Archive for Mobile

Facebook Video Quality Reduced To Cope With Demand

Facebook and Instagram have reduced the quality of videos shared on their platforms in Europe as demand for streaming has increased due to self-isolation.

Lower Bitrate, Looks Similar

The announcement by Facebook that a lowering of the bit-rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe highlights the need to reduce network congestion, free-up more bandwidth, and make sure that users stay connected at a time where demand is reaching very high levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The move could have a significant positive impact when you consider that Facebook has around 300 million daily users in Europe alone, and streaming video can account for as much as 60% of traffic on fixed and mobile networks.

Although a reduction in bit-rates for videos will, technically, reduce the quality, the likelihood is that the change will be virtually imperceptible to most users.

Many Other Platforms

Facebook is certainly not the only platform taking this step as Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix have also made similar announcements.  For example, Netflix is reducing its back video bit rates while still claiming to allow customers to get HD and Ultra HD content (with lower image quality),  and Amazon Prime Video has started to reduce its streaming bitrates as has Apple’s streaming service.

Google’s YouTube is also switching all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default.

BT Say UK Networks Have The Capacity

BT’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, Howard Watson, has announced that the UK’s advanced digital economy means that it has overbuilt its networks to compensate for HD streaming content and that the UK’s fixed broadband network core has been built with the extra ‘headroom’ to support evening peaks of network traffic that high-bandwidth applications create. Mr Watson has also pointed out that since people started to work from home more this month, there has been a weekday daytime traffic increase of 35-60 per cent compared with similar days on the fixed network, peaking at 7.5Tb/s, which is still only half the average evening peak, and far short of the 17.5 Tb/s that the network is known to be able to handle.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Amazon, Apple TV, Netflix, Facebook and others platforms, they are clearly facing a challenge to their service delivery in Europe but have been quick to take a step that will at least mean that there’s enough bandwidth for their services to be delivered with the trade-off being a fall in the level of viewing quality for customers.  Many customers, however, are likely not to be too critical about the move, given the many other big changes that have been made to their lives as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the attempts to reduce its impact.  Netflix has even pointed out the extra benefit that its European viewers are likely to use 25 per cent less data when watching films as a result of the bit rate changes. However, with online streaming services being one of the main pleasures that many people feel they have left to enjoy safely, the change in bit rate should be OK as long as the picture quality isn’t drastically reduced to the point of annoyance and distraction.

Tech Tip – How To Clean Your Smartphone

If you’re wondering how you can effectively and safely clean your smartphone as an extra way to help protect yourself from the threat of bacteria and viruses, here’s some advice from a medical expert:

As featured on the BBC and in some national newspapers recently, Dr Lena Ciric, a microbiologist from University College London, advises (in her video, on YouTube – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwPVqXrJitI) that you can make sure your smartphone is really clean in the following way:

– Unplug your smartphone, turn it off and remove the case.

– Dampen a microfibre cloth with water and household hand soap e.g. the soap dispensing bottle type.

– Gently rub the surfaces of the phone with the damp cloth. Try not to get moisture in any of the openings.

– Dry the phone with a clean microfibre cloth.

– Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly can reduce the number of germs that you put on your phone after you’ve washed it.

In the video, Dr Ciric also notes that Apple says that iPhones can also be safely cleaned using 70 per cent isopropyl wipes alcohol.

As well as computer viruses, everyone now needs to consider biological viruses so maintaining hygiene both personally and professionally will now be more important than ever.

Apple Announces The Closure Of All Stores Outside China Until March 27

Apple has announced that due to the global spread of COVID-19, it will be closing all of its retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27.

Flexible Working

A statement on the Apple website (Newsroom) highlighted how Apple is adopting “flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China”.

Apple also said that those staff members whose work still requires them to be on-site will be following guidance to maximize interpersonal space.  Also, the statement highlights the “extensive, deep cleaning” that is taking place on all of Apple’s sites, and the fact the Apple is rolling out health screenings and temperature checks.

