Tech News : TikTok More Popular Than Google

Cloudflare’s Radar, which monitors Web traffic, has revealed that TikTok has now overtaken Google to become the world’s most popular online destination.

TikTok

Cloudflare has reported that back in 2020, the google.com domain was the undefeated leader in its ranking and was top from September to December, whereas TikTok.com was only ranked #7 or #8. TikTok first grabbed the top spot as the no.1 global destination in February 2021 (for a day), by August was leading the rankings on most days, and then from October onwards. TikTok now has more than one billion active users.

Why?

Some tech commentators have noted that the most likely reason for social video platform TikTok’s huge surge in popularity, which saw it become the first non-Facebook mobile app to Reach 3 billion downloads globally by July, was the search for entertainment during the pandemic lockdowns (Sensor Tower figures).

TikTok hosts a variety of short videos, covering different genres (e.g. comedy, dance, politics, and food) and some of the attributes and factors that have helped it to become so popular include:

– It is convenient and many people say it’s easier to edit and upload content in TikTok than in other competitor apps/platforms e.g., Instagram or Snapchat.

– It’s a visible space with a familiar format of funny, positive video clips for Gen Z, who spend a lot of time on their phones. TikTok’s short clips appeal to the younger generation’s shorter attention spans.

– It gives ‘ordinary’ people the tools to creatively express themselves and take part in current discourse.

– It provides a place for brands to experiment with their messages in entertaining ways, and a way for TikTok itself to discover popular new ways to expand its brand even more (e.g. the popularity of food and recipe video clips), leading to the proposed launch of ‘TikTok Kitchen’ in March next year.

– It has a content-rewarding algorithm that’s helped to drive meme culture, and TikTok’s algorithms can learn user preferences and customise the video feeds to their users, thereby helping it to keep users interested and engaged.

– It makes good use of music, which is particularly appealing to young age groups, and enables TikTok videos to be shared on Instagram, thereby boosting usage/download rates.

Troubles

Although TikTok is riding high in the popularity ratings it has suffered setbacks and criticism along the way, including:

– A temporary ban in India.

– Worries about links to the Chinese state and allegations that it may have discriminatory content censorship standards that are decided by the Chinese government.

– A US counter-intelligence investigation and an investigation by (Israeli) Check Point over possible backdoors and security vulnerabilities that the platform may have.

– Worries from child advocacy groups that the app may pose a risk to children.

– Criticism from Reddit CEO/co-founder Steve Huffman that TikTok, once installed, is like a kind of ‘spyware’ that’s always listening.

– A £4.3m fine after Musical.ly was found to have knowingly hosted content published by under-age users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

TikTok, the most popular app in the world, has clearly been boosted by the search for entertainment, comfort, and connection by a generation separated by the restrictions of the pandemic. It also, however, taps into (and appeals to) GenZ’s needs and gives them something that they value in terms of the ability to express themselves and have fun in a convenient way. For brands, it has provided insights, a testing ground, and a way to reach young audiences with news and creative message styles and for TikTok itself, while providing a great way to continuously learn about its audience to enable it to grow and stay appealing, as well as finding its own new opportunities. For TikTok’s competitors e.g., Snapchat, TikTok’s huge growth surge is proving to be a major threat.

Tech News : Control Incoming Calls With Google Voice

Google has announced that users of its Google Voice service can now set custom rules for how incoming calls are handled.

What Is Google Voice?

The ‘Google Voice’ service allocates users a phone number for calls, texts, and voicemails. This number can be used for domestic and international calls from a web browser, or mobile device. Users in the US can choose their own number.

Advantages

Some of the main advantages of the service are that users aren’t tied to a physical device to make and receive phone calls, text messages (U.S. only), or access voicemail, so can place and receive calls from anywhere. Also, setting up and managing the service is relatively easy and users can, for example, forward calls to any device and have spam calls silently blocked.

Custom Rules

Google has announced that Google Voice users can now easily create rules for how their incoming calls through the service should be handled. The new options allow users to route incoming calls in ways that Google says would be most efficient to their business workflows and productivity, including granular settings for specific contacts. 

The new custom rules mean that users can now:

– Forward calls from specific contacts to their linked phone numbers or directly to voicemail.

– Opt to screen calls from specific contacts.

– Set custom voicemail greetings for specific contacts.

