Archive for October 2018

Your Latest IT News Update

Businesses Looking Forward to 5G

UK businesses are looking for a boost in the speed and scope of communications in the form of 5G, but how soon will having a 5G phone that delivers all the 5G benefits become a reality, and what will it take to make it happen?

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More Contactless Than Chip & PIN

Figures from merchant services company Worldpay Inc show that for the first time, more payments were made in UK shops using contactless than Chip and PIN over the 12 months from June 2017.

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Facial Recognition For Buyers Of Alcohol & Cigarettes

A pilot scheme involving NCR, the US self check-out machine maker for Asda, Tesco and other UK supermarkets, and Yoti’s digital identity app will use an integrated camera linked to facial recognition software to help improve, simplify and speed up age approval at self check-outs.

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New Political Ad Transparency Rules Tested With Pro-Brexit Website

No sooner had Facebook announced new rules to force political advertisers to prove their identities and their ad spend than an anonymous pro-Brexit campaign website with a massive £257,000 ad spend was discovered.

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Microsoft Education For Dyslexics

In partnering with charity ‘Made by Dyslexia’, and in signing the Made by Dyslexia pledge, Microsoft has announced that it is the first company to sign a global pledge to help people with dyslexia.

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Tech Tip – Clearing & Organising Your Screen

If you sometimes have too many windows open and you need to clear things up and / or get back to the desktop view in Windows 10 as quickly as possible, here are a couple of tips that can help.

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Businesses Looking Forward to 5G

UK businesses are looking for a boost in the speed and scope of communications in the form of 5G, but how soon will having a 5G phone that delivers all the 5G benefits become a reality, and what will it take to make it happen?

What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications. i.e. you use it to call, text and (when not connected Wi-Fi network) get online. It is thought that 5G should be much faster than previous generations, and may open up new opportunities for mobile data, stimulate innovation, and make UK companies even more competitive.

5G Phones

Tech and communications commentators are quick to point out, for phone manufactures, manufacturing 5G phones will be a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
  • Miniaturisation of a more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smart-phone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation.
  • The first 5G smart-phones will need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

What About The Network?

The 5G network is, of course, the crucial element in giving customers the 5G experience that we’ve been promised. Some of the key points to remember about the 5G network are that:

  • The frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.
  • Other technologies will need to be developed and trialled. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.
  • There will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) are likely to be the first offered to users, and there will also be an expensive high-frequency “millimetre wave” (mmWave) for use in densely populated areas. In short, this could mean limitations on where an owner can use their shiny new 5G phone.

When?

Taking all this into account, phone manufacturers have been publicly offering estimates of when their 5G phone models will be available. For example, Motorola’s 5G add-on for its Moto Z3 smart-phone are due in early 2019, Samsung may launch their first 5G smart-phone in August 2019, and Huawei’s 5G model could be with us by mid-2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities, and could help provide a boost to new industries. For example, it will help to boost virtual and augmented reality, provide greater connectivity to IoT and smart devices, and help with all kinds of services e.g. smart bins and smart lighting, and remote healthcare services. The growing autonomous vehicle market could also benefit as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need. Those companies operating delivery drone / robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas. Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.

More Contactless Than Chip & PIN

Figures from merchant services company Worldpay Inc show that for the first time, more payments were made in UK shops using contactless than Chip and PIN over the 12 months from June 2017.

Jump This Year

Worldpay reports a 30% rise in contactless payments over the last year. A MasterCard survey from September concurs with the trend found by Worldpay by showing that nearly half of all UK payments (including cash) were contactless-enabled.

Big Rises – Fashion Retail

According to the survey, fashion retailers (415% year-on-year increase in contactless payments), and even betting shops have seen large increases in contactless payments, particularly using smart-phones. Clothes and footwear sales have seen a 500% increase in contactless payments from smart-phones.

Benefits

For the card user, contactless payments offer greater convenience because of the speed and ease of transactions. As well as providing positive reinforcement, contactless also allows people to avoid the negative aspects of shopping, such as eliminating the need to obtain and carry cash, and avoiding queuing and lost time waiting to pay.

For the retailer, contactless means cost and time savings, and having to deal with less cash, but it also means the need to invest heavily in new payments technology in order to make it easier and quicker for customers to securely complete transactions in-store.