Paid As Usual

The statement also makes it clear that despite the temporary closures, flexible and remote working, Apple’s staff will be paid as usual, and that the company’s leave policies have been expanded to take account of personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19, such as recovering from illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges resulting from school closures.

Worldwide Developers Conference Online

Apple has recently announced that its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June will be held entirely in an online format this year.  Despite this change in format, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, is choosing to see it as an “opportunity” and as an “innovative way” to bring the global developer community together with “a new experience”.

New COVID-19 News Section

In an attempt to help its users avoid fake news about the global health crisis, and to boost its credibility as a trusted brand, Apple has also announced the launch of a new COVID-19 news section, where, it says that its users will find the “latest verified reporting from trusted news outlets”.

Trusted For The Election

Even though the world is in the midst of a health crisis, the US election is still likely to be happening in November.  Apple also has plans to establish itself as a trusted news source then through its own, curated Apple News coverage of the election where it will feature “reliable” news, information and data from multiple trusted news sources.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Apple employees, the opportunity to work flexibly and more safely from home, still receive pay as normal and receive the benefits of more favourable company leave policies is likely to be very welcome. These moves by Apple also show the company in a very positive ethical and caring light, which many would see as being consistent with its public brand values.

Closing stores only until March 27 (just over a week from now), however, may be seen by some as a trifle optimistic, and could mean that employees in those stores may be very nervous about the thought of having to go back to any customer-facing roles when the illness still has a lot further to spread before it begins to slow down.  It remains to be seen whether Apple extends this date in the light of unfolding events.

Featured Article – 5G Explained

5G (fifth generation) is essentially the next step up and the replacement for your current 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) connection.  The main benefits that this new generation of mobile broadband should bring are faster upload and download speeds and faster communication with wireless networks (latency).

Spectrum Difference

Most carriers currently use low-band spectrum or LTE, which offers great coverage area and penetration yet it is getting very crowded and peak data speeds only top out at around 100Mbps.

5G, on the other hand, offers 3 different Spectrum bands, which are:

  • Low-band spectrum or LTE/sub 1GHz spectrum.
  • Mid-band spectrum.  This gives faster coverage and better latency than low-band but isn’t as good at penetrating buildings. Mid-band spectrum will offer peak speeds up to 1Gbps.
  • High-band spectrum /  mmWave .  This spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10 Gbps and has very low latency, although it has a low coverage area and building penetration is poor.
  • In the UK, it is likely that there will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) is likely to be the first offered to users, and the (expensive) high-band spectrum / mmWave for use in densely populated areas. This could mean limitations on where an owner can use their 5G phone (when they eventually get one).

What Can We Expect From 5G?

More frequencies, faster speeds and less latency should mean big improvements in broadband (particularly commercial) and an end to slowdowns during busy times of day that have been experienced due to the overcrowding of the current limited LTE.

How Fast is Faster?

Theoretically, the maximum speed for 5G should be a hundred times faster than the current 4G technology can provide i.e. 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) rather than 100 megabits per second (Mbps).

Peak data rates with 5G could reach 20Gbps downlink and 10Gbps uplink per mobile base station (for all users in the cell), but 5G users will not actually experience this speed unless they have a dedicated connection.

Speed Record

Swedish phone company Ericsson’s research and development team have just reported setting a new maximum speed record on 5G connections, by achieving download rates of 4.3Gbps on the millimeter wave spectrum during interoperability testing using commercial products.

Finite Frequency

Also, 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.

It is also likely that other technologies will need to be developed and trialled in order to help 5G live up to its promise. 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.

