Google Warns Against Disabling Websites During Lockdown

Google has warned businesses that are tempted to disable or temporarily close their online business website during the coronavirus outbreak not to do so, as this could have a lasting, detrimental effect on its (SEO) search engine rankings.

Why Disable or Close Down The Website?

The coronavirus outbreak has meant reduced orders for many businesses but has also left many businesses unable to fulfil orders, or in a position where many products are out of stock.  Where the website for these businesses is the online shop, this has led to some business owners deciding to disable or close the website temporarily.

Bad Idea

Although this may sound like a reasonable idea from a practical business perspective, Google has warned that doing so could adversely affect the website’s search engine position in a significant way, even after it has been restored.  Google has advised that an “extreme” measure like removing a site completely from its Google’s index is “a significant change that can take quite some time to recover from”. 

Google has also said that there is no fixed time for a recovery from a complete website removal and that it has no mechanism to speed a recovery of a website in its search engine rankings after that site has been taken down and then put back up.

Lose Access To Information

Taking your website down temporarily will also mean that Google’s Search Console verification will fail, you will no longer have access to information about your business in Search, and you will lose potentially valuable data from the Aggregate reports in Search Console (as pages are dropped from Google’s index).

Other Reasons

In addition to damaging the position of a website in Google’s search engine rankings, Google suggests that other reasons why temporarily taking down a website would be a bad idea for a business include:

– Confusing customers.  Customers won’t know what’s happening and may even assume that that business has closed. Also, if Customers/potential customers can’t find first-hand details about you and your products/services and are forced to look for third-party information about your business, this may not be as correct or comprehensive.

– Making it more difficult to gain ground in future.  Restoring a website after a break means having to wait for re-indexing.

Better To Limit Your Website’s Functionality

Google advises that it is better, and less risky (in terms of losing rankings) to simply limit the functionality of your website rather than totally disabling the website without following Google’s best practice advice.  Limiting functionality while retaining search visibility can include disabling the cart functionality, displaying a banner or pop-up to explain the situation to customers, updating structured data and local business structured data, checking the Merchant Centre feed, and telling Google about the updates.  This could mean using the Search Console to ask Google to re-crawl a limited number of pages or using sitemaps to ask Google to re-crawl a larger number of pages e.g. product pages.

Other Advice

Google has issued advice about the proper procedure for situations where businesses feel that they need to disable their website for e.g. a couple of days. See: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/pause-online-business#best-practices-disabling-site 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Clearly, disabling functionality while retaining the kind of search engine visibility that it has taken a lot of time (and money) to build up, and is vital to the life of the business is preferable, in most cases, to completely disabling a website without following best practice advice. 

If you feel that you must take a site down for a short period, it is certainly worth following Google’s best practice advice when doing so (see the ‘Other Advice’ paragraph above for the link). 

Data Caps Removed During Pandemic

The UK government has announced that the UK’s big ISP’s are removing caps on data for fixed-line broadband during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fixed-Line Broadband

The joint announcement by the companies, government and Ofcom will affect fixed-line broadband packages, many of which (apart from discounted packages for people on benefits) already offer unlimited data.

Which Companies?

The welcome move, which has been agreed between the government and ISPs/telecoms companies and is effective immediately, is in addition to any deals that the ISPs have already announced and applies to Virgin Media, Sky, O2, BT (Openreach and EE), TalkTalk, Three and Vodafone. Also removing data caps are Gigaclear, Hyperopic and Kcom (but not for Kcom’s gaming, streaming and downloading media).

More Help

The agreement between the government and the ISPs also includes other helpful measures such as help for those customers struggling to pay bills as a result of the pandemic, moving vulnerable customers to the front of the queue for repairs, and improving mobile and landline package deals.

The government hopes that the deal agreed with the communications companies will help to support and protecting vulnerable customers and older people as well as helping the UK communications network cope with the extra demand, and help people stay connected while staying at home. This, in turn, will help businesses whose employees are working at home, and families who are also likely to need extra capacity.

Welcome, But More Detail Required

Although the deal has been generally welcomed, some have criticised the announcement has lacking detail.

Vodafone Helping The Vulnerable

Last week, Vodafone announced that it is offering 30-days free access to unlimited mobile data for half a million of its Pay Monthly customers as well as upgraded the contracts for those who are categorised as vulnerable. Vodafone is informing eligible customers by text.

