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Gift Guide: 9 security and privacy gifts to keep your friends and family safe



Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

For many of us, being home a lot more right now also means being online a lot more. It’s a great time to evaluate how you’re keeping your data safe — and to help others in your life do the same.

Whether it’s teaching them to use things like physical security keys or just convincing them to stop writing their passwords on sticky notes, there are LOTS of little ways to nudge your friends and family in a safer direction. We’ve put together an array of gift ideas that’ll help them keep things locked down without breaking the bank (and, if you’re the one they’d call to help clean up after a security incident, probably save you some time in the end).

Much of what we wrote for our 2019 guide still holds true. There are some timeless security essentials that you can’t miss out on, and we’ve searched around for the best deals. But we also have a few more fun gift ideas up our sleeves for the holiday season.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Timeless security essentials for your friends and family

(Images from top-left clockwise: Yubico, 1Password, Amazon and Amazon)

A password manager subscription

Password managers are a real lifesaver. One strong, unique password lets you into your entire bank of passwords. They’re great for storing your passwords and other secrets, but also for encouraging you to use better, stronger, unique passwords. And because many are cross-platform, you can bring your passwords with you. Plenty of password managers exist — from LastPass, Lockbox and Dashlane, to open-source versions like KeePass. Many are free, but a premium subscription often comes with benefits and better features. And if you’re a journalist, 1Password has a free subscription just for you.

Price: Many free; premium offerings start at $36 – $45 annually
Available from: 1Password | LastPass | Dashlane | KeePass

Don’t forget about a physical two-factor key

Your online accounts have everything about you and you’d want to keep them safe. A security key is a physical hardware device that offers far greater protections than a two-factor code going to your phone. A security key plugs into your USB port on your computer (or the charging port on your phone) to “prove” to online services, like Facebook, Google and Twitter, that you are who you say you are. YubiKeys are by far our favorite and come in all shapes and sizes. The latest YubiKey 5 series has something for everyone, no matter what kind of devices they have. They’re also cheap. Google also has a range of its own branded Titan security keys, one of which also offers Bluetooth connectivity.

Price: From $25 – $55, depending on device type, from Yubico Store or Google Store

A webcam cover to protect your privacy

We’re all living through this pandemic together, and most of us are still working from home. If you, like me, have accidentally joined a video call by mistake, you’ll be more thankful for your webcam cover than you could ever know. Webcam covers slide open when you need to access your camera, and slides to cover the lens when you don’t. It’s that easy. You can buy webcam covers from practically anywhere — just make sure you get a thin cover that supports your device so as to not damage its display when you close the lid. You can support local businesses and nonprofits — you can search for unique and interesting webcam covers on Etsy or from your favorite internet rights group.

Price: from $5 – $10.
Available from: Etsy | Electronic Frontier Foundation

A microphone blocker to prevent hot mics (and malware)

Now that you have your webcam cover, what about your microphone? Just as hackers can tap into your webcam, they can also pick up on your audio. Microphone blockers contain a semiconductor that tricks your computer or device into thinking that it’s a working microphone, when in fact it’s not able to pick up any audio. Anyone hacking into your device won’t hear a thing. Some modern Macs already come with a new Apple T2 security chip which prevents hackers from snooping on your microphone when your laptop’s lid is shut. But a microphone blocker will work all the time, even when the lid is open.

Price: from $7$20 on Amazon

More gifts for the security and privacy minded

A Pi-hole to block pesky ads and online trackers

(Image: Pi-hole)

Think of a Pi-hole as a “hardware ad-blocker.” A Pi-hole is a modified Raspberry Pi mini-computer that runs ad-blocking technology as a box that sits on your network. It means that everyone on your home network benefits from ad blocking. Online ads generate revenue for websites but are also notorious for tracking users across the web. Until ads can behave properly, a Pi-hole is a great way to capture and sinkhole bad ad traffic. The hardware may be cheap, but the ad-blocking software is free. Donations to the cause are welcome.

Price: from $35.
Available from: Pi-hole | Raspberry Pi

Get your computer or phone a privacy screen

(Image: Amazon)

How often have you seen someone’s private messages or documents as you look over their shoulder, or see them in the next seat over? It’s not as much of an issue when we’re all at home — but we’re also all getting pretty comfortable with having whatever on our screens right now, which might not be the best habit to develop. Privacy screens can help protect you from “visual hacking.” These screens make it near-impossible for anyone other than the device user to snoop at what you’re working on. And, you can get them for all kinds of devices and displays — including phones. But make sure you get the right size!

Price: from about $17 and up, depending on display size
Available from: Amazon

Find a perfect fit with authentic hacker apparel

(Image: Zero Day Clothing)

Ditch the stereotypical hacker hoodie and get some decent hacker apparel instead. Zero Day Clothing has some excellent t-shirts and other clothing for your hacker or security-minded friends, from celebrating Diffie-Hellman encryption, fearing the botnet or designing your own — there’s something for everyone. We’re particularly a fan because the company supports a ton of causes, from net neutrality all the way to freedom of speech and LGBTQ+ rights and fair access to knowledge and education.

Available from: Zero Day Clothing

A Raspberry Pi 400 computer for tinkering

(Image: Romain Dillet/TechCrunch)

The micro-computer maker has a new product, the Raspberry Pi 400, a personal computer kit built into a keyboard and mouse. Connect it to a display and you can get started almost immediately. The device is more powerful than a Chromebook, and allows you to build, develop and tinker to your heart’s content.