Real-Life Business Applications

Anticipated ways that 5G could improve things in our lives and for businesses include:

  • Improvements to health care.  Communications and sensor networks in health care are likely to be improved, therefore benefiting patients, doctors and other staff.
  • Improvements in the IoT as devices require fewer resources, and huge numbers of devices can connect to a single base station, making them much more efficient. IoT improvements could help with all kinds of services e.g. public services such as smart bins and smart lighting, remote healthcare services, and CCTV / surveillance services.
  • A boost to virtual and augmented reality.
  • Benefits for the growing autonomous vehicle market as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need, enables better communication with other vehicles on the road and better provision of information to other cars about road conditions, as well as improvements in the performance of information given to  drivers and automakers.
  • Advantages for companies operating delivery drone/robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.
  • Advantages for local authorities and local infrastructure (monitoring and control for streetlights, drain/flood information) and for utility and other companies that use remote sensors.
  • The low latency of 5G offering allowing more remote device control e.g. reducing risk in hazardous environments and allowing technicians with specialised skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.

Challenges For 5G Phone Manufacturers

For phone manufacturers, manufacturing 5G phones is a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. they need a 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.
  • The miniaturisation of more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smartphone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation, and many customers may simply delay buying a 5G anyway until they are confident that 5G is performing well and will offer them all the benefits.
  • The first 5G smartphones need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

Despite the challenges, 5G phones have been available for some time now many people have been holding off from buying them until the 5G connection services become more widely available.  It is estimated that 260 million new 5G phones will be produced worldwide in 2020.

Whereas Sony has recently announced that it is launching its first 5G smartphone this month (Xperia 1 II flagship handset), which many see as a bid to prop up its struggling smartphone business, Huawei and Samsung are currently ahead in the 5G phone market.

Some commentators have noted, however, that although 5G services have now been rolled out in the UK by many of the networks and 5G phones are available, there is still some scepticism in the UK marketplace about the benefits vs costs of getting 5G phones at this early stage, and there appears to be a general feeling among consumers that 5G is not ready for mainstream adoption yet.

When?

5G has taken nearly 10 years to develop and so far in the UK, EE launched its 5G service in May 2019, Vodafone followed in July 2019, O2 launched its 5G service in October, and BT Mobile also launched its 5G service in October 2019.

Sky Mobile entered the market with its 5G service in January 2020 and although the Three network launched for home broadband in parts of London in August last year, it has not yet expanded this to its phones.

Where?

Viavi Solutions (The State of 5G Deployments report) reveals that commercial 5G networks have now been deployed in 378 cities across 34 countries, with the most cities with 5G availability in South Korea (85) and with 5G now available in 31 UK cities.

Looking Ahead

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.

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.

We will, however, have to wait for 5G networks and services to be operating fully and offering all the predicted benefits, and as well as being somewhat expensive, purchasing a 5G phone may be something that many people will still hold-off doing until they’re confident they’ll get the promised value from it.

Google Indexing Makes WhatsApp Group Links Visible

A journalist has reported on Twitter that WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as users think because the “Invite to Group via Link” feature allows groups to be indexed by Google, thereby making them available across the Internet.

Links Visible

Chats conducted on the end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp can be joined by people who are given an invite URL link but until now it has not been thought that invite links could be indexed by Google (and other search engines) and found in simple searches. However, it appears that group links that have been shared outside of the secure, private messaging app could be found (and joined).

Exposed

The consequences of these 45,000+ invite links being found in searches is that they can be joined and details like the names and phone numbers of the participants can be accessed.  Targeted searches can reveal links to groups based around a number of sensitive subjects.

Links

Even though WhatsApp group admins can invalidate existing links, WhatsApp generates a new link meaning that the original link isn’t totally disabled.

Only Share Links With Trusted Contacts

Users of WhatsApp are warned to share the link only with trusted contacts, and the links that were shown in Google searches appeared because the URLs were publicly listed i.e. shared outside of the app.

Changed

Although Google already offers tools for sites to block content from being listed in search results, since the discovery (and subsequently publicity) of the WhatsApp Invite links being indexed, some commentators have reported that this no longer happens in Google.  It has also been reported, however, that publicly posted WhatsApp Invite links can still be found using other popular search engines.

