Google Going in Oz

Australia’s intention to introduce a new law to make tech companies like Google and Facebook pay publishers for news content has prompted Google to threaten to withdraw its search engine from Australia.

What Law?

The proposed law is currently a Bill for an Act to amend the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 in relation to digital platforms, and for related purposes.  It goes by the catchy name of the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Act 2020.  Full details of the Bill can be found here:  https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2020B00190

In short, the Australian government argues that because big tech companies like Google and Facebook acquire customers from people who want to read the news, these tech companies should, therefore, pay newsrooms a “fair” amount for their journalism through the process of paying the news sites for snippets and links. 

The Australian government also argues that having a strong news media helps democracy, but ‘traditional media’ (e.g. newspapers) have experienced a decline in sales and ad revenue, and this traditional media needs financial support. 

While traditional news media has seen falling ad revenues (particularly during the pandemic), Google’s revenue has been growing.  Google revenues, for example, amounted to 160bn (£117bn) globally in 2019.

Google, Facebook, and other tech companies are also facing the lobbying might of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia to encourage a change in the law that could see tech firms paying.

Google Says

Google says that it would prefer a fair code to a law (referring to a “News Media Bargaining Code”) and lists its main objections to the law in a blog post.  In short, Google argues that:

– It is unworkable because paying news sites for snippets and links would break how search engines work and undermine the principle of the open internet.

– The law/code is currently one-sided because it only takes into consideration publishers’ costs and attempts to discount the benefits publishers receive from Google.

– Giving news publishers “special treatment” in terms of a 14-day algorithm notification would delay updates and disadvantage website owners.

– The code breaks Google Search and puts Google’s business in Australia at risk and undermines the ability to freely link between websites (a bit like making a telephone directory pay businesses to feature in the directory).

– Others support Google’s argument that paying for links and snippets damages the web, such as The Business Council of Australia, Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) and Scott Farquhar, co-founder of Australian tech company Atlassian.

– Google believes that it has a better proposal for an amended version of the code that will support journalism without breaking Google Search, i.e. paying publishers through Google News Showcase, not for links and snippets in Search.

– Google does not “use” news content, but simply provides links to it without showing the full article.

– Google is not to blame for the decline in newspaper revenue over time.

– Google argues that it has helped to grow the digital economy in Australia and has provided $53 billion in benefits to businesses and consumers each year.

– The financial and operational risks of complying with such a law as its stands would mean that Google could not continue to offer a service in Australia.

– Google has also said that it will be blocking Australian news sites from its search results for around 1 per cent of local users as an experiment to test the value of Australian news services.

Not Responding To Threats

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has said that his country’s lawmakers would not give in to what they appear to see as threats and a kind of blackmail from Google.

The Australian Prime Minister has also stressed that it is very much the country’s parliament that makes the rules for what happens in Australia, not tech companies.

What Happens if Google Does Pull Out?

Google has a massive 90-95 per cent share of the search engine market in Australia and, as is also the case here, businesses rely heavily on Google’s search and advertising (AdWords) for a lot of their business, something that has become particularly important during the pandemic. Also, businesses use the other tools/products that come as part of Google e.g., YouTube and Google are essentially a technology as much as it is a browser, a suite of tools and an effective advertising platform. Losing Google altogether sounds as though it would have a devastating initial effect on businesses.  That said, Google has been made unavailable before in a whole country, i.e. China since 2010 in a row over censorship of search engine results.

There are, of course, other browsers that people could use if Google disappears, e.g. Bing, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo!, although this could lead to major turbulence and changes in many markets.

France Example

Even though Google is making some frightening noises, the fact that it has recently agreed deals with some publishers of newspapers in France does provide some hope that it will not disappear from Australia altogether.

New Competition Rules for Facebook and Google in the UK

Back in December, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that Facebook and Google would face new rules in 2021 to prevent abuse of their market dominance.

Google To Pay Publishers $1 Billion

Back in October, Alphabet Inc.’s CEO, Sundar Pichai said that Google would pay $1 billion to publishers globally for their news over the next three years. Sundar Pichai said that Google will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for what Google is calling its ‘Google News Showcase’.  This new product will launch in Germany first, where Google will be paying German newspapers such as Der Spiegel, Stern, Die Zeit, and in then in Brazil where Google will be paying Folha de S. Paulo, Band and Infobae for content.  Further similar rollouts of paid-for content as part of the Google News Showcase will then take place in Belgium, India, the Netherlands, and other countries.

