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Your Latest IT News Update

Microsoft Launches Free Version of Collaborative Chat App ‘Teams’

Microsoft has announced the launch of a free version of its collaborative chat app ‘Teams’ which doesn’t require an Office 365 subscription.

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NHS … Still Reliant On Fax Machines

A Poll by the Royal College of Surgeons using freedom of information requests has revealed that 8,946 fax machines are still in use in NHS Trusts in England.

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Misleading Broadband Adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been criticised for a lack of regulation of the use of the term “fibre” in broadband adverts, which has meant that some consumers may have been misled.

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Cambridge Analytica Re-Born

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

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12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

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Tech Tip – Open Files With The Right App

Sometimes in Windows, when you double click on a file to open it (e.g. a file that’s been sent to you) the wrong app can open. Here’s how to make sure you select the right app for your file:

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Tech Tip – Open Files With The Right App

Sometimes in Windows, when you double click on a file to open it e.g. a file that’s been sent to you, the wrong app can open. Here’s how to make sure you select the right app for your file:

– Right-click your file.
– Choose Open with, then Choose another app.
– Make sure the ‘Always use this app’ box is checked before you pick.
– Scroll down to ‘More apps’ if you can’t see the right one at the top of the list.

12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

The Allegations

It is alleged by the US Justice Department that, back in March 2016, on the run-up to the presidential election campaign which saw Republican Donald Trump elected as president, the Russian intelligence officers were responsible for cyber-attacks on the email accounts of staff for Hillary Clinton’s Democrat presidential campaign.

Also, the Justice Department alleges that the accused Russians corresponded with several Americans (but not in a conspiratorial way), used fictitious online personas, released thousands of stolen emails (beginning in June 2016), and even plotted to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and voter software.

No Evidence Says Kremlin

The Kremlin is reported to have said that it believes there is no evidence for the US allegations, describing the story as an “old duck” and a conspiracy theory.

32, So Far

The latest allegations are all part of the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Meuller, into US intelligence findings that the Russians allegedly conspired in favour of Trump, and that some of his campaign aides may have colluded.
So far, 32 people (mostly Russians) have been indicted. 3 companies and 4 former Trump advisers have also been implicated.

Trump Says…

President Trump has dismissed allegations that the Russians help put him in the White House as a “rigged witch hunt” and “pure stupidity”.

In a press conference after his meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump, however, caused shock and disbelief when asked whether he thought Russia had been involved in US election interference, he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be”.

He has since appeared to backtrack by saying that he meant to say “wouldn’t” rather than “would”, and that he accepts his own intelligence agency’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that other players may have been involved too.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Part of the fallout of constant struggle between states and super-powers are the cyber attacks that end up affecting many businesses in the UK. Also, if there has been interference in an election favouring one party, this, in turn, affects the political and economic decisions made in that country, and its foreign policy. These have a knock-on effect on markets, businesses and trade around the world, particularly for those businesses that export to, import from, or have other business interests in the US. Even though, in the US, one of the main results of the alleged electoral interference scandal appears to have been damaged reputations and disrupted politics, the wider effects have been felt in businesses around the world.

These matters and the links to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have also raised awareness among the public about their data security and privacy, whether they can actually trust corporations with it, and how they could be targeted with political messages which could influence their own beliefs.

Cambridge Analytica Re-Born

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

Old Version Shut Down

After news of the scandal, which saw the details of an estimated 87 million Facebook users (mostly in the US) being shared with CA, and then used by CA to target people with political messages in relation to the last US presidential elections, CA was shut down by its parent company SCL Elections. CA is widely reported to have ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal.

Ethical This Time

Auspex, which (it should be stressed) is not just another version of CA, but is likely to carry on the same kind of data analysis work, has been set up by Ahmed Al-Khatib, a former director of Emerdata which was also set up after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mr Al-Khatib has been reported as saying that Auspex will use ethically based, data-driven communications with a focus on improving the lives of people in the developing world.

Middle East and Africa

The markets in the developing world that Auspex will initially be focusing on are the Middle East and Africa, and the kinds of ethical work that it will be doing, according Auspex’s own communications, are health campaigning and tackling the spread of extremist ideology among a disenfranchised youth.

