Archive for March 2019

Your Latest IT News Update

Facebook Crypto Currency

Facebook is reported to be developing its own blockchain-based cryptocurrency that will enable its users to have a PayPal-like experience when purchasing advertised products, as well as providing authentication and an audit trail.

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Controversial Copyright Backed By MEPs

The European Parliament has given its backing to new copyright rules, including the controversial Article 13, (opposed by many big tech companies) which could now change the way that Europe’s creative and digital industries work.

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1 Million+ UK VAT-Registered Companies Still To Register With Making Tax Digital

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that with a little under a week to go to the deadline for registration, more than 1 million UK VAT-Registered Companies have still not signed up to HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme.

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Emails To Become More Dynamic With Google’s AMP For Email

Google has launched ‘AMP For Email’ which will make emails more dynamic and more like web page experiences as interaction can take place within the email itself rather than including links that send recipients to a web page for the interaction.

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Microsoft And Adobe Team Up To Fight Salesforce

Microsoft and Adobe are teaming up to make it easier for users of Adobe’s marketing software to find and target potential customers for business goods on Microsoft’s LinkedIn, thereby fighting their common competitor Salesforce.com Inc.

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Tech Tip – Discover How Your Phone Is Tracking Your Movements

If you’d like to see what data your phone has been collecting about your movements here’s how:

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Facebook Crypto Currency

Facebook is reported to be developing its own blockchain-based cryptocurrency that will enable its users to have a PayPal-like experience when purchasing advertised products, as well as providing authentication and an audit trail.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.  Blockchain is the open-source, free technology behind crypto-currencies (like Bitcoin) and is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network / a kind of ledger that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way.

Facebook’s Cryptocurrency

Exact details of Facebook’s reported move into a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency of its own are scarce and varied, but some commentators believe that Facebook’s own digital ‘coins’ could be sold to users of its WhatsApp messaging platform so that they can send money to contacts. Many believe that Facebook is likely to be looking at using a stable coin network to back it.  This requires operators to keep collateral in a bank, so that if $1 billion in digital coins is issued, the same amount must be available in deposit or reserve.

Could Increase Revenue

The fact that its own blockchain-based currency would use distributed ledger technology (DLT) could cut out the need for central bank involvement (for payment processing), and dramatically reduce the time and fees associated with payment, clearance and settlement, thereby making big savings and large amounts of revenue.  This is likely to be the reason why a report from CBNC highlighted a note to Barclays investors from Barclays internet analyst Ross Sandler which said a “Facebook Coin” could bring in as much as $19 billion in revenue to Facebook by 2021.

Enabling users to use Facebook’s own digital ‘coin’ would, for example, make it easier and faster for advertisers on its platform to pay using one click, and would reduce the number of drop-offs that the platform experiences due to the difficulty that mobile users sometimes have when trying to type in their card details.

J.P. Morgan Coin Launch

U.S. mega-bank J.P. Morgan launched its own blockchain-based digital coin, the ‘JPM Coin’ in February with an equivalent value of 1 US dollar.  This currency allows the almost instant transfer and redeeming of funds between institutional accounts, thereby saving time and money while retaining security and transparency.

IBM Too

IBM has also launched a blockchain-backed stable ‘coin’ for international money transfers and has been in discussion with two big US banks with a view to issuing a stable coin for use on its World Wire network.  With this coin running on blockchain it is estimated that IBM could see a huge reduction in overall transfer costs and could see 10% and 20% savings in operational liquidity management.

The overall advantages for IBM of having its own blockchain-backed stable digital coin include trust through increased transparency and immutable transaction history, simplicity from the decreased need for intermediaries thanks to a shared distributed ledger system, and the efficiency provided by near real-time remittance and easy consensus between stakeholders

Challenges

There are still many challenges in the widespread use of blockchain-based currencies and their management, including:

  • Changes will need to be made in international regulatory oversight.
  • Blockchain networks will need to demonstrate that they can perform at scale in a way that at least matches traditional networks e.g. VisaNet.
  • The financial services industry will need to take ownership of blockchain technology and commit resources to it in order to build, use and support of it.
  • Banks may have to commit back-office IT staff to oversee transaction networks to ensure that they are managed properly and securely.
  • More banks need to participate in blockchain transaction validation in order to improve security by having a solid and widespread consensus mechanism that can’t be usurped.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With more big names developing their own blockchain-based digital coins, banks and businesses are more likely to see for themselves the savings and the revenue that can be made from them, and this may lead to many of the major challenges being tackled, and more belief in and adoption of securely backed digital currencies. Greater uptake and investment in reducing the barriers to the wider use of such currencies could benefit the wider business community, for example making it easier and faster to buy-in and pay for goods and services, transfer funds and receive funds and payments, especially across borders.

