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.

Amazon Offering Custom ‘Brand Voice’ to Replace Default Alexa Voice

Amazon’s AWS is offering a new ‘Brand Voice’ capability to companies which enables them to create their own custom voice for Alexa that replaces the default voice with one that reflects their “persona”, such as the voice of Colonel Sanders for KFC.

Brand Polly

The capability is being offered through Amazon’s ‘Brand Polly’, the cloud service by Amazon Web Services (AWS), that converts text into lifelike speech.  The name ‘Polly’ is a reference to parrots which are well-known for being able to mimic human voices.

Amazon says that companies can work with the Amazon Polly team of AI research scientists and linguists to build an exclusive, high-quality, Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) voice that will represent the “persona” of a brand.

Why?

According to Amazon, the ‘Brand Voice’ will give companies another way to differentiate their brand by incorporating a unique vocal identity into their products and services. Hearing the ‘Brand Voice’ of a company is also another way to help create an experience for customers that strengthen the brand, triggers the brand messages and attitudes that a customer has already assimilated through advertising, and helps to provide another element of consistency to brand messages, communications and interactions.

How?

The capability involves using deep learning technology that can learn the intonation patterns of natural speech data and reproduce from that a voice in a similar style or tone. For example, in September, Alexa users were given the option to use the voice of Samuel L. Jackson for their Alexa and in order to produce the voice, the NTTS models were ‘trained’ using hours of recorded dialogue rather than the actor being required to read new dialogue for the system.

Who?

Amazon Polly says on its website that it has already been working with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Canada (for a Colonel Sanders-style brand voice) and with National Australia Bank (NAB), using “the same deep learning technology that powers the voice of Alexa”.

Uses

The ‘Brand Voice’ created for companies can, for example, be used for call centre systems (as with NAB).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The almost inevitable ‘Brand Voice’ move sees Amazon taking another step to monetizing Alexa and moving more into the business market where there is huge potential for modifications and different targeted and customised versions of Alexa and digital assistants.  Back in April last year, for example, Amazon launched its Alexa for Business Blueprints, which is a platform that enables businesses to make their own Alexa-powered applications for their organisation and incorporate their own customised, private ‘skills’. The announcement of ‘Brand Voice’, therefore, is really an extension of this programme.  For businesses and organisations, Alexa for Business and ‘Brand Voice’ offers the opportunity to relatively easily customise some powerful, flexible technology in a way that can closely meet their individual needs, and provide a new marketing and communications tool that can add value in a unique way.

Tech Tip – Deleting Your Personal Metadata From Microsoft Documents

If you really want to make sure that you fully protect your data and identity, one thing you may not know is that Microsoft Office documents store metadata which (although largely useful) could be linked back to you.  There is an easy way to stop this from happening – here’s how:

For Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint:

– Click on ‘File’ (top left).

– On the Info page, click on ‘Check for Issues’.

– Click on ‘Inspect Document’ (which opens the Inspector window).

– Make sure all the checkboxes in the Document Inspector are checked.

– Click the ‘Inspect’ button.

– A green checkmark in a circle indicates that no data of that type has been found. A red exclamation mark means it found data of this type.

– Next to that data type’s description, click the ‘Remove All’ button.

– You can also click the ‘Reinspect’ button to make sure that nothing was missed.

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.

WhatsApp Ceases Support For More Old Phone Operating Systems

WhatsApp has announced that its messaging app will no longer work on outdated operating systems, which is a change that could affect millions of smartphone users.

Android versions 2.3.7 and Older, iOS 8 and Older

The change, which took place on February 1, means that WhatsApp has ended support for Android operating system versions 2.3.7 and older and iOS 8 meaning that users of WhatsApp who have those operating systems on their smartphones will no longer be able to create new accounts or to re-verify existing accounts.  Although these users will still be able to use WhatsApp on their phones, WhatsApp has warned that because it has no plans to continue developing for the old operating systems, some features may stop functioning at any time.

Why?

The change is consistent with Facebook-owned app’s strategy of withdrawing support for older systems and older devices as it did back in 2016 (smartphones running older versions of Android, iOS, Windows Phone + devices running Android 2.2 Froyo, Windows Phone 7 and older versions, and iOS 6 and older versions), and when WhatsApp withdrew support for Windows phones on 31 December 2019.

