Author Archive for Andy Wilkinson

Your Latest IT News Update

Apple Wins Trillion Dollar Company Race

The latest figures from Apple appear to show that it has beaten tech giants like Amazon in the race to become the world’s first trillion dollar company.

<More>

Amazon Pays Less Tax In UK While Profits Rise

The latest figures show that even though Amazon’s profits trebled last year, their UK tax bill has significantly reduced.

<More>

Forced Unbundling of Google Apps From Android

The European Commission anti-competition ruling against Google that will force it to change its OS by unbundling the Google Play store and native apps could help other phone makers, but could also make the new ‘P’ version of Android’s OS less interesting.

<More>

Google’s G Suite Will Warn Of State-Sponsored Attacks

Google has announced that it will be adding a feature to G Suite that will let businesses / organisations know if their users are being targeted by a government-backed cyber attack.

<More>

Half of Us Will Activate Our New GDPR Rights Within A Year

The results of a new survey by analytics, business intelligence and data management firm SAS indicate that more than half of UK consumers look likely to exercise their new GDPR rights within the first year of GDPR’s introduction.

<More>

Tech Tip – Set Preferred Folder View

If you’ve got a mix of display settings that suits your preferences and needs e.g. a certain thumbnail size, in Windows you can easily set this as the default for all folders of the same type. Here’s how:

<More>

Apple Wins Trillion Dollar Company Race

The latest figures from Apple appear to show that it has beaten tech giants like Amazon in the race to become the world’s first trillion dollar company.

‘Alarmingly Healthy’ Finances

It has been reported that Apple’s finance chief, Luca Maestri has described Apple’s current financial state as being “alarmingly healthy” after a net profit of a staggering $48.5 billion in was made in 2017, with $285 billion of cash reserves.

Reaching The Trillion Mark

The Trillion dollar valuation was reached thanks to a jump in Apple’s share price last Thursday that was driven by quarterly financial results that were better than Wall Street had expected for the US company that was founded back in 1976.

The Figures

Record sales of $53.3bn, coupled with $11.5bn profits in 3 months boosted confidence and share value in the tech behemoth to the point where the value of Apple jumped from $935bn to $1tn.

To give some context to this figure, Apple’s $1tn market value is larger than the economies of Turkey and Switzerland, and more than a third the size of the UK economy!

Great Products

Apple’s 42 year rise to mega-value has been fuelled by some great, highly differentiated, popular, and profitable products such as the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone – although the iPhone hasn’t always met sales expectations.

Not PetroChina Then?

No. Contrary to reports that energy company PetroChina hit the magic $1tn valuation back in 2007, it has since been revealed that only 2% of the company was released for public trading, and the resulting value claim is, therefore, widely regarded as being unreliable.

Delighted…Understandably

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is reported as expressing his delight at the news of the record-breaking value of the company, and attributed the recent good financial results to strong sales of the iPhone, as well as Services and Wearables.

What Does This Mean For Your Company?

While it’s interesting (and perhaps not unexpected) and inspirational to hear of the incredible financial milestone that Apple has reached, and its true that Apple sometimes has a fan-like following for its innovative, differentiated, and aesthetically pleasing personal gadgets, the wealth of another tech giant is a world away from the daily business reality that many face in the UK, particularly with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon.

Some critics may also say that its relatively small tax contributions in some overseas markets e.g. Ireland (where it was ordered to pay €13bn in back taxes) have contributed to its profitability. Also, another blot on Apple’s copy-book in the name of cost-cutting has been the revelations over poor working conditions in Chinese factories where Apple iPhones are manufactured dating back as far as 2009.

Amazon has been seen by many commentators as being locked in battle with Apple to reach the $1tn mark, and will no doubt be disappointed at missing-out on being the first to cross this lucrative finishing line.

Amazon Pays Less Tax In UK While Profits Rise

The latest figures show that even though Amazon’s profits trebled last year, their UK tax bill has significantly reduced.

How Much?

