Featured Article – Medical Apps For Smart Devices

The global pandemic and news about tracking apps have put health and technology in the spotlight.  With this in mind, here are some examples of medical apps for smart devices and smart health products that involve a link between smart wearables, apps, and other smart products.

Just A Look, Not An Endorsement

Before we delve into the world of health-tech, we would like to stress that we have no connection to (and are not endorsing or selling) any of the brands or products mentioned in this article and that other brands and products to those mentioned are available.  The intention is simply to take a brief look at a range of product types that are currently available.

Samsung’s Smart Watch For Blood Pressure

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd (South Korea) has just announced the launch of its Samsung Health Monitor app to be used with Galaxy Watch Active2.

The smart app delivers a visual display of the wearer’s blood pressure to the watch and gives instructions if the readings present a potential danger.  Once the app is linked to the watch, and the app is calibrated every four weeks, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 wearer simply needs to tap their watch to measure their blood pressure.  The measurement results can be synced to the app on the user’s Galaxy phone and the results that have been tracked over days, weeks or months can also be shared with the user’s doctor as part of a medical review or consultation.

Heart Monitor

Samsung says that Electrocardiogram (ECG) tracking will also be supported on the Samsung Health Monitor app in South Korea within the third quarter of this year.

Other, EKG/ECG smart products and their associated apps are already available e.g. the mobile EKG monitor from AliveCor which links to a dedicated app to deliver and electrocardiogram (ECG) to a smartphone in around 30 seconds.

Fitness Watch

Many of us are already familiar with (or may have) a Fitbit or similar wearable health and fitness device.

The French ScanWatch, for example, is an advanced health/fitness watch that, for example, tracks heartbeat irregularities, and blood oxygen saturation during sleep, and connects to a smartphone (Android) app via Bluetooth.

Apple’s fitness tracking watch can also measure vital signs.

Sleep

Apple, for example, makes a number of other smart health tech gadgets that link to smartphone apps, such as the Beddit Sleep Monitor.  This system uses a slim, flat bracelet that feeds data about the wearer’s sleep to a smartphone app to help the user to improve the quality of their sleep.

Temperature Monitoring

With a high temperature (or limited high-temperature spikes) being a well-known symptom of COVID-19 for example, products such as the Withings Thermo thermometer, which gives the user an accurate temperature reading while automatically syncing with the app on the user’s iPhone or iPad, may be of particular interest to many people at this time. 

Blood Glucose Level Monitoring

For those who need to keep a close eye on their blood glucose levels, there are now some smart products on the market that can help achieve this.  One example is the iHealth Lab Inc Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System, which comes with a glucometer, lancets and a lancing device, and it connects to an App which displays and records the results and keeps a history of all blood glucose measurements.

Brain Activity Monitor To Help Reduce Stress

Smart brain activity monitoring systems are also now available.  These use a headband device that communicates (via Bluetooth) with an app on the user’s smartphone or tablet.  The purpose of these apps, such as ‘Muse’, is to be able to help users to lower their stress levels, increase their resilience and improve their engagement/attention.

Breathing

One of the few real benefits of the global pandemic has been an improvement in air quality, due to the dramatic reduction in vehicle and industrial pollution. There are, however, smart products linked to apps that can help give alerts about air quality to those suffering from asthma or allergies.  One example is Atmotube Pro which uses sensors and a free mobile app to keep the user informed about any air quality threats and the presence of harmful gases.  Other examples include the Index BreezoMeter pollen and weather app.

Fertility Tracking

For those hoping to start a family, fertility tracking wearable and app combinations can help. Examples include the Ovia Fertility Tracker and Ava’s fertility tracking system.  These device/app combinations use a wearable bracelet to take the measurements e.g. temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate, and sleeping patterns to produce results that are displayed in graphics on a smartphone app so that a woman is able to more accurately judge when she is likely to be most fertile.

Track and Trace Apps

Perhaps the most important health app at the current time for many would be a track and trace app.  Unfortunately, the much-anticipated app that was being trialled in the Isle of Wight has now been ditched.  The hope is, with human track and tracing operating in the meantime, that an app based on Apple and Google’s technology will be available in the UK in the near future.

Looking Forward – Opportunities

Wearables linked to phone apps are a growth area that is providing many opportunities for businesses with health and fitness products that can be given significant added value thanks to a smart element and a good app.  The scope for businesses focusing on the health and fitness sector is huge although big tech names which already have integration of products and strong, recognisable, and trusted brands e.g. Apple or Samsung are in a particularly strong position.

