Is Facebook listening to us?



We investigate and review important issues around user privacy in mobile apps. Primarily, we investigate what data is collected by these apps. In particular, our focus is on which data that should not be collected, because of legal regulations, settings of the phone, or are simply on the edge of good morals. Our proof of concept analyses the Facebook app (and on smaller scale also Messenger). The reason for this is that it is a good example of an app with vast user-granted permissions

"… one of our colleagues needed a new suitcase.
And few hours later he got adverts concerning suitcases on Facebook. We thought about how that might happen…"

Privacy is something that helps you maintain autonomy, individuality, something you should take care of. Or at least strive to know how much privacy you are giving up in exchange for certain services.

“We wanted to actually see what is being sent, so we decrypted the traffic.”

We try to show and discuss different methods and approaches to figure out what is actually being sent to cloud servers if you use the Facebook app. All of the methods discussed are a Proof of Concept of these techniques. The question that we tried to answer was: “Is Facebook listening to us?”

"While we were analyzing the sniffed traffic we were able to recognize patterns in DNS requests, names of Facebook’s cloud servers, content of decrypted traffic…"

The big question remains unanswered for now since there can always be doubts. We can say that Facebook app is not listening to us… most likely. Each step in the investigation made us more and more inclined to that conclusion.

Petr Kus & Dominik Pokora

Would you like to know more? Read the full document here.

These 9 trends will completely change your world view!

…or not. Yes, clickbait is still a trend. End-of-year trends articles are trending. So are cuffed jeans, tattoos, information overload and attention scarcity. TLDR: we know you’ve lost faith in predictions, but we’re going to take some risks here in the hope we will inspire you to think about the unprecedented opportunities the next year will bring us.

image from Iron Man 3 (c) Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Motion Pictures

Heads Up Computing

Amazon Echo is a wonderful example of technology that lets us stay engaged with the real world instead of pulling us into a screen. Alexa, Echo’s built-in virtual assistant lets you speak your commands without picking up a phone or tablet. Alexa is joined by Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, Google Home, and Microsoft’s Cortana, all of which use voice interface and machine learning.

Our prediction: Technology will progressively move further into the background, to let us access computed functionality without disengaging from the real world around us. Microsoft HoloLens and MagicLeap are preparing the next step to what we are calling “Heads up” computing: realistic 3D images that integrate with the real world around us.

image from The Jetsons, copyright Hanna Barbera

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) are on track to transform our lives and landscapes. AVs will lead to an increase in on-demand ride services and a consequent decline in personal car ownership. The automobile industry will be turned on its head. Parking lots will be repurposed and cities will become more pedestrian-friendly.

Our prediction: The next step in the AV revolution will be containerised personal transport. Your personal travel pod will be picked up at your front door, loaded onto your plane, and then to your beach-side accommodation seamlessly and efficiently. Containerisation will bring the same gains in efficiency and convenience to personal travel as it brought to the commercial freight industry. It looks like aircraft makers are already thinking along these lines.

image (c) CNN

Big Data Backlash

In the aftermath of a general failure to predict some important elections and referendums, we expect to see a new and healthy skepticism toward the benefits of big data. Too often, analysts “miss the forest for the trees”. Netflix CEO Chris Hastings described their approach as, “We start with the data, but the final call is always gut. It’s informed intuition.”

Our prediction:  We’ll continue to rely on big data, but we’ll find techniques to better measure the more qualitative factors, like Google’s recently launched Cloud Natural Language API sentiment analysis.

New frontiers for online security

Shifting Security Frontiers

The early days of consumer computing were like the Wild West. Standards were immature and most systems didn’t work together. New software brands and applications appeared and disappeared every week. We hadn’t yet had enough time to know who we could really trust …or not. Windows competed with DOS and OS/2 as well as Apple. Word competed with WordPerfect, WordStar. Excel with Lotus123 or Quattro. Law and order was not established; and trusting citizens were prey to outlaws distributing computer viruses. We needed a sheriff. Shareware antivirus programs like Avast stepped in to preserve order, first on desktop, then on mobile devices.

In recent years, the Wild Frontier of computing has moved to a growing range of smart home devices including online thermostats, smoke detectors, lights, cameras, televisions and yes, refrigerators. As in the early days, there are few standards or proven brands, and consumers need protection.

Our prediction: Whole-home network protection is the next frontier for consumer online security.

impromptu picnic

Just-in-time Living

10 years ago, we consulted a map before leaving the house. 5 years ago, we got directions on our phone after we’d already left the house to meet our friends at the agreed time and place. Today, we’re just as likely to post an update to see if anyone wants to meet up for lunch at the Pho food truck we just saw. Technology makes us agile.

Harry’s offers razor-blades as a service, Blue Apron offers meal planning and shopping as a service, and Amazon Dash is edging toward condoms as a service. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) allow on-demand education. The variety of consumer services will continue to grow. The “gig economy” even promises on-demand employment.

Our prediction: more of the same. Technology will continue to empower us with instant communication, services-on-demand, and immediate gratification. But there may be a social and emotional cost: without a map, some people will lose their sense of direction.

Chime: dawn of the smart router.

Dawn of the Smart Router

The router industry today is like the mobile phone industry in 2007, when the mobile phone industry  was disrupted by the smartphone.

2007 2017
Ubiquitous computing devices consumers rely on every day. Mobile phone Router
Distribution through telcos… Mobile phone Router
Drives commoditization, eroding profitability. Mobile phone Router
Device computing power on an upward curve. Mobile phone Router
Competitors try to differentiate on features Mobile phone Router
…but consumers mostly just want reliable connectivity. Mobile phone Router
Gamechanger: iPhone Chime

In 2007 the iPhone changed what consumers expected from their phones. “Feature Phones”, which were designed around voice calls, began to be replaced by “Smart Phones”, which offered voice calls plus a wide variety of other services, including music, maps, and photos, to name only three.

Like mobile phones in 2006, routers today compete on features that add marginal extra value to their core function. Like mobile phones, we believe routers are strategically located to provide a wide variety of services, including media, security, and home automation, to name only three.

Our prediction: Feature Routers will be replaced by Smart Routers. Our Chime project is leading the way.

at your own risk

Personal Pricing

Never before have the words “everything you say may be used against you” been more true. But now it may also be used for your advantage. A lot of data is collected on us – whether we’re aware of it or not, and whether we agree to it or not – browsing, location, social media posts, interests, purchases, etc. And services start to use this data – sometime to our benefit, sometimes not.

Admiral Insurance recently proposed a system that analysed Facebook accounts of first-time car owners to find personality traits linked to safe driving. Individuals who scored well were offered better rates. Facebook blocked deployment after criticism from privacy advocates, but there are potential benefits as well as risks.

Access to personal data lets businesses offer credit without credit cards. Based on address, browsing behaviour, and type of product, services like Klaarna let consumers can order products without paying until they actually receive the product. By reducing typing and user input, these services also make it easier to make purchases on mobile devices.

Our prediction:  Personal pricing will find valuable business applications that balance privacy with personalisation and convenience. When the mix is right businesses and consumers stand to gain.

bright future

Clean Energy: Virtuous Reality

Over the past seven years, the cost of wind power in the US has dropped by 75%, and the cost of solar power by 73%. In some parts of the country, Wind power is the cheapest source of energy, beating even natural gas. (Morgan Stanley). With Elon Musk delivering on his vision of solar-roof-with-battery-powered houses and electric-powered cars, the once distant dream of sustainable energy is becoming a reality.

Our prediction: The falling prices of clean energy will accelerate adoption of electric cars, challenge the status countries that rely on fossil fuel as to feed their GDP, and spur the renewal of civic infrastructure.

store of wealth

Blockchain makes itself useful

It’s been exciting to watch Blockchain — the distributed secure ledger system that is the foundation for digital currencies including Bitcoin — find it’s place in the world. The core promise of Blockchain is to enable trusted transactions directly with unfamiliar parties, where otherwise a middleman, such as a broker, agent, or regulator would be required. Removing middlemen can lower cost and increase speed, creating opportunities for new services.