Blockchain is already finding multiple uses beyond just currencies and is particularly useful where things like transparency of a specific delivery chain and provenance of products are needed, thanks the incorruptible nature of the technology.

Controversial Copyright Backed By MEPs

The European Parliament has given its backing to new copyright rules, including the controversial Article 13, (opposed by many big tech companies) which could now change the way that Europe’s creative and digital industries work.

European Parliament Vote

The new copyright rules are encapsulated in the EU Copyright Directive which, having gone through many revisions was finally backed by 348 MEPs, with 278 voting against it.  It will now be up to EU member states (likely to soon exclude the UK) to approve the EP’s decision and if so, member states will still have two years to implement it.

Article 11 and Article 13

Most of the opposition and argument around the EU Copyright Directive relate to article 11 and 13.

Article 11 states that search engines and news aggregate platforms should pay to use links from news websites.

Article 13 applies to services that have been available in the EU for more than three years or have an annual turnover of more than £8.8m.  Article 13 shifts the burden of responsibility so that big tech companies rather than users will have to bear the responsibility for ANY content that is posted on their platforms that doesn’t have a copyright licence e.g. television programmes, movies, and music, and may even cover YouTube, Dailymotion, Soundcloud and more.  So far, the main worry has been about music but this new change in the law has widened the scope.  The new directive says that tech companies will need to make “best efforts” to get permission from the copyright holder, make sure that material specified by rights holders is not made available, and act quickly to remove any infringing material.

Objections

The main objections that have been voiced about the Directive, and particularly these two sections are that:

  • Companies that want to use links from news websites will face an increase in their costs and extra red tape.
  • Big tech companies will find it incredibly difficult and potentially very costly and time-consuming to try and police all content that’s uploaded on their platforms with regards to copyright status.  This may mean that costly and complicated filters may need to be applied to any content before it is uploaded.  There are also worries that the algorithms used to make filters could make mistakes and may take down content that’s being legitimately used.
  • Some argue that artists are already paid fairly under the current system.
  • Freedom groups have expressed concerns that not being able to share certain links, and platforms having to filter content could lead to a more closed society, instead of using digital advances to build a more open world where knowledge can create power for the many and not just the few.
  • Some see Article 13 as being little more than a set of ideals and aims that lacks legal detail and offers little guidance on what steps will be enough to comply.

Redresses Balance

EU lawmakers say that the Directive was intended to protect the livelihoods of those artists, musicians and others whose work is copyrighted so they can get paid because that work has been shared widely in the past without its creators being properly paid.

Exemptions

Exemptions to the directive include:

  • The sharing of memes and GIFs (exempted from Article 11).
  • Non-profit online encyclopaedias, open source software development platforms, cloud storage services, online marketplaces and communication services (exempted from Article 13).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For ordinary web users, this new change in European laws means that they can upload videos and music to platforms like YouTube without being held liable for copyright.  For journalist and creatives, this law change also looks on the surface to be good news because it means that they may be properly remunerated by big companies, thereby redressing the power balance.

For businesses that have an online platform and/or need to share links and content, this law change could increase costs, increase risks (vulnerability to fines etc), and could make things a lot more complicated e.g. with the need to add filters and checks to any content and link sharing.

1 Million+ UK VAT-Registered Companies Still To Register With Making Tax Digital

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that with a little under a week to go to the deadline for registration, more than 1 million UK VAT-Registered Companies have still not signed up to HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme.

MTD

HMRC’s MTD was announced back in 2015 and requires VAT registered UK companies to keep digital records and file quarterly reports with the taxman. The first phase of the programme, MTD for VAT, is rolling out on 1st April, with the first digital quarterly VAT returns due to be submitted by 7th August.