Tips From Ofcom

Ofcom’s website offers some general tips on how to ‘stay Connected during the coronavirus’ on its website here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/stay-connected.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though many fixed-line broadband packages already offer unlimited data, this is still likely to be a welcome and helpful development both for those working from home and the businesses they work for. Also, the deal is likely to be helpful for families and individuals simply using more data for entertainment while sitting-out coronavirus restrictions. It is also good that vulnerable people have also been considered in the government/Ofcom/ISP deal, and the fact that it is effective immediately.

The criticism, so far, is that despite the announcement, which was widely reported, there hasn’t been much more detail. This may be understandable, however, given that there is a global crisis and that everyone in the UK is currently living under restrictions which are undoubtedly affecting the normal flow of communications in many businesses and organisations.

Facebook Video Quality Reduced To Cope With Demand

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

Lower Bitrate, Looks Similar

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

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

Many Other Platforms

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

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

BT Say UK Networks Have The Capacity

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

Coronavirus Outbreak: Remote Working For Staff

With the whole of Italy’s 60 million population in lockdown and other countries taking drastic measures to control the coronavirus outbreak, the tech-giant companies are now asking their employees to work remotely.

Google

Due to fears of COVID-19 spreading through large numbers of staff, Google had already announced last week that it was temporarily closing its office in Dublin and asking the 8,000 employees to work from home.  Google has more than 70 offices in 50 countries and back at the end of January, Google also temporarily closed its offices in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan when the outbreak was still mainly based in China. 

Amazon

Amazon, which restricted all nonessential travel in the U.S for employees as of last month has, after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, asked workers from its Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, offices to work from home until the end of the month.

Facebook

In addition to cancelling its annual developer conference which was due to be held on May 5 and 6 in San Jose, California (which attracted 5,000 people last year), Facebook has closed its Seattle office and asked all 5,000 of the office’s employees to work from home until the end of the month. Facebook has also closed its three London offices after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and all 3,000 employees from those offices have been asked to work from home.

Slack

After an employee of Slack returned from travel and was suspected to have contracted COVID-19 (which turned out not to be the case), Slack closed its offices in San Francisco at the end of last week and a deep clean of the premises took place at the weekend.  Meanwhile, employees were encouraged to work from home.

Others

Microsoft has advised its Seattle and San Francisco employees that they can work from home until March 25th, Twitter has encouraged its employees to work from home, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has encouraged employees at several global offices to “work remotely from March 9th to 13th”.

One piece of positive news for Apple, however, is that all but four of Apple’s stores in mainland China, which is a vital market for Apple, have now reopened after being closed there during the main coronavirus outbreak.

Musk Sceptical

Some scepticism about closures and reactions to the coronavirus outbreak has been expressed by Elon Musk who tweeted that the “coronavirus panic is dumb”, a tweet that was liked by around 2 million people.

Pay

In the UK last week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced in parliament that new rules will mean that statutory sick pay (SSP) will come into force on the first day of absence in order to make those who feel they may have the virus and want to self-isolate, by staying at home rather than coming into the office and potentially infecting others. 

Tech Industry, Work From Home

On the plus side, the nature of many tech industry jobs means that working from home is perhaps more possible than for many other industries, and for the UK as a whole, a 2019 CIPD Job Quality Index survey reported that 54% of the UK’s workforce works flexibly.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For those businesses that can’t easily allow employees to work home e.g. manufacturing, bricks and mortar retail, construction, events and entertainment, transport and logistics etc, the threat of a shutdown of work for what could be an unspecified period creates a real threat to the life of the business. The situation also presents a threat to many small businesses, sole traders, and self-employed people who may not have resources to last-out ‘lockdowns’, self-isolating, disruptions and complications caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

For companies that are forced to close offices, they now need to make sure that relevant staff can access company systems and intranets remotely, and that they have VPNs installed.

This situation is also a reminder of how business continuity planning and disaster recovery plans should have disease epidemic and pandemic scenarios built-in to them for the future, and this situation is likely to expose what work needs to be done by many companies in this areas of planning.

