Archive for August 2018

Your Latest IT News Update

Are You On The Wrong Side Of An Algorithm?

Research carried out in Australia by US data experts have highlighted the possible dangers of a future where, by default, many of us could fall foul of unchecked big-data and automated algorithmic decision-making.

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Google Search Results Biased Says Trump

President Donald Trump has criticised Google for what he sees as hiding “fair media” coverage of him in its search engine results in a way that amounts to left-wing political bias and negativity.

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Facebook Promptly Removes Mynamar Military Accounts

Facebook has reacted quickly and taken down many accounts of Myanmar’s military leaders after a damning UN report accused them of genocide and war crimes against the Muslim Rohingya population.

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Diabetes Eye Disease Diagnosing System Needs No Doctors

An AI system for diagnosing eye disease caused by diabetes that has been approved for use in the US works autonomously and doesn’t need a doctor to interpret its results.

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Uber Moves Into Bikes & Scooters

Ride-hailing service Uber, which has until recently been associated with cars, has announced a shift in focus towards bikes and scooters in order to drive growth and keep people using the platform.

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Tech Tip – Get Alexa In Windows 10

Many of us are used to using Amazon’s digital voice-activated assistant for all kinds of things at home. You can also use it via Windows 10 in the office. Here’s how:

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Are You On The Wrong Side Of An Algorithm?

Research carried out in Australia by US data experts have highlighted the possible dangers of a future where, by default, many of us could fall foul of unchecked big-data and automated algorithmic decision-making.

Travels Yield Insights

After travelling around Australia studying the potential risks posed by algorithmic decisions affecting more parts of our lives, Dr Powles and Professor Frank Pasquale, an expert in big-data and information law at the University of Maryland, were able to highlight some important points to bear in mind.

Do You Fit The Algorithm Maker’s Assumptions?

One important thing to remember about algorithms is that they are made by a human who has a set of assumptions, and that they rely on statistics. On this basis, the researchers have concluded that some statistical processes such as averaging results in those people who fit the assumptions made by the algorithm’s creators being treated fairly, and those who don’t i.e. those who are ‘statistical outliers’ are in danger of being treated unfairly by default by algorithms.

Why Use Algorithms?

According to Professor Frank Pasquale, some of the main reasons why algorithms are used and sometimes favoured over human interaction are:

– Speed and scale. They allow you to do things quickly and can allow you to scale them to over tens of thousands of people, which can also help users to avoid the queues.

– Efficiency and productivity. The progress of pushing the use of big data and AI forward is often framed in terms of efficiency or productivity, and algorithms help with these.

– Greater sharing and enabling re-use of data.

– Human preference. The Professor noted that there are many occasions where people prefer interaction with a computer system to e.g. what they perceive as uncaring or unfeeling bureaucrats. Also, young people are becoming more accustomed to, and often prefer interacting with computers e.g. seamless, frictionless, easy interaction.

Problems

The Professor also noted that problems with relying on complicated algorithms can arise when they lack transparency i.e. what exact factors people are being judged on. The example of consumer credit scores was given where if you are eligible for a mortgage can depend, in part, on secret algorithms used to assess how creditworthy you are.

Also, as Dr Powles pointed out, some computerised systems can become so complicated that even their designers don’t know how they work, and this can cause serious problems as regards transparency.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is clearly a case for the value-adding use of algorithms and the products of big data as they enable businesses to increase speed and achieve scale in dealing with processes such as searches, applications etc.

As Dr Powles points out in the findings of this research however, it is vitally important that, if big decisions made by businesses and organisations that affect lives are made by algorithms, there should be fairness and transparency by default. Algorithms also need to be accountable to the people about whom they’re making decisions.

Another important point, this time from Professor Pasquale, is that automated decisions that cannot be explained simply to the people they affect will be alienating.

Businesses, therefore, need to take these factors into account when introducing algorithms to important business processes e.g. screening job applicants and making decisions on whether or not services can be supplied to those who apply.

Google Search Results Biased Says Trump

President Donald Trump has criticised Google for what he sees as hiding “fair media” coverage of him in its search engine results in a way that amounts to left-wing political bias and negativity.

Tweeting Again

The US President’s latest swipe at a tech giant accused Google of prioritising negative news stories from the “national left-wing media”.

He went so far as to say that his perceived promotion by Google of mainstream (left-wing) media outlets such as CNN, and the suppression of conservative political voices amounted to a dangerous action and a “very serious situation”.