200 Publishers

It has been reported that so far, 200 publishers in Argentina, Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, and Germany have signed up to the product.

Sundar Pichai says that the financial commitment Google is making to publishers is “our biggest to date”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many tech commentators agree that Google is essentially threatening such a drastic step to stop a precedent being set that could then be extended to other countries.  Rather than being forced to comply with different laws in different countries which would be complex and see Google paying lots of money to different publishers, if it does have to do something, Google would rather do things on its own terms, i.e. agree to pay a set amount per year to large groups of publishers as part of its ‘Google News Showcase’.

Google has clearly been doing well while traditional publishers have been struggling and lobbying hard to make Google pay.  For businesses who rely heavily on Google for their advertising and more, this threat is a real worry that comes at a particularly challenging time.  Businesses may take some comfort from the fact that Google has made an agreement with some publishers in France (and could do the same in Australia) and that US trade representatives have suggested that the proposed law is perhaps too tough, should be dropped, and would be to the detriment of the (big) US-based tech companies.

Featured Article – What is Zero Trust?

With mobile computing, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and now remote working moving the focus of IT security away from the traditional perimeter, this article looks at what a Zero Trust approach is and how it can help.

More Complex Demands

The belief among many IT security experts is that a traditional perimeter-based security approach may no longer be enough to cope with the more complex IT security requirements that a widening scope of computing and threats have brought. Additional authentication strategies are now needed.

First

The term ‘Zero Trust’ in relation to IT security was first used back in 2010 in a report by analyst firm Forrester when it was noted that there had been a big increase in the number of enterprises using the public cloud and that the security ‘perimeter’ was changing.

Zero Trust

The Zero Trust approach to IT Security (as highlighted by James Walsh of Fieldfisher) has the following characteristics:

  • It is a data-centric model i.e., protecting data from both internal and external threats rather than just relying on the old ‘castle and moat’ style perimeter security (address and location layer).
  • It works on the understanding that although as many precautions are being taken as possible, the modern reality that is not a case of “if” an attacker gets through, but “when”.
  • Rather than the old “trust, but verify” approach, the Zero Trust approach is “never trust, always verify” i.e., trust is never granted implicitly but must be continually evaluated / all network traffic and nodes are considered untrustworthy until proven otherwise. This means that any device must pass authentication and security policy checks to access any corporate resources. It also means controlling this access only to the extent required.
  • Zero Trust is not simply an approach. For it to work effectively, it requires compatible and connected policies, practices, software, and hardware that can create a whole, secure Zero Trust ecosystem.

Managing

In managing the device, user, and trust level, the Zero Trust approach uses:

  • Managing the monitoring and compliance of all endpoint devices (understanding the threats), including BYOD, through unified endpoint management.
  • Having one single sign-on point (SSO) where a single version of a user ID meets a single-entry point where the user credentials must be fully validated before accessing the business systems, as well as logging access in and out of the system.
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA) being used to establish a user’s credentials and using a single factor is no longer an option. MFA could include a security key, biometrics, a trusted device, and more.

Some of the main benefits of Zero Trust include:

  • Administrators can get an accurate inventory of infrastructure (i.e. which users, data, apps, and services are present) in the corporate infrastructure. This contributes to performance planning as well as security.
  • The monitoring and alerting gives a better ability to quickly detect and respond to cybersecurity threats. Examples of tools used for monitoring in a Zero Trust framework include security information and event management systems (SIEM) for centralised logging capabilities and IT infrastructure threat detection and response tools.
  • Improved user experience thanks to (for example) single sign-on (SSO) limiting the number of passwords needed and requiring a user to authenticate only once to gain access to everything they need.
  • Reducing the potential for gaps in the security infrastructure thanks to a universal security policy that is created once and then implemented from end to end throughout the organisation.
  • Making it easier and more flexible to move apps, data and services because with Zero Trust, app and data security policies are centrally managed and automation tools migrate the policies where they are required.

Components of a Zero Trust System

An example of the components of what is required for a Zero Trust network, in this case, NIST (US Government), include:

  • A policy engine (PE) and policy administrator (PA) at the centre (in tandem or as part of the same software) to decide whether machines or web traffic are safe and granting or revoking access. The PE uses external data sources to help make its decisions.