Featured Article – Coronavirus and Tech Shares

Coronavirus is firstly a threat to public health but the impact of the virus hitting the Chinese economy (a centre for tech goods), the threat of widescale illness among workers, the effects of measures to contain the virus and other factors have already had a serious effect on economies and tech share prices.

Biggest Hit Since 2008

The disruption and fear caused by the coronavirus (SARS-COV-12/COVID-19) outbreak meant that end of February saw the US stock markets suffering their worst falls since the 2008 global financial crisis with the three big US indexes ending 10% on the week before and with the UK markets following suit and the FTSE 100 index down 3.2% for the day. 

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has also warned that the effects of coronavirus could lead to the UK’s growth prospects being downgraded.

Also, the US Federal Reserve has just slashed interest rates, to between 1% and 1.25%. That’s down from 1.5% to 1.75%, to protect America’s economy from the economic impact of the “evolving risks” of coronavirus. 

Contributing Factors and Reactions

From seeing the first news from China to hearing about the rapid spread through Iran, Korea, Japan and Italy, many tech companies are seeing downward pressure on their share prices caused by the coronavirus outbreak and spread. There are many contributing factors and many reactions by tech companies to these factors that have fuelled the fall. These include:

– China, the country which the virus is thought to have come from, and which has seen whole cities and their industries and markets shut down and seriously disrupted is a major tech component manufacturing country for major tech companies e.g. the US. This has caused shortages in supply chains and other knock-on factors to other big economies and markets and the tech companies that operate within them. For example, Apple has major component supply companies in China, and Korea e.g. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, LG Electronics Inc, and LG Innotek.  Both Samsung and LG Innotek have shut their factories due to a worker testing positive for coronavirus.  Apple is also supplied by STMicroelectronics (chipmakers) in Italy.

– Big tech companies are not attending important tech industry conferences and shows.  For example, Huawei is postponing the hosting of its February developer conference to the end of March, Alphabet (Google) has cancelled its I/O developers conference set for May 12-14, Facebook Inc has cancelled its annual developer conference which was due to be held on May 5 and 6 in San Jose, California (which attracted 5,000 people last year), and Microsoft won’t attend a games developer conference in March.

– Consumers and other tech stakeholders are changing their travelling habits and purchasing habits and are holding onto their money as they anticipate perhaps having to ride-out a work shutdown, store closures, transport cancellations and disruptions and more. Lower revised earnings warnings have been issued by tech companies that are already feeling the pinch and are anticipating a more drawn-out crisis than they had originally thought.  For example, Microsoft has revised its earnings due to fears over how the coronavirus could affect PC supply chains.

– Factory and workplace closures, not just of suppliers, but of the tech companies themselves are causing disruption.  For example, Tesla has postponed Model 3 deliveries due to a closed factory in Shanghai, Google has asked thousands of employees at its European headquarters in Dublin to work from home, Twitter is encouraging its 5,000 global staff to work from home, and cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase is asking some employees to start working from home.

– Store closures are also contributing to downward pressures on share prices.  For example, major tech companies have been temporarily shutting down retail stores across China, and in other affected countries and population centres. 

Baidu in China

Chinese tech companies are also suffering.  For example, Baidu Inc, China’s biggest search engine company, has warned that its first-quarter revenue could drop by as much as 13% from a year earlier due to the effect of the coronavirus epidemic on economic activity and advertising.

Opportunity?

Whereas the downside of fall in share prices is being seen as a very bad event for the markets generally, some people, such as US CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’ presenter Jim Cramer have pointed out that tumbling stock values can mean that investors have an opportunity to buy tech stocks at a low price now that will grow in value soon.  With this in mind, and suggesting that those stocks that have little China exposure and work in a largely stay-at-home environment are the best options, Mr Cramer has recommended 10 stocks to buy now while the market is still affected by coronavirus.  These include the tech-related stocks of Adobe, Shopify, Square, Zoom Video Communications.

Expectations

Despite the initial huge fall in share/stock prices at the end of February, when panic was reaching its highest point, the news that central bankers from the world’s biggest economies have been speaking to Group of 7 Finance to discuss a response to the outbreak e.g. lowering of interest rates, fuelling expectations among investors that governments might go with a co-ordinated lowering interest rates has given a boost back up to many stocks and led to shares in Europe making somewhat of a recovery from the initial huge losses.