Financial service and insurance providers in particular are experimenting with new products, including:

  • A system to share property surveyor information among mortgage lenders in Hong Kong. (The Financial Times).
    A Facebook Messenger-based system to easily insure high-value items (e.g. cameras, smartphones, tablets) between individuals for just a few days, or weeks. (Stratumn)

Our prediction: The price of Bitcoin has been driven up in 2016 by investors who believe the digital currency is the new Gold, a safe place to store your wealth in turbulent times. Like Gold, the value of digital currencies is faith-based. Unlike Gold, Bitcoin does not have the long history to support the faith. We predict a crash.

In 2016, the US government handed control of the Internet Domain Naming System (DNS) to ICANN. We predict the DNS registry will eventually move to blockchain, continuing the transition toward global accountability and transparency.

From Snapchat to Snap: a pivot away from privacy?

When Snap(chat) announced Spectacles a couple of weeks ago I was impressed by the sleek design, which will undoubtedly appeal to its users, primarily teens and other young adults. But the announcement left me wondering what it means for the privacy of these users. Snapchat is thought of as the most privacy-friendly social medium because of the way posts disappear, but with Spectacles, they now want to preserve our memories. This has huge privacy implications. Because what if you are in someone else’s memory but don’t want it shared? What can you do? The answer may lie with Do Not Snap.

The right to online privacy continues to be much debated. Just recently an 18-year-old sued her parents for posting embarrassing childhood photos on Facebook. Usually it’s the other way around and it’s the parents that worry about their children’s (online) behavior. And in case of Snap’s Spectacles, maybe rightly so.

The internet can be quick to destroy a person’s life because of a stupid (or out of context) update, picture or movie that you or somebody else posted online. Now, Spectacles will make it very easy to capture and share more stupid things. Think about it: when you were young, as young as most Snapchat users, how many stupid things did you do? I know I did a lot. And I don’t regret it, because that is what you do when you grow up. This is how you grow. But you don’t want this stupid stuff online.




Here at our Innovation Labs we believe this can be achieved. We demonstrated so through our project called Do Not Snap. The philosophy behind Do Not Snap is that Snapchat – or any social media – should automatically recognize when a user doesn’t want their image shared, and take action on it. This is a realistic ambition, as we demonstrated in a prototype earlier this year. We created an algorithm that recognized when people in an image were wearing a button with our DoNotSnap logo. Whenever this button is visible, the person wearing it will be blurred when the picture is posted online.

We created the Do Not Snap prototype to demonstrate an easy solution for better online privacy. However, any comprehensive solution for online privacy will need to be implemented in the apps and devices that make these pictures and the social media to which they are posted. The industry behind this, which offers us great opportunities for those who want to share their lives, should also offer solutions for those that don’t want images of themselves distributed. If Snap wants to maintain its status as most privacy friendly social medium, they should lead the industry into this direction, and achieve the greatest pivot to privacy ever.

DoNotSnap Stickers and Buttons

DoNotSnap Stickers and Buttons


For Snap, or anybody else who wants to pick up this challenge, we open sourced our solution. Development was done by Max Klyga. The code repository can be found here.

Raspberry-PI for Android Test Automation

At AVG Innovation Labs we are constantly experimenting and exploring new ways to solve our problems, and sometimes this results in discovering some very interesting possibilities.

One such case happened during the development of AlarmClock Xtreme, one of the most popular alarm clocks on Play Store with more than 30-million installs. To ensure good product quality before shipping, we have several automated tests in place.

The challenge? At some point during the development, we realised that some of the Android Instrumentation Tests were slowing down the build-server pipeline. This was because the tests were executed on an emulator on the build-server and could take more than 20 minutes.

Harnessing the power of Pi
To speed up things, naturally we decided to try running our automation tests on actual physical devices. But before investing in a ton of new hardware, I realised we had a number of Raspberry Pi microcomputers lying around the office.

This got me thinking perhaps we could use these as a cheap and energy efficient devices to power our tests. So we started exploring whether it was possible and if it’d even be fast enough.

Sure enough, we got something working and here’s how we did it.

rasberry pi android test automation

Figure 1: Raspberry-Pi running automated Android Tests for our Alarm Clock Xtreme app.


Setting up Pi with ADB
First make sure you have the latest Raspbian Jessie (or similar) image installed on Pi.

Then run the following commands to install ADB:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb

If all goes well, try connecting an android device to the Pi with a USB. A permissions dialog should appear immediately on the device which you should allow. Then issue the command:

adb devices

If your device appears in the list (as in figure-2), then you’re ready to run android tests:

rasberry pi android test automation 2

Figure 2: Result from running adb command from PI attached to an Android device


Joining the dots between build server and Pi
Now you need to make sure that your build server can find your raspberry-pi and can connect to it. Here I will show you how to do that if you’re running a Jenkins based build server. You can create a new slave node and give it the IP-address of your PI. A sample slave node configuration is shown below.

Create a new Slave-Node in Jenkins and configure it as shown in Figure-3.

In the “Host” field make sure to give the IP-Address of your Pi. You can find that our by using the ifconfig command on your PI. In Credentials you need to give the user/password for connecting to your PI. Keep the “# of executors” field to 1 so that there is not too much load on the PI.

Don’t forget to also give the path to the “Remote root directory”, this is where your project files and newly built. apk files will be copied by Jenkins.

rasberry pi android test automation 3

Figure 3: Setting up Jenkins build-server to configure a Raspberry-Pi based slave node

Once this is set up, launch the slave agent on the Jenkins and you will see the output of the established connection and a message indicating that slave agent is running successfully.

Configuring the test-automation jobs
Next use the adb commands to install your test.apks, which are built by Jenkins, and then run the instrumentation tests. When you create a release build, along with your release .apk file which goes to the store, an extra “androidTest-unaligned” apk file is also created in the outputs/apk folder. You need to have both of them installed on your Android phone to run the tests :

adb install <your_path>-androidTest-unaligned.apk
adb install <your_path_to_release_apk>.apk
adb shell am instrument -e emma true –w <your_app_package>/android.test.InstrumentationTestRunner

If these commands run successfully on your system then, you will see on the Jenkins console the list of all the Tests which are executed and which of the Tests failed.

The Results?
The time taken to run the tests went down from 20 minutes on an emulator to under 5 minutes with a physical device attached to Pi.

This shows the Raspberry Pi is well capable of handling Android Instrumentation Tests. In comparison to an emulator running on a full system, it can also perform better with a physical device.

So not only, can you use your Pi for hobby hacking over the weekend, but it looks like people can also try it out for some serious Android development.

I’d love to hear from the developers out there. Is this something you’ve tried before? Are you planning to try it now? Leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter. If there’s enough demand I’d like to take this idea further with 10-20 devices connected to Pi executing a lot of tests in parallel – if you’d be interested in reading about this then let us know.

The four UX questions you need to answer when designing for the IoT

This year, almost 5 billion things will be connected to the internet. By 2020, it will be 50 billion.

From lightbulbs to door locks, these connected devices are expected to handle more elements of our daily life than ever, while providing simple experiences for the people who use them.

So how can we as UX designers create user interfaces for devices that don’t have screens, or offer no feedback at all? The answer is education. People love to learn. Our job is to turn connected devices into our users’ favourite teachers.

Read on to learn the four key questions you need to ask to make your connected devices superstar educators.

Does it teach you how to use it?

UX designers should always do the heavy lifting for users. We want our devices to put the user in the driving seat, but also guide them through set-up simply.

This means if 80% of users choose the same setup settings, these should be the out-of-the-box default. Determining what these are is easy with connected devices, as you likely already have this information about your users.

Think of educating the user the same way you would help a colleague or friend understand something new. Give them the information they need, be there to offer guidance and answer questions, then follow their lead. Within the device this could take the form of a step-by-step companion during set-up, with hints and tips popping up along the way, at just the right times.

As users become more familiar with the app, these supports should fade to the background and become more infrequent, giving them the freedom to explore and customize as they wish.

By empowering a user with knowledge during set-up, you’ve laid the foundation to ensure they’ll keep returning with confidence,  ready to use and engage with your product repeatedly.