The policy engine uses external data sources data that can include:

  • Continuous diagnostic and mitigation (CDM) systems – providing information about (for example) the current security state, updating of a device’s OS and security software and more.
  • Industry (and organisational) compliance checks.
  • Threat intelligence feeds, e.g. about blacklists and malware.
  • Activity logs that could flag up a potential risk.
  • Data access policies for each individual and asset.
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI) to validate certificates.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) systems. These provide security-related data that can also be used to improve the whole Zero Trust system.
  • Other Zero Trust frameworks can use adaptations existing technologies, e.g. device sandboxing, a device/agent gateway model, micro-segmentation, and more.

Challenges to Implementing Zero Trust

As with any big change in a company/organisation, moving over to Zero Trust has its challenges which include:

  • Any legacy apps, tools and resources that are currently part of network and enterprise operations but aren’t easy to integrate with a Zero Trust system.
  • Regulations are currently running behind the implementation of many Zero Trust systems and these will need to change.
  • Achieving visibility and control in a network is a big challenge and many organisations don’t have a comprehensive view and are, therefore, still vulnerable through unpatched devices or users with too many privileges. In the shorter term, a hybrid approach to Zero Trust is likely to lead the way to full implementation.

Examples of Zero Trust (ZT) security models in action include:

  • The US federal government now operates a Zero Trust model.
  • Cloud service provider Akamai Technologies (US) – to let employees securely access internal applications but keep end-user devices off the corporate network entirely.

Resources and Links

Here are some links to a few useful resources and guides for Zero Trust IT security:

A Zero Trust security cheat sheet: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/zero-trust-security-a-cheat-sheet/.

How to implement Zero Trust with real-life examples: https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/feature/How-to-implement-zero-trust-security-from-people-who-did-it.

Looking Ahead

It is clear that mobile computing, the pace of technological change, the digital transformation and massive increase in remote-working (fuelled by the pandemic), not to mention soaring cyber-crime figures have highlighted the need for a data-centred approach and a move away from the ‘moat and castle’ view of IT security. Another good reason to opt for the Zero Trust approach is as a way of having a much better chance of avoiding the cost of a breach. Not surprisingly, Zero Trust entered the European security market in 2019 and IT and Security Risk professionals as well as many businesses and organisations are now seeing it as the natural and practical way forward.

Google Mobile Search Re-Design

Google has announced that to make it faster and easier for users to find what they are looking for, a major visual redesign of Google’s mobile search results is to be rolled out shortly.

Challenges

Some of the challenges that Google has tried to address with the new changes are the diversity in the types of content and information that it now must categorise and how this affects a person’s ability to find what they are looking for with the existing/old format, e.g. too much clutter at the top, mixed media and font sizes.

Changes

Some of the visual changes in the new mobile search engine results layout, championed by Google designer Aileen Cheng, include:

– Making text easier to read due to larger, bolder text, including more of Google’s own font, and making the result and section titles bigger.

– Putting more of the text information at the top and reducing the distraction of design elements around it.

– Creating more visual space / “breathing room” to make the results more central by using an edge-to-edge results design.

– Using more bold colours to highlight important elements as well as centre-aligning content and images against a clean background.

– Borrowing more from the branding by using more rounded icons and imagery.

– Generally refreshing the design elements whilst retaining familiarity and approachability.

Series of Re-Designs

Back in February 2020, Google marked the 15th anniversary of Google Maps by making changes to the Google Maps logo.  The map cut-out icon was replaced with a simpler navigation pin which was made up of colours that reflected the main Google logo.

Also, in October 2020, Google previewed a new icon for Gmail which some people at the time thought was an indication of more design changes to come. The more simplified multi-coloured M on a plain background was reported to be part of a wider G-Suite re-brand and as a way of showing the integration of many products that started years ago as individual apps.  The design change was a way of creating a consistent and simple look in Google Workspace i.e., the place where all Google’s productivity apps were visibly grouped, such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, and Sheets.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With most Google searches now conducted on mobile devices and with a huge variety as well as volume of content now part of Google’s search, it makes sense that Google would want to make changes that make things more friendly for users.  Google has been undertaking a general move anyway over the last year to visually represent the integration of the many products that it has built up over many years.  It may make sense, therefore, that its core search product is next for the treatment.  Google is also under pressure from various governments over requests to pay publishers to show links to their news content its search engine results.  It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that with its SERPs under so much scrutiny, Google would want to go on a charm offensive and ensure its products are looking their best. Mostly though, these relatively small design changes mark Google updating and integrating as it moves into an era where it has become more important than ever to home-workers and businesses that have undergone digital transformations and rely much more on Google’s products to help them function and compete in the more chaotic pandemic business environment.