Recent Security Incident

One other high profile incident reported recently, which may cause some users to question the level of security of WhatsApp was the story about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s phone allegedly being hacked by unknown parties thought to be acting for Saudi Arabia after a mysterious video was sent to Mr Bezo’s phone.

Also, last May there were reports of an attack on WhatsApp which was thought to be a ‘zero-day’ exploit that was used to load spyware onto the victim’s phone.  Once the victim’s WhatsApp had been hijacked and the spyware loaded onto the phone, for example, access may have been given to encrypted chats, photos, contacts and other information.  That kind of attack may also have allowed eavesdropping on calls and turning on the microphone and camera, as well as enabling attackers to alter the call logs and hide the method of infection.  At the time, it was reported that the attack may have originated from a private Israeli company, The NSO Group.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In this case, although it’s alarming that the details of many group members may have been exposed, it is likely to be because links for those groups were posted publicly and not shared privately with trusted members as the app recommends.  That said, it’s of little comfort for those who believed that their WhatsApp group membership and personal details are always totally private.  It’s good news, therefore, that Google appears to have taken some action to prevent it from happening in future. Hopefully, other search engines will now do the same.

WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, which should mean that it is secure, and considering that it has at least 1.5 billion users worldwide, surprisingly few stories have emerged that have brought the general security of the app into question.

Featured Article – Combatting Fake News

The spread of misinformation/disinformation/fake news by a variety of media including digital and printed stories and deepfake videos is a growing threat in what has been described as out ‘post-truth era’, and many people, organisations and governments are looking for effective ways to weed out fake news, and to help people to make informed judgements about what they hear and see.

The exposure of fake news and its part in recent election scandals, the common and frequent use of the term by prominent figures and publishers, and the need for the use of fact-checking services have all contributed to an erosion of public trust in the news they consume. For example, YouGov research used to produce annual Digital News Report (2019) from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford showed that public concern about misinformation remains extremely high, reaching a 55 per cent average across 38 countries with less than half (49 per cent) of people trusting the news media they use themselves.

The spread of fake news online, particularly at election times, is of real concern and with the UK election just passed, the UK Brexit referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the last U.S. presidential election all being found to have suffered interference in the form of so-called ‘fake news’ (and with the 59th US presidential election scheduled for Tuesday, November 3, 2020) the subject is high on the world agenda.

Challenges

Those trying to combat the spread of fake news face a common set of challenges, such as those identified by CEO of OurNews, Richard Zack, which include:

– There are people (and state-sponsored actors) worldwide who are making it harder for people to know what to believe e.g. through spreading fake news and misinformation, and distorting stories).

– Many people don’t trust the media or don’t trust fact-checkers.

– Simply presenting facts doesn’t change peoples’ minds.

– People prefer/find it easier to accept stories that reinforce their existing beliefs.

Also, some research (Stanford’s Graduate School of Education) has shown that young people may be more susceptible to seeing and believing fake news.

Combatting Fake News

So, who’s doing what online to meet these challenges and combat the fake news problem?  Here are some examples of those organisations and services leading the fightback, and what methods they are using.

Browser-Based Tools

Recent YouGov research showed that 26% per cent of people say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news, but as well as simply choosing what they regard to be trustworthy sources, people can now choose to use services which give them shorthand information on which to make judgements about the reliability of news and its sources.

Since people consume online news via a browser, browser extensions (and app-based services) have become more popular.  These include:

– Our.News.  This service uses a combination of objective facts (about an article) with subjective views that incorporate user ratings to create labels (like nutrition labels on food) next to new articles that a reader can use to make a judgement.  Our.News labels use publisher descriptions from Freedom Forum, bias ratings from AllSides, information about an article’s sources author and editor.  It also uses fact-checking information from sources including PolitiFact, Snopes and FactCheck.org, and labels such as “clickbait” or “satire” along with and user ratings and reviews.  The Our.News browser extension is available for Firefox and Chrome, and there is an iOS app. For more information go to https://our.news/.