MTD offers businesses the chance to move to an easier, more convenient, full cloud accounting solution rather than their own (often spreadsheet-based) legacy systems. For HMRC, having everything digitalised should allow them to save costs, time and resources, improve accuracy, and get revenue more quickly. HMRC says that the MTD programme should “make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their affairs.”

Other Taxes – Not Digital Submission Until 2020

The UK announced in July 2017 that more time would be needed before an MTD-style programme could be mandated for taxes other than VAT until at least April 2020.

Also, the government announced earlier this year that because it is focusing on support for businesses in the transition to MTD it will not be mandating Making Tax Digital for any new taxes or businesses in 2020.

FoI Request

The FoI request that revealed how many businesses still hadn’t registered for MTD was submitted by Float, a cashflow forecasting software company. The information in response to the FoI request showed that as of 18th March 2109 only 55,520 businesses were registered with the scheme. HMRC has since said that 70,000 business have now registered, which means that companies are registering at a rate of around 3,000 per day.

Criticism

HMRC has been criticised for not contacting many companies about the changes.  For example, it was revealed that as recently as last November, only 40% of companies had heard about the new programme.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

2018 to 2019 has been a challenging year for businesses with the preparations and introduction first of GDPR, followed by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit overshadowing many other issues. It may be true to say that many businesses are reactive and are busy just keeping on top of business most of the time and in a situation like this where the communication from HMRC about MTD has been poor, it’s not surprising that many businesses have still not registered. It may also be fair to say that many accountancy firms haven’t been as proactive as they could have been in informing their customers about MTD and its deadlines.

The introduction of MTD will undoubtedly require work and time in getting figures into a new and unfamiliar digital platform, but if it makes it easier for companies to stay on top of their tax affairs into the future, this will be a good thing, not least for the exchequer.

Emails To Become More Dynamic With Google’s AMP For Email

Google has launched ‘AMP For Email’ which will make emails more dynamic and more like web page experiences as interaction can take place within the email itself rather than including links that send recipients to a web page for the interaction.

Announced For Gmail Last Year

Accelerated Mobile Pages are something that Google has been testing over many years, firstly with a view to helping publishers, and then with a view to including it in its Gmail platform. Google first announced in February 2018 that it would be bringing AMP to Gmail.

At the time, companies like Booking.com and Doodle were using the open spec version of AMP to develop new experiences in emails for their users. According to Google, other companies have also been sending out AMP emails for some time now, including Despegar, Doodle,  Ecwid, Freshworks, Nexxt, OYO Rooms, Pinterest and redBus.

In addition to Gmail, other major email services that now support AMP emails include Yahoo Mail, Outlook and Mail.ru.

Accelerated Mobile Pages 

Accelerated Mobile Pages emails work using a new mark-up and infrastructure that enables the inclusion of interactive elements within the email itself e.g. carousels, forms/questionnaires, lists, and the ability to submit an RSVP to an event or schedule an appointment.  AMP messages also include standard HTML mark-up, thereby providing a fallback for email clients that don’t support AMP.

What Can You Do With AMP?

The big advantages provided by Accelerated Mobile Pages in emails are that:

  • They no longer require you to send out static emails with links in them in order to get recipients to interact and take action.  Instead, the interactive elements and actions are included within the email itself. Recipients can, therefore, respond and interact without leaving their email client e.g. by filling out a questionnaire, browsing through a store’s inventory or responding to a comment.
  • They offer the chance to provide users with a much more engaging and dynamic web page-like experience.
  • AMP emails stay up to date whereas static emails with links go out of date.
  • Marketers can get results more quickly and may get a better response rate because many things can be presented and achieved in one step.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The many high profile social and email platforms and other companies that are already supporting and using AMP emails indicate that their introduction is an important communications and marketing development that is likely to raise the bar in terms of what is possible with an email and in customer expectations of emails.

AMP emails give businesses the chance to communicate with customers in a way that stands out, can provide a more engaging and interactive experience, strengthen branding, and get results more quickly.  With AMPs included with Gmail, this could translate into more effective email marketing for businesses everywhere and could particularly benefit SME marketing.

Microsoft And Adobe Team Up To Fight Salesforce

Microsoft and Adobe are teaming up to make it easier for users of Adobe’s marketing software to find and target potential customers for business goods on Microsoft’s LinkedIn, thereby fighting their common competitor Salesforce.com Inc.