– Apply rules for all a user’s contacts or specific groups within contacts.

How?

To create the custom rules, users can visit voice.google.com (browser-based site, not mobile app), click on “Settings” (the cog symbol, top-right), click on “Calls” and choose “Create a rule.” Here users can enter or search for the contact(s) they want to create a custom rule for.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Handling phone calls in the right way is vital to businesses in terms of saving time, improving efficiency, taking advantage of opportunities, and presenting the right image to customers. The ability to set custom rules for exactly how calls are handled (even down to specific contacts or groups of contacts) can really give businesses much more control, convenience, and can save time and hassle. The fact that rules can be added/changed quickly and easily via a browser offers businesses an easy way to be flexible and to respond quickly to changing situations regarding certain contacts, new marketing campaigns and more. The ability to set these new custom rules could be a real value-adding addition to the Google Voice service.

Featured Article : A 21 Shortcut-Key Salute

A knowledge of keyboard shortcuts in Windows can save time and help users to make the most of the many helpful features of their operating system. With this in mind, and with 2021 coming to a close, here are 21 helpful keyboard shortcuts to take into the coming year.

1. Use Win + V to copy multiple snippets to the clipboard and paste them as necessary. Firstly, set up clipboard history by hitting Win+ V and clicking ‘turn on,’ or go click the Start button, type ‘Clipboard,’ and click Clipboard settings. Once this is set up, when you need to copy some text, it will be saved in the clipboard so it’s just a case of hitting Win + V to bring up the list and then paste where needed.

2. Use Win + Ctrl + D to set up a virtual desktop. This creates a completely fresh desktop space for when you want to close down all those windows and switch to leisure mode. You can switch between the different virtual desktops using Win + Ctrl + Left/ Win + Ctrl + Right, and see thumbnails of each virtual desktop by using Win + Tab.

3. Hit Alt + Space to launch a shortcut menu for an active window from which you can re-open closed tabs, add open pages to favourites, and more.

4. Easily find your mouse cursor on the screen in Microsoft’s PowerToys for Windows by double-pressing Ctrl. This triggers the ‘Find My Mouse’ feature which dims the screen light to spotlight the cursor. PowerToys features are available in the 0.49 update from Microsoft’s PowerToys GitHub.

5. Use the Windows key + Period/(Full-Stop ‘.’) or semicolon (;) to open the emoji panel 😊

6. Use Windows key + PrtScn to take a full screenshot, or the Windows key + Shift + S to choose to select a section of the screen. This can be annotated and shared (see our tech tip) using ‘Snip & Sketch’.

7. Hit the Windows key + I key to save time in opening the Settings panel.

8. Using Alt + Tab and the tab or right, left, up and down arrows to provide a fast and easy way to see and switch between your open apps. Ctrl + Alt + Tab allows you to see all open apps.

9. Use the Windows key + Alt + R to manually start and stop recording your screen activity. You can also switch on the microphone to record comments.

10. Clicking on Windows key + T takes the focus to the foot of your screen and allows you to cycle through the apps displayed in the taskbar. Using the Windows key + (number) will open the apps in corresponding position in taskbar e.g., adding 1 will open app closest to left in taskbar.

11. Use the Windows key + S to access a selection of your recent main apps and recent documents.

12. Use Windows key + X to open a quick link menu that gives fast access to a list of common functions.

13. Use Windows key + Tab to get a full task view of your current windows plus a whole scrollable timeline of things you’ve been working on recently. This can be a very helpful feature for finding recent work documents.

14. To quickly clear and restore your screen, use Win + M to minimise all windows and Win + Shift + M to restore all minimised windows.

15. To take a closer look at something on your screen, use Win + Plus (“+”) to zoom in using Magnifier, and Win + Minus (“- “) to zoom back put again.

16. To check on processes and performance issues, open the Task Manager by using Ctrl + Shift + Esc.

17. Get a fast view of your latest emails, alerts, and notifications by using Windows + A to open the Action Centre.

18. Skip to the beginning of each paragraph e.g., in a Word document by using Ctrl + the down arrow key.

19. To quickly snap an app e.g., your browser over to the left or right-hand side of the screen use the Windows key + Left arrow key and the Windows key + Right arrow key.