Musk Offers $100 Million To Best Carbon Capture Inventor

Billionaire Tesla founder and SpaceX boss, Elon Musk, has pledged to give a $100 (£73 million) prize to whomever comes up with the best technology to remove carbon dioxide (which are generated from fossil fuels) from the air.

Jan 21st Tweet

In a Tweet on January 21, Elon Musk said, “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology”.  It has been reported that the $100M (£75M) will be connected to the Xprize Foundation, a non-profit foundation that hosts public competitions to encourage technological development.

Musk is No Stranger to Pledging or Donating 

As part of the Giving Pledge initiative started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett founded 2010, Elon Musk is one of the billionaires who have promised to give away half of their fortune in charitable donations.

What Is A Carbon Capture System?

A Carbon Capture System is a system that results in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), i.e. the removal and storage (back) underground (or turning into products) of carbon dioxide that has been created through the burning of fossil fuels.

Why?

Following Musk’s Tweet about a prize for the best carbon capture system, people suggested that planting more trees and toughening existing efforts to thwart climate change would be more helpful. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have recently been measured at 415 parts per million (ppm) which is the highest in human history. Unfortunately, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that existing measures may not be enough and that “negative emissions” / actively removing historical carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is necessary on a large scale to really start to slow down and reverse the damage.

Examples

Examples of how Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has been used to date include:

– Using Direct air capture (DAC) technology to remove carbon dioxide from the ambient air and storing it underground or turn it into products. Existing DAC systems use a liquid solvent to separate the Carbon Dioxide from the air. Swiss company Climeworks, for example, already operates 15 direct air capture machines across Europe (the world’s first commercial DAC system), powered by renewable energy.

– Canadian company Carbon Engineering operates a system that uses giant fans to pull air into a tower and passes the air over a potassium hydroxide solution to bind the carbon dioxide molecules.  This carbon dioxide is then purified and compressed to be used again.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For many years now, the world has been facing a climate emergency and with carbon dioxide levels at their highest in human history, and with warnings that removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is now necessary and not optional, Elon Musk’s offer has at least given attention to the issue.  Carbon offsetting is popular with businesses but has been criticised, e.g. by Greenpeace, for not actually working as planting trees can’t replace cutting carbon emissions. The climate emergency is something that individuals and businesses must face together and make changes in their own behaviour and consumption to help reduce carbon emissions. 

It is good news that President Biden has signed the US (back) up to the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at trying to keep the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to limit that warming to 1.5C. the agreement.  There are, however, still many countries, including those who have signed up, that are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels (such as coal), e.g. China.

Carbon Capture technology and systems are, therefore, necessary as well as representing an opportunity for a whole new sector e.g., the potential market value of DAC technology has been estimated at US$100bn by 2030. These systems should be just one weapon in the fight against global warming and a more holistic approach needs to be taken now with countries making the issue a priority and encouraging changes in behaviour and consumption wherever possible.

Tech Tip – Steps Recorder

If you would like a fast and easy way to describe to someone else (with pictures and steps) how you do something on your Windows 10 computer, the ‘Steps Recorder’ will record what you do and produce a file or slideshow showing those steps.

To record your steps:

– Go to the start menu and type in ‘Steps Recorder’.

– Click on the Steps Recorder App.

– Click the start button and carry out the steps you would like to demonstrate.

– Click on the stop button at the end.  The Steps Recorder will produce a document of your steps showing screenshots.

– You can then review the recorded steps as a file or as a slideshow.

– Save the steps as a .zip file. 

Electric Cars Allowed in Bus Lanes (Pilot)

Cambridgeshire County Council’s pilot scheme to allow electric vehicles to use bus lanes from December 2020 has caused safety concerns among cyclists, who also use the bus lanes.

December Decision

Under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO), a pilot scheme running from 14 December 2020 until 13 June 2021 (with the option to extend up to 18 months), Cambridgeshire County Council is allowing electric vehicle drivers to use the bus lane on the Elizabeth Way Bridge in Cambridge. Prior to the new ETRO, the bus lane in that area could also be used by taxis and cyclists but the new ETRO in December also gave the go-ahead for motorcycles and fully electric vehicles to use the bus lane.