Does it overwhelm you on day one?

The human mind isn’t designed to  absorb large amounts of information in one sitting. This is why we read a textbook over the course of a semester, not in one day. When it comes to UX, timing is everything. Users buy your device for a specific purpose, therefore your first objective should be to make it as easy as possible for them to reach that goal.

Then, the key to nurturing continuous use is to keep the learning process going. Introduce other ideas progressively, or release them as they’re available. Now not only are you teaching your users how to use the device, you’re also educating them on its potential, perhaps even preparing them for your next update.

Are there any dead ends?

The art of interfaces is as much about considering what happens when things go wrong as when they go right. This means contemplating every single step a user may take and ensuring there are no failure cul-de-sacs.

Nothing is more frustrating than hitting a wall or being confronted with an unintelligible error code. If you give users a clear pathway to correct any errors, you’ll win their trust and show they’re in safe hands.


Wondering how to get started? I wrote another piece on mapping out the screens of your app that provides much more information.

Is it friendly and familiar?

When users log into a device they know, they expect it to know them, too.Without this recognition, you’ll lose the potential for users to make the all-important emotional connection you need them to have with your product and brand.  Instead, use intelligent design to make them feel like they‘re checking in with a trusted friend who understands them and wants to help.

Replicating this familiarity is easier than ever with connected devices. We can record usage and get rich information about users, all in the service of providing a personalised experience.

This means if a user installs an IP camera or thermostat, once it’s connected it should start talking to them in their native tongue based on location. You can even pull up automatic suggestions for other stages of the set-up stage, such as router IP addresses and device names.

Remember, you want to make the experience require a low cognitive load. Users want to find it comfortable and pleasurable to keep coming back to your device. If you break that trust once, you’re unlikely ever to regain it. Not only that, you lose the potential for that user to recommend your product to a family member or friend.

Did you find this post useful? Have I missed other important tips? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or found me over on Twitter @JessicaDowney

With over 30 million installs, Alarm Clock Xtreme adds free sleep tracking to help you rest easy

Sleep is a vital human function. Getting too much or too little will leave you unable to perform at your best. Even worse, a lack of sleep over a prolonged period of time could lead to increased risk of heart disease or other life-threatening conditions.

Here at Innovation Labs we’re always looking for ways to use technology to improve our everyday lives, and considering we spend almost a third of our lives in dreamland, improving sleep quality seemed like a worthwhile challenge.

That’s why today we’re releasing a brand new sleep-tracking feature for Alarm Clock Xtreme.

Say goodbye to restless nights

With advanced alarms options, Alarm Clock Xtreme already goes the extra mile to wake you, but experts agree that waking up is much easier when you sleep well. That’s why understanding your sleeping patterns becomes key to improving your sleeping and waking lives.ACX sleep tracking

Alarm Clock Xtreme’s new sleep tracking feature will show you

  • ->Your number of sleep cycles
    ->How much time you spent in REM sleep
    ->How many nighttime disruptions you experienced

Do you get enough hours of sleep? Do you wake up too often? Install Alarm Clock Xtreme Free from Google Play store and start learning about your sleep patterns so you can know what to focus on improving.

Next step: automating your connected bedroom

Insight into your sleep habits introduces many opportunities to sleep better and live better.  Eventually we plan to integrate Alarm Clock Xtreme with connected home products to provide you with real, comprehensive bedroom automation.

See the lights turn on as you wake up, watch your screen dim when you’re working late, and hear your connected coffee machine whirring to life so your espresso is ready when you rise.

We believe the connected home starts with the connected bedroom, and the connected bedroom starts with better sleep. If you’re a fan of Alarm Clock Xtreme, we’d love to know what you think of the update and what you’d like to see in future features. We’re always listening!

Future routers: The key to the connected home

A manifesto to redefine the router

When was the last time you interacted with your router, beyond turning it off and on again after a frustrating connection issue? I’m willing to bet it was a long time ago, if ever. And given the general interface on these things, you’re probably lucky it was.

Nobody cares about routers. For decades they’ve been commodity hardware running commodity software, relegated to the corners of our homes and offices, unsophisticated tethers to the wider online world.

They’ve remained dumb devices at the center of increasingly smart homes.

But once you look a little closer you’ll see that this humble machine is now the main entry point to your home and a shared bridge for all your connected devices. Far from a  neglected tool, it could–and should–become the foundation that finally makes smart homes a reality.

If this potential and progress are so obvious, why hasn’t this shift happened yet?

The importance of design and incentives

The router market has stagnated. The incumbent ecosystem, including everyone from chipmakers to box-makers, is working hard to find a way to push design forward.. But it’s simply not easy for a company built for nano-scale manufacture and assembly to instantly take a design-first approach.

The world of design is changing so fast that even the leaders are struggling to anticipate and integrate trends like conversational interfaces and smart home protocols. Plus, they have the added consideration of just how important security must be on this single connected gateway. For hundreds of millions of families, the computers on their network contain as many of their intimate and confidential files as the cloud.

The router must therefore be porous to all the s of devices communicating with themselves and the outside world, while remaining solid as granite against threats that want to access those devices for nefarious reasons.

So here’s what we’re doing

Based on these principles, we’ve spent the last 18 months developing the first truly smart software to let routers live up to their potential.

It requires zero technical knowledge to use, via what we call a Conversational User Interface. This smart natural language processing (NLP) software is as simple as WhatsApp — you simply type your request and it takes care of the rest.

Want to stop your grade-schooler from watching Netflix after 9 PM? Want to shut down your internet connection at midnight? Just ask.

We’re already exploring partnerships with some of the biggest router manufacturers and brands, so we can bring our decades of experience in software and design expertise to the table. We want hardware manufacturers to focus on what they know best, while being able offer users an experience ten times better than  what they have today.

And underneath it all, AVG’s long, strong heritage in security gives users the peace of mind they expect and deserve, protecting your family through VPN, privacy controls and world-renowned antivirus services as standard.

If you’re working in the ecosystem and haven’t heard from us already, we’d love to talk. Visit for contact details or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

The Chime Smart Home Platform will revolutionize the role of the router

This isn’t an incremental improvement to an existing product, or a superficial ribbon to wrap around the box.

Chime marks the start of a significant shift in the way we will communicate with our connected home. It’s not just for geeks and specialists, but rather is designed to bring benefits to even the most casual user. in our next series of posts, we’ll show you more and talk through how this impacts every stage of the router ecosystem.

So whether you’re a user, router manufacturer, telco, chipmaker or retail brand, we want to hear from you. Sign up for our newsletter or visit to learn more and get in touch with the team.

What 802.11 Wifi Standards Mean To You

Here at Innovation Labs we’ve done a lot of work around the connected home which usually involves trawling through research papers and in-depth reports explaining WiFi standards for engineers like me.

What I realised was missing was an up-to-date look at the differences and what they mean for real people, especially in terms of the speed, range and stability.

That’s why I wanted to explain three common 802.11 standards that many routers and devices comply with today. I’ll also introduce you to two upcoming standards, AX and AH, the next steps along the journey to a completely connected world.

Please note this posts aims to give a non-technical overview of wireless standards. I’ve included links to further reading in each section and if you would like to learn more follow us on Twitter for more in-depth posts on this soon.

WiFi standards explained

N Standard (802.11n)

By far the most popular standard today. 802.11n is the Volkswagen of wireless standards.

Almost everything using WiFi now complies with N standard and it’s quite a technical improvement from it’s predecessor, 802.11g, which suffered from interference when in close range to everything, from bluetooth to baby monitors. Not what you need when you’re trying to surf Reddit or look for videos of cute kittens.

N standard offers significant advantages in terms of encoding data and increasing transfer speeds. Reliable, stable and a safe bet for a flat or small house. A lot of new IoT products are also opting to use it to keep costs low whilst still delivering sufficient bandwidth.

Read more: Defining 802.11n [PC Mag]

AC Standard (802.11ac)

802.11ac is currently the supercar of the standards world and  routers complying to this standard gain drastic improvements in performance, reliability, range and coverage. A big driver to move to AC was the need to include support for the 5 GHz frequency bands, opening up more of the wireless spectrum and allowing greater speeds.

