Dumb TVs and social influencers: top tech stories you have to read

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Hackers are dangerous. TV is smart. Social influence algorithms are invulnerable to cheaters. Education involves classrooms and lecturers. Or does it? This edition of our top tech stories series touches on shifts in online security, the education system, social power and the functionality of the electronic box in your lounge.

Over the top: the new war for TV is just beginning

Think about how much computer technology has changed recently. Chances are your smartphone does more today than your desktop computer did just a few years ago… but what has happened to your TV? Perhaps it got thinner, or squished more pixels and a USB port into its frame, or started to let you connect to the internet. But fundamentally, has the tech in your living room it really undergone the same level of rapid transformation as the device in your pocket?

While there are some innovators in the space (in some countries more than others), much of the world is still tied to satellite and cable TV providers, who give us what they think everyone should watch — which may not be what you really want, or be broadcasting when you want to watch it. As part of The Verge’s War for TV stream, Nilay Patel questions why your TV isn’t really smart, personalised and streamlined, and discusses the barriers between your current box and a really intelligent TV.

With millions paid in hacker bug bounties, is the internet any safer?

In a bid to quickly isolate and patch security holes in their systems, companies like Google and Facebook have been hosting open contests, challenging hackers to find a way through their defences for a significant cash reward. These bug bounties theoretically allow for hackers with often different skills from the company’s own engineers to test the system by executing a successful breach, and help the staff to think about other ways they could potentially be hacked.

The end goal is a more secure system, becoming more and more invulnerable with every patch — but are these competitions really making sure the information you share with these sites is safer than ever?

The problem with measuring digital influence

The idea of a social influencer is not new — and these early adopters and trend setters have become increasingly sought after by brands who hope to cash in on the followers and fans they collect on social media. The desire to identify and rank the ‘power’ these influencers have has lead to the development of tools like Klout which, almost from their inception, have been dogged with questions about how accurate their algorithms and scores really are.

In this article, analytics scientist Michael Wu questions the methodology behind these influence ranking systems, and suggests that just as SEO practitioners essentially ‘game’ the search engines, people are gaming the social influence scores too — with minimal effort and next to no technical expertise. Which leads to the question: is your Klout score really a measure of your influence, or just a representation of how well you can game the system?

One man, one computer, 10 million students: how Khan Academy is reinventing education

Just two years ago, online education hub Khan Academy was a one man show operating out of a walk in closet — today, the not for profit organisation is teaching everything from basic maths to modern art, and has delivered over 200-million video lessons in dozens of languages to students across the globe — for free. Forbes speaks to the man who started it all, Sal Khan, and discusses the changing climate in an industry that has remained essentially fixed for centuries.

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