20. To open File Explorer use Windows key + E.

21. You may know that Ctrl + Z can undo an action such as deleting a file, but you can also use Ctrl + Y to redo the action.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Anything that saves time and makes work easier on your PC/device can save money and improve efficiency for businesses. Remembering just a few of the many shortcuts built-in to Windows can make a big difference over time and businesses may want to find fun ways to share tips about shortcuts and/or include them in company training and resource files to get some benefits from employees using them as they discover how certain shortcuts can be applied to make their daily tasks easier.

Tech Insight : What Are Quantum Computers?

In this tech-insight, we take a look at what quantum computers are and what they’re used for.

What Are They?

Quantum computers can carry out complex calculations at high speed. Whereas traditional computers store data in binary ‘bits’ (ones and zeros) and work by creating and storing long strings of these ‘bits,’ quantum computing’s ‘qubits’ (quantum bits) can do both at once. This is because a qubit can hold a zero, a one, or any proportion of both zero and one at the same time, and an array of qubits can use something called ‘superposition’ to represent all 2^64 possible values at the same time. This means that quantum computers can store more data in fewer bits (i.e. much more information can be stored in fewer qubits) and information can be processed much more quickly than with a traditional computer. The power of a quantum computer is stated in its quantum volume number/how many qubits, for example, a 14-qubit system.

Speed Up Complex Tasks

Quantum computers can, therefore, be used to dramatically speed up tasks that have traditionally taken a long time, such as finding new drug molecules for example.

The results can be astounding, where crunching numbers that would take a classical computer a week, could take a quantum computer less than a second. For more information (and examples like this), there are some interesting take-aways from IBM at : https://www.ibm.com/quantum-computing/what-is-quantum-computing/

Who Uses Quantum Computers?

Examples of who uses quantum computers and why include:

– Car manufacturers e.g. Daimler AG to simulate new materials for batteries.

– Big financial companies such as JPMorgan Chase, to model portfolios and financial risk.

– International oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil to simulate chemistry for new energy technologies.

– Research laboratories for helping to speed up the development of effective medical drugs and vaccines.

– Educational institutions are using quantum computers for research.

Who Makes Quantum Computers?

Some examples of quantum computer companies include:

– Atom Computing, a quantum computing hardware company making neutral atom quantum computers and hardware control systems for use in the academic community.

– Xanadu, a Canadian quantum technology company that also gives users access to its near-term quantum devices via its Xanadu Quantum Cloud (XQC) service.

– IBM, which was the first company to put a quantum computer on the cloud. 

– ColdQuanta, which makes components, instruments, and systems for a spectrum of applications including quantum computing.

– Zapata Computing with its Orquestra workflow platform for quantum computing.

– Azure Quantum.

– D-Wave, which claims to be the first company to sell a commercial quantum computer.

– Cray Inc., a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard Enterprises and a supercomputer manufacturer based in Seattle. Some Cray systems are listed in the TOP500, which ranks the most powerful supercomputers in the world.

– Strangeworks, a Texas-based start-up.

Rate of Improvement Slowing

The unpredictable and sensitive nature of qubits means that progress (and the rate of improvement) in quantum computing has been slowing in recent years which may have had a negative impact on the research programs that use them. If improvement remains at such a slow rate, it looks as though it will be a long time before quantum computers are commonplace or available to use for everyday tasks.

The Cloud and IBM’s

The Cloud means that IBM, for example, now offers cloud-based quantum computing to tens of thousands of users, thereby empowering what it calls “an emerging quantum community of educators, researchers, and software developers that share a passion for revolutionising computing.”  It has done this by opening a Quantum Computation Centre in New York bringing online (and making accessible via the cloud) the world’s largest fleet of quantum computing systems for commercial and research activity that exist outside of experimental lab environments. This includes the new 53-Qubit Quantum System for broad use in the cloud. IBM has stated that its goal is to “double Quantum Volume every year, and to ultimately demonstrate quantum advantage within the next decade.”