Compliant

Auspex has been quick to state that it has made changes and that it will be fully compliant from the outset, thereby hoping to further distance itself from its murky origins in CA.

Personnel

One thing that is likely to attract the attention of critics is that, not only is Mark Turnbull, the former head of CA’s political division the new Auspex Managing Director, but that the listed directors of the new company include Alastair Harris, who is reported to have worked at CA, and Omar Al-Khatib is listed as a citizen of the Seychelles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal is relatively recent, and the ICO have only just presented their report about the incident. For many people, it may not feel right that personnel from Cambridge Analytica can appear to simply set up under another name and start again. Critics can be forgiven for perhaps not trusting statements about a new ethical approach, especially since Mark Turnbull appeared alongside former CA chief executive Alexander Nix in an undercover film by Channel 4, where Nix gave examples of how his company could discredit politicians e.g. by setting up encounters with prostitutes.

The introduction of GDPR has brought the matters of data security and privacy into sharp focus for businesses in the UK, and businesses will be all too aware of the possible penalties if they get on the wrong side of the ICO.

In the case of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO has recently announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches, and that it is still considering taking legal action against CA’s company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.

Misleading Broadband Adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been criticised for a lack of regulation of the use of the term “fibre” in broadband adverts, which has meant that some consumers may have been misled.

Findings of Research

The findings of the research, commissioned by network provider CityFibre, appear to show that customers may be confused about the fibre aspect of the broadband service they have.

For example, of the 3,400 broadband customers surveyed, 65% believed that they had already upgraded to a fibre connection and theywere no longer on slower copper cables, even though copper is still the most common connection type in the UK.

Also, 24% of the broadband customers surveyed believed they purchased services that used fibre cables running straight to their front door (FTTP). The reality, however, is that only 3% of the UK population have FTTP connections.

The problem with this, apart from the fact that the UK is still lagging behind in fibre broadband provision, is that almost half of those customers surveyed believed that services advertised as ‘fibre’ delivered internet in this way as standard.

Broadband Providers & ASA To Blame

The report by CityFibre lays the blame for years of apparently misleading advertising information about what “fibre” actually means at the door of broadband providers for how they have used the word in their adverts, and the ASA for appearing to not regulate how the word has been used.

Stop Using The Word Unless…

CityFibre has called upon broadband providers to stop using the word ‘fibre’ unless it is describing a full-fibre connection, and has stated that it plans to take the “backward looking” ASA to court to dispute the ASA’s conclusion that ‘fibre’ is not a misleading term in advertising.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many critics would say that years of misleading advertising of broadband speeds, as well as spurious use of the word ‘fibre’ without explaining what it really means, have left many domestic and business customers totally confused about what they are paying for. This has undermined trust in the industry.

The sad prevailing fact for UK businesses is that, according to a recent survey, the UK is now at 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables. This is because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

All this means that UK businesses still have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) alternative, which uses copper wires to carry broadband from street cabinets to their premises. This has put UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in many other European countries.

Regardless of advertising claims, and despite government plans and announcements, it looks as though the UK may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15 years.

NHS … Still Reliant On Fax Machines

A Poll by the Royal College of Surgeons using freedom of information requests has revealed that 8,946 fax machines are still in use in NHS Trusts in England.

World’s Largest Purchaser of Fax Machines

The poll was carried out after a report last year by DeepMind Health revealed that the NHS was the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines.

The new RCS poll revealed that the NHS Trust with the most fax machines still in use is Newcastle upon Tyne NHS with 603. Barts Health NHS Trust still uses 369 fax machines.

Labour Party Says There Are More

In June this year, the Labour Party reported that it believed that there were at least 11,620 fax machines still in use across the NHS in England, costing £137,000 a year to maintain.

Fax Machines

What is considered to be the first commercial version of a modern fax machine (short for facsimile) was introduced (and patented) by Xerox Corporation in 1964. Fax machines, however, reached the peak of their popularity in the late 1980s.