Why?

In its published “Statement of Reasons”, Cambridgeshire County Council says of its scheme to allow (monitored) fully electric vehicle use in the bus lane “The Government has legislated to ban the purchase of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035 and is encouraging drivers to purchase ZEVs. By allowing them to use bus lanes, it is hoped that this will provide an additional incentive for people to buy ZEVs”.

As regards the reason for allowing motorcycles to also use the lane as part of the experimental order, the council says “Motorcycles are more fuel-efficient and use less road space than cars, so the Council wishes to encourage greater use of them. Allowing motorcycles to use bus lanes is an additional incentive for people to purchase and use powered two-wheelers in preference to private cars”.

Cambridgeshire County Council has given anyone wishing to object to the order being made permanent or to make any other representation regarding the scheme has 6 months to do so in writing.

Cyclists Concerned

Cyclists have voiced concern over the council’s pilot scheme.  For example, CAM Cycle, a Cambridgeshire cycling campaign group says that the move “should be extremely alarming to anyone who cares about cycling safety and public transport” and that “Electric cars are still cars. They take up a lot of space on the road, may endanger people who are cycling and will surely congest a facility that is meant to help public transport function more smoothly”.  The group is also concerned that this move will set a precedent that could destroy the idea of public transport priority as well as making life more difficult and dangerous for cyclists.

CAM also stressed that instead of choosing a temporary pop-up cycleway in one of the lanes on the other side of the Elizabeth Way bridge to help people during the pandemic, the council instead chose “a backward form road spacer reallocation” by instead opting for an ETRO that gives more space for cars at the expense of buses and people cycling.

Motorcyclists Delighted

The news that motorcycles, as well as electric vehicles, have been given the go-ahead to use the bus lane on the same bridge in Cambridge on the grounds that “motorcycles are more fuel-efficient and use less road space than cars, so the Council wishes to encourage greater use of them” has been met with delight by the local Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) members. The County Council also stressed the benefit of being able to “reduce the likelihood of motorcyclists weaving between lanes of slow-moving traffic to avoid queues”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is now a general global agreement that climate change is real and that greenhouse gasses need to be drastically reduced.  There are obvious congestion problems in many developed countries on the roads, as well as environmental targets to meet by governments. Electric vehicles, therefore, which have now been fully committed to by the big car manufacturers provide an important way to maintain mobility and drastically reduce emissions. The UK is aiming for only fully electric vehicles being sold after 2035 and so, from now on, more temporary schemes and ideas like the one in Cambridge are likely to appear on UK roads as a way of encouraging a switch to electric and a move to at least more fuel and space-efficient options like motorcycles on UK roads.  For cyclists, however, who are already using a green (and space-saving) way to travel, it is understandable that the threat of silent electric vehicles or motorcycles hitting them is causing concern and annoyance.  At the moment with lockdown restrictions in place, the full impact on the roads (and on the accident rate with cyclists) may not be possible to measure, but when lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the consequences of schemes like these may become clearer.

Featured Article – Data About You Held By UK Government

In this article, we look at not just the story of how a staggering 400,000 police records were accidentally deleted but also at the wider picture of what information is held about us UK citizens by the authorities, and what powers we have over that data.

Deleted

After first being reported in the Times newspaper, momentum has grown around the story of how it appears that due to “human error”, according to Home Secretary Priti Patel, some 400,000 police records have been deleted from the Police National Computer (PNC) database.  When the story first broke, it was reported on some UK TV news broadcasts that 150,000 records had been deleted and that these were for people where no further action was needed on their cases anyway.

For example, policing minister Kit Malthouse has been widely quoted as saying that “the affected records apply to cases where individuals were arrested and then released with no further action, and we are working to recover the affected records as a priority”.  Mr Malthouse has also said, however, that he is not entirely sure yet whether the loss of data of these police records could have an operational impact on the work of the police.

Types of Records

The types of records believed to have been deleted include 200,000+ offence records,175,000 arrest records, and 15,000 person records, as well as 26,000 DNA records, 30,000 fingerprint records, and 600 ‘subject’ records.

Human Error?

It has been reported that the human error that is being blamed for the mass deletion relates to mistakes made on a routine “weeding” session of surplus data and the running of “defective code”.