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Quantum computers offer the chance to solve complex problems and save huge amounts of time in doing so. The value of this has been illustrated recently by the need to develop Covid vaccines from scratch against the clock. Not only could quantum computers help with challenges such as developing new medicines and materials and making dramatic scientific discoveries, but they could also help solve problems in a variety of industries. For example, quantum computers can be used to optimise supply chains or model financial data in new ways. Some of the challenges to overcome, however, include cost, whether businesses can get access to these computers, a slow-down in the development of quantum computing in recent years, and the fact that using quantum computers is still some years away from being mainstream. Giving cloud access to quantum computers (e.g. by IBM) could be an important step for businesses and organisations that could use them to solve problems, innovate, and generate value. The number of companies now making quantum computers is also promising. With big environmental, energy, and health problems to solve, quantum computers could prove to be extremely valuable to governments around the world in years to come.

Tech Tip – Mark Up And Annotate Any Portion Of Your Screen With This Keyboard Shortcut

If you’d like to be able to mark up, annotate and share screenshots, here’s a fast and easy keyboard shortcut that lets you do just that.

– Hold down Win + Shift + S and select (click and drag the square) to select a screenshot of the area to annotate.

– Click on “Select here to markup and share the image”.

– With the image now open in the ‘Snip & Sketch’ app, use the pen tools to annotate the image.

– Once your image is annotated, click on ‘save’ or ‘share’ (top right), or on the three dots for the ‘print’ option.

Featured Article : Christmas Cons

In this article, we take a look at some of the latest known online scams so that you can avoid falling foul of cybercriminals this Christmas.

Christmas – A Great Opportunity For Scammers

The extra spending at many different online shops, often for large amounts, and the requirement for delivery before the big day makes Christmas the ideal time for scammers to play with and exploit the fears of shoppers. For example, Action Fraud figures show that 28,049 shoppers were conned out of their money when shopping online over the Christmas period last year.

A Different Approach

Today’s attackers would much rather log in than hack in and are, therefore, favouring the types of scams that fool their victims into giving-up their information, rather than going through the complicated and time-consuming process of hacking in the ‘hard way’. Also, whereas in previous years criminals have used stolen card details to make payments, now they are trying to trick customers into authorising a payment to an account which they control.

Here are some examples of the most popular Christmas cons this year.

Parcel Delivery Scams

This type of scam became super-popular during the pandemic lockdowns when more people started to order more of their goods online and is designed to extract/steal personal details. Christmas is THE time of year for parcels thereby making it the ideal time of year to operate this most popular of ‘smishing’ scams.

This particular type of smishing scam works in the following ways:

– The attacker sends a text/SMS message purporting to be from a reputable company, in this case, the Royal Mail or a parcel delivery company/courier service e.g., DPD, FedEx, or Hermes. The message states that (for example) either a parcel delivery has been missed and delivery needs to be re-scheduled, or there is an ‘outstanding shipping fee’ that needs to be covered before the parcel can be delivered.

– The recipient, who may be expecting a parcel delivery or several (and doesn’t know when) is fooled into clicking on the link in the text message. This either sends the attacker personal information (credit card number or password) or downloads a malicious program/malware to the victim’s phone or other device. The malware can be used for snooping on the user’s personal data or sending sensitive data silently to an attacker-controlled server.

Fake Charity Appeals

These scams take advantage of strong emotional responses and the desire to help those less fortunate or in need at Christmas. Action Fraud data shows that £1.6m of the public’s money was lost to online charity fraud over the past year. These scams work in the following way:

– Victims are contacted by email by scammers using a legitimate charity’s name and appealing for a donation.

– Clicking on a link to donate can direct victims to a bogus/phishing page to extract their money and/or can download malware.

Gift Card and E-Card Scams

Gift card scams involve the scammer sending the victim an email, pretending to be from a friend asking to buy gift cards for them.  The idea of the scam is to obtain the code on the card to spend the money.

Also, scammers send e-cards that are infected with viruses/malware e.g., ransomware. A healthy dose of suspicion coupled with good, up-to-date anti-virus protection can help reduce the risk posed by these types of scams.

Fake Websites

With so many people shopping for presents online, often at shops that are unfamiliar to them, these scams can be convincing and can catch consumers out. Scammers set up fake websites offering gifts and services that don’t exist. They are designed to steal personal details and money. It is worth noting that secure website addresses start with ‘https’ and display a locked padlock (although some cybercriminals are now able to add secure certificates to their websites). Sticking to known websites and a good degree of caution and scrutiny are, therefore, advisable to be extra-safe.

