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Alexa, order room service: Amazon brings its voice assistant to hotels

alexa for hospitality launches amazon

Alexa may soon follow you outside your house and into your hotel — on Tuesday, June 19, Amazon unveiled Alexa for Hospitality, a version of the Amazon Echo designed for hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and other travel destinations. With the new program, guests can use Alexa to order room service or ask for more towels, while travelers with an Alexa device at home can connect their account to access their own music and audiobooks.

The service uses the existing Echo device and gives the personal assistant a few new features designed specifically for hotels. But for travelers, the new Alexa means using voice control instead of a call down to the front desk for amenities, concierge, or even simple questions like asking what the pool hours are. Alexa can also play music when requested by guests.

Like the in-home Amazon Echo, the device’s capabilities can be customized by downloading different Alexa skills. Hotels can allow Alexa to control the lights, thermostat, and TV with other smart devices, while Alexa can also be programmed for other travel-friendly features, like asking Alexa about the wait at the airport. Since these skills are custom downloaded, travel destination can customize the voice assistant to each location or brand.

Alexa will also give the hotel feedback through analytics, which Amazon says will help the program improve based on the feedback from different guests.

While the hotel owners can give the in-room Alexas different skills, travelers can soon connect an Amazon account to make the hotel Alexa feel a bit more like the at-home Alexa. In a feature that isn’t yet on the device but is coming soon, Alexa for Hospitality will allow users to sign in from their hotel rooms. Once logged in, users have access to the music and audiobook connected to the account. Amazon says that Alexa will automatically log off during the check-out process.

“Customers tell us they love how easy it is to get information, enjoy entertainment, and control connected devices by simply asking Alexa, and we want to offer those experiences everywhere customers want them,” Daniel Rausch, an Amazon vice president, said in a statement. “Alexa for Hospitality makes your hotel stay a little more like being at home and gives hospitality providers new ways to create memorable stays for their guests.”

The feature is coming first to Marriott International properties, including selected Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels and Resorts, St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, and Autograph Collection Hotels. Some properties will get the travel-friendly Alexa beginning today, June 19, while other properties are rolling out the feature over the summer. Availability for hotel and rental owners is launching by invitation only.

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The IoT’s Perplexing Security Problems

Worldwide spending on the Internet of Things will total nearly US$773 billion this year, IDC has predicted.

The IoT will sustain a compound annual growth rate of 14.4 percent, and spending will hit $1.1 trillion by 2021, according to the firm’s forecast late last year.

Consumer IoT spending will total $62 billion this year, making it the fourth largest industry segment, after manufacturing, transportation and utilities. The leading consumer use cases will be related to the smart home, including home automation, security and smart appliances, IDC said.

Cross-industry IoT spending, which encompasses connected vehicles and smart buildings, will gobble up $92 billion this year, and will be among the top areas of spending for the next three years.

IoT growth will get a boost from new approaches coming from firms such as China’s Tuya Smart, for example, which combines hardware access, cloud services, and app development in a process that lets manufacturers transform standard products into smart products within one day.

Shadow IoT Devices on Enterprise Networks

One third of companies in the U.S., the UK and Germany have more than 1,000 shadow IoT devices connected to their network on a typical day, according to a recent Infoblox survey of 1,000 IT directors across the U.S., the UK, Germany and the UAE.

The reported shadow IoT devices included the following:

  • Fitness trackers – 49 percent;
  • Digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home – 47 percent;
  • Smart TVs – 46 percent;
  • Smart kitchen devices such as connected microwaves – 33 percent; and
  • Gaming consoles – 30 percent.

There were 1,570 identifiable Google Home assistants deployed on enterprise networks in the U.S. as of March, according to the Infoblox survey. There were 2,350 identifiable smart TVs deployed on enterprise networks in Germany, and nearly 6,000 identifiable cameras deployed on UK enterprise networks.

Shadow IoT devices are devices connected to the company network but not purchased or managed by the IT department, according to Infoblox.

“Often IoT devices are added to the network without the direct knowledge of IT,” noted Bob Noel, director of strategic relationships and marketing for Plixer.

“Companies need to pay attention to the deployment of IoT devices, which are regularly put online with default passwords, legacy code riddled with known vulnerabilities, and a lack of defined policies and procedures to monitor them, leaving companies extremely vulnerable,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

More than 80 percent of organizations surveyed said security was the top consideration in IoT purchase decisions, said Brent Iadarola, VP of mobile & wireless communications at Frost & Sullivan.