Amazon’s reported pre-tax profits have jumped from £24.3m to £72.3m with the company making £1.98bn in sales revenue. Where their tax bill and contributions are concerned however, the bill is down from £7.4m a year ago to just £4.6m, and their warehouse “fulfilment centres” division (Amazon UK Services) has been able to defer £2.9m, meaning that £1.7m in tax is the contribution being paid for now.

Also, Amazon Web Services UK has paid £155,000, down from £404,000 last year, even though profits there have nearly doubled from £2.7m to £5m.

Why?

Share-based payments for staff is the main reason offered by Amazon for its low tax bill during a profits boom. For example, Amazon employs more than two-thirds of its 27,000-strong UK workforce, and it has been reported that full-time warehouse staff have, on average, received shares worth more than £1,000 a year. AWS is reported to have given its staff share awards worth £11.8m (compared to shares worth £5.8m two years ago).

A rising Amazon share price has resulted in the selling of many of these shares on the open stock market. Since the tax bill is based on the sale price for company and individual, this has contributed to a lower tax bill.

Some commentators have also pointed out that Amazon basing its European operations in Luxembourg has also offered some significant tax-haven opportunities.

Based On Profits Not Revenues

Despite some anger in the UK over what looks like a relatively small tax liability for a company that appears to be doing so well here, Amazon has reportedly defended itself by saying that tax is based on profits, not revenues, and profits have remained low due to a competitive retail market, Amazon’s low-margin business, and its continued heavy investment.

Reform Calls – Public Contracts

Some commentators have also been critical and called for reform over Amazon’s payments for public contracts. For example, it has been reported that Amazon was paid more for online storage services by the Government over the first 3 months of this year than its biggest UK arm was taxed last year, despite Amazon not being made to reveal the details of their tax arrangements.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is a source of great annoyance to many UK businesses that receive and pay significant tax bills, that an overseas tech giant company can appear to make big profits in the UK and yet only be required to pay what appears to be a relatively small amount of tax. It has echoes of Facebook’s UK operations last year paying only £5.1m in corporation tax, despite a profits jump and a quadrupling of revenue, thanks to advertising sales.

Whilst some are calling for reform, and some anger has been publicly expressed, some commentators have pointed to a fear of losing big companies this close to Brexit as a reason why we may not expect HM government to come down too hard on Amazon and other tech giants for the time being.

Forced Unbundling of Google Apps From Android

The European Commission anti-competition ruling against Google that will force it to change its OS by unbundling the Google Play store and native apps could help other phone makers, but could also make the new ‘P’ version of Android’s OS less interesting.

90 Days To Change

The EC ruling, which also imposed an eye-watering $5 billion fine this month, essentially means that Google only has a 90 day period in which to unbundle popular parts of its Android OS so that it no longer receives what the EC sees as an unfair advantage over competitors.

Manufacturers Forced To Bundle

For example, up until now, purchasers of Android phones from any manufacturer have had Google Play store to install its apps by default on their new phone. This is because Google has only enabled phone makers to access the Play store (which is needed for downloading popular apps) if they agreed to use a version of Android that preloads 11 bundled Google apps onto their smartphones.

No Choice

Also, even though phone manufacturers have been able to use Android Open Source Project Android software, this doesn’t have the Google APIs that are needed to link major apps to the Play store. Phone manufacturers have, therefore, been left with no choice but to agree to bundle Google’s native Android apps if they want their customers to have a good experience with their phones.

Real Opportunities For Competitors Now?

It is tempting to think that the ruling will now create many real opportunities for other, smaller phone manufacturers as they can customise the open source architecture and bypass native Google apps.

Some commentators have, however, pointed out that Google’s huge investment over the last decade in pre-loading Android with its most popular apps, and thereby making an Android phone work straight out of the box, is of value to consumers. The likelihood is, therefore, that customers would actually prefer to have the bundled Google apps anyway because they are used the convenience that they offer. This means that the EC’s judgement may have been several years late anyway, manufacturers will continue to need to offer Google services to be competitive and address consumer demand, and the ruling may not be offering any real extra opportunities for competing phone manufacturers in the near future.