AC Standard employs two new technologies, MIMO and beamforming. To put it simply:

Beamforming allows routers to focus a WiFi signal in a particular direction. It reduces interference and increase the range at which you can connect to the router.
MIMO, an acronym for multiple-inputs multiple-outputs allows your router to differentiate between connected devices and ensure data is sent simultaneously to all of them.

Later in 2013, an iteration of AC Standard known as 802.11ac Wave 2 increased maximum wireless speeds even further. The top routers on the market today use Wave 2 to differentiate themselves, offering even more speed, stability and reliability to the original AC standard routers.

As we start to stream more multimedia content and the number of devices in our homes continue to increase, the router industry is moving towards widespread adoption of the AC wireless standard.

Read more: 802.11ac vs 802.11n WiFi: What’s The Difference? [Forbes]

AD Standard (802.11ad)

AD standard is fast. Really fast. If AC standard is a supercar, AD is a supersonic jet.

Higher frequencies allow for faster data transfer making things like streaming videos happen much faster. The issue with AD is the higher frequencies it broadcasts at have a hard time penetrating objects. That means walls, doors and even windows can seriously impede how far a signal can travel.

This means the indoor range of these routers is lower than the other standards we’ve explored. But a lot of data can be packed into the signals they send. AD standard devices also use beamforming technology meaning they can send data point-to-point over long distances. An example could be connecting networks in two buildings on a college campus.

In 2016 the world’s first 802.11ad router was announced. These routers offer tri-band connectivity meaning the AD, N and AC technologies coexist with each other. This removes the need to stay in the same room as your router. Put simply, if you’re out of range for AD’s 60Hz frequencies, you’ll lose benefits of super speeds but will remain connected on the 2.4-5 GHz frequencies supported by the N and AC standards.

An AD router could be used with great effect to link device docks with wireless interconnects or transfer large amounts of data between two devices in close proximity.

Read more:  Understanding where 802.11ad WiGig fits into the gigabit Wi-Fi picture [Network World]

Note; In China and some other regions of the world 802.11ad has been renamed as IEEE 802.11aj and altered to work on the 45GHz band, learn more about this here.

What’s next?

Above I’ve explored three of the most popular 802.11 standards, but there’s a couple more on the horizon and two in particular that we should be keeping our eyes on.

AH Standard (802.11ah)

Continuing our analogy AH is the blimp of the standards world: It moves slowly but is able to travel long distances. And this is where it gets interesting.

By using sub GhZ frequencies, AH compliant devices will be able to send small amounts of data over long distances without losing a connection. Walls and windows are no longer an issue.

An obvious application of devices complying to AH would be with small low power IoT devices, such as sensors, which could be dotted around a large area.  It’ll essentially work like Bluetooth does but over a much wider range. For this reason they could one day be used to link up IoT devices across your property.

In January 2016, the Wi-Fi alliance announced an extension of AH called Wi-Fi HaLow.  Though some analysts warn that 802.15.4 technologies such as ZigBee and Google Thread could threaten widespread adoption of the AH standard in years to come.

Read more: 802.11ah: Advantages in standards and further challenges for sub 1 GHz Wi-Fi [IEEE Explore]

AX Standard (802.11ax)

802.11ax is the stealth bomber of our analogy, expected to travel longer distances at incredibly quick speeds. Inspired by ideas from LTE and 5G technologies used in the telecoms industry, AX is an intriguing standard we’ll be exploring more in future blog posts.

According to Extreme Tech “in a lab-based trial of technology similar to 802.11ax Huawei hit a max speed of 10.53Gbps, or around 1.4 gigabytes of data transfer per second.”

Essentially AX Standard uses more sophisticated techniques of encoding signals, which Huawei reported increasing efficiency  tenfold. That’s great news for film buffs who will be able to stream films in a massive 8K without any issues.

As well as the movie fans and audiophiles looking for high quality streaming, another way we expect to see routers with AX standard being used is in hotels and big buildings. This means multiple users could all connect to one router and get high speeds across an entire building.

Read more: Wi-Fi’s 802.11ax standard could deliver gigabit speeds to devices [Fierce Wireless]

So there you have it. A potted history exploring some of the major wireless standards out there. This is only the tip of the iceberg though and information on the new standards is still emerging, so we’d love to hear from you.

Any interesting new standards we’ve missed? Any details we should include? Get in touch over at @AVGInno or leave a comment below. You can also keep up to date with our work on the Chime Connected Home Platform by joining our newsletter or visiting

Meet The Team: Maurice

This week, we’re introducing Maurice, McGinley, Design Director who recently wrote about how passion powers our organisation.

Maurice McGinley Innovation Labs AVG

How did you come to join Innovation Labs?

I was invited to help set up the Innovation Lab at the very beginning in 2011. I was sorry to leave the Design group at Philips, but I was excited to get back into software and build a new group. This was in the lead-up AVG’s IPO, so it was an exciting prospect.

What does your day-to-day look like as Design Director?

I’m part of an amazing and versatile design team, so that’s a good start. We design apps, services, presentations, print materials, videos, and even physical products. We even wrote a poem for the onboarding screens of our first sleep tracking app, Koala. No two weeks are the same. I love the variety.

Describe the way you work

I pay a lot of attention to understanding the why of any project, because the biggest problem any project team can have is working on the wrong problem. It happens. I emphasize doing the right thing over doing the thing right. This suits my personality, and it suits how an innovation group should work.

The job of Design is to create maximum value for users and business, with minimum technology. I try to make sure that projects are defined with focus on the value we want to create, and not on specific solutions. The best results come from a precise problem definition and wide-ranging solution exploration.

In the words of Orson Welles “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art”. Defining those limitation is very important to us. When you see YouTube videos of young kids breaking bricks with their hands, it’s not because they’re stronger, it’s because they are focused.

What challenges do you face?

At AVG Innovation Labs we have representatives of several major cultures, and some alternative lifestyles as well. And a few hipsters. Not a challenge. A real challenge can be the different professional cultures of Design, Business, and Technology. They don’t always speak the same language.

Design, Business, and Technology experts must collaborate closely to create the next big improvements to everyone’s daily lives. The visualization, prototyping and user-testing skills of our design team play an important part in getting all the experts on the same page.

How do you spend time outside of Innovation Labs?

Well, I have 4 kids, so we’re not talking about a lot of spare time. But at the moment, I’m learning about minimalist music, trying out HIIT training on my bike to work, reading The Master and His Emissary, and considering alternative education programs for my children.

Trends for the rest of 2016?

Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs), Internet of Things (IoT), and Virtual Reality (VR).

CUIs are really a leap forward in human-computer interaction. I think this is the step that will finally get your grandmother to buy her gin online.

The IoT world will experience a few major scares this year, but this will raise public awareness and help drive the market to open, secure platforms. Don’t worry, public, we’re on it!

VR is the new bitcoin, by which I mean something good will probably come out of it, but I can’t say what. I already find books very immersive, and they did OK.

What’s the next big  thing at Innovation Labs you’re looking forward to exploring?

We have really big plans for our router project, Chime. The team has had some ambitious ideas around where the router sits in the home and how so much more could be done with them. We’re already starting to test some of these ideas and hope to share more on them soon.

How We Work: The Power of Passionate Champions

In this new series of posts, members of the Innovation Labs team explore new ways of working and the impact they could have on your organisation. First up is our Design Director Maurice McGinley on the power of passion.

We need to nurture a new idea to grow it into something we are proud of, like a child. Ideas can’t grow up on their own. That’s why every idea we work on at Innovation Labs must have a passionate champion.

Without a committed, passionate champion a project will fail, no matter how promising it may seem. When others don’t at first see the potential of a new idea, a passionate champion will push, pull, carry, and cajole the idea through. They’ll use design, presentations, industry validation, and sheer persistence – whatever works!

This raw human emotion is a key ingredient in any successful project. In this blog post I want to explain how we find these people and how help unlock their ideas.

Uncovering passionate people

First and foremost, we look for someone we believe in. It’s a great sign if someone on the team comes to you with an idea, rather than the other way around. It shows they care enough to put their credibility on the line to present this idea to you.