What Now?

Despite the deletions, it is understood that work is underway to write a new code to somehow restore the lost data.

Public Safety

Clearly, losing the records of potential or known criminals could jeopardise investigations and adversely affect UK justice and public safety as well as letting down victims of crime and their families.

Data Security

In addition to being a threat to public safety, the mishandling or loss of personal data is normally a matter for data security laws. In this case, the data has been deleted and so isn’t in danger of affecting the privacy of security of data subjects. That said, there is an important distinction to make between data handled by businesses and by law enforcement, and to clarify what the data law situation is following Brexit.

The introduction of GDPR saw UK businesses having to upgrade their understanding of (and dealing with) personal data. Since Brexit, the DPA 2018, which already enacts GDPR’s requirements in UK law has been amended by and merged with the DPPEC (Data Protection, Privacy and Electronic Communications (Amendments etc) (EU Exit)) Regulations 2019 amends the DPA 2018. The new amended and merged post-Brexit data laws in the UK are now known as ‘the UK GDPR’.

Unlike data held and processed by UK businesses however, data held by law enforcement and for the purposes of national security is (according to the ICO) not covered by GDPR (i.e. UK GDPR), which is similar to being exempt. Police data, used for the purpose of investigating a crime, for example, is subject to the rules in Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Exemptions and Your Data Rights

There is also an exemption in GDPR for the processing of personal data for the prevention and detection of crime.  According to the ICO, if there had been a data breach from the police, the exemption under GDPR would mean that the police would not have to notify individuals of a personal data breach if that data had been processed as part of crime prevention and detection.  In essence, this appears to suggest that if your data is stolen from a police computer, you don’t have the same rights as if it was stolen from a business computer (i.e. you have lost some of your data protection rights).

What Kind of Data is Stored Where?

This case has triggered questions about the kind of data that is stored about UK citizens by the police and other authorities, as well as where and how that data is stored.

Police ‘data’ could refer to criminal convictions, cautions warnings, and reprimands, but also includes biometric data such as fingerprints and photos, CCTV footage (your image is your personal data), mobile phone messages, texts, emails, other written documents and more.

Police data can be stored by the local police force in your area as well as one of many national databases including, as in this case, the Police National Computer (PNC) or the National DNA Database (NDNAD), National Fingerprints Database (IDENT1), Custody Suite Imaging System (CSIS), and more databases besides.

For How Long?

According to the UK’s College of Policing, information about how long your data can or should be kept by the police is guided by a principle rather than a hard and fast rule, although a policy setting standard retention period should be set “wherever possible”.  The “Fifth principle” of data storage limitation says that for law enforcement and general processing personal data should not be retained for longer than it is needed, and police need to be able to justify how long personal data is retained for, depending on the purposes for holding that information.  This principle acknowledges that individuals have a right to erasure if that information is no longer needed although it also states that “personal data can be kept for longer if the police are only keeping it for public interest archiving, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes”.

For Biometric Data (i.e. fingerprints and DNA) in most cases, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amends to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) to allow police in England and Wales to keep a person’s biometric information indefinitely. 

Criminal Records Check

Employers can request a basic, standard, or enhanced AccessNI check from the police records which discloses different types of information about a person’s criminal record history.  Basic and standard checks can take about 10 days whereas an enhanced check can take about 3 weeks.  Convictions for certain crimes will appear on these checks but some cautions, fines, offences and spent convictions won’t appear.

The different levels of checks are:

Basic – for details of all convictions considered to be unspent.

Standard – containing details of all spent and unspent convictions, informed warnings, cautions and diversionary youth conferences.

Enhanced – contains the same information as a standard check and police records held locally.  This type of check is usually required for work with children and vulnerable adults, the check may include information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Requesting Your Data To Be Removed From Police Records

There are some circumstances under which a persons’ data, including biometric data in some cases, can be removed from police records on request. These circumstances are detailed here: https://www.acro.police.uk/Services/Record-deletion and guidance about the process is given here: https://www.acro.police.uk/ACRO/media/ACRO-Library/Deletion-of-Records-from-National-Police-Systems-(Guidance)-v2-1-April-2020.pdf.

Freedom of Information Request

In addition to much of the work of the police being kept secret for obvious reasons, much of the work of the UK government is also subject to laws relating to (national) security and privacy, although there is a wish to allow transparency where possible and where risks are minimised. The government actively publishes a lot of information and engages with the media as part of this transparency process.