Drivers

Drivers of the growth in contactless have been the convenience and speed that customers experience, the fact that card issuers are including contactless with customer cards, and the fact that most retailers are able and are happy to take contactless payments, even for relatively small amounts.

Also, one of the key drivers for contactless payments via smart-phones has been the rise in the use of mobile wallets e.g. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay, which have seen a 114% increase on the high street over the last year. In fact, another Worldpay survey from last year revealed that over 50% of shoppers believe that their phones could replace their wallets within the next five years. This also illustrates how we, as consumers, are using our smart-phones to help manage more and more important areas of our lives.

There has also been a big increase in confidence and trust in contactless by consumers as they have become used to using contactless on a regular basis without experiencing any of the initially predicted negative consequences. Confidence levels in the marketplace can be illustrated not just by the huge increase in the number of transactions, but also by the fact that in a Worldpay Survey, also from 2017, 65% of consumers said they’d happily make a contactless purchase of up to £50, instead of the current £30.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another milestone in the rise of contactless that illustrates the main payment trends in the market. Firstly, back in June, UK Finance announced that, driven by contactless, the number of debit card payments had overtaken those of cash. Now we are at the stage where not only has contactless overtaken Chip & PIN for the first time, but contactless using smart-phone wallets is seriously on the rise. Contactless provides speed and convenience for customers as well as retailers. There are even some traditionally cash-based businesses in cities e.g. cafes, that only accept contactless and not cash. It is now possible to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future where wallets are no longer needed to carry cash, and tills (for holding cash) and ATMs with just a cash dispensing function starting to become much scarcer. Convenience and speed have always been desirable for consumers when shopping, and contactless allows retailers to offer those benefits for most of our daily purchases.

Facial Recognition For Buyers Of Alcohol & Cigarettes

A pilot scheme involving NCR, the US self check-out machine maker for Asda, Tesco and other UK supermarkets, and Yoti’s digital identity app will use an integrated camera linked to facial recognition software to help improve, simplify and speed up age approval at self check-outs.

Speed & Frustration Reduction

The system is intended to tackle problems such as frustration and delays caused when customers wait for approval when buying alcohol at self check-outs, challenges faced by supermarket employees who have to determine a shopper’s age and either accept or deny them a sale of alcohol or cigarettes, and to help the supermarket to stay on the right side of the law.

How Will The System Work?

An AI-equipped camera will be integrated in the vicinity of the checkout and the facial recognition software will use AI to help it estimate the age of shoppers when they are buying age-restricted items. The Yoti app does, however, require a customer to register their ID and face with the company beforehand.

What About Privacy and Data Security?

Wherever facial recognition software is used, there are always concerns about how the processing and storage of those images (that count as personal data under GDPR) is managed in terms of privacy and security. Yoti is reported to have said that its system will not retain any visual information about users after they have made a purchase.

Where and When?

There are no confirmed details as yet about exactly which supermarket(s) will be involved in the pilot, although some media reports appear to indicate that Tesco, Morrisons and Asda could be the most likely candidates for piloting the technology at some point later this year.

Face Scanning Used For Adverts

A face-scanning system, made by Lord Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, is known to have been used already by Tesco at petrol station tills in order to target advertisements at customers depending on their estimated age.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Anything that reduces customer frustration, as well as speeding-up and simplifying the passage through tills, and leveraging staff resources through saving them from having to constantly go to different tills to approve purchases is likely to be good news for the supermarkets. If this system proves to be effective, accurate and successful, it could have many other opportunities for use in other age-restricted services e.g. venue / event entry, and the purchase of certain dangerous / restricted products, and the gambling industry.

While it may make perfect economic and practical sense for companies to use this kind of system, it could be a double-edged sword with some customers. For example, whereas some customers may see the practical and responsible side of the system, others may consider it an unnecessary intrusion with the potential to impact on their privacy and security.

New Political Ad Transparency Rules Tested With Pro-Brexit Website

No sooner had Facebook announced new rules to force political advertisers to prove their identities and their ad spend than an anonymous pro-Brexit campaign website with a massive £257,000 ad spend was discovered.

Mainstream Network

The anonymous website and campaign identified only as ‘Mainstream Network’ was discovered by Campaign group 89up. Clicking on the Facebook adverts by Mainstream Network takes users to a page on their local constituency and MP, and clicking from there was found to generate an email to their MP requesting that the Prime Minister should abandon her Chequers Brexit deal. It has also been discovered that a copy of each of the emails is sent back to Mainstream Network.