– NewsGuard. This service, for personal use or for NewsGuard’s library and school system partners, offers a reliability rating score of 0-100 for each site based on its performance on nine key criteria, ratings icons (green-red ratings) next to links on all of the top search engines, social media platforms, and news aggregation websites.  Also, NewsGuard gives summaries showing who owns each site, its political leaning (if any), as well as warnings about hoaxes, political propaganda, conspiracy theories, advertising influences and more.  For more information, go to https://www.newsguardtech.com/.

Platforms

Another approach to combatting fake news is to create a news platform that collects and publishes news that has been checked and is given a clear visual rating for users of that platform.

One such example is Credder, a news review platform which allows journalists and the public to review articles, and to create credibility ratings for every article, author, and outlet.  Credder focuses on credibility, not clicks, and uses a Gold Cheese (yellow) symbol next to articles, authors, and outlets with a rating of 60% or higher, and a Mouldy Cheese (green) symbol next to articles, authors, and outlets with a rating of 59% or less. Readers can, therefore, make a quick choice about what they choose to read based on these symbols and the trust-value that they create.

Credder also displays a ‘Leaderboard’ which is based on rankings determined by the credibility and quantity of reviewed articles. Currently, Credder ranks nationalgeographic.com, gizmodo.com and cjr.org as top sources with 100% ratings.  For more information see https://credder.com/.

Automation and AI

Many people now consider automation and AI to be an approach and a technology that is ‘intelligent’, fast, and scalable enough to start to tackle the vast amount of fake news that is being produced and circulated.  For example, Google and Microsoft have been using AI to automatically assess the truth of articles.  Also, initiatives like the Fake News Challenge (http://www.fakenewschallenge.org/) seeks to explore how AI technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, can be employed to combat fake news and supports the idea that AI technologies hold promise for significantly automating parts of the procedure human fact-checkers use to determine if a story is real or a hoax.

However, the human-written rules underpinning AI, and how AI is ‘trained’ can also lead to bias.

Government

Governments clearly have an important role to play in the combatting of fake news, especially since fake news/misinformation has been shown to have been spread via different channels e.g. social media to influence aspects of democracy and electoral decision making.

For example, in February 2019, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ highlighting how “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms”.  The UK government called for a shift in the balance of power between “platforms and people” and for tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament and overseen by an independent regulator.

Also, in the US, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been made to appear before the U.S. Congress to discuss how Facebook tackles false reports.

Finland – Tackling Fake News Early

One example of a government taking a different approach to tackling fake news is that of Finland, a country that has recently been rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news.  In Finland, evaluation of news and fact-checking behaviour in the school curriculum was introduced in a government strategy after 2014, when Finland was targeted with fake news stories from its Russian neighbour.  The changes to the school curriculum across core areas in all subjects are, therefore, designed to make Finnish people, from a very young age, able to detect and do their part to fight false information.

Social Media

The use of Facebook to spread fake news that is likely to have influenced voters in the UK Brexit referendum, the 2017 UK general election and the last U.S. presidential election put social media and its responsibilities very much in the spotlight.  Also, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the illegal harvesting of 50 million Facebook profiles in early 2014 for apparent electoral profiling purposes damaged trust in the social media giant.

Since then, Facebook has tried to be seen to be actively tackling the spread of fake news via its platform.  Its efforts include:

– Hiring the London-based, registered charity ‘Full Fact’, who review stories, images and videos, in an attempt to tackle misinformation that could “damage people’s health or safety or undermine democratic processes”.  Facebook is also reported to be working with fact-checkers in more than 20 countries, and to have had a working relationship with Full Fact since 2016.

– In October 2018, Facebook also announced that a new rule for the UK now means that anyone who wishes to 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. 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.