Prompted By Fox News Report?

It has long been known that President Trump’s favourite (right-wing) news channel is Fox News. Many commentators believe that it may be no coincidence that his criticism of Google via Twitter followed the morning after a feature about the matter on Fox News.

The segment featured details of a report by Paula Bolyard who said she had performed test searches in Google on many different computers registered to different users, and that she found that 96% of the news articles presented by Google for the phrase “Trump news” were from left-wing news outlets. This is the exact figure that President Trump reported in his tweets. While Ms Bolyard accepted that this was not a scientific experiment, she noted that it did suggest a “bias against right-leaning content.”.

Paula Bolyard is also a supervising editor at PJ Media, the conservative news site.

Search Not Used To Set A Political Agenda

Google’s response has been to re-iterate that its search feature, which is controlled by automatic algorithms, is not used to set a political agenda, and that the results of searches aren’t biased toward any political ideology.

Google’s search algorithms are reported to take into account over 200 different factors, and these algorithms are regularly changed and improved to make sure that they find the most relevant links to user queries as quickly as possible.

One possible explanation for sites such as CNN.com and NYTimes.com ranking highly in searches is the fact that they are likely to have many readers linking to them, and they are very popular sites.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google (Alphabet Inc) is a private company, and as one U.S. member of Congress Ted Lieu pointed out in a tweet responding to President Trump’s tweets, courts would not tolerate governments trying to dictate the free speech algorithms of private companies.

It is, however, important to note that President Trump’s comments can have a direct and fast effect on any countries / industries / businesses that he focuses on. For example, as well as shares of Alphabet falling 0.3% after Mr Trump’s accusations, President Trump’s warning against countries doing business with Iran forced the EU to bring in a blocking statute to protect EU firms and a means to allow EU businesses affected by the sanctions to sue the US administration.

Many see these latest comments as a continuation of President Trump’s criticism of news media coverage of him, a desire exert control over what’s being said, and as a way to apply more pressure to tech companies to clamp down on anything that could point to any foreign interference in and disruption of US politics, especially in the wake of accusations of Russian influence and Facebook being used to spread messages that may have affected the US election result. Facebook and Twitter have also been in the US administration’s firing line over accusations of removing content from some conservatives, and being called upon to remove conspiracy driven content and hate speech.

This is a war of words with economic consequences that is likely to continue.

Facebook Promptly Removes Mynamar Military Accounts

Facebook has reacted quickly and taken down many accounts of Myanmar’s military leaders after a damning UN report accused them of genocide and war crimes against the Muslim Rohingya population.

Removed

It has been reported that, following the release of the report, Facebook removed a total of 18 user accounts, and 52 pages associated with the Myanmar military. These are thought to include the page of its commander-in-chief.

All of the removed pages and accounts are thought to have had a total of almost 12 million followers.

The Situation, In Brief

The action by Facebook relates to the situation in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where approximately 25,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed and an estimated 700,000 forced to flee to Bangladesh in over the past year. The blame for the alleged genocide has been placed firmly at the door of the Myanmar military, and the country’s leader and Nobel Prize winner, Ang San Suu Kyi, has been widely criticised for apparently failing to use her position as head of government, or her moral authority, to stop the persecution and violence in Rakhine state.

Facebook – Several Reasons

As well as the fact that the accounts relate to suspected war criminals, Facebook has several reasons to act quickly in taking down the accounts of military leaders and their associates, including the fact that:

– Facebook, by its own admission, had been too slow up until now in acting to remove posts aimed at stirring up and spreading hatred against the minority Muslim Rohingya population.

– Facebook is a very popular social network in Myanmar, and thus bad as well as good messages can be distributed widely and quickly using the platform.

– The Tatmadaw (the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar) has been using its official Facebook pages to discredit allegations of the crimes it has committed, and to stir-up further fears about the Rohingya. Also, the Tatmadaw are thought to have been using bogus independent news and opinion pages to covertly push their own messages.

– Facebook is very aware that it has been used as a means to influence political opinion and even election outcomes in some other countries i.e. alleged Russian use of Facebook in the US election. This has made Facebook anxious to stop this happening.

– The social network, along with other platforms, apps, and tech giants, has long been accused by many different governments of failing to act / failing to act quickly enough to remove hate speech and racist content.