11 Million People Reached

Campaign group 89up estimate that the unknown backers of Mainstream Network must have spent in the region of £257,000 to date on the Facebook adverts, which 89up estimate could have reached 11 million people.

What’s The Problem?

The problem with these political adverts is that Facebook has recently announced new rules in the UK that require anyone wishing to place an advert relating to a live political issue, promoting a UK political candidate, referencing political figures, political parties, elections, legislation before Parliament and past referenda that are the subject of national debate, to prove their identity, and prove that they are based in the UK. Policing this should involve obtaining proof of identity and where they are based e.g. by checking a passport / driving licence / resident permit. According to Facebook, any political adverts must also carry a “Paid for by” disclaimer to enable Facebook users to see who the adverts are from, and the “Paid for by” link next to each advert should link through to a publicly searchable archive of political adverts showing a range of the ad’s budget and number of people reached, and the other ads that Page is running, and previous ads from the same source.

GDPR Breach Too?

It is also believed that sending a copy of the email back to Mainstream Network, in this case, could also constitute a breach of GDPR.

First Job For Facebook’s Nick Clegg

What to do about Mainstream Network and their campaign could end up being the first big task of Facebook’s newly appointed global communications chief and former deputy PM Sir Nick Clegg. It’s been reported that Mark Zuckerberg himself and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg were personally involved in recruiting Mr Clegg given the importance and nature of the role.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

After Facebook announced new rules to ensure political ad-transparency, the discovery of Mainstream Network’s anonymous adverts and the scale of the ad spend and reach must be at the very least embarrassing and awkward for Facebook, and is another piece of unwanted bad publicity for the social network tech giant. Whatever a campaign of this kind and scale is for, Facebook must really be seen to act in order to retain the credibility of its claims that it wants political ad transparency, not to lose any more of the trust if its users and advertisers, and to avoid being linked with any more political influence scandals.

Facebook has recently faced many other high profile problems including how much tax it pays, the scandal of sharing user details with Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ (over the UK referendum), a fine by the ICO for breaches of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act, and a major hack, and is perhaps with all this in mind that it has hired a former politician and UK Deputy Prime minister. Some political commentators have also noted that it may be very useful for Facebook to have a person on-board who knows the key players, who has reach and is able to lobby on Facebook’s behalf in one of its toughest regulatory areas, the European Union.

Microsoft Education For Dyslexics

In partnering with charity ‘Made by Dyslexia’, and in signing the Made by Dyslexia pledge, Microsoft has announced that it is the first company to sign a global pledge to help people with dyslexia.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that is not related to intelligence. Those with the condition experience difficulty with reading, spelling, writing and sometimes speaking because their brains have trouble recognising or processing some types of information.

It is estimated that it affects 700 million people worldwide and at least 5% of schoolchildren have dyslexia. In many cases, these schoolchildren are often (mistakenly) labelled as having a learning disability, which is why it is believed that they could make up as much as 85% of special education classes.

The Pledge & Partnership

The ‘Made By Dyslexia’ pledge that Microsoft has signed-up to states that the tech giant will endeavour to recognise dyslexia as a different and valuable way of thinking, understand the importance of identifying each dyslexic and their pattern of strengths and challenges, and give targeted support to dyslexics to enable them to harness their strengths and flourish.

The Pledge says that this can be achieved by “skilling up” staff in schools with regard to spotting, understanding, and how best to support those with dyslexia, using digital screeners to check whether people are dyslexic, and making sure that tests and assignments are adjusted so dyslexics can demonstrate their full knowledge and skills.

Through the pledge, Microsoft is essentially partnering with the global charity ‘Made By Dyslexia’, which describes itself as being led by successful (and famous) dyslexics.

What Will Microsoft Do For Dyslexics?

Microsoft has said that by adhering to the pledge, it hopes to democratise Dyslexia support, and it’s been reported that Microsoft’s contribution will include the creation of free training materials, including short films and reading tools, which are designed to help teachers and parents improve ways of spotting Dyslexia. Microsoft is reported to be working with top researchers and partners in the dyslexic community, with the hope of encouraging those involved in a child’s life to intervene earlier, and thereby improve their future.