– In October 2019, Facebook launched its own ‘News’ tab on its mobile app which directs users to unbiased, curated articles from credible sources in a bid to publicly combat fake news and help restore trust in its own brand.

– In January this year, Monika Bickert, Vice President of Facebook’s Global Policy Management announced that Facebook is banning deepfakes and “all types of manipulated media”.

Other Platforms & Political Adverts

Political advertising has become mixed up with the spread of misinformation in the public perception in recent times.  With this in mind, some of the big tech and social media players have been very public about making new rules for political advertising.

For example, in November 2019, Twitter Inc banned political ads, including ads referencing a political candidate, party, election or legislation.  Also, at the end of 2019, Google took a stand against political advertising by saying that it would limit audience targeting for election adverts to age, gender and the general location at a postal code level.

Going Forward

With a U.S. election this year, and with the sheer number of sources, and with the scale and resources that some (state-sponsored) actors have, the spread of fake news is something that is likely to remain a serious problem for some time yet.  From the Finnish example of creating citizens who have a better chance than most of spotting fake news to browser-based extensions, moderated news platforms, the use of AI, government and other scrutiny and interventions, we are all now aware of the problem, the fight-back is underway, and we are getting more access to ways in which we can make our own more informed decisions about what we read and watch and how credible and genuine it is.

Apple Fined £21M For Slowing Old iPhone

The French competition and fraud watchdog DGCCRF has fined tech giant Apple €25 million (£21 million) for slowing down some old iPhones and not telling people how to fix the problem.

What Happened?

Back in 2017, some iPhone users were sharing concerns online that their iPhone’s performance had slowed with age but had sped up after a battery replacement. This led to a customer sharing comparative performance tests of different models of the iPhone 6S on Reddit, which appeared to support the customer suspicions.

Technology website Geeknebench also shared the results of its own tests of several iPhones running different versions of the iOS operating system where some showed slower performance than others.

After customers concerns mounted and received more press, Apple publicly admitted that it had made changes one year earlier in the iOS 10.2.1 software update that is likely to have been responsible for the slowdown that customers may have experienced in iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE.

Apple issued an apology to customers in January 2018.

Why?

According to Apple, the slowing down of the phones was due to the lithium-ion batteries becoming less capable of supplying peak current demands over time, so in order to prevent the phones from shutting down (and to protect their components), Apple released a software update to smooth-out the battery performance.

What The Watchdog Says

The DGCCRF has ruled, however, that Apple needs to pay €25 million fine and to display a statement on its website for a month because the iOS software update negatively affected the performance of ageing devices, customers were not told that the 10.2.1 and 11.2 iOS updates would cause a slowing down of their devices and that customers were also not told that replacing the battery rather than replacing the whole phone would solve the problem.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When this story first made the headlines, it was a serious embarrassment for Apple and a blot on the copybook of a brand that had managed to maintain an image of trust and reliability. This story illustrates how managing customer relationships in an age where information is shared quickly and widely by customers via the Internet involves making smart decisions about transparency and being seen to be up-front with loyal customers.

It is very likely that Apple regrets the entire incident and that even though the French regulator, in this case, has decided to impose a big fine, it is likely to be of more annoyance to Apple that customers have to be reminded of the incident again several years later and that the company will now have to display a notice on its website for a month as a further reminder.

Growth in Threats To Apple Compared To Windows Machines

In a trend that appears contrary to popular perceptions, the latest Malwarebytes (annual) State of malware report has revealed that the growth in attacks on Apple endpoints is outpacing the threats targeting Windows machines.

11 Threats Per Mac Endpoint

The report shows Mac threats were up (2019) four-fold year on year with 11 threats per Mac endpoint on average for Apple compared with only 5.8 threats per Windows endpoint.  An ‘endpoint’ refers to an Internet-capable computer hardware device on a TCP/IP network e.g. desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers etc.

Why?