A lot of this comes down to hiring people you believe in. We’re focused on finding people with passion for technologies relevant to our business. We try to find people who are super smart, and experts in their field.

When an expert comes to you with a ground-breaking idea, there’s a fair chance you won’t understand what they are talking about. That’s a good sign. This is where trust comes in.

Fuelling the fire

It’s good to remember that the ability to sell ideas doesn’t correlate with having good ones. It’s rare that a person blessed with a great idea also has the gift of selling it.

So when a good person says they have a great idea, trust in them and give them the support to make the idea concrete as quickly as possible. Work with them to bring their idea to the stage where it can speak for itself, and be evaluated on its own terms.

Once you have the idea and a passionate champion, the next step is get the idea out of their heads and into reality. The design team can help a lot here. Good designers must be good listeners. Designers can  give form to abstract ideas. We listen, so others can see.

Evaluating an idea

When we have a relevant idea, backed by a credible, passionate, champion, then we run an  an AppLab. An AppLab is our version of a 5 day Design Sprint, starting with a user problem and ending with the  a validation of a solution with real users. I’ll explain how we do AppLabs further in future posts.

If the AppLab produces a sustainable business model and positive feedback from real potential users, then it’s right to invest further in the idea.

During an AppLab, the team  thinks the idea all the way through from the implementation to the business model to the user value. You need to connect the business value to a compelling reason why customers will love to trade their money for your product or service.

Passion in practice

Here at Innovation Labs we recently ran an Router project driven by the passion of the Product Owner, Amit Siwal. We started it off as our first experiment with crowdfunding — which we actually learned wasn’t a match for this project.

Chime routers

But that didn’t deter Amit, who has real belief and commitment to the idea. Through engaging with the different parties and stakeholders involved in putting the crowdfunding proposal together, he gained knowledge and contacts that, thanks to his perseverance and passion, have taken the idea in a new — and we think much better — direction. Routers are an important platform for securing the Internet of Things, and a logical way for us to bring our services to market.

Harnessing the power of passion

The post above should give you an idea of how vital the raw passion of an individual is to the process of designing and developing technology products at AVG Innovation Labs. But it shouldn’t be something that’s unique to us.

Every organisation should  start paying attention to the small shoots of ideas from their team and learn how to nurture them. From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow. But only if there’s somebody helping them along the way.


Meet The Team: Jessica

Our goal at Innovation Labs is to build the next generation of everyday technology products that get privacy right.

But we are only as good as our team. Over the next few months we’ll be publishing interviews with our developers, designers, analysts and scientists to share their interests, experiences, what motivates them and what makes them tick.

This week, we’re introducing Jessica Downey, Senior Interaction Designer.

Jessica Downey, Senior Interaction Designer

Hi Jessica, tell us a bit about your journey so far

Back in 2008 I visited to South Korea and studied digital media design. Mobile use was already a lot more pronounced than it was France or Europe. They had phones with huge aerials to get TV. It fascinated me. Now 8 years later the same thing is happening in the States and Europe, the only difference is there’s no aerials.

After finishing my studies in France and spending two years working on professional interfaces for industry and hospitals in the States, I realised I wanted to use my skills to create something closer to my own experiences to impact a wider spread of people.

So I applied to work at AVG’s Innovation Labs and here I am today.

What excites you most about working at Innovation Labs?

I like that we’re a multidisciplinary and multicultural team, people have different backgrounds so everybody has different and exotic anecdotes and we have all the skills to do pretty much anything in-house.

Tell us a bit about your day-to-day.

My role is to support user experience and user interface design on a whole host of projects. On top of that I’m always helping flesh out requirements for what new projects might look like. For this we use the design sprint process designed by Google Ventures.

The idea is that in 5 days you discover what the project is about and whether it’s worth progressing. So that’s a inspiring process we do if we want to do something drastically different for an existing project.

How does your role fit with the rest of the team?

At Innovation Labs we work differently. Instead of working in a design silo we’re embedded in projects so we have a better idea of where we want to go in terms of the roadmap.

Design is a lot faster than coding from scratch so you can mock up a pretty good idea of the experience your product is going to bring for relatively low investment. This is how design fits with everything that Innovation Labs does.

What kind of skills does your role demand?

I think it’s important to be fast and to create low investment, fail early prototypes. Something I always advocate for. Maybe you have a great idea, maybe it’s a terrible one, but you’re much better getting it out there in a really rough and low fidelity way instead of polishing it up, releasing it and realising you’re way off.

What kind of trends have you seen since becoming a designer?

There’s been a crossover of design and development over the past few years. I think we’re going to see this happening more, especially for interaction design.

Agile design is all about creating less documentation, and coding can be a great way to achieve this. It helps getting people on the same page if you can give them a direct experience of how the finished product is going to behave.

What excites you beyond your work?

Outside of Innovation Labs i’m into making bread and cocktails. Together or separately!

I’m French so the baguette is my favourite and I’m desperately trying to replicate it here.

The thing I miss most about France is decent bread on every corner. That’s not the case in Amsterdam but this city is a great place for cocktails so I’ve been visiting bars and taking classes. I’m a fan of anything with elderflower which is fortunate with the House Of Bols so close by.

If you could go back in time to give your past self advice, what would it be?

To do more sketching and low fidelity things because in design school I felt it was focused on delivering polished results. In the real world, developing your ideas with real users is much more important. You should always try to test things with real people as soon as you can.

Everything is a lot more forgiving in the future. Things are a lot less definitive than they used to be. You have room to refine and improve a design even after it has been released into the wild. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Say hi to Jessica on Twitter or keep tabs on the entire Innovation Labs team over at @AVGInno.

Crossing the threshold: protecting the connected home

Gartner predicts the average family house will contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022. But as the complexity of the connected home increases, so do the risks involved. It only takes one insecure device and your entire online estate could compromised.

Devices ar unsafe

So what will it take for us to realise the danger? Are we going to wait for the security breaches to get bigger and bigger before someone sits up to pay attention?

We’ve spoken already about the need for Antivirus in our homes. Now it’s time to take the other elements of protecting our connected homes seriously. So here are three key areas that need a closer look.

The doorway is more important than the windows

You wouldn’t go out and leave your windows unlocked. Every connected device we adopt is like creating a new window that we must remember to close. The more vulnerabilities are created, the more people will be able to look into your world.

However, the threat of the windows pales in comparison to the doorway. If you leave your door wide open, not only can people get in but they can easily loot any item of any size from your life.

The same is true digitally. In a world where most of your devices will connect back to your WiFi at home, the entry point for your internet becomes super important. This entry point, where your broadband connects to your router, is potentially the doorway. If they can unlock that, they can get to everything on your network.

Device pile

The risk of attack has moved back from a device by device basis (the windows) to the single device they all connect to. This is the new forefront for security in the connected home.

Confusing interfaces make social engineering easy

The number one threat to your privacy and security is still humans more than technology. There is no known solution to stop people contacting an individual under a false guise and tricking them into making themselves less secure.

However, today’s interfaces can make this easier than it needs to be. How many router owners are intimately familiar with the devices user interface? How many normal people are confident about knowing if the online banking page they land on is real or fake?

Obtuse user interfaces make this easier than it needs to be for hackers because the fact is: most people can’t be confident they are doing the right thing with these products even when they are quite safe.

This is changing. A move to conversational interfaces will make controlling these devices more like a Messenger conversation. Apps like the new Quartz app and Facebook M show the way ahead for an experience that can not only humanise the process but learn from mass data to detect and warn about potential scams.


If there’s a pattern of people asking the same questions, the personality in the conversation can learn from this aggregated data and warn the user they may be being scammed. It also introduces possibilities like more sophisticated 2 factor authentication in a trusted way.

Security vs necessity

So many web services are encouraging us to load all our data into them. And understandably — a lifetime of photos at the flick of your hand is a great demonstration of the potential of technology.

However, once something is digital, you are immediately creating a form of availability that did not previously exist. And this habit can be quite all or nothing. If you encourage people to upload their most important assets to be safe, why wouldn’t they also think it’s important to get a document of their passwords and PINs saved somewhere?