Shopping Scams

Most shoppers have an idea of how much their favourite brands and sought-after presents are likely to cost. If products advertised online (shops, platforms, or in emails) appear very cheap, it could be that they are counterfeit goods being sold in shopping scams. Counterfeit goods are likely to be sub-standard and potentially dangerous. It is likely to be a case of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

The Bank Scam

This common money scam is operated throughout the year but is likely to be particularly effective at Christmas when people purchase more items from a wider range of sellers. This scam, which is designed to steal all the victim’s savings from a bank account, works in the following way:

– A fraudster may call, send a text, or email, claiming to be from the victim’s bank reporting suspicious activity on their account e.g., a fraudulent or unrecognised transaction. The tone is urgent and serious, designed to cause fear, thereby prompting an emotional reaction before any critical thought can take place.

– The victim is urged to click on a link in an email to a report. This is used to extract personal details. The victim is urged to move their money quickly to a bogus ‘safe account’, supposedly set-up by the bank. In fact, it is an account set-up/used by the fraudster. Once transferred, the victim’s money is moved immediately.

Refund Scams

Refund scams/windfall scams are designed to use a strong emotional response and the lure of fast, easy money to trick victims into parting with their personal details and leaving themselves open to more attacks. Refund scams work in the following way:

– The victim is contacted (e.g. by recorded phone message, SMS, or email) by scammers pretending to be from legitimate companies or agencies (e.g. the victim’s broadband provider, bank, or HMRC).

– The victim is informed that a refund is waiting for them, and they are instructed to click on a link to claim it (or call a number, which is a phone operated by scammers).

– Clicking on the link downloads malware onto the victim’s phone or computer, which can be used to steal personal information, act as a gateway for further attacks, and/or slow down the device.

The Free Christmas Hamper Scam

As recently reported in the Birmingham Mail (from a warning by budgeting website Family Money) the Christmas hamper scam is designed to obtain a victim’s personal details i.e., full name and home addresses. These details can then be used to appear more legitimate in a follow-up attack at a later date which focuses on extracting financial information which could enable the scammers to empty a victim’s bank account.  The scam works in the following way.

– Scammers call or email the victim claiming to be from a legitimate, reputable company using personal information to make it seem genuine.

– The victim is informed that they have won a Christmas hamper and their full name, address, and phone number (if emailed) are required for delivery.

– Once details are submitted, no hamper is delivered but the personal details are kept/sold-on and used for future scams.

The WhatsApp “Hello Mum and Dad” Scam

Action Fraud has reported that this scam has led to victims losing £48,356 from this scam on 25 different occasions between August and October, and Santander has reported a 532 per cent increase in this scam between August and November 2021. The scam works in the following way:

– Scammers posing as the victim’s children text their parents a different number on WhatsApp, claiming that they have lost or damaged their phone.

– The scammer asks for money to either pay for a new device or pay an urgent bill.

IT Support Scams

These scams are operated all year but can be particularly effective at Christmas when people are more likely to need their computer for online shopping or communicating with family members. This scam typically works in the following way:

– Scammers call or email the victim claiming to be working in a support role at a well-known tech company (e.g. Microsoft) or broadband provider.

– The victim is told that there is something wrong with their computer that needs fixing.

– The victim is directed to a fake website and instructed to click on a link and/or even asked for payment to fix the fault. Clicking on the link can download malware.

Covid19 Scams

With Covid dominating the Christmas landscape again this year, Covid scams are likely to be used. An example of how this kind of scam works is:

– Scammers pretending to be from a local council or NHS or working as a contact tracer call the victim and tell them they’ve been identified as a contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19.

– The victim is then asked personal questions and perhaps even financial details.

Other Scams

There are many other popular scams in operation not just at Christmas but throughout the year including phone scams, romance scams, and numerous phishing and smishing scams.

How To Avoid Being Scammed This Christmas

Some of the ways to avoid the Christmas scams include:

– Be very wary of any message asking you for sensitive information.

– If you receive a message, don’t click the link and certainly don’t hand over personal details or payment information.

– Never click on any links inside a message, especially if it’s one you weren’t expecting, and don’t transfer any money to anyone you have merely just spoken to or received an email from.

– Stay alert, don’t allow yourself to be pressured, trust your instincts, and if something seems to be too good to be true or too out of the ordinary, then it probably is.