It is likely that the growth in the average number of threats to Apple machines isn’t just down to the fact that there are now more Apple users, but also because Apple may not be taking enough measures that are tough enough to tackle adware and pups (potentially unwanted programmes) compared to efforts made to tackle more traditional malware.

Kaspersky Figures

Figures from Kaspersky this month also show increasing dangers for Mac users as it reports that two years on from its detection, Shlayer Trojan malware attacks one in ten macOS users, and it accounts for almost 30% of all detections for the macOS.

Criminals More Creative and Persistent

As well as the increasing danger for Mac users, in the report, Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski highlights how adware, pre-installed malware and multi-vector attacks all show how cybercriminals appear to be heading in a direction where they are “more creative and increasingly persistent with their campaigns”.

Even though threats to Apple endpoints are growing at a faster rate, it is still Windows and Android devices that face the most threats from annoying and hard to uninstall adware and malware (including ransomware).

Business-Focused

The report highlighted the 13 per cent rise in global business threats last year, and how Trojan-turned-botnets Emotet and TrickBot have been targeting businesses and organisations with ransomware new families, like Ryuk, Sodinokibi and Phobos. Also, businesses are facing new risks from hack tools and registry key disablers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As pointed out in the report, those in the online security industry are having to work hard to protect users and businesses from programs that violate user privacy, infect devices, or turn their own infrastructure against them. Businesses and organisations, whether they use Apple or Microsoft Operating Systems need to be acutely aware of (and make sure they are protected against) the threats outlined in the report (malware, ransomware, adware, credit card skimmers and skimmer scripts), as well as phishing and the increasing use of social engineering in attacks.

Mac users may want to check the advice on Apple’s website about features (found in System Preferences) that help protect Macs and the personal information of users from malicious software/malware e.g. protection from malware embedded in harmless-looking apps.  See: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/guide/mac-help/mh40596/mac

Also, Apple advises that MacOS users should exercise caution when accessing scripts, web archives and Java archives, which all pose potential threats.

Featured Article – Innovations/Gamechangers to Expect in 2020

This is the time of year for looking ahead to how technology could be affecting and hopefully, enhancing our lives over the coming year and here is a selection of just some of the possible game-changing technological innovations that could be making an impact in 2020.

5G Technologies

Technology and communications commentators are saying that 5G’s increased bandwidth and speed, along with other benefits could start to improve file sharing and other communication capabilities for businesses this year (in the geographical areas where it’s deployed).

Quantum Technologies

Back in October, we heard about the paper, published in the journal Nature, that told how scientists may have reached quantum supremacy, whereby a quantum computer can now to do something significant that a classical computer can’t.  With Google’s Sycamore chip (54-qubit processor), an algorithm output that would take 10,000 years using a classical computer only took 200 seconds, and heralded greater potentially game-changing developments this year and beyond. With results from computing power of this kind, many hitherto extremely challenging problems could be solved quickly across a range of industries, and this is likely to attract much more investment in Quantum technologies in 2020.

AI and Health

The possibilities for AI are still being explored, but thanks to start-ups like Imagen which builds AI software for the medical field e.g. OsteoDetect which uses algorithms to scan X-ray images for common wrist bone fractures, and AI software developed by Good Health researchers (in conjunction with other key partners) which has proven to be more accurate at detecting and diagnosing breast cancer than expert human radiologists, AI could be finding more positive ways to impact upon healthcare in 2020 and beyond.

Although AI has promise in so many areas, including health, one of the predicted downsides of AI developments for workers is that the automation that it brings could really start to replace many more human jobs in 2020.

Neural Interfaces

There are many predictions of how commercial applications of neural interfaces may bridge the gap between humans and computers, perhaps allowing people to think instructions to computers.  One of the key challenges is, of course, that neural communications are both chemical and electrical, but this didn’t stop head of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, announcing in July last year that brain implants (‘Neuralink’) that can link directly to devices could be a reality within a year i.e. by the end of 2020.  It remains to be seen, however, how much progress is made this year, but the idea that a near-instantaneous, wireless communication between brain and computer via an implant is that human brains could be offered a kind of ‘upgrade’ to enable them to keep up with and compete with AI.