Once these are connected, they can leak. Establishing a security state of mind is essential. We must encourage users to think about why they are uploading that data and whether it’s really worthwhile. These can’t be black and white, but they are key to the safety and success of the connected home.

Making the most of it

This is a serious topic that is going to become even bigger in the next few seasons. But if it seems a bit dreary, it’s important to rebalance against the full picture. The reason to be secure and take this area seriously is because of its potential.

When the web started to spread, there was a similar urging of caution. But solutions (like AVG AntiVirus) quickly caught up and became the default defence so people could embrace the power of the web without fear.

We’re going to reach the same point in our homes. It’s just a matter of reducing collateral damage while that process proceeds.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

AVG Air Quality sensor


Is the air you’re breathing posing a risk for your health? Is the UV light at dangerous levels? Is there pollen around that will trigger your allergies?

These are the some of the questions we aim to answer with AVG Air Quality.

The risks of air pollution are hidden in plain sight. Just because we don’t feel the immediate effects of the air or don’t see the mini particles, it doesn’t make them less dangerous. The compounded effect or air pollution, even in small doses, can lead to serious health risks such as cancer, chronic pulmonary diseases, and even death.

Canary-Ambient copy

Innovation Labs is constantly looking into new way to extend the safety of our customers, both in the online and offline world. Last year, during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona we presented the AVG Invisibility Glasses, a glasses concept that uses infrared light and retro-reflective technology to prevent face detection algorithms figuring out your identity.


This year, we are exploring ways to keep our customers safe through smart air quality measurements and alerts.


According to the World Health Organization air pollution is one of the world’s ‘biggest public health issues’ with “7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution”.

“[Air pollution] It is an enormous cost not only in terms of mortality, but in terms of treating diseases and the costs of hospitalisation – as most of these diseases are chronic. It will also lead to less working days and a lower quality of life. There is also a role to be played on an individual level, like choosing not to take the car. I think it is a societal decision, but it is important that, as well as the Government stepping in, citizens are also informed.” – WHO’s Head of Public Health, Dr. Maria Neira

W.H.O. offers a breakdown of the devastating impact of pollution here.

We envision that a device like AVG Air Quality would help raise awareness of the air quality issue and would convince people to take action against air pollution inside and outside their homes.

So what can it measure?

The mobile device is able to determine the Air Quality Index & Allergy Index  together with 8 other different chemical compounds and environmental factors:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Ultraviolet light index (UVI)
  • Illuminance (LUX)
  • Temperature (°C/°F)
  • Relative Humidity (RH)
  • Particulate Matter 10 (PM10)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide NO2

Air Quality Index and Allergy Index explained

An air quality index (AQI) is a number used by government agencies to communicate to the public how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become. In order to determine the Air quality index we analyze multiple sensor readings, such as VOC, Relative Humidity, Temperature, Carbon Monoxide, Ammonia, Nitrogen Dioxide, UV index, lux, and PM10 as wells as  sensor fusion readings given by our proprietary algorithms.

With our proprietary algorithm we provide an indication of the composition of the air and what this could mean for your health.

The allergy index is a composition of sensor measurements that indicate the probability of allergic compounds in the air. The allergy index makes use of sensor fusion to compute an index that gives you an indication of allergens in the air so that you can take actions to make the chance that you are confronted with allergens as small as possible


Where can I buy it?

We appreciate your enthusiasm, but as we mentioned, the AVG Air Quality mobile device is part of our ongoing research into new ways to extend the safety of our customers, both in the online world and offline world.


Currently this is just a prototype and we don’t have any plans launch it as commercial product.

To get in touch about this product you can contact Andi Piftor at andi (.) piftor (@) avg (.com)

AVG Innovation Labs Air Quality 2


4 essential features that can make or break the speed of your wireless router


We all know that one of the main pain points when it comes to your home Wi-Fi router satisfaction is speed. But, did you know that there are certain things which can determine – or, in some cases increase – your wireless router speed? And these are things you should definitely consider when buying a new router.

Here is the breakdown, and each point, step by step with some examples:

Flash memory

Every router contains flash memory to store some information like drivers, web-based interfaces and or other programs that the router uses to operate. It mostly stores this in some kind of binary form which is then loaded into memory.
The choice of flash chip defines how fast the device can load this information into its RAM and therefore how fast the device will be able to operate. There are roughly two sorts of NAND flash, single level cell and multi-level cell.

Multi-level cell memory uses multiple levels per cell to allow more bits to be stored using the same number of transistors.  In single level cell flash, each cell can exist in one of the two states storing one bit of information per cell. A bit in this case means 1 or 0; 8 bits form a byte for example, the letter L. To store the letter L in a MLC NAND flash we would need fewer cells than in an SLC flash where we need 8 cells, in which the states will be 01001100. In an MLC flash this could be, for example, 4 cells.

Where MLC flash is cheaper, SLC flash has a faster write speed and higher endurance.

RAM memory

Ram memory is used to store non-permanent information that a CPU needs very quickly.  Imagine we are going to watch a picture which is stored on our flash memory. The CPU takes the picture, bit by bit, from the flash and stores what it collected to the RAM memory.  We cannot transfer it directly to our monitor because the monitor doesn’t understand our instructions. They need to be translated first in a way that the monitor will understand, so it can show the picture. The CPU will take the information that is previously stored from the RAM memory, translate it and send it to the monitor so we can view the picture. Therefore, the RAM is basically our waiting room.

The speed of the connection of the RAM with the CPU is thus very important. For example, a DDR3-1066 module can do 8.533 GB/ps while a DDR2-200 module can only do 1.600 GB/ps. While he DDR3 module can transfer data to the CPU 5 time faster than the DDR2 module.


In the 2.4 GHz band it is somewhat busy — that is to say, there is a lot of traffic that goes between 2.4 and 2.5 GHz. You can compare this a bit with a highway. Imagine a highway with four lanes and each lane is full of cars. What will you get?  Yes, a traffic jam:  you will move but you will move very slowly.

With Wi-Fi, it is the same:  instead of four lanes we have 14 lanes (channels) and each lane is getting more and more crowded.  Some people are using software to check which lane is the least full and try connecting with that lane. Next to Wi-Fi, there is also zigbee and Bluetooth which operate in the 2.4 GHz ism band.

The 802.11n and AC standard can operate at a different, less populated band as well, the 5 GHz band. There, it is less busy and there is more bandwidth. Therefore, higher data rates can be reached on this band.

CPU: Heart of the Router

CPU or Central Processing Unit is the heart of your router.  It directs all activity to the necessary peripherals and it enables the router to perform its tasks. The faster the CPU and the more cores, the better.

Imagine that you have an ice cream factory where one person is making ice, packaging it and puts it in the truck — In total all this handling will take him 1 hour per box. The director of the factory finds this too slow, and he decides to hire a packaging professional and a logistics professional to improve efficiency. He furthermore decides to let the person who makes the ice take a course in ice making. Now the box takes the team, in total, 5 minutes instead of 33 minutes as would have typically been expected.

A multi-core CPU with dedicated tasks works in the same way:  while one core is busy with calculating keys, the other CPU handles network traffic.

Adding it All Up

Again, we are hoping with this information on the four points at which your Wi-Fi router can fail or speed up, you will better understand (a) the reasons these speed fails are occurring, and (b) when it might be time to get yourself a new router!  Speed issues are not always due to your housemates’ use of the Wi-Fi at the same time, or that your router is outdated and may not include the technology to reach the speeds and consistency you need. All of these four points come into play when you are using your Wi-Fi router at home – like it or not. At least now you’ll understand why.

When it’s all said and done and you still have a need to fix your failing Wi-Fi or improve upon it, look for us: We developed an enterprise grade router to help solve your Wi-Fi woes – including security and privacy – our new Chime mesh Wi-Fi router.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Introducing Chime: the fix to failing Wi-Fi


We are thrilled to announce that Chime pre-ordering started. For those who act fast, we have a limited number of super early bird discounts: up to 33% from the final retail price. Click here to grab your discount now.