– Check the details of an email sender or on a website claiming to be legitimate for tell-tale signs of possible scams. For example, is the email address spurious, does the logo on the website look slightly off, are there spelling mistakes or is the wording strange?

– Remember that banks never use unsolicited calls to ask for personal details, pressure you to give information, or tell you to move your money to a safe account. If you receive a call out of the blue from your bank, hang up and if you would like to call them back to check, call the phone number on the back of your debit or credit card, using a different phone line.

– Remember that organisations like HMRC never send notifications by email about tax rebates or refunds, ask for personal or financial information in text messages, or use ‘WhatsApp’ to contact customers about a tax refund. They also do not use social media to offer a tax rebate or to request personal or financial information (a Twitter scam used this recently).

– If you receive obvious scam texts, forward and report them to 7726. This is a free service that looks into fighting scams. If you receive any kind of suspicious message, report it to Action Fraud either ( https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting-fraud-and-cyber-crime) by calling 0300 123 2040.

– Action Fraud has launched a national campaign called ‘Take Five To Stop Fraud’ that is offering straightforward and impartial advice to help everyone protect themselves from preventable financial fraud this Christmas. See: https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The threat ecosystem has evolved again over this year towards scams based very much on human error (e.g. smishing and phishing), plus businesses have also been targeted with more (sophisticated) ransomware and business email compromise (BEC) attacks. This threat evolution indicates that businesses may want to explore a more people-centric approach to cybersecurity to reduce today’s risks and, if they haven’t done so already, adopt a ‘zero trust’ approach to their cyber security. For businesses selling online, it’s a case of re-assuring customers as much as possible through signs of compliance, logos, social proof (testimonials), communication (social and website) and more. As consumers, we all need to be vigilant and maintain a healthy suspicion of anything out of the ordinary, trust our instincts and stick to our normal security practices (i.e. not click on links in unsolicited emails and not responding to or being pressured by unsolicited callers). Reporting scam attempts is also important to help protect everyone.

Tech News : ‘Anti 5G’ Radiation-Emitting Jewellery Banned

A recent study has led to a warning from the Dutch authorities to anti-5G merchandise wearers that a list of ‘negative ion’ jewellery items should not be worn because they emit ionizing radiation.

What Is Negative-Ion Jewellery?

Negative ion jewellery describes jewellery items (e.g. bracelets and pendants) which have a small quantity of ion-generating minerals in their make-up. It is claimed by the manufacturers (and vendors) that these items, if worn, can improve the body’s immune system, create a better ‘balance’, and deliver other health benefits.

Warning

The Dutch Authority for Nuclear Safety and Regulation Protection has published a warning online to owners of a list of negative ion jewellery items, advising them to stop wearing them. The Authority states that “A study commissioned by the ANVS and carried out by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has revealed that these specific products emit ionizing radiation.”  It goes on to say that “Exposure to ionizing radiation can cause adverse health effects” and “due to the potential health risk they pose, these consumer products containing radioactive materials are therefore prohibited by law.”  Owners of these products have, therefore, been advised that “To avoid any risk the ANVS calls on owners of such items not to wear them from now on.”

List of Ten Products

The ANVS study identified a list of 10 products that emit ionizing radiation which could be harmful to the wearer. The items are:

– Energy Armor:  sleep mask, black and white necklace, and black super bracelet.

– Magnetix: ‘Fit & Slim’ silicone bracelet XL, necklace with negative ions of skin-friendly silicons, ‘Smiley Kids’ bracelet with negative ions, and ‘Sport Boost’ bracelet with negative ions.

– Quantum: pendant and the ‘Basic Nero’ bracelet.

Stop Selling

The Dutch Authority for Nuclear Safety and Regulation Protection has also reported that companies attempting to sell these products will now be in violation of the Nuclear Energy Act and that the ANVS is informing sellers that to stop selling them immediately.

The Anti-5G Connection

The anti-5G movement really came to prominence at the beginning of the pandemic where conspiracy theorists made a link between 5G and the virus, resulting in arson attacks (e.g., in Derby) on 5G masts/transmitters. There is also a market for anti-5G products based on the idea that they offer personal protection from any harmful effects of 5G. These products include jewellery and even a (£399) USB key that claimed to provide protection before attracting the attention of Trading Standards back in May 2020.

