Featured Article – Huawei: A Ban in the Balance

North America has already banned US companies from working with Huawei so with that in mind and with a decision by the UK about Huawei’s involvement in the country’s 5G infrastructure due very soon, we take a closer look at the issues involved.

5G

The UK has been awaiting the development of the 5th generation of mobile broadband infrastructure for a long time.  Most carriers currently use low-band spectrum or LTE, which provides 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.  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.

Rumblings

The first rumblings about Huawei’s alleged security threat can be traced right back to 2001, although this was an allegation from India’s intelligence agencies that Huawei was helping the Taliban.

Following a Cisco lawsuit against Huawei in 2003 over the alleged copying of intellectual property (copying of software and violation of patents), concerns were raised in 2007 over whether a venture between Cisco rival 3Com and Huawei should be permitted due to a perceived lack of transparency in Huawei.

In 2010, more alarm bells started ringing and a Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) was opened in Banbury, where Huawei products and equipment were tested for security holes. The factory-style centre was set up as a partnership between Huawei and the UK authorities to make sure that the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is not compromised by the involvement of Huawei.

More Recently

The source of the more recent concerns goes back to 2012 when a US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report flagged-up the potential for Chinese state influence from both Huawei and ZTE. 

Fast-forward several years, and several further allegations, including those arising from WikiLeaks, and the arrival of President Trump have put Huawei in the spotlight.  In summer 2018, the ‘Five-Eyes’ espionage chiefs from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. agreed at a meeting to contain the global growth of Chinese telecoms company Huawei (the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment) because of the threat that it could be using its phone network equipment to spy for China. 

From here, bans on Huawei Technologies Ltd. as a supplier for fifth-generation networks equipment followed in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, was detained in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities, for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran. 

In 2019, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Huawei with bank fraud and stealing trade secrets. 

The UK

As one of the ‘Five-Eyes’ countries, therefore, further scrutiny of Huawei and objections to its products being included in the UK’s 5G infrastructure were on the cards.

In the UK in January 2020, however, the government said that it would allow Huawei equipment to be used in the country’s 5G network, but not in core network functions or critical national infrastructure, and not in nuclear and military sites.  The UK also decided that Huawei’s equipment would only be allowed to make up 35 per cent of the network’s periphery, including radio masts.  It was also understood at the time (following the publishing of a document published by the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC) that the UK’s networks would have three years to comply with caps on the use of Huawei’s equipment.

This led to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney visiting to help dissuade the UK from using Huawei’s products in phone networks.

Also, Robert Strayer, the US deputy assistant secretary for cyber and communications while on a tour of Europe, warned that allowing Huawei to provide key aspects of the 5G network infrastructure could allow China to undermine it and to have access to “sensitive data”.  Mr Strayer piled more pressure on the UK by warning that if the UK adopts Huawei as a 5G technology vendor it could threaten aspects of intelligence sharing between the US and UK.

New Sanctions From The US

The US has kept up the pressure on Huawei this year by announcing new sanctions that will stop Huawei and third-party companies that make its chips from using any US technology and software to design and manufacture products. Also, the US government has reiterated its concerns that Huawei has Chinese military backing and, as such, is a threat to national security.

New Report Could Mean A Change

Now, following the UK government recently receiving a report from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and in the light of the new US Sanctions, some commentators are predicting that the UK could be likely to change its mind again.  This further possible move away from Huawei could be especially likely since Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that he would not want the UK to be “vulnerable to a high-risk state vendor”.

Looking Forward

Although the UK government now has the NCSC report, and a further move away from Huawei looks likely, a final public decision may not be announced for another two weeks, during which time Huawei has indicated that it is open to discussion.

If GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has found legitimate reasons why Huawei’s products pose a security (and diplomatic) risk as part of the 5G network’s periphery it is unlikely that the specific details will be revealed, and the UK will have to find alternative suppliers.  Tensions are already high between the UK and China over Hong Kong and bad news about Huawei certainly will not improve matters.   