Even though manufacturers of smart wearable technology are offering something of real value to consumers who are now, perhaps, more conscious than ever about health matters, they should not forget that security and privacy of the data stored and transmitted about the user should always be a priority, and it is in the interest of the manufacturer and the customer that correct safeguards are taken.

Big Tech Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Big companies such as Google, Facebook and Netflix have committed to considerable financial support for black-owned businesses as Black Lives Matter gains momentum.

Google

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by U.S. police, followed by world-wide support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign, Google has announced a “set of concrete commitments” that are designed to build sustainable equity for Google’s Black+ community, and to make their products and programs more helpful to Black users.

Commitments

Within Google itself, and extending outwards to “Googlers” everywhere, Google says that it is committing to:

– Improving Black+ representation at senior levels and committing to a goal to improve leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 per cent by 2025.

– Doing more to address representation challenges in hiring, retention, and promotion at all levels.

– Working to create a stronger sense of inclusion and belonging for Googlers, particularly the Black+ community.

– Setting up globally-focused anti-racism educational programs that are scalable to all Googlers.

– Working with health providers and other groups to better support the mental and physical health and well-being of the Black+ community.

Economic Opportunity Package

Google says that it is also committing to a $175 million+ economic opportunity package to support Black business owners, start-up founders, job seekers and developers. This new money is in addition to YouTube’s $100 million fund to help Black creators and artists. 

The $175 million includes:

– $50 million in financing and grants for small businesses, in the Black community and in partnership with Opportunity Finance Network.

– $100 million in funding for Black-led capital firms, start-ups and organisations supporting Black entrepreneurs.

– $15 million in training to help Black job seekers to improve their skills.

– $10 million+ to help improve the Black community’s access to education, equipment, and economic opportunities as developers.

Facebook

Facebook has also announced that it will commit $200 million to Black-owned businesses and organisations and has said that it will commit to increasing the representation of people of colour in the company’s leadership positions by 30%.  Facebook says that this will include 30% more Black people.

The $200 million commitment will take the form of $25 million going to supporting Black content creators, $75 million as cash grants and ad credits for Black-owned businesses and non-profits serving the Black community, as well as $100 million being spent annually on Black-owned suppliers e.g. marketing agencies and construction companies.

Netflix

Netflix has announced that it is looking to create long-term opportunities for entertainment creators, youth, and businesses in the black community by donating $5 million to non-profits creating direct opportunities for Black creators, Black youth, and Black-owned businesses.  Netflix has also announced that it will be donating $1 million in grants to black youth organisations, matching 200 per cent of its employees’ donations to charitable causes and committing a further $2 million to as yet unnamed benefactors.

Amazon and Microsoft

Meanwhile, Amazon and Microsoft have both come under fire in the press over allegations about their response to recent events.  For example, Amazon has been criticised for allegedly standing by its commercial partnerships with US police forces and over past treatment of non-white employee organisers, and Microsoft has been criticised over an alleged leaked email from a mural artist who appears to have been asked by Microsoft and advertising firm McCann to make a BLM mural in New York “while the protests are still relevant.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The shocking murder of George Floyd, the BLM protests, and the toppling of prominent statues around the world appear to have created greater momentum for change.  These commitments from some of the big tech companies are a way to ensure that some concrete action happens and that there are some real opportunities, benefits, and changes, although there is still a lot further to go.  Now is a time for businesses to reflect on what they could be doing towards creating real equality in the workplace and in creating opportunities in the community for those who are not treated equally purely because of race or colour.  Ultimately, this is a much wider challenge for all of us in examining our own attitudes and looking at how we can create a society that you would expect in the 21st century.

Custom Backgrounds and Live Captions in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft’s latest move in the battle between video conferencing and collaborative working online platforms is to add custom background effects and enable live captions.

New Features

Following on from its original announcement in April about the introduction of pre-selected backgrounds or a blur effect (introduced last year)  in video calls on the platform, Microsoft Teams has now announced the roll-out of new custom background effects in Teams, along with new features in the free version of Teams. 

Backgrounds

The new background feature enables users to customise their background by uploading their own images or choosing one of the collections of backgrounds available online. The stated idea behind the change is that it offers an easy and fast way for users to get creative and to express themselves in meetings.  Commercially, it looks likely to be another way to help Teams to compete against the likes of Zoom, which has grown its user base exponentially during the lockdown.