However, “the unfortunate reality today is that unknown assets and unmanaged networks continue to exist in enterprise networks and are often overlooked by vulnerability scanners and solutions that monitor network changes,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Still, “we have started to see some movement towards integrated IoT security solutions that offer end-to-end data collection, analysis and response in a single management and operations platform,” Iadarola noted.

Security for the IoT

“IoT security is highly fragmented and many devices are vulnerable,” observed Kristen Hanich, research analyst at Parks Associates.

“There are a large number of devices out there with known weaknesses that can easily be exploited by commonly available attacks,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Most of these devices won’t receive protective updates, Hanich said, and “as most IoT devices are put in place for years or even decades, this will lead to hundreds of millions of vulnerable devices.”

Cybercriminals have been launching newer and more creative attacks on IoT devices, either to compromise them or to leverage them in botnets.

For example, Wicked — the latest version of the Mirai botnet malware, originally released in 2016 — leverages at least three new exploits.

A new version of the “Hide-and-Seek” botnet, which controls more than 32,000 IoT devices, uses custom-built peer-to-peer communication and multiple anti-tampering techniques, according to BitDefender.

“We should be preparing ourselves for many years of attacks powered by IoT botnets,” Sean Newman, director of product management for Corero Security, told the E-Commerce Times.

Cost is a problem with IoT security, Parks Associates’ Hanich noted. “Security must be built-in from the onset, which takes time and effort. It also requires regular maintenance and updates after selling the devices, potentially for many years.”

Many device makers are skipping security to keep their prices down, she pointed out, as security “does not drive unit sales of their products.”

Medical Devices and IoT Security

The IoT’s healthcare component includes connected medical devices and consumer wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Medical device manufacturers increasingly have been incorporating connectivity to the Internet, but 53 percent of healthcare providers and 43 percent of medical device manufacturers don’t test their medical devices for security, noted Siddharth Shah, a healthcare industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Few have taken significant steps to avoid being hacked, he told the E-Commerce Times.

Network-connected medical devices “promise an entirely new level of value for patients and doctors,” said Frost & Sullivan healthcare industry analyst Kamaljit Behera.

However, “they also introduce new cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could affect clinical operations and put patient care at risk,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The perceived risk from connected medical devices within the hospital is high, but steps are now being taken to prevent attacks,” said Frost’s Shah. “Still, there’s lots to be done.”

The risk to enterprise networks of being hacked through consumer healthcare-related devices “isn’t a big issue,” according to Greg Caressi, global business unit leader for transformational health at Frost & Sullivan.

“Personal devices are not commonly connected to private corporate networks other than healthcare IT vendors,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Google and Apple have been leading the charge of smart devices into the healthcare realm, with other companies, such as fitness device manufacturers, following suit.


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Australia punishes Apple for refusing to replace iPhones stricken by ‘Error 53’

iPhone 8 apps
Simon Hill / Digital Trends

Australia’s federal court has ordered Apple to pay 9 million Australian dollars (roughly $6.6 million) for refusing to fix iPhones that had been bricked by the controversial “Error 53”.

A result of an update to iOS 9, Error 53 was widely feared by the iPhone community as it locked users out of their phones, turning the expensive device into little more than a stylish paperweight. The error only affected those who took their iPhones to a third-party repair store to fix a broken home button, and Apple has long claimed that the error was intended as a security measure, to stop Touch ID being bypassed or exploited by third parties.

Unfortunately, since third-party repair stores are not always privy to Apple’s specific repair instructions, any tampering with the Home button — even to repair it — would lead to Error 53 being triggered, and the iPhone getting locked. When a number of consumers took their locked iPhones to Apple for repair, they were told that their devices were no longer eligible for a refund or replace, as the device had been repaired by a third party. Unfortunately for Apple, that flies in the face of Australian consumer laws.

“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund,” said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Commissioner Sarah Court. “The Court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”

The fine came about as a result of a legal battle and investigation by the ACCC that began in April 2017. As part of the investigation, the ACCC contacted multiple Apple retailers within Australia, and were allegedly told that iPhones with the error would not be replaced. Apple eventually admitted that it had misled Australian consumers on the matter.