Some critics have said that it appears that UK policy is being dictated by the Trump administration, but it is clear that in order for the UK to deliver on its broadband 2025 target, keep costs down, and avoid suffering the collateral damage of an argument that’s primarily between the US and China, some clever manoeuvring may be necessary. 

Twitter to Replace “Master”, “Slave” and “Blacklist”

Twitter has announced that it will be replacing programming language terms such as “master”, “slave” and “blacklist” with more inclusive ones.

Programming Language

Those familiar with programming language and email terms will be familiar with terms such as “blacklist” and “whitelist” with black indicating bad, and “master” and “slave” where one device or process controls other devices or processes. In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of white police officers, the Black Lives Matter protests and under the #UntilWeAllBelong hashtag, Twitter has decided to opt for more inclusive language.

Why?

Twitter (Twitter Engineering) says that “This isn’t just about eng terms or code. Words matter in our meetings, our conversations, and the documents we write”.  Twitter is concerned about how the continued and accepted use of terms that are related to racism, slavery and the idea that some are masters over others are perpetuating problems in society and are a replaceable obstacle that stands in the way of a more inclusive society.  Sexism, gender issues and other areas where prejudice has created problems are also being looked at by the social media giant.  Twitter says “Inclusive language plays a critical role in fostering an environment where everyone belongs. At Twitter, the language we have been using in our code does not reflect our values as a company or represent the people we serve. We want to change that. #WordsMatter”

Which Terms Will Be Replaced?

Twitter has acknowledged that language cannot be replaced everywhere with the flip of a switch, but it is hoping to put the processes and systems in place that will allow the language changes to take place at scale.

Terms that are first on the list for replacement include:

– “Whitelist” – to be referred to as “Allowlist”.
– “Blacklist” – to be referred to as “Denylist”.
– “Master/Slave” – to be referred to as “Leader/follower, primary/replica, primary/standby”.
– Gendered pronouns (e.g. he/him/his) – to be referred to as “they, them, their”.
– “Man hours” – to be referred to as “Person hours”.

How?

Twitter says it will be focusing on the following areas to help make the changes over time:

– Migrating source code and changing configuration.  This will involve studying Twitter’s own existing code, identifying violating terms with new warning tools, and changing to the new inclusive terminology. Twitter says that automated tools and ‘linters’ are being developed to minimize manual effort.

– Updating documentation across internal resources, Google Docs, runbooks, FAQs, readme’s, technical design docs, and more. Twitter says that it is also implementing a browser extension to help its teams identify words in documents and web pages and suggest alternative inclusive words.

Others

Twitter is certainly not the only company that is working towards more inclusive language.  JP Morgan is opting for more inclusive language replacements in its technology policies and programming codes, as is GitHub and Google’s Chromium web browser project and the Android operating system.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When it comes to walking the walk, talking the talk is an important part of helping to make that happen, and many companies are now not just acknowledging the need for inclusiveness but are prepared to do something about it.  The recent boycotting of Facebook advertising by many global brands also highlights the pressure that social media companies are under to make more progress in stopping hate speech and other harmful content from being distributed via their platforms.  Tackling language is, therefore, one way in which Twitter can take another small public step in getting its own house in order.  The platform is, however, still the platform of choice for President Trump, who is unlikely to be seen by many as the voice of inclusiveness although Twitter recently made the news for fact-checking President Trump.

Police Crack Encrypted Network To Reach Crime Gangs

An international law enforcement operation has led to the cracking of the EncroChat Android phone network and the arrest of criminal gangs.

The Network

The France-based EncroChat network, which was discovered by the French National Gendarmerie in 2017, is an encrypted network for Android handsets with their GPS, camera and microphone functions disabled.  The handsets, which have reportedly sold for €1,000 each, plus €1,500 for a six-month contract have, until now, offered many criminals a secure, encrypted communications channel.  It has been reported that at the time the police were able to crack the channel, it had 10,000 users in the UK alone and a further 60,000 around Europe.