The New Android P

The new Android 9.0 P / ‘Pie’ OS is beginning its rollout, firstly for Pixel devices and Essential Phone, and for Android One users later in the year, with all third-party handsets that participated in the Android P beta (Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21 and OnePlus 6), receiving the update in the autumn.

The new OS has AI built-in, and there’s a strong focus on a smarter, simpler experience that is tailored to individual user patterns and offers adaptive features e.g. Adaptive Battery and Adaptive Brightness. In order to comply with the EC’s ruling, however, there is speculation that the new official Android OS will simply be released without the Google default apps, but consumers will simply seek them out and install them anyway.
Bad For Consumers?

Some critics of the EC ruling have also pointed out the possibility of some bad unintended consequences for consumers such as greater app inconsistency, and increases in hardware costs.

Google Games Woes

It appears that Google will also be missing out on a slice of the games world profits through Google Play. It has been reported that Epic Games, the makers of the popular multiplayer game Fortnite, will be bypassing Google Play and offer the game directly to hitherto overlooked Android, because it’s unhappy with the 30% slice of the profits Google would take through Google Play. Instead, Fortnite for Android will be made available directly on the Epic website, thereby cutting out the Google middle-man.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The idea of a fair playing field is obviously attractive to businesses, particularly smaller businesses that may also be later into a market. Clearly, the EC ruling shows that things do appear to have been stacked in Google’s favour in the Android market for some time, but many would argue that the ruling has come too late, and that consumers may now not actually benefit from the decision. It is, however important that powerful tech giants have to answer to some authority greater than their own in the interests of choice and fair competition.

Google has appealed, and it remains to be seen how the EC decision and what changes Google makes will affect the Android OS and the dynamics of the marketplace.

Google’s G Suite Will Warn Of State-Sponsored Attacks

Google has announced that it will be adding a feature to G Suite that will let businesses / organisations know if their users are being targeted by a government-backed cyber attack.

What Is G Suite?

G Suite is the package of cloud-based services designed to aid collaborative working, formerly known as Google Apps for Work. It was introduced in 2006, and has since been expanded to include apps like Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, Google+; Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and the digital interactive whiteboard Jamboard.

The New Alert Feature

The new feature, which will be added to the Admin console, will mean that Admins can choose to receive an email alert when Google detects a state-sponsored / government-backed attack attempt on a user’s account or computer e.g. via phishing, malware, or any other known method.

The alert feature will be turned off by default, but Admins can choose to turn the alerts on via Admin Console > Reports > Manage Alerts > Government backed attack.

If Admins choose to turn the feature on and make the alerts the default, they can decide who gets notified when attacks are suspected. In the first instance, alerts will be sent by email to Super Admins, but this can be changed to share the information with others via the same Console link.

Also, the feature allows Admins to choose what actions they want to take to secure an account on receiving the alert, and Admins can let the user know about the alert and any actions they have taken.

The launch of the new feature will go to both Rapid Release and Scheduled Release, will be available to all G Suite editions, and will be introduced in a gradual rollout (up to 15 days for feature visibility).

Warnings Since 2012

Even though this is a newly designed feature, Google has been warning users of any suspected targeting of their accounts by government-backed attackers since 2012.

Why The New Feature?

Google has introduced this feature for a number of reasons, the main one being that high-level nation-state cyber threats have become much more of a problem for organisations in recent times, either directly or indirectly through cyber-crime groups acting as state proxies.

GCHQ, for example, has reported seeing a crossover between nation states and criminal groups acting on their behalf, often with the same people working on nation-state cyber activities by day and criminal activities by night.

Also, Google wants to increase business confidence in its cloud-based services, and protect its business users from hacking.

Another influence that has prompted the introduction of the new feature is that competitors are offering something similar e.g. Microsoft’s new AccountGuard pilot program (currently only available for accounts from political organisations), introduced as part of its ‘Election Defence Technologies’ and offered by invitation only.