NHS Also Largest User of Pagers

A report by telecoms consultancy CommonTime from last year showed that the NHS is the largest user of pagers, with 130,000 of them still in use in the NHS, mainly in acute hospitals. Pagers reached their peak of popularity back in 1994 (61 million in use), and it is believed that there are now only 1 million users worldwide. The NHS, however, spends £6.6m on them each year.

The reason for their continued popularity in the NHS is thought to be their simplicity, their use of radio frequencies rather than their reliance on Internet connections, their resilience, the fact that there’s an audit trail, they’re easy to carry, and they have a long battery life.

The CommonTime report suggests that the NHS could save up to £2,718,009 per year / over £10m across four years by simply replacing pagers with smartphone-based applications.

Hopes For Greater Move To Digital

These reports and polls appear to show that the NHS is lagging behind in the digital revolution and clinging to obsolete technology where its internal communications are concerned.

The last Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had wanted a paperless NHS by this year, and the new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is known to be a supporter of technology and digitisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Those in the NHS have pointed out that years of austerity, cuts, lack of funds, and the need to pare back spending on facilities and technology in order to keep the service going are the reasons why the NHS still uses outdated communications technology like fax machines.

The natural substitute and successor to fax machines appears to be apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. In fact, during the WannaCry cyber attack that brought down NHS computer systems, many NHS staff used WhatsApp to communicate, with an estimated 500 patients a day being diagnosed from X-ray images sent on the app.

Clearly, there is a need for an affordable, reliable, fast and easy to use day-to-day communications platform for NHS Trust staff to use that could help them to save the Trusts money, save themselves time, and add value to the provision of services. Continuing to rely on fax machines will probably only lead to stealth IT anyway. Apps appear to be the natural way forward, provided they offer the right level of security for patient data, but the NHS also has an internal email system called NHSmail that is not being used widely enough.

Microsoft Launches Free Version of Collaborative Chat App ‘Teams’

Microsoft has announced the launch of a free version of its collaborative chat app ‘Teams’ which doesn’t require an Office 365 subscription.

What Is Teams?

Introduced back in November 2016, ‘Teams’ (as the name suggests) is a platform designed to help collaborative working, and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite, and Teams is widely considered to be Microsoft’s answer to ‘Slack’.

Slack is a popular, multi-channel collaborative working hub that offers chat channels with companies and businesses you regularly work with, direct voice or video calls and screen-sharing, integrated drag-and-drop file sharing, and an App Directory with over 1,500 apps that can be integrated into Slack.

Teams is now believed to be used by around 200,000 organizations.

Free Version

The free version of Teams, which does not require an Office 365 account, offers the same basic features as regular Teams to anyone who wants to try it out. The hope is, of course, that this will increase user numbers, and tempt users away from Slack. Microsoft is also extending 365 cloud suite with the free version of Teams to try and bridge Microsoft 365 with Office 365.

Space and Features

The free version of Teams offers 10GB of team storage plus an additional 2GB for each user, with up to 300 people supported. Also, users have unlimited messages and search, there is guest access, as well as audio and video calls and screen sharing.

Within the Teams app, users can collaborate with colleagues on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

What’s Missing?

Even though the free version offers quite a lot of storage space, the full version would offer users a massive 1TB. Also, unlike the full version, the free version doesn’t come with Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and OneDrive, plus the free version lacks some of the security features of the full version. This could make it less attractive to enterprises that are also looking to maximise compliance.

Warning To Help With Team Etiquette

One interesting aspect of Microsoft’s approach to the collaborative working platform is to build-on features that warn a user when they are doing something that goes against good practice and etiquette within teams. One key example of this is, with MyAnalytics, which works as an intelligent collaboration assistant in Outlook, is where users are warned / alerted if they are sending emails to co-workers outside their normal working hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

One good way to increase user numbers quickly, gain some ground in a battle with competitors, and to entice people to try and perhaps switch to a new service is to offer a good, usable, value-adding version of that service for free. That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with its version of Teams.

Although larger enterprises may already be a long way down the road with their chosen collaborative working platform, and might be a bit put off by the idea of using a free version of a platform that is not quite on a par with the full version in terms of security features, a free version of Teams may be very attractive to SMEs looking to move into collaborative working with a low risk, trusted, scalable solution.

