Friday Five: WhatsApp hack and 5G phones

Zone’s Matt Blackwell handpicks and shares the five best stories on new digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. WhatsApp hack leaves users exposed

OK, first things first. Stop what you’re doing and update your WhatsApp. And no, there isn’t an option to ‘remind me tomorrow’. The Facebook-owned messaging giant was the victim of a hack earlier this week that left its 1.5 billion users vulnerable to having surveillance software remotely installed on their phones.

And the worst thing is, you wouldn’t necessarily know you’d been affected. Malicious code was used to target phones through a voice call and could be installed whether the user answered or not, with all record of the call disappearing afterwards. The spyware can trawl through calls, texts and data, as well as activate the camera and microphone, so it’s probably best to err on the side of caution with an update.

2. Snapchat courts controversy with latest lens

Step aside, dog face — there’s a new filter in town. Snapchat’s newest AR lens has been causing a furore this week, with everyone from Miley Cyrus to the England cricket team keen to see what they would look like as members of the opposite sex.

The gender swap filter has polarised opinion in a big way, with some praising it for breaking down the barriers of toxic masculinity and combatting the ‘fear of the feminine’, while others have (quite rightly) pointed out that it makes a joke of transitioning between genders. It’s obviously a sensitive issue, but at least some guys now know the kind of rubbish women have to put up with on dating apps.

3. Safe as houses with Alexa Guard

Home security could receive a shot in the arm if and when Amazon’s latest Echo feature makes its way over to the UK. Alexa Guard rolled out to customers in the US this week and is able to listen out for key sounds, such as broken glass and alarms, and send an audio clip to a user’s smartphone while they’re on the move.

Amazon has drawn criticism in the past over the data its devices store, and this feature is likely to resurface some of those concerns. The company maintains that Echo devices will only record pre-selected sounds when in Away mode, so hopefully Alexa will save its spying for the bad guys, and not tap in to your family chats.

4. 5G future looms for Vodafone

Vodafone has become the first UK carrier to set a switch-on date for its 5G network. Circle 3 July in your diaries, people. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London will be the first cities to experience the joy, with 12 more added by the end of the year.

This all sounds very impressive of course, but what tangible difference will an extra G make to your life? Well, with speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G, you’ll be able to download box sets or movies in seconds and maintain a flawless data connection in congested areas like shopping centres or sporting events. Four 5G handsets will be available at launch and plans will be priced the same as their 4G counterparts.

5. The end of the mouse could be in sight

Eye-tracking technology has been helping people with disabilities communicate and experience the internet for years, but now a group of researchers want to bring this assistive tech into the mainstream. If successful, our eyes could soon be the only thing we need to control digital interfaces.

The tech debuted at the recent ACM Computer-Human Interaction conference, where the team behind it demonstrated several scenarios in which using a person’s eyes as a mouse could boost productivity, including correcting typos in an email and collaborating on joint documents remotely. The videos of the tech at work kind of blow my mind a little bit, but I’m ready to embrace this brave new (mouseless) world.

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