Electric Vehicle Explosion

The many technologies (and government subsidies in some countries) that have led to a commitment by big car manufacturers to the production of electric vehicles mean that sales are predicted to rise 35 per cent in the first nine months of 2020.  More electric cars being produced and purchased in developed countries could herald game-changing results e.g. lessening the negative environmental impact of cars.

One other innovation that could help boost the growth of electric cars is a breakthrough in battery technology, such as that announced by Tesla’s head of battery research and university academic Jeff Danh, who has published a paper about a battery that could last a million miles without losing capacity.

Display Screen Technology

Advances in technologies used for display-screen e.g. for phones are likely to prove game-changers in their industries. With new screens becoming ultra-thin LEDs and, therefore, able to be added as computational surfaces to many different surfaces and objects e.g. walls and mirrors, and with advances like foldable screens e.g. Microsoft’s Surface Neo, our environment and communications tools could see some real changes in 2020.

Translation

Technology for mobile devices, AI, and language have converged to create translation apps such as Google’s interpreter mode real-time translator that’s just been rolled out for Assistant-enabled Android and iOS phones worldwide.  Having a reliable tool to hand that enables back and forth conversation with someone speaking a foreign language (and is loaded with 44 languages) could be a game-changer for business and personal travel in 2020.

Augmented Reality

Several tech commentators are predicting (perhaps optimistically) that 2020 could be the year that reliable Augmented Reality glasses find their way onto the market e.g. perhaps from Apple and could see large-scale adoption.

Looking Ahead

2020, therefore, holds a great deal of promise in terms of how different existing and some new technologies and developments combined in new products and services could become game-changers that drive positive benefits for businesses and individual users alike.

Tracking For People Who Lose Things

Google Assistant is now supporting Tile’s Bluetooth tracker which means that Tile customers can use a simple voice command to enlist the help of Google Assistant in finding their lost keys, wallet, TV remote control and more.

What Is Tile?

Tile uses Bluetooth and a phone app to locate physical ‘Tile’ tracking devices of different sizes which can be attached to keyrings, bags, slipped into wallets, or even attached to a dog’s collar.  The tile app on the user’s smartphone can then be used to ring a Tile (the physical tracker that’s attached to e.g. your keyring) if it’s nearby (the Tile gives off a tone so it can be found), and by tapping the ‘Find’ button in the app, the item that has the Tile tracker attached can then be located.

If an item has been genuinely lost outside of the house, Tile can also be used to locate the item on a map which shows the last time and place that the item was with the used, and users who can’t locate their item this way can also ask the wider Tile community to anonymously help them find it.

Tile also has partnerships with manufacturers so that its technology is already built-in to items e.g. Sennheiser earphones.

Tile is reported to have already sold more than 22 million devices worldwide in 195 countries with its system being used to find 6 million items every day.

Google Assistant

The support from Google Assistant (via Nest devices – the Nest Mini or Nest Hub) means that, rather than opening a Tile app on their phone to locate their missing items, users can simply ask the Google Assistant where their item is, and/or ask the Google Assistant to ring their missing item. This adds an extra layer of convenience for Tile and Google Assistant users.

Competition From Apple

The move to partner with Google gives Tile a better opportunity to fend off likely competition from Apple, which is reported to be on the verge of releasing its own item location tracking system.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Tile, teaming up with Google is a very important strategic move helping it to add extra convenience and a powerful brand endorsement to its services, strengthen its current competitive edge, and give it more of a chance to fight off competition from Apple when it enters the market (soon) with a similar service.

For Google, this is a chance to add another value-adding feature to its digital assistant’s services, thereby helping it compete in another small way with competitors like Amazon.

For users of Tile, and future users of Tile who have a Google Nest device, this offers an even more convenient and fast way of using Tile’s services.