– Facebook and other platforms have been threatened with regulation e.g. Ofcom in the UK, and Facebook is anxious to claw back much of the trust it lost in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as getting some good publicity.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses like to operate in and associate themselves with stable countries, particularly where they feel the government is trustworthy, and where the military don’t have too much power. The cost in human suffering in events and circumstances in Myanmar have been terrible, and this has also caused the economy to suffer, as its growth has slowed, it’s currency has dropped against the dollar, and as other countries and potential trading partners have tried to distance themselves from the current regime.

For Facebook, this has been a much-needed opportunity to present its positive side and show that it can and will act quickly to police its own network where it feels it has credible and conclusive evidence to do so, and to be able to justify its actions. This has been something that Facebook appears to have been much more keen to do lately e.g. in deleting 30+ pages and accounts attempting to influence the US midterm elections, and in removing 650+ fake Facebook accounts and pages, and pages designed to influence politics in US and the UK, as well as in the Middle East and Latin America.

The power and responsibility of social network platforms is now beginning to become apparent. Businesses are now major advertisers on social networks too, and as such, they need to ensure that they can reach the right audience in enough numbers and that their advertising doesn’t suffer from negative associations or being displayed next to content or posts that promote hatred.

Diabetes Eye Disease Diagnosing System Needs No Doctors

An AI system for diagnosing eye disease caused by diabetes that has been approved for use in the US works autonomously and doesn’t need a doctor to interpret its results.

New Way To Solve Old Problem

Diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness among adults, is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye / the retina. The condition affects up to eight out of 10 people who have had diabetes for 10 years or more.

Given the extent of the problem, Google and DeepMind are reported to have been working on building machine-learning algorithms for detecting diabetic retinopathy for some time.

The new AI-based device from Iowa diagnostics company IDx LLC is the first FDA-approved AI system for diagnosing this particular eye disease.

No Doctors Required For Diagnosis

The system can be used to spot the disease i.e. signs of mild diabetic retinopathy in scans of people’s retinas. This would normally be a job that would require human input, and as such, the new device is a first in eye care.

Although the system can diagnose the disease on its own, and therefore, doesn’t require a doctor’s input for diagnosis, it cannot recommend treatment plans, as this requires human doctors.

How Does It Work?

The system uses two convolutional neural networks.

The first one studies and analyses the image quality of retinal scans, from this it can determine if the focus, colour balance, and exposure are good enough to pass the photos to the diagnostic algorithm.

The second stage / network looks for common signs of damage related to the disease e.g. haemorrhages from burst blood vessels which may be caused by unstable blood sugar levels.

From these processes, the system is able to make a diagnosis.

How Accurate Is It?

Given the complicated nature of the medical condition, the accuracy of the system has been tested (using 900 subjects) in terms of its sensitivity, specificity and imageability. The device is reported to have scored 87% sensitivity i.e. identifying patients who have a mild version of the condition, 90% cent specificity i.e. indentifying those with no eye damage, and 96% imageability i.e. a high enough quality of image was generated to achieve a diagnosis.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is being incorporated in more value adding and innovative ways to solve many problems across all industries and sectors, and as such, represents an opportunity for those businesses developing devices and systems with an AI element.

Not only does this device perform an important part of a service that hitherto required expert human input, it also frees up time that the human expert would have spent on diagnosis, thereby allowing valuable medical resources to be extended and allocated elsewhere. This demonstrates how AI can add value, save time / costs, and allow more leverage to be gained from existing services.

We already trust devices / machinery to handle many important aspects of medical care, and with this in mind, there should be no real reason to mistrust the accuracy and fitness for purpose of this system, particularly given that it has been tested, and that there will be human input at the treatment plan stage that may help to spot any errors.

AI in medical care represents an important step into the future that could bring some incredible benefits.

Uber Moves Into Bikes & Scooters

Ride-hailing service Uber, which has until recently been associated with cars, has announced a shift in focus towards bikes and scooters in order to drive growth and keep people using the platform.