For several years now, WhatsApp has made no secret of wanting to maintain the integrity of its end-to-end encrypted messaging service, making changes that will ensure that new features can be added that will keep the service competitive, maintain feature parity across different systems and devices, and focus on the operating systems that it believes that the majority of its customers in its main markets now use.

Security & Privacy?

This also means that, since there will no longer be updates for older operating systems, this could lead to privacy and security risks for those who continue using older operating systems.

What Now?

Users who have a smartphone with an older operating system can update the operating system, or upgrade to a newer smartphone with model in order to ensure that they can continue using WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp messaging service can also now be accessed through the desktop by syncing with a user’s phone.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

WhatsApp is used by many businesses for general communication and chat, groups and sending pictures, and for those business users who still have an older smartphone operating system, this change may be another reminder that the perhaps overdue time to upgrade is at hand.  Some critics, however, have pointed to the fact that the move may have more of a negative effect on those WhatsApp users in growth markets e.g. Asia and Africa where many older devices and operating systems are still in use.

For WhatsApp, this move is a way to stay current and competitive in its core markets and to ensure that it can give itself the scope to offer new features that will keep users loyal and engaged with and committed to the app.

Business Leaders Lack Vital Digital Skills Says OU Survey

The Open University’s new ‘Leading in a Digital Age’ report highlights a link between improved business performance and leaders who are equipped, through technology training, to manage digital change.

Investing In Digital Skills Training

The latest version of the annual report, which bases its findings on a survey of 950 CTOs and senior leaders within UK organisations concludes that leaders who invested in digital skills training are experiencing improved productivity (56 per cent), greater employee engagement (55 per cent), enhanced agility, and vitally, increased profit.

The flipside, highlighted in the same survey, is that almost half (47 per cent) of those business leaders surveyed thought they lacked the tech skills to manage in the digital age, and more than three-quarters of them acknowledge that they could benefit from more digital training. 

Key Point

The key point revealed by the OU survey and report is that the development of digital skills in businesses are led from the top and that those businesses that invest in learning and development of digital skills are likely to be more able to take advantage of opportunities in what could now be described as a ‘digital age’.

Skills Shortages

The report acknowledges the digital skills shortages that UK businesses and organisations face (63 per cent of senior business leaders report a skills shortage for their organisation) and the report identifies a regional divide in those companies reporting skills shortages – more employers in the South and particularly the South West are finding that skills are in short supply and reporting that recruitment for digital roles takes longer.

One likely contributing factor to some geographical/regional divides in skills shortages and difficulty in recruiting for tech roles in those areas may be the spending, per area, on addressing those skills shortages.  For example, London is reported to have spent (in 2019) £1.4 billion (the equivalent of £30,470 per organisation), while the North East spent the least (£172.2 million), and South East spent only £10,260 per organisation.

Factors Affecting The Skills Shortage

The OU report identifies several key factors that appear to be affecting the skills shortage and the investment that may be needed to address those skills shortages. These include the uncertainty over Brexit, increased competition, an ageing population, the speed and scope of the current ‘digital revolution’, and a lack of diversity.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Bearing in mind that the OU, whose survey and report this was, is a supplier of skills training, the report, nonetheless, makes some relevant and important points.  For many businesses, for example, managers and owners are most likely to the be the ones with the most integrated picture of the business and its aims, and if they had better digital skills and awareness they may be more likely to identify opportunities, and more likely to promote and invest in digital skills training within their organisation that could be integral to their organisation being able to take advantage of those opportunities.

The tech skills shortage in the UK is, unfortunately, not new and is not down to just businesses alone to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech ecosystem finds effective ways to address the skills gap and keep the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive.  As highlighted in the OU report, apprenticeships may be one more integrated way to help bridge skills shortages.

Tech Tip – Using WhatsApp On Your PC

If you’re working at your PC and you need to access WhatsApp without having to keep looking at your phone, there’s an easy way to use WhatsApp on your PC – here’s how:

– Open web.whatsapp.com in a browser.

– Open WhatsApp on your phone.

– Open the Chats screen, select ‘Menu’, and select ‘WhatsApp Web’.

– Scan the QR code with your phone.

– You will now be able to see your WhatsApp chats on your PC every time you open web.whatsapp.com in a browser.