Sometimes there are situations where individuals and organisations would like to find out more from the government (or the police) than what has been published or made freely available.  As the Institute for Government says, “Freedom of information, parliamentary questions and ministerial correspondence are important mechanisms through which Parliament and the public can get information out of government”.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows members of the public and press to submit Freedom of Information requests (FOI).  If certain conditions are met, public authorities are then required under this act to release any information they hold relating to the request.  The Freedom of Information Act applies to government departments and the executive agencies and public bodies they sponsor, parliament, the armed forces, devolved administrations, local authorities, the NHS, schools, universities, and police forces.

Submitting a Freedom of Information Request

Anyone can submit a Freedom of Information request (FOI) and there are no restrictions on nationality, residency status or age. A request must ideally be made in writing (or verbally if writing is really not possible) and be sent directly to the relevant organisation, stating clearly what information is being requested, providing the requester’s real name with a valid address (postal or email) to where the reply can be sent.

If the recipient (e.g. a government department) decides that the request is resolvable, it may choose to either provide all or just some of the information that has been requested and it may decide to withhold some or all the information that has been requested. 

Numbers

Government departments usually receive up to 8,000 Freedom of Information requests every quarter.  In Q2 of 2020, for example, 6770 requests were received by the UK government.  Only 4956 of these were deemed to be resolvable and 1884 of these resolvable requests were withheld in full.

Guidance on submitting a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/make-a-freedom-of-information-request

Looking Ahead

At the time of writing this article, the matter of the deleted 400,000 police records is still ongoing and information about the incident is still being gathered.  At the same time, questions are currently being asked about matters of responsibility and when the Home Secretary is going to be made available to answer questions about the incident.

The implications of this mass deletion of offence, arrest, person, fingerprint, and DNA records could be that the solving of other crimes committed by known offenders may not be possible because the data is no longer available to cross-reference.  The loss may also already be having an immediate impact on fighting crime as data from the Police National Computer (PNC) is used in real-time checks.  The best-case scenario now is, of course, that the data can be restored and that procedures are changed to make sure that the same error can’t happen again.  If the data cannot be restored this could be a major blow to law and order which could adversely affect individuals, communities, and businesses, and represents a frustrating waste of valuable time, effort, and police resources in gathering the data in the first place.

Signal Crashes Due To Millions of Sign-Ups

With more than 30 million people joining the non-profit, end-to-end encrypted communications app ‘Signal’ in just a few days, users of the app have (understandably) been experiencing a few technical issues.

Mass Sign-Ups

The announcement that WhatsApp would be changing its privacy policy and terms to force users (outside Europe) to share their data with WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook, coupled with recommendations by Elon Musk and Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey of the Signal app as a worthy alternative led to Signal’s platform being swamped with sign-ups. 

From 10 Million to 40+ Million Users

Last week, Signal’s user base soared from a respectable 10 million to a massive 40 million-plus, thereby immediately catapulting it to the no.1 social networking app spot in Apple’s App Store.

Issues

It appears that the mass exodus caused a need for greater server capacity which resulted in Signal users experiencing technical issues which included:

– Delays in sending verification codes for new-user sign-ups.

– Users seeing errors in their chats.

– The app has stopped working altogether for short periods of time.

Capacity

The huge numbers of people joining and trying to sign-up to (and use) the app in a very short period meant that Signal was short of server capacity which is likely to explain many of the technical issues. For example, Signal said on its Twitter feed on Friday that “We have been adding new servers and extra capacity at a record pace every single day this week nonstop, but today exceeded even our most optimistic projections”.

Back on Sunday

On Sunday, Signal was restored after it had gone down altogether, and posted a famous clip from the film Rocky (where the boxer reaches the top of the steps and celebrates) saying “Signal is back! Like an underdog going through a training montage, we’ve learned a lot since yesterday — and we did it together. Thanks to the millions of new Signal users around the world for your patience. Your capacity for understanding inspired us while we expanded capacity”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