New System Detects & Warns Of Mobile Phone Use in Cars

Norfolk-based company Westcotec is piloting new technology that can detect whether a handheld mobile phone is in use in a passing vehicle, and then warn the occupants of the vehicle.

How?

In a UK first, the pilot scheme, which is taking place in four locations in Norfolk, uses a directional antenna, with a detector that picks up radio waves emitted from a mobile phone handset. The system measures the signal strength and length of activation of the signal, and if a signal is detected of a duration and signal strength sufficient to activate the system, the detector triggers a warning sign at the roadside.

Driver or Passenger?

Although the technology is advanced, one thing it can’t do yet is to tell the difference between the phone signal from a driver or a passenger in a vehicle. It also doesn’t record any video footage.

The system has also been designed to know whether a phone is being used hands-free or via a vehicle’s Bluetooth system (and if Bluetooth is being used it will not trigger the warning sign).

Why?

The system is designed to improve safety on UK roads by acting as a reminder to drivers. Driving while using a handheld mobile phone has been illegal in the UK since December 2003. The results of an RAC survey last year, however, show that 31% of motorists said that they had used a handheld mobile phone while driving. This was an increase on the 8% of those recorded in a survey 2 years previously as still using a handheld mobile phone while driving.

Unaware of Tougher Laws

Another RAC poll found that almost two-thirds of drivers are unaware of the punishment for using mobile phones at the wheel, even though it has been more than 12 months since the introduction of much tougher laws.

The poll showed that only 36% of the 2,000 UK motorists questioned knew that offenders face six penalty points and a £200 fine, and 41% believed more visible law enforcement is needed.

Drivers who receive a ban for offences now have to retake both the theory and practical parts of their driving test to get back on the road.

Prosecution Risk

Under the current UK law, picking up your phone while driving, even if stopped in traffic or at lights, will get you at least six points. If drivers are involved in a collision e.g. as a result of using a handheld device, they could be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, which carries even greater penalties. If someone is killed in such a collision, the driver could be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving.

New Distractions

Many of the newer communication platforms and devices that could cause distractions in the car have made the news in recent years, such as iPhones (and Facetime), and the new Apple watch.

For example, back in January 2017, a family in Texas sued Apple because they believed that a driver who was allegedly distracted by a FaceTime call on his iPhone while at the wheel was the reason for a road accident which resulted in the death of their five-year-old daughter.

Also, in Canada in June this year, an Apple smartwatch was classified by a court as being the same kind of distraction as a mobile phone as a student was handed a fine for being observed looking at her Apple watch while waiting at traffic lights.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Considering the results of the RAC surveys some 15 years after the ban on handheld mobile phone use while driving, and a year after the doubling of penalties for being caught, it is clear that using technology to provide a friendly reminder to drivers can’t do any harm, and may even contribute to road safety.

If you and your employees drive to and from work and as part of your work it is essential that a hands-free device is used for any calls, or that calls are only made or received when your vehicle is safely parked. Even checking texts is constitutes a distraction.

The results of not heeding the law on this matter are not just the terrible human consequences, but also the potential damage to your business through driving penalties and reputational damage from the local publicity.

Now You Can Search eBay Via A Photo

Ebay has launched Image Search in the UK, an AI-based technology that means you can now enter a photo into the search box to help find the product you’re looking for.

Smart Phone Camera Search

With so many of us now using smart-phones, this innovative new feature means that users can take a photo on their phone of a product they’re inspired by and interested in, and use the machine learning technology that’s been added to eBay’s 1.1 billion item catalogue to quickly search for that product.

Technology Push at eBay

This latest addition to eBay’s search is part of a general push by eBay to bolt-on more technologies and forge alliances to increase the reach of its platform and to take the fight to competitors.

For example, eBay recently collaborated with worldwide media and entertainment company for culture and tech ‘Mashable’ so that an eBay widget could be introduced into Mashable. The widget allows Mashable’s audience to see and use a small eBay shop window overlaid on the page, and populated by products that are featured in Mashable articles, thereby allowing people to instantly buy what they they’re reading about. The benefit for eBay (according to eBay) is that eBay’s marketing team will be able to use it to better understand the factors that matter most to buyers making purchases off the eBay platform e.g. seller reputation and delivery time, and to use learned consumer insights from the pilot to deliver scalable solutions that accelerate eBay’s growth.