The Operation

“Operation Venetic”, the law enforcement operation to infiltrate and crack EncroChat involved French and Dutch police, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Europol, the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation.  It has been reported that a team of over 500 NCA officers worked on Operation Venetic.

Arrests

The cracking of the network has, so far, reportedly led to the arrest of around 800 criminals across Europe.  It has been reported that two law enforcement officers were among those arrested.

The arrests have also netted the seizure of £54m in cash, 77 illegal firearms (including assault rifles and grenades), two tonnes of class A and B drugs, as well as 55 luxury cars and 73 luxury watches.

The Met

The Metropolitan Police were able to make a reported 171 arrests as part of the operation and to have seized £13.3m in cash. 

The Met reports on its website that those arrested in one investigation were “part of the most high-harm Organised Crime Group (OCG) in London, with long-standing links to violent crime and the importation of Class A drugs” where “central figures of this group lead lavish lifestyles and live in multi-million-pound properties with access to top of the range vehicles.”

Comparison Made To Enigma Code

Even though the circumstances and the resources available to the authorities are by no means the same, Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations, highlighted the achievement and complexity of cracking the encrypted channel as being “akin to cracking the enigma code”.

Just The Beginning

Even though Commissioner Cressida Dick said that the operation was the most significant ever carried out against serious and organised criminality across London, she also described it “just the beginning” and highlighted the fact that there are now many more people being investigated as a result.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Organised crime of the scale and nature that has been tackled by Operation Venetic poses a threat to businesses and society through crime, its proceeds, and its many impacts. Although some luxury goods businesses and property companies have clearly benefitted from some sales, many of which may have been innocently made via legitimate-looking fronts, the lavish lifestyle of some of the criminals caught by this operation has come to an abrupt end.

UK home secretaries Amber Rudd and now Priti Patel have been critics of how end-to-end encryption has protected the guilty as well as the innocent in some apps and channels, and the fact that an encrypted channel has been cracked sends a powerful warning message to criminals who may assume they are safe in their communications.  It may also send a veiled message to other legitimate end-to-end encrypted apps and channels about the future, how global agencies are able to act, and what they are capable of doing.

Competing Against Huawei

President Trump’s administration is reported to have met with major US communications networking companies in a bid to address the need for improved competition with Huawei globally.

Huawei Issues

Many of the issues and incidents that have led to this point, where the Chinese communications company Huawei appears to be a focus for much criticism by the Trump administration include:

– The belief that Huawei has close ties to the Chinese state.  For example, back in July 2018,  espionage chiefs from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. (the so-called ‘Five-Eyes’), agreed at a meeting to contain the global growth of Chinese telecoms company Huawei (the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment) because of the threat that it could be using its phone network equipment to spy for China.  This led to the US, Australia, and New Zealand barring Huawei Technologies Ltd. (with Japan more or less joining the ban) as a supplier for fifth-generation networks.

– The detention of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities in 2018 for violating US sanctions on Iran. 

– An apparent ongoing US trade war and war of words with China which has been exacerbated by President Trump’s assertions that COVID-19, which he has described by President Trump as “Kung flu” at a recent Tulsa rally, originates in China.

– Back in January 2019, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, issued a revenue warning for this quarter to investors, pointing to challenges in China as being one of the main downward driving forces. The challenges included stiff competition from Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo in China.

– The banning by the Trump administration since May 2019 of US companies working with Huawei.

Meeting

The reported recent meeting between the Trump administration and networking company Cisco was allegedly to discuss the possible acquisition of Ericsson and Nokia, and any possible matters relating to tax breaks and financing for those companies.

This meeting is reported to have taken place following the cancellation due to the COVID crisis of meeting about 5G that was due to have taken place in April, and may have included the likes of Nokia, Ericsson, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and Samsung.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Meetings with technology companies are not exceptional but it is clear that Huawei, its alleged links with the Chinese state, wider issues with China in general, and how the US government can help US tech companies compete and maintain national security are still big issues on the agenda, despite the ravages of COVID-19.