WhatsApp’s announcement that users would be soon given an ultimatum (share your information with Facebook or leave) coupled with the Signal recommendation from two tech big-hitters seems to have been enough to cause WhatsApp users to jump ship more quickly and in larger numbers than maybe anyone expected.  WhatsApp may have 2 billion users worldwide but 40 million+ is a lot of users to lose in just a few days. It may be that people working remotely (from home) during the pandemic made the message about WhatsApp get noticed and people take action more quickly and in larger numbers, and it may be that the closing of apps like Parler could have contributed at least some new users to Signal. It also appears, however, that people clearly value their data privacy and like the thought of having one popular end-to-end encrypted app for business and personal use. It may also be the case that Facebook is still suffering from a lack of trust in the marketplace left over from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and that people are hearing, seeing, and experiencing so many messages, rules, intervention, and changes from their governments at this time that having a new secure app of some kind, especially from a relatively unknown brand (not one of the big tech big brothers) is even more attractive. Digital transformation and the reliance on technology and apps in recent times may also have led to a greater willingness to (and less fear of) switching between alternative platforms and other tech services.  The massive switch to Signal will fuel its growth even more quickly as one of the attractions of using a new communications app is knowing that your other contacts are also using it.

PC Sales Get Biggest Boost in 10 Years From Remote Working

Global tech market analysts Canalys have reported that the worldwide PC market has received its biggest sales boost in 10 years as remote working fuels the ongoing digital transformation.

Highest Full-Year Growth Since 2010

Canalys reported on 11 January that the global PC market ended 2020 on a high with 25 per cent sales growth in Q4 of desktops, notebooks and workstations reaching 90.3 million units, and that total PC shipments in 2020 grew 11 per cent to reach 297.0 million units.  Canalys reports that this is the highest full-year growth since 2010 and the highest shipment volume since 2014.

Lenovo Top

Lenovo tops the Q4 sales market with 23.1 million units and year-on-year growth of 29 per cent, followed by HP in second place with 19.1 million units shipped, Dell in third place with 50.3 million units shipped (up 27 per cent), Apple in fourth place (22.6 million devices shipped) and Acer in fifth place, shipping 20.0 million devices.

Canalys reports that just these top 5 vendors accounted for 78.5 per cent of PC shipments in 2020.

Reason

Most tech commentators agree that the pandemic has revived what was a declining PC market.  Back in November, for example, International Data Corporation (IDC) research indicated that shipments of EMEA traditional PCs (desktops, notebooks, and workstations) would total 82.1 million in 2020, a 12.7 per cent year-on-year growth due to the increased demand caused by the need for people to work at home during the pandemic.

Digital Transformation

A survey by Studio Graphene in September 2020 showed that the need to quickly shift staff to working from home because of the lockdown appeared to be a driver and an accelerator of digital transformation for businesses.  The survey showed that nearly half (46 per cent) of business leaders said that said Covid-19 had driven the most pronounced digital transformation that their businesses had experienced.

This Year

Even though the pandemic has caused some supply chain issues, there have been innovations on chipsets and the demand for devices has continued to remain strong into 2021, as it is expected to do for at least the first quarter. Some commentators have noted how the shift by many businesses to an indefinite remote working environment, coupled with factors like the need to educate children at home, look like favouring more mobile than stationary devices, going forward.  That said, and as the sales figures show, PCs have been at the heart of a very large global digital transformation and as Rushabh Doshi, Canalys Research Director says, “the PC industry caters to a broader range of customers that bring with them new behaviours and use cases”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Prior to the pandemic, PC sales were in decline but the need for people to work from home has provided a massive boost to PC sales.  As the second peak has been even worse than the first and with more infectious new strains emerging, this shift to remote working has meant that PC businesses and their supply chains have thrived and struggled to meet demand.  Many business customers have undergone an accelerated digital transformation, have put technology at the heart of their operations and have made changes to their whole businesses where possible that could see a more permanent shift to a remote workforce using PCs and other devices, thereby ensuring that the curve in PC sales does not dip for some time yet.

Tech Tip – Stop Skype From Opening Automatically

If you would like to stop Skype from opening and appearing automatically, every time you log into or start-up Windows 10, here’s how:

– Go to ‘Settings’ (type ‘Settings’ in the taskbar and select it).

– Click on ‘Apps’.

– On the ‘Apps and Features’ page, left-hand side, click on ‘Startup’.

– Switch the Skype toggle to ‘Off’.

To also stop Skype from carrying out tasks when you have not asked it to, go back to the main Settings page and:

– Click on ‘Privacy’.

– Left-hand side, scroll down and click on ‘Background apps.

– Find Skype and click the toggle to ‘Off’.