Smart Search Benefits

The sheer size of eBay’s catalogue means that it can sometimes take a long time for users to find the item they’re looking for, particularly if that item is very difficult to describe. Also, the watching and waiting aspect of eBay, its reputation as an auction site, and its lack of ability to actively engage have appeared to put it slightly at odds with a generation who simply want to quickly find what they’re looking for via their smart-phone, and purchase it. eBay also needed to find a way to get the most out of the vast number of user-generated images and item data that they’d accumulated through the years, and to capitalise on the instant product inspiration that people get e.g. from their social media feeds.

It is believed that the Image Search feature will be able to address all of these challenges, and will allow users to quickly find what they’re looking for while on the move. It may also encourage more seller to take to platform.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another illustration of how AI / machine learning is being put to practical and value-adding use as a medium for brand / company growth and user convenience. For businesses in retail such as for fashion and apparel, this new feature could bring increased sales and brand recognition, and could help new lines to generate sales rapidly.

For eBay, this innovative search feature could kill many birds with one stone towards the aim of delivering scalable solutions that can accelerate eBay’s growth.

Visual search is a growing trend, particularly in retail e.g. ASOS, Zalando and John Lewis have adopted visual search into their apps to save customers time, to make themselves more socially discoverable, to drive up-sell activity, and to ultimately increase app revenue. Visual search technology is likely to find its way onto many more platforms, retail websites and apps yet.

UK Slips To 35th Place In Global Broadband Speed Table

A recent comparison of 163 million broadband speed tests across 200 countries shows that the UK has slipped from 31st to 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables.

Lagging In Europe

This latest result means that, even though average speeds in the UK have risen in the past year and, at 18.5Mbps, are above the global average, the UK is now lagging behind 25 other European countries.

Although the UK’s ranking is now actually above 165 other countries, it is still in the bottom third of EU member states.

Top Speeds

Globally, Singapore tops the average broadband speed table with 60 Mbps. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries are top of the league with Sweden at 46Mbps, Denmark at 43.9Mbps, and Norway at 40.1Mbps.

To give some idea of the gulf between broadband speeds at the top and bottom of the table, the lowest average broadband speeds can be found in Yemen (0.3Mbps), East Timor (0.49Mbps), and Turkmenistan (0.56Mbps).

Why The UK Fall In The Rankings?

It is widely believed that the UK is starting to drop further behind many of its European neighbours in average broadband speeds because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

At present, many UK homes and businesses, therefore, have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) alternative, which uses copper wires to carry broadband from street cabinets to homes.

Openreach

Back in November 2016, partly because of its slowness to move to super-fast broadband but mainly because of a perceived monopoly, BT-owned Openreach was ordered by Ofcom to become a legally separate entity.

Hope

As well as Openreach’s competitors such as Hyperoptic moving forward with plans to offer FTTP to 2 million urban premises by 2022, the UK government has also recently updated its plans to bring FTTC to the UK. For example, the UK government’s National Infrastructure Commission (Nic) is now pushing for FTTC to be deployed around the UK by 2033, and hopefully, to be available to 15 million homes by 2025.

At the end of last year, the UK government announced that six regions of the UK would host trials of full fibre broadband for businesses, schools and hospitals as part of a £200m scheme by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). The regions are Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, West Sussex, Coventry and Warwickshire, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest drop down the table of average broadband speeds is bad news, but not a surprise for UK businesses. Broadband is now an essential service for business, and businesses know from their own experience that broadband services in the UK can sometimes be slow, patchy, and often expensive. A recent survey by watchdog ‘Which?’, for example, revealed that more than half of UK customers across 12 providers, are having problems with their broadband service or price.

At the moment, better broadband services, particularly for businesses in rural locations, still seem a very long way off as the reality is that the UK ranks only 35th in the world for average broadband speeds, and we may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15 years. This could affect the competitiveness of UK companies compared to their European neighbours and other global competitors for a long time to come.