Chime covers your home with a stronger and more reliable Wi-Fi signal using mesh Wi-Fi technology and protects your connected devices against security and privacy threats. Like an antivirus for your home.

To read more about how Chime can help you fix your Wi-Fi problems make sure to visit our IndieGoGo  page.

Click here for more information and pre-order

The growing need for an Antivirus for our homes

Here at Innovation Labs by AVG, we have been working on a security router, Chime, to protect our customers from new security threats of growing connected devices in our homes. Sign up for Chime here to be notified when we launch our preorder campaign on Indiegogo.

Our homes are filling up with more and more internet connected devices, personal or smart home devices, that aren’t protected and are riddled with security risks. A study by HP revealed 70 Percent of Internet of Things devices are vulnerable to attack, due to lack of standard security measures that one would expect in this day and age, for example use of encrypted communication, secure firmware downloads and allowing weak passwords.

If you are one of those who still doubt the fuss around smart homes, just wait until you decide to change your thermostat or replace your lights. Everyday people who are moving or re-doing their house are confronted with a choice to buy a smarter thermostat, switch or lights. The average number of connected devices per household in the U.S. is already at 5.2; and Gartner predicts that by 2022 a typical home could contain over 500 connected devices.

The rush, fuelled by startups, to grab the IoT business is resulting in many of the products being shipped with major security flaws. The pressure from startups and established companies like Google (nest) is driving incumbent manufacturers to embed connectivity/smart technology into their existing products to stay competitive. This is a whole new territory for some of these manufacturers. And unlike the world of PC and smart phones, the IoT market is still missing a leading operating system, platform and a wireless technology that all vendors could get behind.

On the operating system side, Google recently announced Brillo, its android based OS for IoT devices, which so far remains the only OS from a major company (Apple so far has remained on the peripheral – with Homekit acting more as a hub).  On the wireless technology, there are at least 4 contenders to enable IoT communication in our homes i.e. Bluetooth, Zigbee/Thread, Z-Wave, Lutron, etc. One of these wireless technologies will have to emerge dominant: like GSM did over CDMA/PAS for cellular communication and Wi-Fi did over Bluetooth for wireless LAN.

The security risks, even after the IoT market matures will remain high as having so many connected devices results in endless entry points or so called back-doors into your home for a potential hacker. Something somewhere will always be left open or unsecured – either by our mistake or due to manufacturer’s oversight.  Even the temptation and reward of hacking into the connected devices in our homes, for example our webcams is going to be too strong for evil doers to resist.

The internet experts see security of wireless devices as a big problem too. In a letter submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to the rules laid out in ET Docket No. 15-170, Dave Täht, co-founder of the Bufferbloat Project, and Dr. Vinton Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet, along with more than 260 other global network and cybersecurity experts, proposed new approach to ensuring security of these wireless devices.

One of the recommendations made is that device manufacturers should provide public, full, and maintained source code for review and improvement so security experts can easily research and expose vulnerabilities. A recommendation like this would have definitely made the job of security researchers that identified the security risk in LiFX LEDbulb much easier.

A recent article from Geoffrey Fowler, a tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal, captured this emerging problem from a consumer point of view perfectly and in my view even coined a term for the solution that’s needed – “Antivirus for our home.” The role of existing consumer antivirus products needs to expand to even provide security to our connected homes.

Consumers however do not yet see the need for a security solution to protect these connected devices. To give you an example, we conducted a study early this year to understand how secure customers feel about their connected devices. Here’s a response that wasn’t too uncommon: “What’s the worst that can happen, they can turn my lights on and off or play some music?” But when presented with the fact that “a smart light could potentially allow an attacker to steal their W-iFi password and ….”, they were more cognizant of the potential risks.

So we are exploring innovative ways in which we can provide this additional security to our customers in the easiest possible way. Chime, is our first step into addressing consumer security needs of a connected home – with security on the router.  We believe that a router-based security solution will be an important part of future security offerings to secure our smarter homes. A router-based security service would be able to analyze traffic to and from all our connected devices, even the devices that are not protected by an antivirus. This additional layer of security will make it measurably more difficult for hackers/attackers to penetrate our home networks. Just like in enterprise market, a smart home network will need both network and end point security solutions.

So what do you think about the need for securing our smart homes?

What the “40 years Exodus of the PC” predicts about the future of smart homes

This blog post is written by Shaul Levi, Chief Scientist at AVG Innovation Labs.

The 40 year exodus … of the PC

Desert Walk

40 years, that’s how long it took the Israelites to find the Promised Land. The long journey through the harsh and unforgiving desert was not an easy journey and getting through it required a combination of Moses’ vision and godly miracles.

Looking back on the history of the PC, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land and the Personal Computer’s (PC) long road of development to today.  Commercial manufacturers started to create the home/personal computers in 1945, inspired by the possibilities, although the diverse range of applications we know today had not yet been imagined. Products like: Simon, IBM 610, Olivetti Programma 101, MIR, Kenbak-1, Datapoint 2200 and many others were produced, each with its own spin on functionality and target market.

It took almost 40 years for the market to be ready for a single machine that included all the different components in one place.  In 1981 the IBM PC started to dominate the market. CPU production and technology were ready to execute multiple tasks and the price was right. Further, the software connection with the hardware was well defined and the bus and chip-set could carry multiple external devices communicating for resources. Unlike competitors, the IBM PC’s open platform of hardware and software could be adapted and priced to suit diverse markets and manufacturers.

Like the biblical journey, it took forty years and many miracles for all participants in the market to realize the promise of personal computing. Time was needed for users to discover what they could do with the product, for retailers to learn how to sell it, for device manufactures to engineer assembly processes, and for component makers bring prices to acceptable levels.

The desert journey of the smart home

I’m writing this because I see the computing industry is now on another similar, epic, journey: a quest to realize the promise of smart homes. We can sense the possibilities, we can see that with some extra effort things will really take off, and we feel that we are close, but we are waiting for a platform.

The industry is watching this space carefully, and every player has its own take on what’s needed to deliver a smart home platform supporting all the advanced screens, sensors, actuators, connectivity methods and distributed computing. But today’s reality is that most smart homes do not live up to our dreams.

We continue to see many solutions focused on specific problems like: home security, health, media, gardening, and energy. However, it appears that few players are looking into an overall solution that would allow all your smart home devices to interact with each other. There’s a missing piece to this puzzle: a platform that will connect all the diverse components and use cases together.

Finding Promised Land of the Smart home

On this journey toward the Promised Land of the connected smart home, I’m optimistic that we are close to our destination.

Why? Because I think the “missing piece” that will complete the smart home puzzle is already in our homes: your router.

Domestic routers today are no longer single-use-case devices, but powerful multi-functional computers. They are central hubs connecting all our devices to the internet, providing Wi-Fi and wired routing, much like a bus on the old PC architecture.

The router is in the ideal position to deliver the final pieces of the puzzle: connectivity and security. With security and added functionality, an open operating system, a solid interface to the device and supporting development tools, the device we ignored for years will transform into the heart of our smart homes, connecting and protecting all our smart devices.

Given that router development started in the mid-seventies, it seems like the timing is right for this 40 year desert journey to end. Is the Promised Land of our connected smart homes now in view.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Controlling a Parrot MiniDrone with a Kinect sensor over WiFi

This article was written by Tanweer Ali, Senior Developer at AVG’s Innovation Labs in Amsterdam. Tanweer is leading research into Computer Vision with a focus on enhancing user privacy. He is an experienced developer with background in Scientific Computing, 3D Graphics and Numerical Methods.

Drones, a word which a few years ago we heard only in a military context, now it has become a buzzword. Amazon is looking into delivery drones, DJI is selling lots of drones to hobbyists and film makers and Lily just announced the selfie drone. Like it or not, drones are here to stay.
For us, this new technology is interesting from a home security aspect. What if a drone could protect your home while you are away? How would that work?

As part of our research one of the things we looked into (and thought would be cool to share with everybody) was controlling a drone using a Microsoft Kinect.