Collection

The types of backgrounds that Microsoft says its Teams users now have access to include The Simpsons living room, a mountain of LEGO building blocks, a collection from Fox (the Masked Singer, Family Guy, Duncansville and more), an Xbox theme, a blue or green Microsoft Solitaire background and event-specific collections such as 20 virtual backgrounds for users to show their support for the LGBTQI+ community.

New Features For The Free Version of Teams

With Zoom announcing end-to-end-encryption for its free version, Microsoft now has its own new, competitive features for the free version of Teams. These include being able to schedule meetings and send out invitations in advance, and to turn on live captions during calls and meetings to make them more inclusive.

Other features that users of the free version of Teams (up to 500,000 users) get include unlimited chat and search, audio and video calling, 10 GB of team file storage and 2 GB of personal file storage per person, the ability to use the Office web apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) and unlimited app integration.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another move by Microsoft in the battle to gain and retain users of its collaborative working platform and to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ in terms of maximising the surge in demand created by the pandemic and directed by Microsoft’s advertising campaigns.  Announcing the roll-out of these new features and the enhancements to the free version of Teams will help Microsoft to compete against challengers Zoom and Slack, and will add value for users and give them more reasons to stay loyal to Teams.

After Pressure, Zoom Offers End-To-End Encryption for Everyone

Pressure from privacy group The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Mozilla has led to Zoom offering end-to-end encryption to all its users, not just paying customers.

A U-Turn

The decision to offer end-to-end encryption to all customers is a U-turn for Zoom. Previously, and after capitalising on the huge surge in numbers of new Zoom customers due to the pandemic, it was reported that Zoom had not wanted to offer end-to-end encryption to free users because it wanted to co-operate with U.S. law enforcement agencies e.g. the FBI and local law enforcement. Zoom’s position appears to have been based on an assumption that free-end-to-end encryption could lead to Zoom being used for illicit purposes by some users.  This is reminiscent of reports that WhatsApp was used in the UK by those responsible for the London Bridge terror attack, perhaps because the end-to-end encryption would hide their communications from the authorities.

The EFF and Mozilla

The U-turn by Zoom, in this case, appears to have been influenced by pressure from the EFF and Mozilla.

The EFF, for example, is claiming a victory after 20,000 people signed on the EFF and Mozilla’s open letter to Zoom.  The EFF argues that “best-practice privacy and security features should not be restricted to users who can afford to pay a premium.”

The EFF also makes the point that with the pandemic forcing many more organisations onto Zoom than perhaps the platform was designed for, those who cannot afford enterprise subscriptions are often the ones who need strong security and privacy protections the most.

The EFF also points out that end-to-end-encryption on the platform could help those working towards social justice, for example, those organising in “the Black-led movement against police violence”.

Must Part With Some Personal Details

Users cannot, however, expect to sign-up to a free end-to-end-encrypted Zoom without parting with some personal details. It appears that in order for Zoom to feel comfortable with what it sees as its balancing act of offering the services that people want with fighting abuse and its duty to co-operate with law enforcement agencies, Free/Basic users seeking access to Zoom’s E2EE must go through a “one-time process” of parting with additional pieces of information, such as verifying a phone number via a text message. Zoom also points out that it has a “Report a User function”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For those smaller businesses and organisations using Zoom, perhaps since the beginning of the pandemic, it is good news that they now have access to strong security and privacy protection for free.

For other competing platforms, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, the pressure is now on to follow suit in order to compete.

There is, however, a hope that the phone numbers given to Zoom for authentication in order to sign-up to the end-to-end encryption will not be disclosed to other parties and that they are used purely for authentication.

Tech Tip – Start Menu Folders

Windows 10 users can help users to get organised with their current work by creating named Start menu folders that have a group of relevant live app Tiles in them.  Here’s how to create your Start menu folders:

– Click on the Start menu (bottom left).

– Click and drag the app tiles that you need for your work on top of each other.

– This will create a folder of apps that will expand when you click on it.

– Give the app folder a name so that you can easily recognise it.

Featured Article – Facial Recognition Backlash

The recent killing of George Floyd by U.S. police appears to have been the catalyst for a backlash by tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft who are banning the police from using facial recognition software until more regulations are in place.

Problems

Whilst facial recognition technology has benefits in terms of its possible impact in quickly identifying the perpetrators of crimes and as a source of evidence, privacy organisations argue that facial recognition technology (FRT) systems infringe privacy rights.  Also, the deployment of the technology is thought by many to be too far ahead of the introduction of regulations to control its use, and there is evidence that systems still contain flaws and bias that could lead to wrongful arrest. 