In the UK, the government and security commentators have also voiced concerns about the prospect of Huawei being involved in the 5G network and a decision on the matter is due to be announced within the next fortnight.  Huawei has said the US sanctions are “not about security, but about market position” and China’s ambassador to London has said that banning Huawei from the UK’s 5G infrastructure would send a “very bad message” to Chinese companies. The UK is currently involved in another very public argument with China over a possible 3 million Hong Kong residents being offered a path to UK citizenship.

For UK businesses, however, it’s more of a case of wondering how soon the UK will be able to offer reliable 5G at the right price across most of the country so that UK businesses are not at a competitive disadvantage with overseas businesses.

Tech Tip – Open A Link In A New Browser Tab With Just One Click

If you would like to know how to save time and easily open a link in an online document in its own new browser tab using one just click, here’s how:

– If you are browsing an online document that has a link in it, click the ‘middle’ button of your mouse over the link.

– The link will open in its own new browser tab.

– Middle-click on that open tab to close it again.

Featured Article – Why Big Brands Are Boycotting Social Media

Large, mainly U.S.-based companies (many of which are household names) have said that they will be boycotting Facebook and Instagram in terms of paid advertising in July over concerns about the moderation of content and hate speech on the platforms.

“Stop Hate For Profit”

The stopping of paid promotions on the platforms in July is part of the “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign, organised by the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People  (NAACP), and other organisations.

The “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign, which aims to “hit pause on hate”, says that it would like businesses to “stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook’s services in July.”

The campaign has reported receiving an overwhelming response from businesses and organisations.  The campaign website lists the considerable number of participating businesses and organisations here (90+): https://www.stophateforprofit.org/participating-businesses.

Ad Agencies Also Supporting

Unfortunately for Facebook, the campaign also has the support of agencies, some of which are reported to have even put guidelines in place for companies that want to participate.

The Main Issues

The main issues that the campaign and its participating businesses are objecting to are:

– That Facebook is allegedly appearing to take too much of a hands-off approach to the moderation of content that may be divisive, may promote what amounts to hate speech, and that Facebook is allegedly not doing enough to stop hate speech and disinformation being spread.

– In the context of the recent murder of George Floyd and the following protests, that Facebook was allegedly used by some people to spread false information about Antifa, without it being picked up by Facebook or fact-checkers.

– Even though Twitter publicly called-out some of President Trump’s tweets, in terms of fact-checking and labelling them misleading or glorifying violence, Facebook has not been seen to do so with its own platform. 

– Facebook is reported to have displayed ads from President Mr Trump’s re-election campaign featuring a red triangular symbol, which some thought was reminiscent of those symbols used by Nazis during World War II e.g. to label categories of prisoners in death camps. Facebook later removed the ads.

– Facebook appears to have sidestepped these sensitive issues at a recent media presentation.

Some of the main objections are also best put by some of the companies that are supporting the “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign. 

For example, Ben & Jerry’s announced on its website that “Ben & Jerry’s stands with our friends at the NAACP and Colour of Change, the ADL, and all those calling for Facebook to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy.”

Also, as Magnolia Pictures announced in a Tweet, “In solidarity with the Stop Hate For Profit movement, Magnolia Pictures has chosen to stop advertising on Facebook and Instagram, starting immediately, through at least the end of July. We are seeking meaningful change at Facebook and the end to their amplification of hate speech.”

Other Big Companies

Examples of other big companies that are also supporting the campaign by boycotting advertising on Facebook in June include the following.

Starbucks

In a recent blog post, Starbucks said that it will be pausing advertising on all social media platforms pending the outcome of its discussions internally, with the company’s media partners and with civil rights organisations with a view to stopping the spread of hate speech.

The coffee giant also urged a wider discussion on the subject, saying “We believe more must be done to create welcoming and inclusive online communities, and we believe both business leaders and policymakers need to come together to affect real change. “

It has been reported that Starbucks will, however, continue to use YouTube and to post to social media, but not to opt for paid promotions.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola’s Chairman and CEO, James Quincey, took to the Media Centre on the drinks company’s website to announce and even more stringent boycott.  Mr Quincey said, “There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media. The Coca-Cola Company will pause paid advertising on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days. We will take this time to reassess our advertising policies to determine whether revisions are needed. We also expect greater accountability and transparency from our social media partners”.