What Is Salesforce?

Salesforce is a market leading American cloud-based CRM platform. The company’s 2018 revenue was $10.5 billion, most of which came from sales of the CRM platform itself although the company also makes a lot of its revenue from selling other applications that work with the platform.

Adobe

California-based multinational Adobe Inc. became most widely known for products like Photoshop, but the company has more recently turned its attention to making the software used for business marketing campaigns e.g. Adobe Experience Cloud and Advertising Cloud Creative. The recent acquisition of leading marketing automation platform Marketo by Adobe for nearly $5 billion has meant that there has been a coming-together of Adobe Experience Cloud’s content personalisation capabilities and Marketo’s lead engagement and account-based marketing. This has enabled Adobe to work better at combining data and personalisation in its products, thereby giving it some more of the pieces that it needed to challenge big marketing automation players such as Oracle and Salesforce.

Microsoft

Microsoft is known, of course, for its Window OS and Office suite, but it also has Dynamics 365 which is software that allows salespeople to track deals. One major and vital asset that it can bring together with Adobe to tackle Salesforce is the LinkedIn platform, which Microsoft acquired in 2016 for $26 billion.  This platform is used as a valuable tool by business-to-business marketers to generate new business and is a very powerful and tempting asset to have access to for any company that is seriously looking to become a major contender in the marketing automation market.

Combined

Market analysts have noted that the combined effort of Adobe and Microsoft will essentially mean that it will be much easier for users of Adobe’s marketing software to find and target teams of potential customers for business goods via LinkedIn. The integration of Adobe and Microsoft will allow them to fill in the gaps that either company had in making marketing content (via Adobe) and being able to target large numbers of B2B prospects (via Microsoft’s LinkedIn), thereby enabling them to bring a much broader offering to market against Salesforce.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you’re a business-to-business marketer the synergy and broad scope offered by the joining of these two companies could provide a level of value and potential leverage that surpasses that of the current market leader, Salesforce.  The move looks set to cause a serious stir in the marketing automation market and could prove lucrative for Microsoft and Adobe, as well as providing new knowledge insights and opportunities to both companies that could shape further product developments.

Tech Tip – Discover How Your Phone Is Tracking Your Movements

If you’d like to see what data your phone has been collecting about your movements here’s how:

For iPhone:

You can see what Apple refers to as your ‘Significant Locations’ by going to:

Settings > Privacy > Location Services >

Scroll down and select System Services > Significant Locations.

You will need to prove it’s you before being given this info e.g. by fingerprint scan, Face ID or typing in your passcode.

For Android:

You can see what is referred to as ‘Your Timeline’ by:

Opening the Google Maps app.

Clicking on the menu (3 horizontal bars, top left)

Selecting ‘Your Timeline’.

At this point, you may get an on-screen permissions message about turning tracking on or off.

Your Latest IT News Update

$35 Billion Takeover of Worldpay Boosts Value of Euro Payments Tech Companies

The recent £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US company FIS has boosted the share value of other European payments technology companies including Worldline, Ingenico and Wirecard.

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Microsoft Tests ‘Sandbox’ Safe Browsing Extension For Chrome & Firefox

Microsoft is testing an in-browser ‘sandbox’ security extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets users access untrusted pages, safely.

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Robot Programmed to Carry Out Unbiased Job Interviews

TNG and Furhat Robotics in Sweden have developed a social, unbiased recruitment robot called “Tengai” that can be used to conduct job interviews with human candidates.

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New Smart App Converts Your Sketches Into To Works Of Art In Seconds

A new smart drawing app that uses deep learning can convert simple sketches and doodles into photo-realistic landscape artworks in the style of famous artists.

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The Web @ 30

It was back in March 1989, 30 years ago, that the World Wide Web as we know it was created by a computer scientist at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

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Tech Tip – Check Your Screen Time on Apple Devices

If you’d like to be able to get a report about how you or your family members use your Apple devices, apps, and websites, how much time is spent on them, and (for example) set limits on your child’s device, there’s an app in the new iOS 12 to help you do it.  Here’s how:

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$35 Billion Takeover of Worldpay Boosts Value of Euro Payments Tech Companies

The recent £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US company FIS has boosted the share value of other European payments technology companies including Worldline, Ingenico and Wirecard.