For example, in the UK:

– In December 2018, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner launched a formal investigation into how police forces used FRT after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy. This stemmed from the trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day June 2017 in Cardiff, by South Wales and Gwent Police forces, which was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulting in one arrest of a local man whose arrest was unconnected.

– Trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals led to the Police facing criticism that FRT was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

– In September 2018 a letter, written by Big Brother Watch (a privacy campaign group) and signed by more than 18 politicians, 25 campaign groups, and numerous academics and barristers, highlighted concerns that facial recognition is being adopted in the UK before it has been properly scrutinised.

– In September 2019 it was revealed that the owners of King’s Cross Estate had been using FRT without telling the public, and with London’s Metropolitan Police Service supplying the images for a database.

– A recently published letter by London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM and Sian Berry AM to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick asked whether the FRT technology could be withdrawn during the COVID-19 pandemic on the grounds that it has been shown to be generally inaccurate, and it still raises questions about civil liberties. The letter also highlighted concerns about the general inaccuracy of FRT and the example of first two deployments of LFR this year, where more than 13,000 faces were scanned,  only six individuals were stopped, and five of those six were misidentified and incorrectly stopped by the police. Also, of the eight people who created a ‘system alert’, seven were incorrectly identified. Concerns have also been raised about how the already questionable accuracy of FRT could be challenged further by people wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In the EU:

Back in January, the European Commission considered a ban on the use of facial recognition in public spaces for up to five years while new regulations for its use are put in place.

In the U.S.

In 2018, a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that Amazon’s Rekognition software was racially biased after a trial in which it misidentified 28 black members of Congress.

In December 2019, a US report showed that, after tests by The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of 189 algorithms from 99 developers, their facial recognition technology was found to be less accurate at identifying African-American and Asian faces, and was particularly prone to misidentifying African-American females.

Historic Worries by Tech Companies

Even though big tech companies supply facial recognition software such as Amazon (Rekognition), Microsoft and IBM, some have not sold it to police departments pending regulation, but most have also had their own concerns for some years.  For example, back in 2018, Microsoft said on its blog that “Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression. These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products. In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses”.

Temporary Bans and Distancing

The concerns about issues such as racial bias, mistaken identification, and how police may use FRT in an environment that may not be sufficiently regulated have been brought to a head with the killing of George Floyd and the protests and media coverage that followed.

With big tech companies keen to maintain an ethical and socially responsible public profile, follow-up on their previous concerns about problems with FRT systems and a lack of regulation,  and to distance themselves from the behaviour of police as regards racism/racial profiling or any connection to it e.g. by supplying FRT software, four big tech companies have announced the following:

– Amazon has announced that it is implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of its FRT in order to give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules.  The company stressed that it had advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition and that it even though it is banning police use of its FRT, it is still happy for organisations such as Thorn, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use the ‘Rekognition’ FRT to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.

– After praising progress being made in the recent passing of “landmark facial recognition legislation” by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Microsoft has now announced that it will not sell its FRT to police departments until there is a federal law (grounded in human rights) to regulate its use. Microsoft has also publicly given its backing to legislation in California stopping police body cameras from incorporating FRT.

– IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, has sent a letter to the U.S. Congress with policy proposals to advance racial equality, and stating that IBM will no longer offer its general-purpose facial recognition or analysis software. The letter stated that IBM opposes and will not condone uses of facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with its “values and Principles of Trust and Transparency”. The company says that it is now a “time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”

– Google has also distanced itself from FRT with Timnit Gebru, leader of Google’s ethical artificial intelligence team, commenting in the media about why she thinks that facial recognition is too dangerous to be used for law enforcement purposes at the current time.

Looking Forward

Clearly, big tech companies that have been at the forefront of new technologies that are still in their early stages of trials and deployment face a difficult public balancing act when the benefits of those technologies are overshadowed by the flaws or by how agencies who purchase it behave and use it.  Tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and others must protect their brands, their public values and need to reflect the views, right-thinking people. The moves by these companies may push forward the introduction of regulations, which is likely to beneficial, and the hope among users of the services of these tech companies, as we are assured by the tech companies is the case, is that it is real ethical and social justice beliefs that are the key drivers in these announcements.

COVID-19 Advances Move To Cashless Society

A survey has shown how the need for most people to pay using a contactless card in shops, digital/ mobile and online means for purchases during lockdown may have sped up the move towards a cashless future.