Apple has always resisted the use of third-party repair shops to fix its products, preferring that consumers come back to its certified repair shops for (expensive) fixes. However, as the smartphone industry matures, it has faced increasing pressure to open the books to its marvelous wonders, and many U.S. states are experimenting with right-to-repair bills similar to Australia’s, that would force technology giants to permit third-party repairs through easy access of instructions and parts.

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Your next hotel stay may include personalized Netflix streaming

dish evolve netflix hotel room integration on

What is the one thing everyone wishes they could do while on vacation? Watch TV, of course. Satellite TV provider Dish has now made it easier to get your fix while away from home, as its Evolve streaming platform will soon be getting Netflix integration.

OK, maybe we’re being a little too sarcastic but not every hotel stay is for a vacation after all, and being able to relax with your favorite TV shows while traveling for work or visiting family is great. But having your curated watch lists, suggestions, and watch progress seamlessly move from your home devices to your hotel room is even better.

The Evolve is a “set-back” streaming box, meaning that it installs directly into the back of a TV, that is exclusive to hotels. Dish launched the device in June 2017. If you happen to find yourself staying in a room equipped with an Evolve, you have access to some impressive streaming features. Evolve runs on Android TV, features a customizable guide, and supports “thousands” of apps through the Google Play Store, including YouTube, Sling TV. There is also a built-in Chromecast, allowing you to watch content from your phone on your hotel room’s TV. Further, if your room is equipped for it, the Evolve box supports 4K playback.

Despite all those features and thousands of supported apps, Netflix was noticeably missing at launch, which is why the announcement is such a big deal.

Users will be able to access Netflix directly from the Evolve guide menu and sign in with their account. There will also be an option to easily sign up for a Netflix subscription if you don’t have an account yet. Once you’ve signed in, you will be able to pick up with your shows and movies right where you left off.

This will certainly be convenient, but if this sounds like an easy way to accidentally share your Netflix credentials with other guests if you forget to sign out, fear not. Once you check out of your hotel, your login information will be automatically removed from the Evolve device. This security measure is a welcome inclusion, especially in today’s world of mounting digital privacy concerns.

Netflix integration will be rolling out to all Dish Evolve devices in the coming months.

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Nestlé, XPO Logistics building ‘digital warehouse’ with robotics, autonomous vehicles

nestle xpo logistics digital warehouse leicestershire robotic arm
An example of a type of robotic equipment that will fill Nestlé’s “digital warehouse of the future.” XPO Logistics

Got the craving for a KitKat bar, but wish you didn’t have to get up to go to a store? In the future, it could be delivered to you, straight from the the warehouse. Nestlé is building its first-ever, fully digital distribution center that’s designed to speed up the delivery of Nestlé-branded products to consumers, such as KitKat, Maggi, and Nescafé. Located in Leicestershire, in the East Midlands region of England, the project is a joint venture with XPO Logistics, which will own and manage the facility.

“We will be able to be even more responsive for our customers across our brands, which include some of the most recognizable in the world,” said David Hix, Nestlé’s director of supply chain, in a statement.

The automated, 638,000-square-foot center, scheduled for completion in 2020, will rely heavily on robotics and autonomous vehicles, as well as “predictive data and intelligent machines to deliver one of the most advanced distribution management centers in the world,” according to the two companies involved. XPO will also use the facility to test new technologies and prototypes before implementing them in other XPO-owned facilities.

The “digital warehouse of the future” will be located in a transportation hub, with proximity to highways, an airport that handles many cargo flights, and an onsite rail freight terminal that leads to major ports. With a fully automated warehouse and access to several transportation options, Nestlé, the world’s largest food and drink company, would be able to deliver products faster and efficiently to consumers in the U.K., continental Europe, and beyond.

“The new East Midlands center will operate as both a think tank and a launch pad for XPO innovations, with far-reaching impacts on the way business is done,” said Richard Cawston of XPO Logistics Europe, in a statement.

XPO, one of world’s largest service providers for transportation and logistics, will also incorporate sustainable features into the building. In addition to LED lighting, the warehouse will use “environmentally friendly ammonia refrigeration, air source heat pumps for administration areas, and rainwater harvesting,” according to XPO, and the building itself will have minimal visual impact to the surrounding area.

Warehouse and distribution centers are increasingly becoming automated, using more and more robotics, smart sorting systems, and autonomous vehicles alongside human employees. While it would be a couple years until the Nestlé/XPO high-tech facility comes online, we can already look to Amazon’s highly automated fulfillment centers as examples of what we can expect.

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