Being able to announce some good news about its security / privacy services for business clients has also been helpful at a time when Google has been criticised by The US Department of Homeland Security for potential problems with Gmail’s new confidentiality mode.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This crossover between nation states and criminal groups acting on their behalf has blurred the threat lines in the world of online security and necessitated the addition of this kind of feature. The fact that it has been designed to protect and reassure business users is clearly good news for G Suite users everywhere.

State-sponsored cyber attacks can cause huge damage and disruption to businesses that are directly or indirectly hit, and this can also have a negative knock-on effect on the wider economy too. It is good news, therefore, that businesses / organisations can now receive and manage alerts about potentially serious attacks, and this will add another layer of defence in an environment of evolving worldwide threats.

Half of Us Will Activate Our New GDPR Rights Within A Year

The results of a new survey by analytics, business intelligence and data management firm SAS indicate that more than half of UK consumers look likely to exercise their new GDPR rights within the first year of GDPR’s introduction.

GDPR

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that applies to those who collect, store and process the data of EU citizens came into force on 25th May this year. The Regulation replaced the EU Data Protection Directive of 1995, is part of EU privacy and human rights law, and was supposed to ensure greater consistency and harmony between data protection laws across the EU by bringing all data protection elements under one law for all countries. This meant that UK citizens appear to have been granted greater levels of protection of their personal data than before.

The Survey Results

The results of the latest post-GDPR SAS survey have been compared to a pre-GRPR survey conducted in 2017, and have shown that more people are planning to (and look more likely to) be exercising some aspect of their new GDPR rights more quickly than was thought after the first survey.

For example, the latest survey results show that 31% have already activated their rights over personal data, and 55% (compared to 42% in last year’s survey) plan to do so within a year.

The Facebook / Cambridge Analytica Scandal To Blame For Increase

The survey puts the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal at the centre of the reasons why more people have already exercised their new GDPR rights. For example, 88% of UK consumers said they were aware of the scandal and, of those, 72% said it had caused them to retract data permissions, as well as planning to share less data or review how companies use their personal information.

One Mistake Enough

The SAS survey also shows that in the wake of being granted new rights and hearing about the extent of the Facebook / Cambridge Analaytica scandal, people are now much less likely to tolerate misuse and mistakes involving their personal data. For example, 45% said they would activate their data rights after only one mistake.

Social Media Companies and Retailers

According to the survey, social media companies and retailers are going to have to work the hardest to retain customer data, and can expect large numbers of requests to opt-out and to have data erased. For example, the SAS survey shows that 43% of consumers object to social media companies and retailers (41%) using their personal data for marketing. Supermarkets (37%), insurers (35%) and energy providers (34%) are the next to be least trusted with personal data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Being on the end of years of annoying spam calls and emails, hearing about multiple high profile data breaches, the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, and now being granted greater control of how their data is used and shared has clearly made consumers more determined to exercise their rights, express how much value they place on their security and privacy, and take control back by opting-out. Those organisations that have been most in the spotlight for letting consumers down e.g. social media companies and retailers, look likely to face the brunt of the initial GDPR backlash.

An important message that businesses need to take from the results of the SAS survey(s) is that they need to respect their customers and their data or risk losing both, which could, in turn, damage their competitive advantage and hit profits. Yes, compliance with GDPR as a law is an important ongoing goal, but businesses should also remember that transparent data management and analytics are important to provide the kind of personalised customer experiences that make consumers more willing to share their data.

Tech Tip – Set Preferred Folder View

If you’ve got a mix of display settings that suits your preferences and needs e.g. a certain thumbnail size, in Windows you can easily set this as the default for all folders of the same type. Here’s how:

– Open the View tab on the File Explorer ribbon.

– Click Options.

– Click Apply to Folders under View.

Your Latest IT News Update

10 Million Affected by Dixons Carphone Data Breach

Dixons Carphone has announced that, after a review following a hack of its customers’ data, 10 million customers rather than the original estimate of 1.2 million have actually been affected.