Looking Ahead

For those seeking information about coronavirus in the UK, the latest government information can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public and the NHS advice and information can be found here https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.

The unknown nature of the immediate future as regards the spread (through clustering) and duration of the coronavirus outbreak, coupled with the many reduced growth forecasts, disruption in global supply chains, and many tech and other companies shutting offices and factories and recommending remote working where possible means that tech share prices are likely to be functioning well below expectations for some time yet.

Gigabit, Ultrafast Broadband For One Million Households In The West Midlands

Virgin Media has announced that in the UK’s largest gigabit switch-on to date, it is launching its next-generation Gig1 Fibre Broadband services for 1 million+ homes in Birmingham, Coventry and surrounding areas across the West Midlands.

Speed

Virgin Media says that its Gig1 Fibre Broadband offers broadband speeds up to 20 times faster than the regional average with an average peak-time download speed of 1,104Mbps.

Also, the Hub 4 gigabit-capable router is Virgin’s fastest to date and can manage multiple devices at the same time around the home, thereby sharing the hyper-fast speed.  This could mean that ultra-high-definition 4K films and TV programmes, large files and 360-degree videos could be downloaded almost instantaneously, even with multiple devices using the connection at the same time.

Virgin Media says that it now has the largest gigabit-capable network in the UK which currently passes nearly 15 million UK premises. 

Government

The government’s Digital Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has said that Virgin Media’s gigabit switch-on for households in the Midlands puts them “a million homes closer in delivering our plans to deliver gigabit broadband to everyone in the UK” and stresses that his government are investing £5 billion to make sure that “even the hardest to reach areas aren’t left behind”.

Electronic Communications Code Changes

In October 2019, the UK’s Electronic Communications Code was amended to help speed up fast broadband rollout across the UK. The change to the law gave broadband operators compulsory rights to install their apparatus on another person’s property, thereby getting around the problem of landlords not responding to requests for access to blocks of flats and apartments.

Full Fibre By 2025?

Back in June last year, while on the campaign to become the next Conservative party leader, Boris Johnson proposed a target of full-fibre broadband for the UK by 2025.  This target has since been seen by many not realistic because ‘full-fibre’ would mean digging up land and laying down cables, even in the most remote of homes.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For those in the Midlands who actually need these kinds of speeds, this service could be advantageous, and it could benefit small (home) businesses with large data requirements.

Although it is the beginning of ultra-fast broadband rollout in an area where there is a large population and is, therefore, a step in the right direction, critics say that many users may not need a connection that fast and may simply not know the speed of the connection that they already have. 

Broadband and Wi-Fi are now essential services for business, and businesses would obviously welcome any improvement in broadband speeds in the UK as soon as possible as it would undoubtedly help UK companies to become more competitive and would boost the economy.

AI Skills Course Available – Free of Charge

A free, basic AI skills course, funded by Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (MEAE), is being made available to citizens across the EU’s 27 member states. 

Success in Finland

The decision by the Finnish government to make the course available online across the EU to an estimated five million Europeans (1% of the total population of EU states) in the 2020-2021 academic year was boosted by the popularity of a test run of the course in Finland back in 2018.

The Course

The six-chapter ‘Elements of AI’ course, which is still open to UK citizens, is aimed at de-mystifying and providing a critical and customised understanding of AI, offers a basic understanding of what AI is, how it can be used to boost business productivity, and how it will affect jobs and society in the future. The six chapters of the course can be studied in a structured or ‘own-pace’ way and cover the topics of What is AI?, AI problem solving, real-world AI, machine learning, neural networks and implications.

The course is available in six languages – English, German, Swedish, Estonian, Norwegian and Finnish.

Run by the University of Helsinki, the course represents a way in which a university can play a role in reaching a Europe-wide, cross-border audience and build important competencies for the future across that area.

Gift

The provision of the online course, which is funded by the MEAE to an estimated cost of €1.7m a year is essentially a gift from Finland, not just to leaders of fellow EU states but to the people of EU countries to mark the end of Finland’s six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.  It is the hope, therefore, that Finland’s gift will have real-world value in terms of helping to develop digital literacy in the EU.