Progress But Insufficient

To date, the campaign has reported that although progress has been made with Facebook on these issues, the updates and policy changes made appear to be insufficient.

For example, areas where the “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign feels that Facebook is still falling short (according to the campaign’s website) include:

– Facebook appearing not to address hate more broadly in groups and posts rather than just in adverts.

– The possible spreading of voter misinformation just be before the next U.S. election.

– Where posts are shown due to their apparent newsworthiness, but still appear to promote hate.

– The need for more information about the metrics of a third-party audit Facebook regarding hate speech.

– A lack of detail about Facebook’s proposal to work with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the Media Ratings Council to identify appropriate brand safety audit requirements.

Facebook Says

Some of the things that Facebook has said in response to the campaign are that it intends to start labelling potentially harmful posts that it leaves up (because of news value), that it will ban ads that describe groups, based on  e.g. race or immigration status, as a threat and will remove any content if it appears to incite violence or suppresses voting, even if the post is from a politician.

Facebook has also highlighted the fact that a recent European Commission report found that Facebook removed 86% of hate speech last year, which is up from 82.6%.

Going Forward

For many businesses, Facebook is an important platform to advertise on, and this is particularly true coming out of a pandemic where sales need a dramatic boost. At the same time, as noted by Stephan Loerke, the chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers, this has become a societal rather than just a brand issue, and it is good to see major brands adding their own pressure to force change. 

Even though the action taken will mean that the brands aren’t totally deserting Facebook and will most likely feel, for commercial reasons, that they must begin advertising with Facebook after July, the point will have been made, and those brands will also feel that they have been true to worthwhile values, and their brands may ultimately be strengthened as a result. 

For Facebook, particularly in the light of the very poor publicity it received following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and over how the platform was shown to have been used to spread messages reportedly by Russia in relation to the last U.S. election, this campaign is likely to be another very public blow to its reputation and brand, as well as its advertising coffers.  Although Twitter has been used by President Trump to express some very controversial views, it has received some very good publicity for publicly fact-checking the President’s tweets, perhaps as a result of threats made to the platform by President Trump.

It remains to be seen, going forward, how far Facebook will go in terms of satisfying the campaign and many of its other critics as it too tries to walk a balance between commercial, operational and societal realities and where it can clearly and comfortably stand while trying to simply keep up with the practical management of a platform that receives hundreds of millions of posts a day.

New Edge Browser To All Windows 10 Users

The new, improved version of Microsoft’s Edge browser has been launched in an update to all Windows 10 users in a move that will give Google’s Chrome some competition.

Available To Millions of Users

In being made available via an update to Windows 10 versions 1803, 1809,1903 and 1909, the new version of Edge (Edge replaced Explorer), is now accessible to many millions of users.  This wide availability, coupled with the improved features that the updated Chromium-based browser has may mean that it narrows the gap further from its second-place market position towards Google’s Chrome in the first place.

Improvements

Microsoft says that Edge now offers “best in class compatibility with extensions and websites” and “provides great support for the latest rendering capabilities, modern web applications, and powerful developer tools across all supported OS platforms.”

In addition to having a new, swish green and blue wave-style logo (which stands out more on the screen), information to note about the new version of Edge includes:

  • Start menu pins, tiles, and shortcuts from the current version of Microsoft Edge migrate to the new Microsoft Edge, as do taskbar pins and shortcuts.
  • The new Microsoft Edge is pinned to the taskbar and replaces the current version of Edge if it is already pinned, and the new Edge adds a shortcut to the desktop and replaces any existing shortcut.
  • By default, most protocols that Microsoft Edge handles will have been migrated to the new Microsoft Edge.
  • The current version of Microsoft Edge will be hidden from UX surfaces in the OS. This includes settings, applications, and any file or protocol support dialog boxes.
  • Attempts to start the current version of Microsoft Edge redirect to the new Microsoft Edge.
  • The First Run Experience (FRE) auto-launches the first time that a device restarts after the new Microsoft Edge has been installed.
  • Data from earlier versions of Microsoft Edge (such as passwords, favourites, open tabs) are available in the new Microsoft Edge.
  • This new Microsoft Edge does not support uninstalling of the update.