For drones to be used indoors effectively, they must be smaller in size to better avoid obstacles. Also they should be easy to control for an average inexperienced user. This is why, for this test, we picked the Parrot MiniDrone, which seems to be one of the most popular options on the market. This is fairly cheap model, at under 100EUR, but comes with a self-stabilizing system which makes it easy to control for a complete novice and a small camera at the bottom that can take low quality pictures.


This drone is designed to be controlled with a smartphone ONLY over a Bluetooth-LE connection using a Free-Flight 3 app from PlayStore or iTunes.

Luckily enough, the API to control the Parrot drone can be downloaded from GitHub. So we decided to play around with the APIs and see if we can come up with something interesting. Can we control this drone over WiFi or Internet? Can we give commands to this drone using a different controller like a Kinect Sensor? The answer is: “Yes We Can” 😀

Disclaimer: While this is not the first experiment of its kind, to our knowledge we are the first ones that managed to get this working for a Bluetooth drone.

Drones configuration kinect

So our entire network setup was as shown in the image above. The drone still gets its instructions from the Android device over Bluetooth, but the device now runs a socket server in the background and waits for clients to connect. Once a client is connected the device can forward the commands to drone. In our case the client is a windows machine with a Kinect sensor which connects over WiFi. This means that we can control the drone from another room. With a Peer-to-Peer server, we can control the drone from anywhere in the world over the Internet.

We defined some simple body gestures to control the drone such as take-off, landing, forward and backward.

If you have any feedback please get in touch with us over @avginnovation or drop me a line at tanweer [.] ali at avg [.] com

IMG_8210 IMG_37821

Heads Up: How the Internet of Things will make smartphones obsolete

This article was written by Maurice McGinley. He leads the design team at AVG Innovation Labs to make new technologies useful and relevant in the real world. Maurice is fascinated by how culture and technology shape each other.

Universal suffering

My Friends! Raise your eyes from your smartphones and behold Reality! Otherwise, Reality—perhaps in the form of a truck—might clip you as you step off the curb and land you on a hospital operating table, a slab of meat with a busted screen.

Sooner or later, Reality will catch up with smartphones and reveal their fundamental faults. I’m betting it will be sooner.

Back when the first iPhone was introduced, I was designing user interfaces for TV and home-cinema remotes. Conventional wisdom at the time held that the Holy Grail of remotes was the universal remote control—a single device to replace all the other remotes littering your coffee table. It still sounds kind of appealing.

But when the research team looked at how universal remotes were actually used by humans in the wild (i.e., actual users in their actual living rooms), we found they didn’t deliver. Single-device remotes were simply better, because they didn’t distract from your movie.

You can pick up a dedicated DVD remote and press the subtitle button almost without thinking. In contrast, universal remotes tear your attention away from the screen. If you need subtitles for the latest action flick out of Hong Kong, you must first navigate to “disc mode” and then find whatever button controls the subtitles. In the process, you’ve probably missed the $10 million fight scene all your friends will be talking about tomorrow.

Based on these observations, the research team established a design rule for home-cinema user interfaces: people should be able to control the system without looking down at the remote control. This became known as the Heads Up rule.

Heads Up is a versatile design principle. Whether designed for people watching a car chase, or for people actually in a car chase, your product will be better if it helps people stay immersed in the action.

Frontward-facing statements

These days, as part of the team at AVG Innovation Labs talking to early adopters of the Internet of Things (IoT), I’ve started to see similarities between smartphones and universal remote controls. The smartphone is a “Heads Down” device, like the universal remote. It disengages you from the reality around you.

The most exciting advances in consumer technology today promise to pull our noses up out of our phones and point them back at reality. Apple Watch’s glances and taptic engine feed us information discretely, without interrupting our activity. Like operating room nurses handing the surgeon a scalpel, Google Now and Apple’s Proactive update to Siri give us exactly what we need, when we need it.

In my opinion, this move away from the virtual world of small screens back toward unmediated reality is a good thing because, as titillating as virtual pastimes can be, the buck will always stop in Reality. Heads Down experiences—like universal remotes, digital video recorders, and Morse code—are a transitional blip in the history of technology, merely tiding us over until less clumsy alternatives come along. In my opinion, the Heads Down experience of the smartphone has as much chance of being around in 5 years as USB drives.

Sensors and simplicity

IoT promises a giant stride forward in Heads Up computing. If you took the sensors and actuators out of your phone, multiplied and embedded them in the world around you, and put the processing and machine-learning power into the cloud, you would have… the Internet of Things. Instead of having one universal device—your smartphone—controlling your environment, you would have simple controls placed where you need them, available when you need them.

In the Heads Up world of IoT, you will control sophisticated systems while staying immersed in your current activity; for example, getting those fine steaks out of the kitchen fridge and onto the backyard barbecue. A right-twist on the doorknob as you step into the backyard with the steaks tells your house to leave the front door unlocked, because you told your guests to come straight through; no need to look at your phone. Based on the size and weight of your steaks, the barbecue chirps when it’s time to flip them over; again, no need to look away from what you’re doing.

The principle of Heads Up is a solid user interface design guideline. By extrapolation, it can also give us insight into the future of technology. In fact, Heads Up is good advice in most circumstances.

You left your phone in the kitchen. The slabs of meat received your full attention, and are now barbecued to perfection. “Siri. …Scalpel!”

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Unintended side effects of innovation and how we can fix them

This article is written by Roy Averink, Program Manager at AVG’s Innovation Lab in Amsterdam. Roy acts like a skillful conductor for the myriad of ongoing projects making sure everybody delivers the right thing at the right time. He’s a promoter of a smarter and more impactful CSR program within our team. 

Today many believe that modern technology is the solution for all our problems. Not a day goes by without a new innovation that promises to solve one of society’s biggest problems (how many do we have one might ask?). But for criticism there’s little space (Privacy concerns? Why, … do you have something to hide?). According to the innovators we shouldn’t worry and be happy about the great inventions bestowed upon us by technology.

But should we really?

Today it looks like a new “Uber-for-something” is presented every day. Old structures are broken down and new ones grown quicker than the wild bamboo that’s invading my garden. And this can become a problem, both with technology and in my garden. Too many of us only see the promise of these innovations, but don’t recognize that they can also destroy what is valuable to us. Don’t get me wrong, the bamboo in my garden looks great and I actually want to keep it. Except where it destroys the flowers my mother planted many years ago, and that I really want to keep.

Innovation doesn’t take place in a bubble. Like the bamboo, it can grow far beyond the immediate environment it was intended for. Airbnb, for example, is very good at disrupting the short-stay ecosystem, but there are signs it is also disrupting the housing market, leading to a shortage of affordable housing in some areas – a situation already generating much debate, and sometimes protests, in many cities.

The internet advertising system is another example where a new eco system created benefits for both companies and consumers (better targeted advertisements), but also raises huge concerns because of its privacy invading nature. It’s frightening to think about how many companies know so much about you.

How can we combat these unwanted effects of innovation?

One way is by law. The emergence of cars in the 1900s led to many accidents, forcing regulations that improved safety for both drivers and fellow road users. And it’s probable that the negative side effects of the Airbnb’s of this word will lead to new regulations for that eco system.

But I believe that a much better and stronger way to fight unwanted effects of innovations is… by continuous innovation. The car industry understood this very well. They have listened to the market, identified the biggest concerns and innovated by creating cars that are much safer for passengers but also other road users. Where safety was a major concern in the infancy of this industry, now all companies compete on safety and try to set new standards without any law pushing them to do it. This is a win-win situation for consumers and companies.

The innovations of the internet age are still maturing, and here we’ve not reached a solid win-win situation. There are of course clear benefits in many areas for companies and consumers alike, but there’s also a considerable loss for consumers, especially when it comes to the advertising eco system; the loss of privacy. Like the car industry did with safety, the tech industry needs to step up and find new ways that protect our privacy.

So how exactly should we feel about all the innovation happening around us?

I know I am happy and we should all be! The current times give us great opportunities in many areas as technology grows in directions unimagined before. But if it grows out of hand, like with privacy, we should find new ways to protect what’s dear. And when we do that, I will be really happy!


Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Photo by Woldi used under CC