<More>

Fake News Crowding Threat Outlined

UK MPs in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) have been investigating the challenges and potential threat to democracy posed by ‘fake news’ crowding out real news, and have published their findings in a “Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report”.

<More>

Adults To Get Same Online Protection As Kids Says Government

The UK government has announced that, in a move to reinforce digital safety for everyone across the country, it will be expanding the scope of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to cover the adult population too.

<More>

Departing CEOs Steal Intellectual Property Says Report

A new report by Code42 that surveyed 1,634 senior company employees in the UK, US and Germany, has found that most CEOs take what they regard to be their Intellectual property (IP) with them when they leave a company.

<More>

AI, ML & ‘Robot’ Business Spending Will Hit $232bn by 2025 Says Report

A recent KPMG reports claims that whereas business spending on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning(ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies is $12.4bn this year, it will increase to $232bn in 2025.

<More>

Tech Tip – Bypass Your Recycle Bin

If, in Windows, you want to stop your Recycle Bin from taking up storage on your drive, or stop anyone from recovering your erased data, there is a fast and easy way to bypass your Recycle Bin and go straight to permanent delete with unwanted files / folders. Here’s how:

<More>

10 Million Affected by Dixons Carphone Data Breach

Dixons Carphone has announced that, after a review following a hack of its customers’ data, 10 million customers rather than the original estimate of 1.2 million have actually been affected.

What Happened?

Back in June, Dixons Carphone announced that a hacking attempt, which had actually taken place in July 2017, had been made on one of the processing systems of Currys PC World and Dixons Travel stores. The original announcement put the figures at an attempted theft of the details of 5.9 million credit and debit cards, with only 105,000 cards without chip-and-pin protection being leaked, and an estimated 1.2 million personal data records being accessed / compromised.

Millions More

This latest shocking announcement puts the number of customers thought to be affected at 10 million!

Dixons Carphone has apologised to customers, and has offered an assurance that the company is fully committed to making their personal data safe.

No Bank Details & No Fraud

Despite the large numbers of customers affected by the breach, Dixons Carphone has been quick to point out that no bank details were taken, and it has found no evidence that fraud had resulted from the breach.

Working With Cyber-Security Experts

The company has stated that it has been working hard with cyber-security experts since the breach and has put in further security measures to keep customer data safe in future.

The updated security measures taken have been reported to include closing off the unauthorised access, adding new (unspecified) security measures, and launching an immediate investigation.

Also, Dixons Carphone is reported to be in the process contacting all of its customers to apologise and advise on what steps they can take to protect themselves.

Other Woes

The massive data breach is one of many woes that the company has been experiencing in recent times. Back in May, it was announced that Dixons Carphone highlighted people not renewing their handsets as frequently and a declining market for long-term mobile contracts as 2 main reasons for the planned closure of 92 of its 700 stores. The company was forced to act after a warning that the next year’s profits could be down £82 million led to shares in the company falling 20.7%. Share values had already fallen by 30% over the previous 12 months,

Market commentators have noted that a fall in the value of the pound (in the wake of Brexit) has made mobile handsets more expensive. Also, technical innovation has slowed, giving shoppers less reason to update their phones, meaning that they have been hanging onto their current handsets for longer.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

We’re getting so used to hearing about data breaches where millions of people have been affected that we’re in danger of accepting it as normal. It’s important to remember that all companies, particularly with GDPR now in place, have at least a legal responsibility to protect the personal data of their stakeholders to the best of their abilities.

All businesses must surely be aware that cyber-criminals are now using sophisticated and multi-level methods to find their way into whatever weaknesses they can find on a daily basis, and large, well-known companies with millions of customers (and millions of valuable customer details) are obviously going to be prime targets. We should be thinking, therefore, that a large company that is, no doubt, aware of the cyber threats in the business environment, allowing the details of over 10 million customers to be taken, and customers only finding out and receiving an apology a year later isn’t acceptable.