Microsoft has announced that it will expand access to (and improve ease of) implementation of a number of tools, including:

  • The Dictation Tool in Learning Tools – to help students to write with their voice.
  • The Immersive Reader tool – to help students with maths problems, to invite all learners into the conversation, and to support students in their native language with real-time translation.
  • A partnership with the University of Washington – to help students sound out words.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As the ‘Made By Dyslexia’ charity demonstrates, dyslexia needn’t be a barrier to success if the right support and tools are available to help those with the condition. Dyslexia is not linked to intelligence, and it presents many extra challenges to those who have the condition. Understanding this and providing help in the form of adherence to the pledge, means that Microsoft is seen to be taking a high profile lead and demonstrating that it understands that those with Dyslexia are just as valuable in the workplace as those without, and that providing help at a young age can help dyslexic people to reach their potential.

Microsoft, like many other big tech companies, is showing how old problems can be tackled with new methods, hopefully with success.

Tech Tip – Clearing & Organising Your Screen

If you sometimes have too many windows open and you need to clear things up and / or get back to the desktop view in Windows 10 as quickly as possible, here are a couple of tips that can help.

Windows 10 has a ‘shake your screen’ feature that enables you to quickly clear all the open windows so you can focus on one. Here’s how it works:

  • Grab the window you want to focus on from the top title bar.
  • Hold it and shake it. All other open Windows will then automatically minimise.
  • Shake it again to bring everything back!

Also, if you need to minimise all your open windows to get back to the desktop quickly:

  • Click on the bottom right corner, to the right of the line on your screen. All open windows will minimise. Click it again and all the windows will reappear in their original positions.

Your Latest IT News Update

Ubicoustics Overhears Everything You Do … And Understands

Researchers in the US have presented a paper based on their research that identified a real-time, activity recognition system capable of interpreting collected sounds that could well be used by home smart speakers.

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New Facebook Rules For Political Ad Transparency In The UK

After the US and Brazil, the UK has become the next country to be subject to Facebook’s new rules that require those who wish to place a political advert on the social media platform to verify their identity and say who is funding the advert.

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Browser Support For Early Versions of TLS To End

The makers of all popular browsers – IE, Edge, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome included – have announced plans to disable Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol versions 1.0 and 1.1 by default.

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Businesses Turning To Zero-Trust Security Model

As a widening attack surface and evolving threats mean that organisations continue to breached despite a large security spend, many businesses are now turning to the ‘zero-trust’ security model.

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Microsoft Co-Founder & Billionaire Philanthropist Paul Allen Dies

Microsoft’s lesser-known co-founder, Paul Allen, who left the company in 1982, has died aged 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (lymphatic cancer), with news of his death bringing praise for his generosity as a philanthropist.

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Tech Tip – Setting Print Screen Key To Screenshot On Windows 10

On Windows 10, starting with version 1809 (October 2018 Update), the ‘Snip & Sketch’ app has been re-purposed to become the new default for screenshots. You can, however, choose to set the Print Screen key on your keyboard to open the screen snipping tools. Here’s how:

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Ubicoustics Overhears Everything You Do … And Understands

Researchers in the US have presented a paper based on their research that identified a real-time, activity recognition system capable of interpreting collected sounds that could well be used by home smart speakers.

Identify Other Sounds, and Issue Responses

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US claim to have discovered a way that the ubiquity of microphones in modern computing devices, and software that could use a device’s always-on built-in microphones could be used to identify all sounds in room, thereby enabling context-related responses from smart devices. For example, if a smart device such as an Amazon Echo were equipped with the technology, and could identify the sound of a tap running in the background in a home, it could issue a reminder to turn the tap off.

Ubicoustics

The research project, dubbed ‘Ubicoustics’, identified how using an AI /machine learning based sound-labeling mode, drawing on sound effects libraries, could be linked to the microphone (as the listening element) of a smart device e.g. smart-watches, computers, mobile devices, and smart speakers.

As Good As A Human

The sound-identifying, machine-learning model used in the research system was able to achieve human-level performance in recognition accuracy and false positive rejection. The reported accuracy level of 80.4%, and the misclassification level of around one sound in five sounds, means that it is comparable to a person trying to identify a sound.

As well as being comparable to other high-performance sound recognition systems, the Ubicoustics system has the added benefit of being able to recognise a much wider range of activities without site-specific training.

Applications

The researchers noted several possible applications of the system used in conjunction with smart devices e.g. sending a notification when a laundry load finished, promoting public health by detecting frequent coughs or sneezes and enabling smart-watches to prompt healthy behaviours after tracking the onset of symptoms.