Worldpay

Worldpay, formerly known as Streamline, was set up as a subsidiary of NatWest bank back in 1989.  It was then bought by RBS in 2002 and re-christened ‘RBS Worldpay’.  Unfortunately for RBS, EU state aid rules meant that Worldpay had to be sold for £2 billion back in 2010 to Advent International and Bain Capital, although RBS Group still retained a 20% stake in the newly independent business.

Worldpay was able to become a big player in payment processing after several moves including buying UK credit and debit processing company Cardsave, launching a mobile card processing terminal which connects to smartphones (Worldpay Zinc), and acquiring SecureNet Payment Systems from Sterling Partners.

Worldpay was listed on the London Stock Exchange until 16 January 2018 after which it was acquired by Vantiv to form Worldpay, Inc.

Worldpay processes 40+ billion payments per year across 146 countries, in 126 currencies.

Largest Ever Deal

The £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US-based FIS is the largest ever deal in the electronic payments industry and has created a consolidated company with combined revenues of over $12 billion.

Shares Boost

Following the announcement of the takeover, not only were shares in Worldpay up by 13% at one point, but the deal prompted a boost in the value of other payment technology companies. For example, Worldline share value was up 3.1%, and software company Atos, which owns half of Worldline was up 1.2%. The share values of Ingenico (based in France) and Wirecard (based in Germany) also received boosts with the takeover news.

FIS Says

FIS chairman and chief executive Gary Norcross said that the two companies would “combine forces to offer a customer-driven combination of scale, global presence and the industry’s broadest range of global financial solutions”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Market analysts have noted that this acquisition is the latest move in consolidation in the financial software and payments technology sectors where key existing companies are trying to increase their scale in order to compete with new entrants to a market where scale appears to be a necessary requirement to win at payments processing. The deal should also provide new business opportunities for both FIS and Worldpay.

Some commentators have noted the obvious compatibility of the two companies, and the hope is that deal may mean that businesses will have access to a wider portfolio of services that Worldpay can now provide.

Microsoft Tests ‘Sandbox’ Safe Browsing Extension For Chrome & Firefox

Microsoft is testing an in-browser ‘sandbox’ security extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets users access untrusted pages, safely.

Windows Defender Application Guard

The new browser extension, Windows Defender Application Guard, is already part of Microsoft’s Edge browser and will be rolled out as part of the next Windows 10 update ‘April 2019’ or 19H1 in the Spring.  It is currently being tested among Windows Insiders and will be available to Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise users when it goes live.

How Do You Use It?

When installed, users see a Windows Defender Application Guard landing page when they open their Chrome or Firefox browser. When the Firefox or Chrome user tries to access an untrusted web page / non-whitelisted URL, the new extension will work by loading a special isolated Edge tab (Windows Defender Application Guard page), not a tab in Firefox or Chrome. The sandbox page can also be initiated by the user at any time by toggling a switch in the menu settings.

Enterprise-Wide

Once the extension has been established by an enterprise network administrator it can be applied on devices across an entire company and configured by network isolation or application.  The enterprise administrator defines which web sites, cloud resources, and internal networks can be trusted, and everything that is not on this list is, therefore, considered untrusted.  In this way, it can isolate enterprise-defined untrusted sites eliminating any risk of opening potentially malicious apps on a work machine and protecting the company while employees browse the Internet.  With Windows Defender Application Guard there is less need to operate a fully-fledged virtual machine.

Why?

The new extension is part of a broader move by Microsoft to provide more convenient and secure features for its Enterprise and Pro users.

Types of Devices

The Windows Defender Application Guard was designed by Microsoft to work on enterprise desktops domain-joined and managed by the organisation, enterprise mobile laptops and BYOD mobile laptops, as well as personal devices that are not domain-joined or managed by an organisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new extension of an existing Microsoft Edge security feature to Chrome and Firefox browser users gives enterprise admins greater and wider control to protect the organisation from threats to its network and systems that may be invited by employees who happen to browse untrusted websites. The extension is also a value-adding addition to a growing suite of features that are designed to help keep and attract valued enterprise customers.