Data protection should now be a priority issue in the boardroom, and even though some companies may be going through difficult times financially, data protection is not an area where they can really afford to let their guard down. The damage to reputations, the loss of customers, and fines from the ICO can now be enough to threaten the existence of a business, and even without the moral and ethical perspective, this should be enough of a motivator to keep businesses pushing to stay at least one step ahead of today’s known cyber threats.

Fake News Crowding Threat Outlined

UK MPs in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) have been investigating the challenges and potential threat to democracy posed by ‘fake news’ crowding out real news, and have published their findings in a “Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report”.

Difficult To Identify & ‘Crowding Out’ Real News

Tory MP Damian Collins made the news this week by highlighting one of the main challenges which is that people struggle to identify “fake news”, and the DCMSC reports focused on how this challenge has been capitalised on by those seeking to influence elections.

The government is also concerned that the sheer volume of disseminated misinformation / fake news is beginning to crowd our real news.

UK Legal Framework Not Fit To Cope

The main points of the report are that fake news poses a threat to democracy, that the UK legal framework is not currently fit to cope with it, and that action needs to be taken by the Government and other regulatory agencies to build resilience against misinformation and disinformation.

The DCMSC Report

The 89 page report which has been published online here https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/363/363.pdf covers the issues of the definition, role and legal responsibilities of tech companies, data targeting, based around the Facebook, GSR and Cambridge Analytica allegations, Russian influence in political campaigns, SCL influence in foreign elections, and digital literacy (and how it should be made the fourth pillar of digital education alongside reading, writing and maths).

Background

Some of the more worrying examples of the influence of fake news and the interests of some of the players considered by the government committee included:

– Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting and sharing of the personal data of 87 million people to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.

-Political donor Arron Banks being accused of misleading MPs about his meetings with the Russian Embassy, and his walking out of an evidence session to avoid scrutiny on the topic.

-Facebook’s deployment of ‘Free Service’ in Burma (data-free Facebook access) which was found by the United Nations to have played a key role in stirring up hatred against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State, partly because people could only access news and content via Facebook.

Social Media Companies Made Liable?

The report also contains a recommendation that social media companies should be defined by a new category i.e. not just a ‘platform’ nor a ‘publisher’, and should be made liable to act against harmful or illegal content appearing on their platforms.

Other Recommendations

Other recommendations made in the report include the need to update electoral law, a new tax on social networks could pay for digital literacy programmes in schools, the setting up of a code for political advertising on social media, greater transparency around online advertising, and a “digital Atlantic charter” to protect personal information and rights.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world is influenced by the political world, and vice versa. It is in the interests of businesses and governments that truly fake news is kept to a minimum and that certain parties (e.g. other nation states) aren’t allowed to exert significant influence on elections and referendums.

That said, states / governments around the world have for many years seen social media as a threat. Some governments have opted for a blanket blocking of social media whereas others have sought ways gain some control over it by focusing on its negative aspects and / or by seeking regulation or even back-door access to users. It seems, however, that some international actors have seen social media as an opportunity for influence (e.g. alleged Russian use of Facebook to influence the US election) and this, in turn, has now helped those governments who feel threatened by it e.g. by enabling them to discredit it as a legitimate news source, and thereby boost the credibility of their own state media.

Facebook has, after its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, played into the hands of those who would like to see it operated with greater regulation and control. Scandals like these have even helped the cause of world leaders such as President Trump, who appears able to simply say the phrase ‘fake news’ to counter any stories that could show him in a bad light, whether true or not.

Even our ‘real’ news is slanted in newspapers to reflect the views and allegiances of the owner newspaper, and it is commonplace, but accepted, that newspapers print some stories that are false / contain false information that they later simply issue an apology for, and carry on as normal.

Truth and trust are the victims of fake news, and just as governments are happy to focus on it as a threat and as a means to apply pressure to popular media that they can’t overtly control, they can also now see what a powerful tool and opportunity it can be as another tool for influence.