Privacy Concerns

The obvious worry with a system of this kind is that it could represent an invasion of privacy and could be used to take eavesdropping to a new level i.e. meaning that we could all be living in what is essentially a bugged house.

The researchers suggest a potential privacy protection measure could be to convert all live audio data into low resolution Mel spectrograms (64 bins), thereby making speech recovery sufficiently difficult, or simply running the acoustic model locally on devices so no audio data is transmitted.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The ability of a smart device to be able to recognise all sounds in a room (as well as a person can) and to deliver relevant responses could be valued if used in a responsible, helpful, and not an annoying way. It doesn’t detract from the fact that, knowing that having a device with these capabilities in the home or office could represent a privacy and security risk, and has more than a whiff of ‘big brother’ about it. Indeed, the researchers recognised that people may not want sensitive, fine-grained data going to third-parties, and that operating a device with this system but without transmission of the data could provide a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Nevertheless, it could also represent new opportunities for customer service, diagnostics for home and business products / services, crime detection and prevention, targeted promotions, and a whole range of other possibilities.

New Facebook Rules For Political Ad Transparency In The UK

After the US and Brazil, the UK has become the next country to be subject to Facebook’s new rules that require those who wish to place a political advert on the social media platform to verify their identity and say who is funding the advert.

Verification

The new rule in the UK means that anyone who wishes a place an advert relating to a live political issue or promoting a UK political candidate, referencing political figures, political parties, elections, legislation before Parliament and past referenda that are the subject of national debate, will need to prove their identity, and prove that they are based in the UK. This will require them to have their passport / driving licence / resident permit checked by and authorised third-party organisation. The adverts they post will also have to carry a “Paid for by” disclaimer to enable Facebook users to see who they are engaging with when viewing the ad.

Political Advert Archive Too

The “Paid for by” link next to each political advert is linked through to a publicly searchable archive / library of political adverts. The archive / library shows a range of the ad’s budget and number of people reached, and the other ads that Page is running, and previous ads from the same source.

An advert archive of this kind was first launched by Facebook in the US back in May with the plan of making any ads published after May 7th 2018 available to view for up to seven years.

Why?

The rules on political advertising are being introduced in response to interference in the last US election and the UK referendum by state-funded actors from foreign powers (Russia has been accused), who posted adverts and content on Facebook in an attempt to influence the outcomes of both.

For example, the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has released evidence of thousands of adverts which ran on Facebook and Instagram leading up to the 2016 US elections. It has emerged that these adverts were purchased by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), and ran between 2015 and 2017.

Also, in the UK, it was revealed that Facebook harvested the personal details of 87 million Facebook users without their explicit consent, and shared those details with London-based political Consulting Firm Cambridge Analytica, which is alleged to have used that data to target political messages and advertising in the last US presidential election campaign.

Also, harvested Facebook user data was shared with Aggregate IQ, a Data Company which worked with the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the run-up to the Brexit Referendum.

Report Fake News

The new Facebook political advert rules and the searchable archive / library mean that Facebook users will also be able to report a political ad as fake news.

Other Measures

Facebook has made it known that it is taking many other measures to combat fake news and political interference via its platform. This includes an ongoing program of taking down suspect accounts and pages (more than 500 pages and 250 accounts are reported to have been taken down in the last week), and allocating a trustworthiness score to some members to help manage misinformation issues.

Another tech giant, Microsoft, has also been seen to take steps to protect US democracy by introducing a pilot secure email service called ‘AccountGuard’ specifically for use by election candidates.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facebook is likely to have lost a huge amount of trust among users due to a number of high profile issues and scandals, not least of which was its sharing of the personal data of its users with Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, and how that data was then used for political influence.

With the US mid-term elections just around the corner, and with the UK in a state of uncertainty over the consequences of the referendum vote for Brexit, preventing other states from interfering in the host country’s democratic processes is a hot topic, and something that Facebook doesn’t want to be associated with. Being seen to take positive, pro-active, pro-democratic measures such requiring much greater transparency from political advertisers on its platform could go some way to improving Facebook’s battered reputation in this area.

Facebook still has a long way to go, however, particularly since the recent massive hack, the reverberations of which could go on for a long time in the form of more cyber-crime targeted at Facebook users whose details from Facebook and other apps using the Facebook login were stolen.