Price: $70
Available from: Raspberry Pi

Test your hacker skills with the Backdoors & Breaches card game

(Image: Black Hills Infosec)

Backdoors & Breaches is a security-focused card game, developed by Black Hills Infosec, designed to help you conduct incident response exercises while learning about attack tactics, tools and techniques. It’s a great way to learn more about how to respond after a breach. Don’t worry if you can’t play in person any time soon — you can still play virtually, thanks to an active Discord channel.

Available from: Shopify

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Facebook will pay $650 million to settle class action suit centered on Illinois privacy law



Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million Friday for running afoul of an Illinois law designed to protect the state’s residents from invasive privacy practices.

That law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), is a powerful state measure that’s tripped up tech companies in recent years. The suit against Facebook was first filed in 2015, alleging that Facebook’s practice of tagging people in photos using facial recognition without their consent violated state law.

1.6 million Illinois residents will receive at least $345 under the final settlement ruling in California federal court. The final number is $100 higher than the $550 million Facebook proposed in 2020, which a judge deemed inadequate. Facebook disabled the automatic facial recognition tagging features in 2019, making it opt-in instead and addressing some of the privacy criticisms echoed by the Illinois class action suit.

A cluster of lawsuits accused Microsoft, Google and Amazon of breaking the same law last year after Illinois residents’ faces were used to train their facial recognition systems without explicit consent.

The Illinois privacy law has tangled up some of tech’s giants, but BIPA has even more potential to impact smaller companies with questionable privacy practices. The controversial facial recognition software company Clearview AI now faces its own BIPA-based class action lawsuit in the state after the company failed to dodge the suit by pushing it out of state courts.

A $650 million settlement would be enough to crush any normal company, though Facebook can brush it off much like it did with the FTC’s record-setting $5 billion penalty in 2019. But the Illinois law isn’t without teeth. For Clearview, it was enough to make the company pull out of business in the state altogether.

The law can’t punish a behemoth like Facebook in the same way, but it is one piece in a regulatory puzzle that poses an increasing threat to the way tech’s data brokers have done business for years. With regulators at the federal, state and legislative level proposing aggressive measures to rein in tech, the landmark Illinois law provides a compelling framework that other states could copy and paste. And if big tech thinks navigating federal oversight will be a nightmare, a patchwork of aggressive state laws governing how tech companies do business on a state-by-state basis is an alternate regulatory future that could prove even less palatable.


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AWS reorganizes DeepRacer League to encourage more newbies



AWS launched the DeepRacer League in 2018 as a fun way to teach developers machine learning, and it’s been building on the idea ever since. Today, it announced the latest league season with two divisions: Open and Pro.

As Marcia Villalba wrote in a blog post announcing the new league, “AWS DeepRacer is an autonomous 1/18th scale race car designed to test [reinforcement learning] models by racing virtually in the AWS DeepRacer console or physically on a track at AWS and customer events. AWS DeepRacer is for developers of all skill levels, even if you don’t have any ML experience. When learning RL using AWS DeepRacer, you can take part in the AWS DeepRacer League where you get experience with machine learning in a fun and competitive environment.”

While the company started these as in-person races with physical cars, the pandemic has forced them to make it a virtual event over the last year, but the new format seemed to be blocking out newcomers. Since the goal is to teach people about machine learning, getting new people involved is crucial to the company.

That’s why it created the Open League, which as the name suggests is open to anyone. You can test your skills and if you’re good enough, finishing in the top 10%, you can compete in the Pro division. Everyone competes for prizes as well such as vehicle customizations.

The top 16 in the Pro League each month race for a chance to go to the finals at AWS re:Invent in 2021, an event that may or may not be virtual, depending on where we are in the pandemic recovery.

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Free 30-day trial of Extra Crunch included with TC Sessions: Justice tickets



TC Sessions: Justice is coming up on Wednesday, and we’ve decided to sweeten the deal for what’s included with your event pass. Buy your ticket now and you’ll get a free month of access to Extra Crunch, our membership program focused on founders and startup teams with exclusive articles published daily.

Extra Crunch unlocks access to our weekly investor surveys, private market analysis and in-depth interviews with experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other core startup topics. Get feedback on your pitch deck through Extra Crunch Live, and stay informed with our members-only Extra Crunch newsletter. Other benefits include an improved experience and savings on software services from AWS, Crunchbase and more.

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Sessions: Justice tickets here.  

What is TC Sessions: Justice? 

TC Sessions: Justice is a single-day virtual event that explores diversity, equity and inclusion in tech, the gig worker experience, the justice system and more. We’ll host a series of interviews with key figures in the tech community. 

The event will take place March 3, and we’d love to have you join. 

View the event agenda here, and purchase tickets here

Once you buy your TC Sessions: Justice pass, you will be emailed a link and unique code you can use to claim the free month of Extra Crunch.

Already bought your TC Sessions: Justice ticket?

Existing pass holders will be emailed with information on how to claim the free month of Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchases will receive information over email immediately after the purchase is complete.

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We’re happy to extend a free month of access to existing users. Please contact and mention that you are existing Extra Crunch members who bought a ticket to TC Sessions: Justice. 

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