The Challenges

Uber has faced a number of challenges in recent times, some of which have been of its own making. These challenges have included:

  • Congestion in inner-city areas (particularly in rush hour), the exact places where many of its customers use the service in large numbers to travel short distances. Uber itself has been accused by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, of adding to city’s congestion problems. This has resulted in another challenge in that city for Uber – a suggested cap on the number of Uber drivers. New York has also voted to impose a temporary cap on new licences for ride-hailing vehicles in order to tackle congestion
  • Trouble over licences, the effect on revenue, and associated bad press. For example, Uber only has a 15-month provisional licence in London which was only granted on appeal this year.
  • The need to get the company into good financial shape before it is floated on the stock market, with a value of up to $70bn.
  • More bad press and potentially costly problems relating to Uber resisting court rulings giving employment rights to its drivers.
  • The opportunity of getting a substantial piece of the mobility market, but not being in the ideal position to do so.
  • The need to keep engagement of customers with the company / brand.
  • The need to drive growth in the longer term.

The Solution

The solution for Uber, according to its Boss Dara Khosrowshahi, is to diversify into bikes and scooters. The main reasons for this is that they will be more effective and efficient than cars in congested city areas, they represent a way to get another slice of the lucrative mobility market, and they can be used to help shape consumer behaviour and keep levels of engagement high.

How?

Uber has already also invested in electric scooter company Lime, invested in several bike firms over last year (including spending $200m on bike-sharing firm Jump), and added e-bikes to its app in some US cities. This has already enabled Uber to offer Jump electric bikes in eight US cities, including New York and Washington, and soon Berlin.

Playing The Longer Game

Uber has admitted that although the shift in focus will not bring short-term financial benefits, it should take the company nearer to where it wants to be in the longer term.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of a business thinking with more strategic clarity, seeing their market as the whole ‘mobility market’, and finding a relatively simple solution for themselves to position themselves for a wider share of it through diversification, and in the meantime finding a way around some of the more immovable challenges e.g. congestion.

Uber has built a brand that has married new technology with existing technologies and services (mobile use and apps with car-hailing services), has experimented with future technologies e.g. driverless cars, but has also made the headlines for less positive reasons. Users of the service simply have a basic need to get from A to B as quickly, safely, and cheaply as possible, and bikes may well prove popular, as well as addressing some environmental concerns.

Tech Tip – Get Alexa In Windows 10

Many of us are used to using Amazon’s digital voice-activated assistant for all kinds of things at home. You can also use it via Windows 10 in the office. Here’s how:

Many new computers may come with the Alexa App pre-installed. Look for the Alexa app in the Start menu or type ‘Amazon Alexa’ in the Start menu Search bar.

If your computer doesn’t support hands-free access, click the Alexa icon at the bottom of the app to call up the voice assistant.

If you don’t have the Alexa App pre-installed on your computer, you can install it:

Ensure your PC is up to date and configured with US Language settings.

Download the Alexa app and follow the installation instructions – https://www.windowscentral.com/how-install-amazon-alexa-windows-10

To show the Alexa app all the time in your Windows 10 taskbar:

Go to Windows Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > Select which icons appear on the taskbar and enable Alexa.

Your Latest IT News Update

Apple Battery Gas Leak – Shop Evacuated

The leaking of vapours from a damaged iPad battery led to an Amsterdam shop being evacuated and 3 staff being treated for breathing problems caused by the released gas.

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Superdrug Customers Informed of Hack

Superdrug is reported to have advised online customers to change their passwords after it was targeted by hackers who claim to have stolen the details of approximately 20,000 Superdrug customers.

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Facebook Uses Scoring System To Manage Misinformation

It has been reported that Facebook allocates a trustworthiness score to some members to help it manage misinformation issues such as some members continually flagging / reporting stories as fake if they don’t agree with the content.

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New Australian Law Gets The Thumbs-Down From Tech Firms

In Australia, a new draft bill proposing ways for tech firms, software developers and others to assist security agencies and police has been given the thumbs-down by a major industry group over its ambiguity, and the potential security risks it could create.

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Superfast Broadband Boosts Business and Jobs

Among the findings of a recent government report about superfast broadband in the UK are claims that superfast broadband rollout so far has led to job creation and a £12.28 benefit for firms for every £1 invested by central and local authorities.

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Tech Tip – Display System Drives First In File Explorer

In Windows by default, your File Explorer now opens the Quick Access screen when launched. If you’d rather go back to the old way of displaying your system drives first, here’s how:

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Apple iPad Battery Gas Leak – Shop Evacuated

The leaking of vapours from a damaged iPad battery led to an Amsterdam shop being evacuated and 3 staff being treated for breathing problems caused by the released gas.

Fire Brigade Called

Although the fire brigade was called and attended, there were no reports of any actual flames / fire coming from the affected iPad. Staff had, however, initially reacted to the smoking iPad by putting it in a sand-filled fire bucket.