Survey

The survey of 2,000 people, by Nationwide Building Society, showed that the average respondent had gone over six weeks without using cash and that the lockdown led to 27% of respondents to use mobile payments and 25% to use online or mobile banking for the first time.

Big Spike In Contactless

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that in the first week of lockdown, 23 March, 7.15 million contactless payments worth £77.27m were made by Nationwide customers.  As the lockdown progressed, there was a substantial increase in contactless payments to 10.31 million contactless payments worth £128m in the week beginning 25 May.

Older People Too

The survey also revealed that 75% of older Nationwide customers (over 55) reduced their cash usage during the lockdown. This appears likely to be due to hardly any physical shops being open anyway, limited or no public transport in many places and online shopping becoming more important for safety and convenience reasons, particularly with many older and more vulnerable people sheltering. 

The lockdown appears to have forced older customers to try new payment and shopping routes e.g. Amazon and PayPal and perhaps to discover how easy and secure digital shopping can be.

Use of Cash in Decline Anyway

Before the pandemic, the use of cash had been declining anyway in developed countries in favour of payment-means like contactless, mobile payments and online shopping. For example, for the first time, debit card use, driven by contactless payments, overtook the number of payment transactions made in cash in the UK back in 2017.

Also, Access To Cash research from 2019 showed that cash use appeared likely to end by as soon as 2026, although notes and coins may still be used in 15 years’ time, but only for an estimated 10% and 15% of transactions.

The declining use of cash has also forced the removal of many ATMs, and a move to online and mobile banking has contributed to the closure of many bank branches.

All these factors have put pressure on the whole cash system and have threatened to drive cash out of popular use within 10 years.

Businesses

The pandemic created a reluctance for many essential stores that were open to accept cash due to possible health risks from its physical exchange, plus the limitations in bank services.  Prior to the pandemic, however, many businesses had already developed a preference for cashless operating because of its ease, convenience, speed of transactions, reduced theft risk and the resulting lower insurance premiums.

Many supermarkets had also been ramping up their competition for online grocery shopping.

Drawbacks

The pandemic has also helped to expose how many people in society are old, vulnerable, in poor health, and who need to use cash. For example, many poorer and older members of society, and those with mental health challenges rely on cash and may not have a bank account.

Also, businesses in rural areas have always found it more difficult to go cashless in preference of digital payment due to those areas being less well served by broadband and mobile connections.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Those businesses that have traditionally dealt in cash and digital/online for payment have undoubtedly seen a massive decrease in cash use, but one thing that the survey results may not show, but the assumption could be made from the results, is that the pandemic may have demonstrated to people that they can carry on without needing to use cash for many products and services.  This period of relying on contactless, digital and online payments may turn out to have accelerated the move towards a cashless society as consumers have been forced to try new methods and may have been won-over, and may prefer to carry on this way as much as possible.

Interestingly, Facebook’s WhatsApp has just announced that its users in Brazil can now send and receive money through its messaging app, using a PIN and fingerprint for authentication.  This will, no doubt, be rolled out to other countries soon and will facilitate a greater move away from cash towards digital payment methods.

Once businesses start moving forwards again, they should expect a growing preference by customers to use contactless, digital, and online payments.

Voice and Contactless Technologies For a Safer Workplace

With businesses looking to ensure COVID-safe working conditions, the use of voice and contactless interfaces could help provide safer ways of carrying out daily work tasks.

Report

A recent report by 451 Research states that technology generally will play a crucial role for businesses continuity post-lockdown and that in the past 2 years (in the U.S.) there has been increased interest in the use of voice interfaces in the workplace, with voice-activated interfaces and digital assistants being among the top disruptive technologies that organisations were looking to adopt.  The report also highlights how, in the past year there has been a growing number of speech-enabled devices designed specifically for the workplace, such as desk phones, meeting room equipment and hearable devices.  Also, voice-enabled intelligent assistants have been integrated with meeting room equipment and team collaboration workflows.

Conclusions

Now, in the post-COVID-19 business environment, the report concludes that:

– These technologies and integrations could become particularly valuable in making the workplace safer and more contactless and help to retain the necessary physical distancing for those who are required to return.

– The need to provide a safe workplace will see organisations accelerating digital transformation initiatives, driving adoption of voice interfaces, biometrics, and real-time communications.

– Voice user interfaces, real-time communications and location management services will be used to help support frontline workers as well as helping organisations to further automate their operations.

Examples

Some of the examples cited in the report of those who currently use voice technology and who could benefit from using more of it include frontline workers such as nurses and doctors, first responders, factory workers, grocery store employees, drivers, and food and grocery and delivery gig workers.