New Features

Google’s Chrome has faced some criticism over security so Edge’s new security features may be one area where it can claw back some ground in competition and appeal to users who have been working from home during the pandemic and need to ensure that they can protect business data.  Some of the new security features include:

– The ‘Profiles’ feature helps users separate work and personal browsing using something called “Automatic Profile Switching”.  Edge allows users to set up different profiles and the switching feature deals with the challenge of getting links to open in the right profile and making sure that users don’t mistakenly open work content in their personal profile.  It does this by using a prompt to users to switch to their work profile to access a site without having to authenticate to it

– For Windows 10 and 8.1, Microsoft Defender SmartScreen is a feature in the new Edge to help users to identify reported phishing and malware websites and make informed decisions about downloads. SmartScreen analyses pages and determines if they might be suspicious, checks the sites that a user visits against a dynamic list of reported phishing sites and malicious software sites, and checks files that users download against a list of reported malicious software sites.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google’s Chrome is still far ahead in terms of user numbers, but this new version of Edge shows some promise in terms of security features and the fact that it has been instantly distributed to millions of users via a Windows update. The security features, if users are aware of them, may be particularly valued by those working from home and needing a secure browser, but also wanting to be able to easily separate their personal and work profiles.  The new Edge browser also has quick and easy links to Microsoft apps (from the app Launcher – top left) which users may also find useful in their day-to-day work. Some commentators have suggested that this Chromium-based browser looks as though it could be a worthy alternative to the mighty Google Chrome.

New “Watch Party” Feature For Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime subscribers can be part of 100-viewer “Watch Party” groups and enjoy access to thousands of movies and films as well as chat between group members.

Watch Party

The Watch Party feature, which is similar to that of Netflix, allows an Amazon Prime member to simultaneously stream and share their favourite movie or TV show with up to 100 friends and family members who are also Prime members.  The synchronised playback controls mean that the Prime Member can use live ‘live chat’ via text with the group and pause, play, and skip the action for the group.

Watch Party does not require a plug-in to download and can be used for anything included with Prime.

Netflix and Others

Amazon Watch Party is clearly a similar (and competing) offering to Netflix’s service. Netflix Party also offers synchronised video playback and adds group chat to Netflix shows so that Netflix members can link up with friends and host long-distance movie nights and TV watch parties.

Other streamers offering virtual viewing parties include Warner Media, Disney, and Disney Plus.

Desktop and U.S. Only

Amazon’s Watch Party is currently only available to those located in the U.S. and with a U.S.-based Prime subscription.  People can join in a web browser on their computer, and Watch Party is only for desktop browsers except for Apple’s Safari, although a mobile version is reported to be on the way.  Devices such as Fire TV, smart TVs, game consoles, connected media players, mobile phones, and tablets are currently not supported for Watch party.

How To Use

To launch a Watch Party, a user clicks on the Watch Party icon on their screen, browses titles and episode lists to choose what to watch, chooses a name to use while chatting and then shares their Watch Party link with up to 100 people (friends join by clicking on their link).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The pandemic has been good news for those companies offering streamed online entertainment services as millions of people have been spending a lot more time on those platforms and seeking entertainment while off work and having their movement outside restricted.

The fact that families and friends have been separated from each other and that people have been unable to have shared, public entertainment experiences e.g. cinema and concerts, has created more of an opportunity for shared online entertainment experiences such as Watch Parties.

For Amazon, Watch Party is a way that it can compete with other big streamers such as Netflix, and Amazon is in a good position to do so with the vast amount of entertainment titles that it offers.

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.