You can sign up for the course here: https://www.elementsofai.com/

170 Countries

It’s claimed that to date, the free online AI course has been completed by students from over 170 countries and that around 40 % of course participants are women, which is more than double the average for computer science courses.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With a tech skills shortage in the UK, with AI becoming a component in an increasing number of products and services, and with the fact that you can very rarely expect to get something of value for nothing, this free online course could be of some value to businesses across Europe.  The fact that the course is delivered online with just a few details needed to enrol makes it accessible, and the fact that it can be tackled in a structured way or at your own pace makes it convenient.  It’s also refreshing to see a country giving a gift to millions of citizens rather than just to other EU leaders and the fact that more women are taking the course must be good news for the tech and science sectors. Anything that can effectively, quickly and cheaply make a positive difference to digital literacy in the EU is likely to end up benefitting businesses across Europe.  Also, even though the UK’s now out of the EU, it’s a good job that we’re still able to access the course.

Featured Article – 5G Explained

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

Spectrum Difference

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

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

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

What Can We Expect From 5G?

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

How Fast is Faster?

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

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

Speed Record

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

Finite Frequency

Also, the frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.

It is also likely that other technologies will need to be developed and trialled in order to help 5G live up to its promise. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.

Real-Life Business Applications

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

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

Challenges For 5G Phone Manufacturers

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

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. they need a more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
  • The miniaturisation of more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smartphone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation, and many customers may simply delay buying a 5G anyway until they are confident that 5G is performing well and will offer them all the benefits.
  • The first 5G smartphones need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

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

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

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

When?

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

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

Where?

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

Looking Ahead

The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities and could help provide a boost to new industries.

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.

Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.

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

Dentist’s Legal Challenges To Anonymity of Negative Google Reviewer

ABC News in Australia has reported how a Melbourne dentist has convinced a Federal Court Judge to order tech giant Google to produce identifying information about a person who posted a damaging negative review about the dentist on Google’s platform.

What Happened?

The dentist, Dr Matthew Kabbabe, alleges that a reviewer’s comment posted on Google approximately three months ago advised others to “stay away” from his practice and that it damaged his teeth-whitening business and had a knock-on negative impact on his life.

Even though Google provides a platform to allow reviews to be posted in order to benefit businesses (if reviews are good), perhaps encourage and guide businesses to give good service, and to help Google users to decide whether to use a service, the comment was the only bad one on a page of five-star reviews. In addition to the possibly defamatory nature of the comment, Dr Kabbabe’s objection to the anonymity that Google offers comment posters, and that it could, as such be, something posted by a competitor or disgruntled ex-employee to damage his (or any other business) drove him to take the matter to the Federal Court after, it has been reported, his requests to Google to take the comment down were unsuccessful.

Landmark Ruling

Not only did Federal Court Judge Justice Bernard Murphy request that Google divulge identifying information about the comment poster, listed only a “CBsm 23″ (name, phone number, IP addresses, location metadata), but also the tech giant has been ordered to provide any other Google accounts (name and email addresses)  which are from the same IP address during the period of time in question.

Can Reply

Reviews posted on Google can be replied to by businesses as long as the replies comply with Google’s guidelines.

Dealing with some apparently unfair customer comments online is becoming more common for many businesses.  For example, hotels and restaurants have long struggled with how to respond to potentially damaging criticism left by customers on TripAdvisor. Recently, the owner of the Oriel Daniel Tearoom in Llangefni, Anglesey made the news when they responded to negative comments with brutal responses and threats of lifetime bans.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For the most part, potential customers are likely to be able to take a balanced view of comments that they read when finding out more about a business, but the fact that a Federal judge ruled in favour of not allowing those who have posted potentially damaging comments to hide behind online anonymity means that there may well be an argument for platforms to amend rules to try to redress the balance more in the favour of businesses.  It does seem unfair that, as in the case of the dentist, where the overwhelming majority of comments have been good, an individual, who may be a competitor or person with an axe to grind is allowed to anonymously and publicly publish damaging comments, whether justified or not, for a global audience to see and with no need to prove their allegations – something that would be subject to legal scrutiny in the offline world.  It will be interesting to see Google’s response to this ground-breaking ruling.

Google Indexing Makes WhatsApp Group Links Visible

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

Links Visible

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

Exposed

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

Links

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

Only Share Links With Trusted Contacts

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

Changed

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

Recent Security Incident

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

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

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