There is no evidence that 5G is harmful and The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 5G mobile networks are safe.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is, of course, ironic that the kinds of products favoured by those who believe they can protect them from 5G harm and/or have other health benefits in fact emit potentially dangerous radiation. This is of course bad news for many sellers and manufacturers of these products whose sales will inevitably suffer. In reality, some of these products only emit low levels of radiation which would only really pose a danger to health if worn for a prolonged period (e.g., 24 hours), according to the quite stringent limit for skin radiation exposure that applies in the Netherlands. The story does, however, highlight how 5G, the Covid vaccination program, and other recent health and technology events have challenges in tackling the misinformation/disinformation, conspiracy theories, scams, and online markets that feed on widespread fear in an increasingly connected, online/digital society facing new and invisible challenges that most people have to rely upon experts to understand (e.g. viruses and mobile technology).

Tech News : Google : ‘No Jab, No Job’

CNBC recently reported that it had viewed a Google memo, circulated to employees, that they would lose pay, and eventually be sacked if they didn’t comply with the company’s Covid-19 vaccination policy.

Until Dec 3 To Declare Status, And Until Jan 18 To Comply

According to CNBC, the document circulated by Google’s leadership warned employees that they had until Dec 3 2021 to declare their vaccination status and to upload the documentation showing proof, or to apply for any medical or religious exemption. Google informed its employees back in July that it would require vaccinations for those returning to its offices following working from home during the lockdowns and the recent memo reportedly gives employees until Jan 18 2022 to comply with the company’s vaccination policy or enter measures that could lead to being sacked.

Leave, Unpaid Leave, Then Employment Termination

The document is also alleged to have said that failure to comply with vaccination mandated for those people employed and working in its US offices (i.e. needing to be vaccinated) would result firstly in “paid administrative leave” for 30 days followed by “unpaid personal leave” for up to six months. Failure to comply after these leave periods would allegedly result in the person’s employment being terminated.

Options?

It has been reported that those Google employees who really don’t want to get vaccinated may be able to get roles at companies that don’t conflict with the executive order and are able to request exemptions for religious beliefs or medical conditions.

Opposition at Google

The ‘no jab, no job’ executive order/vaccine mandate from Google has reportedly been opposed by several hundred employees who have circulated their own manifesto.

Not The Only Big Company To Do So

Following the Biden Administration’s request for U.S. companies with 100 or more workers to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid-19 by Jan 4, Google is certainly not the only one to take action.  For example, JP Morgan has recently sent a memo to staff asking those who are unvaccinated to take up the offer of a jab and asking any eligible employees to get a booster jab. Vaccination is also reported to have been made a requirement for US tech companies Uber and Facebook.

Criticism

The Biden Administration’s request for vaccinations and testing in bigger US companies and Google’s recent memo have been met with some criticism. For example, Republicans have criticised the move as infringing on the freedom of workers and putting extra demands on businesses. The manifesto from Google’s employees who object to the mandate has said that it is a sign of a “coercive” leadership at the company, looks like the antithesis of inclusion, and violates the company’s principles of inclusiveness. The manifesto also criticises Google for having/keeping a record of employees’ vaccination status which could be regarded as personal/private medical information.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In the U.S., tens of millions of people remain unvaccinated and possibly unwilling to take up the jab of their own free will. With the virus still present and spreading, with companies wanting many workers to return to offices (not necessarily full-time), and with the Biden administration wanting to drive the vaccination forward, especially in big companies, this has resulted in the delicate situation that Google finds itself in.  This situation may also be particularly awkward for Google as it is reported to be trying to target the health-care industry for cloud business. Here in the UK, although there has been a much larger proportional take-up of the vaccine, and employment rights have required employers to be more careful, legislation was passed in June making Covid vaccinations compulsory for all care home staff. As more variants emerge and governments try to protect their health systems, populations, and economies, it is likely that vaccinations will be required for more employment, leisure/entertainment, and travel situations.

Tech Insight : What Is ‘Surveillance for Hire’?

After Meta (Facebook) recently reported alerting 50,000 people that it believed were being targeted by “surveillance-for-hire” entities, we take a look are who these entities are and what they do.

