit smaller. And that's a great point too, because a lot of times when we do consolidate, we'll find, oops, my camera just timed out. We will find-
Ben: I just clapped and your light went off, Chad, I'm sorry.
Chad: It works. It works in charm. Making things consolidated often, to your point, Ben, has some added value, which is making it easier. So keep that in mind.
Ben: Simpler, easier. Okay. With that, thank you very much. Have a great rest of your week and we'll see you back here in two weeks.
Michelle: Thank you.
Chad: Thanks everybody.
About the Ntiva Apple for Business Livestream
Ntiva’s Ben Greiner and Chad Calease host the Ntiva Apple for Business livestream every other Tuesday from 12:00 to 12:30pm CT. These live events, presented by the Ntiva team of Apple experts, are sharply focused, easily digestible, and cover topics including the latest Apple/macOS/iOS technology updates, cybersecurity, data privacy, MDM and BYOD policies, and more! We take questions from the audience and share what's working—and not working—for us and others in the industry.