Incidents of Similar Faults

Reports online indicate that similar faults have occurred elsewhere since Apple had started its iPhone battery replacement programme e.g. as reported on the Apple news site 9to5mac. Some reports indicate Apple stores in Switzerland , Spain and Hong Kong have been evacuated and medical incidents being reported this year due to problems with combusting / fumes from iPhone batteries.

While details are patchy, the insinuation by some commentators has been that the incidents involved the batteries of phones that been brought into the shop as part of the battery replacement programme.

There have, for example, been reports from 3 years ago of old batteries giving off smoke if pierced during replacement, although it is not clear if this was the cause of the latest incident.

What Battery Replacement Programme?

Back in 2017, Apple apologised for intentionally slowing down older iPhones (Phone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and iPhone 7 models), perhaps with a view to encouraging upgrades. Since Apple’s actions were discovered, Apple owners with older models complained of facing huge costs for upgrading, and Apple highlighted how older batteries lose power over time. This led to Apple deciding to introduce a battery replacement programme. This means that Apple will offer anyone with an iPhone 6 or above a newer battery for just £25. This represents a £54 saving.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Apple phones are widely used and valued by business people and home users alike. The revelation of Apple deliberately slowing down phones to speed up the act of customers replacing their devices with the latest (and some would say expensive) versions, blotted what had been a relatively clean copy-book. The battery replacement programme appeared to be a practical way to perhaps gain customer trust back, say sorry, and legitimately solve some battery problems.

Like many phone makers, however, the at times unpredictable and potentially dangerous behaviour of some lithium-ion batteries can cause some very unwelcome incidents and publicity e.g. the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. These incidents illustrate how important it is that all aspects of the value chain in the creation and branding of premium products are right.

There may be real hope for phone manufacturers, however, since Norwegian scientists at IFE claim to have discovered a new wonder-material, ‘SiliconX’, for phone batteries that can stabilise silicon anodes for Li-ion batteries and offer five times the charge capacity.

Superdrug Customers Informed of Hack

Superdrug is reported to have advised online customers to change their passwords after it was targeted by hackers who claim to have stolen the details of approximately 20,000 Superdrug customers.

Hundreds Compromised – Could Be More

To date, Superdrug has confirmed that 386 customer accounts are known to have been compromised, but that it is still working to try to establish the exact number. It is possible, therefore, that the number could be many more.

Contacted By Hackers

Superdrug is reported to have been contacted by a person representing a hacking group and claiming to have hacked their systems, and this person provided stolen customer information as proof. Superdrug was able to confirm the authenticity of the information from their own record of customer email and log-in details. The hacker is reported to have claimed that the details belonging to 20,000 customers were stolen, and has asked for a ransom from Superdrug.

May Have Got From Elsewhere

Even though the assumption is that the mystery hackers got into Superdrug’s systems to get the customer data, Superdrug is claiming this is not the case and that the hackers got the customer login details from other websites and then used those credentials to access accounts on the Superdrug website.

What Kind of Details?

Superdrug has said that, of the compromised accounts that it knows about, names, addresses, some dates of birth, and some telephone numbers may have been stolen, but that no customer payment card details have been accessed.

Actions

Superdrug has said that it has contacted the Police and Action Fraud (the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime arm) and is offering them all the information they need for an investigation.

Informed Customers

Those customers whose accounts had been compromised were sent an email by Superdrug explaining the situation, asking them to change their passwords, and advising them to change them regularly in future.

Anger Over Tweet

A tweet sent by Superdrug to confirm that the emails received by affected customers was genuine provoked anger, mostly because it failed to include an apology.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although exact numbers of those affected and exact details of how customer data was obtained and accounts accessed have not yet been confirmed, the fact is that at least several hundred customers of a trusted high street brand have ended up being victims of crime, and Superdrug has (at the very least) a PR battle on its hands.

Sadly, Superdrug is one of many well-known companies with data breaches that have made the headlines, affected many customers, and damaged their own company reputations. For example, a Dixons Carphone breach from last year saw the theft of 10 million customer records.

Not just because of possible fines under GDPR, businesses and organisations should be putting customer data protection very high on the list of their business priorities, as strong data security policies, procedures, practices, and defences protect both the customer, the company and its reputation, and a vital and valuable bond of trust between merchant and customer, and send a message that customer security concerns are taken seriously.