Meta’s Report

Following months of investigation, Meta recently informed 50,000 people that they were being targeted by seven “surveillance-for-hire” entities / “cyber mercenaries” who were targeting people in over 100 countries on behalf of their clients. It has been reported that Meta has issued cease-and-desist warnings against six of the seven entities it identified. The seventh is known to be in China but couldn’t be identified.

What Does “Surveillance-For-Hire” Mean?

The surveillance-for-hire industry consists of companies that use a combination of social engineering and technology to monitor and gather information about (and sometimes from) individuals for their clients. In the case of Meta’s investigation, these companies are described as entities that use “intrusive software tools and surveillance services indiscriminately to any customer — regardless of who they target, or the human rights abuses they might enable”. Surveillance-for-hire companies claim to use their surveillance services to tackle criminals and terrorists but, offer their services to many government and non-government groups that otherwise wouldn’t have these capabilities as well as private individuals, law firms, businesses, politicians and even law enforcement agencies. Meta’s investigation also claims that these surveillance companies also target journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition and human rights activists.

Examples

Examples of surveillance-for-hire companies/cyber mercenaries include:

– Black Cube. Although it recently described itself as simply a “litigation support firm”, it is one of the companies identified recently by Meta. Black Cube was formed by former Israeli intelligence agency Mossad veterans. Meta suggested that Black Cube used fictitious personas to contact targets and obtain email addresses for phishing attacks (which Black Cube denies). Black Cube has previously made the news following reports by the New Yorker in 2017 that it was used by Harvey Weinstein to surveil reporters covering allegations about his assaults.

– NSO. Meta identified this company as being behind Pegasus spyware (software used to enable surveillance) that it sued in 2019 (and Apple has also sued).

– Cognyte. Based in Israel, Meta says that Cognyte sells access to its platform which enables managing fake accounts across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and VKontakte (VK), and other websites to social-engineer people and collect data.

– Bluehawk CI. Based in Israel with offices in the UK and the US, Meta says that Bluehawk sells a range of surveillance-for-hire activities including social engineering, gathering of litigation-related intelligence about people, and managing fake accounts to trick them into installing malware. Meta alleges that the fake accounts pose as journalists working for media organizations like La Stampa (Italy) and Fox News (US) to trick targets into giving an on-camera interview.

– Cobwebs Technologies. Founded in Israel with offices in the United States, Meta says that Cobwebs Technologies sells access to its platform that enables reconnaissance across the internet, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Flickr, public websites and “dark web” sites. Meta also claims that the accounts used by Cobwebs customers also engage in social engineering to join closed communities and forums and trick people into revealing personal information.

Issues

Some of the issues raised by Meta’s recent investigation that has shone a light on the entities in the surveillance-for-hire industry include:

– Their services are indiscriminately sold to anyone willing to pay, including known bad actors.

– They work across many platforms and national boundaries.

– Their capabilities are used by both nation-states and private enterprises. This means that they lower the barrier to entry for anyone willing to pay.

– It is often impossible for targets to know they are being surveilled across the internet.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The scale of this industry identified in Meta’s report indicates that this dark surveillance is widespread. The fact that there are many different companies who sell their services indiscriminately operating in secrecy means that it is hard to trace activity back to the client. Also, with these entities working across multiple platforms and national boundaries, a collective effort from platforms, policymakers, and civil society, as well public discussion about the use of surveillance-for-hire technology, greater transparency and oversight are now needed to help protect people. Also, as suggested by Meta, industry collaboration as well as more governance and regulator-led conversations about the ethics of these companies could help top protect their targets.

Tech Tip – Organise Your Chrome Bookmarks With Folders

If you’d like an easy way to organise all your Google Chrome browser bookmarks, try putting them in folders.  Here’s how:

To create a bookmark folder:

– On your computer, open Chrome.

– Top right, click on the 3 dots, then ‘Bookmarks’ and ‘Bookmark manager’.

– Top right, click on the 3 dots and ‘Add new folder’.

OR

– If you use the bookmarks bar, right-click the bookmarks bar and click on ‘Add Folder’.

To add your bookmarks to the folders:

– Top right, click on the 3 dots, then ‘Bookmarks’ and ‘Bookmark manager’.

– Drag a bookmark up or down or drag a bookmark into a folder on the left. Also, you can copy and paste bookmarks in the order you want.

– If you use the bookmarks bar, you can drag your bookmarks into the order you want.