It should be remembered that the report is U.S. based, where integrations of voice-enabled intelligent assistants with meeting room equipment and team collaboration workflows deployed in the workplace began around three years ago, and where intelligent assistants e.g. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri are ubiquitous for the average consumer. Also, in the U.S, Amazon has been active in expanding its Alexa for Business that uses voice commands for e.g. managing meetings and controlling conference room devices.

Challenges

Some of the challenges that businesses in the UK face in addition to the market conditions and making the office/workplace physically safe on a daily basis are how they offer good service levels with many staff still not back at the office and how they can quickly and affordably take advantage of the benefits of technology to make things work and remain competitive.

Change

With social distancing looking as though it will need to be in place for many months to come, yet with many returning to workplaces in the UK after becoming used to working remotely (facilitated by technology), there is now an expectation that (and a necessity for) workplaces to change in order to maximise safety for the users of all work buildings.

Ways that businesses in the UK could operate safely, embrace technology, and move forward could include:

– Making more use of Alexa for Business, Microsoft’s Cortana, biometrics, and chatbots with AI for speech recognition.

– Workers continuing to make use of as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Zoom, and using simple chatbots and other speech-based technologies e.g. voice-to-text transcription.

– Making even greater use of the Cloud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Just as governments have to balance public health with the economy, most businesses will need key people to return to their premises and will already be at least in the process of physically creating an environment, working routines and policies that ensure maximum safety within available guidelines.

The realisation by many managers and their employees that technology can successfully be quickly mastered and used to keep critical parts of the business going during lockdown looks likely to contribute to serious consideration being given to the use of more technologies such as voice and contactless technologies going forward.

NatWest’s Extra Layer of Behavioural Biometrics Security

In partnership with Visa, NatWest has added an invisible layer of behavioural biometrics as part of an authentication process that will enable compliance with a new EU regulation.

Which Regulation?

The Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) regulation, which is part of the EU’s Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) comes into force in 2021. The SCA regulation is intended to the improve security of payments and limit fraud by making sure that whoever requests access to a person’s account or tries to make a payment, is the account holder or someone to whom the account holder has given consent.

The new rules from the EU Payments Services Directive (PSD2) mean that online payments of more than €50 will need two methods of authentication from the person making the payment e.g. password, fingerprint (biometric) or a phone number. This also means that online customers will not be able to check out using just a credit or debit card but will also need an additional form of identification.

For normal ‘card present’ situations (not online) contactless will still be OK for ‘low value’ transactions of less than €50 at point-of-sale and Chip and PIN will still be suitable for values above €50.

Behavioural Biometrics

Since biometrics can be accepted as one of the methods of authentication to comply with the new rules, NatWest has been working with Visa on behavioural biometrics technology.  This technology uses uniquely identifying and measurable patterns in human activities as a means of authentication and in this case, it will involve monitoring how an individual interacts with a computing device when buying online.

The kinds of patterns that the technology can monitor and measure as a means of verification include keystroke dynamics, voice ID, mouse use characteristics, signature analysis and more.  For example, behavioural biometric technology could be used to recognise the way a person types e.g. the weight or length of key presses.

NatWest and Visa

NatWest is already reported to have completed a successful trial of behavioural biometrics. Visa is reported to have already been using behavioural biometrics for fraud prevention. The work between both organisations will see the technology being used as a second layer of security that is compliant with PSD2 and SCA.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses and banks would both like to find a way for customers to pay that is as frictionless as possible, and yet highly secure.  Behavioural biometrics can achieve this because it works in the background and does not ask a user to do anything, thereby reducing end-user friction and making it easier and faster for businesses at the checkout point.

Due to COVID-19, however, in the UK, the FCA has announced that to help merchants who have been severely affected by the crisis, the enforcement of SCA has been delayed until 14th September 2021. Many businesses are currently struggling to make sure they survive, and although it’s good news that an extra form of compliant, frictionless authentication looks likely to be available in time via NatWest (maybe others to follow), the focus, for the time being, is likely to be keeping the lights on.

Tech Tip – Save Time With Aero Shake

If you’ve got a screen full of windows open on Windows 10 and you need to unclutter your screen so you can concentrate on just the one you’re working on, the old ‘Aero Shake’ trick still works and can save time. Here is how to use it:

– Left-click on the title bar of the Window that you are working on.

– Hold down the left mouse button and shale the window from left to right.  This will minimise all the other windows.

– To restore the other windows, click and hold and shake the mouse from left to right again.