Monday, March 27, 2017

Criminal Charge For Sending Flashing Tweet To Epileptic

A man has been arrested after he alleged tweeted a flashing animated strobe-style picture, which triggered an epileptic seizure in the recipient.

US police found (after searching sender 29-year-old John Rayne Rivello’s computer) that he had been researching the triggers of epileptic seizures online.

Part of a Planned Hate Campaign?

Further forensic searches of Maryland-based Mr Rivello’s computer by police found more evidence that the sending of the flashing image to the victim, Texas-based Kurt Eichenwald, appeared to be part of simmering and pre-planned hate campaign. Among the digital evidence, police discovered:
  • Messages sent to other Twitter users about Mr Eichenwald, with some suggesting a plan for a virtual attack. One such message from Rivello was found to say "I hope this sends him into a seizure".
  • A screenshot of an altered Wikipedia page for Mr Eichenwald in Mr Rivello’s iCloud account. The alterations, allegedly made by Mr Rivello’, included a death date for Mr Eichenwald of the day after the (allegedly) malicious tweet had been sent.
  • A message, allegedly sent by Mr Rivello to Mr Eichenwald, saying “You deserve a seizure for your post”.
The Victim

The victim (Mr Eichenwald) is a s+enior writer at Newsweek magazine, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a best-selling author of four books. One book, ‘The Informant’ (from 2000), was made into a film in 2009. Since 1986, Mr Eichenwald has been employed by The New York Times since 1986 and primarily covered Wall Street and corporate topics.

It was widely known that Mr Eichenwald suffered from epilepsy because he had written articles about the condition and his struggles with it, since being diagnosed at the age of 18 in 1979. He was awarded a journalism prize from the Epilepsy Foundation of America for his 1987 article about the condition.

After seeing the flashing image tweeted by Mr Rivello, Mr Eichenwald reportedly suffered an epileptic seizure that has had long lasting effects on his health.

The Motivation?

The motivation for the attack is not clear, although some commentators have alleged that it may be down to Mr Eichenwald’s public criticism of President Donald Trump.

Flashing & Seizures

There is medical evidence to suggest that flashing images that fill the field of vision and that change abruptly in light intensity and luminance could trigger seizures in an epilepsy sufferer.

Technical commentators have pointed out that a seizure-triggering image would have to be very carefully constructed to take account of the visual limitations of Modern LED screens and to make sure that the flash rate of the image fell within the most sensitive range of 15-25 flashes per second.

Cyber Stalking Charge

According to the New York Times, Mr Rivello now faces a charge of criminal cyber-stalking and could face a 10-year sentence.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how the form of cyber-attacks can be wide and varied, and how determined individuals can use information about victims that they find online to target their attacks. Cyber criminals use similar research and information gathering processes to attack company systems. Most attacks on companies, however, arrive via email in the hope that opening emails and clicking on bogus links can enable the loading of malware onto the victim’s computer. In addition to having anti-virus and email filtering protection, staff should be educated on how to spot and deal with potentially dangerous emails and suspicious contacts. Businesses should also be aware that attacks can also come from disgruntled ex-employees for example, with insider knowledge of IT and data systems.

Car Costs Could Skyrocket

If car manufacturers are given sole access your modern car’s digital data records (and not third party repair businesses), this could mean that manufacturers will recommend their own repair centres and spare parts, which would very likely mean higher bills and less choice for you.

Argument

The argument between car manufacturers / manufacturer-owned businesses and independent / third party car repair and other businesses over who has access to your car’s data is now well under way.

What Data?

Today’s car engines contain sensors and mini-computers (as required by European law) and they have an onboard diagnostic (OBD) port, which allows mechanics to plug in a cable and access the data stored in the car's computer or electronic control unit (ECU).

As well as giving access to diagnostic performance data, this port gives access to emissions data, which enables them to check whether vehicles comply with pollution regulations.

The mini-computers and sensors (which are now important parts of modern engines) measure, collect and send data to car manufacturers about wear and tear on your car’s parts, your car’s fuel efficiency, and how far and fast your car has been driven, among other things.

Your engine’s computer also transmits other potentially lucrative data to your manufacturer such as when your service is due.

Unfair Advantage For Manufacturers?

Third-party car repair and car parts retailers, supported by the FIGIEFA, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), Cecra, FiA, ADPA, and Leaseurope are arguing that:
  • Since manufacturers are the only ones with access to the data being sent from their cars, they can recommend their own spare parts and repair shops. This is an unfair advantage that distorts the market. Consumers are given less choice and face having to travel further than they would like (to manufacturer-owned / endorsed repair shops), and may face higher bills if manufacturers are allowed to only recommend their own parts and repair businesses.
  • The use of cloud-based programs called hypervisors could enable the widespread use of a vehicle interoperable, standardised, secure and open-access platform. This could provide a way for third-party companies to securely access car data, and could create fair competition in the market.

The other side of the argument comes from the car manufacturers, supported by The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). This point of view states that:
  • Allowing direct third-party access to vehicular electronic systems will jeopardise safety, cyber security (because vehicle electronic systems could be hacked) and vehicle integrity.
  • Allowing third-parties access to car computer systems is a threat to trade-secrets and aspects of those systems that are covered by intellectual property rights.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It does seem as though there is little scope for competition and a possible unfair advantage for car manufacturers while they retain sole access to car computer data. Economics, and the experiences of other markets would suggest, therefore, that servicing bills for your business vehicles are likely to be higher while the power rests with a relatively small group of manufacturers. It could also mean less choice, and more inconvenience.

Robots Helping The Elderly

In an age when people are living longer, healthcare systems and resources are being strained, with elderly people facing challenges like loneliness, more research is being carried out into how robots could bridge the care gap.

The Challenges

The global population is ageing. In the UK alone for example, people are having fewer children and living longer lives. By 2040, nearly one in seven people is projected to be aged over 75 (UK Government figures) and this will mean that public spending will need to increase, and already stretched care systems will be under unprecedented pressures. Meeting the caring and or nursing needs of the elderly, as well as addressing companionship issues, are likely to be major issues facing us all in years to come.

How Can Robots Help?

Research into (and the development of) ‘robo-nurse’ and ‘robo-carer’ devices has been taking place over several years now. Examples include:
  • A robot receptionist called Nadine at the Institute of Media Innovation, in Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. Nadine uses AI, and is capable of autonomous behaviour. The ability to recognise people and human emotions, and make associations using a knowledge database could mean that this type of robot has potential as a nurse for elderly people.
  • A robo-pet ‘baby seal’ called ‘Paro’. Developed in Japan, the units (5,000 of which are already in use) respond to touch and are designed to make eye contact. The therapeutic effects of these pets have been reported to include the improvement of symptoms such as depression, anxiety and stress in dementia patients. There is also evidence that ‘Paro’ units have helped non-verbal patients to speak again. Medical commentators have highlighted the potential for robo-pets like Paro to help with treatments for post-traumatic stress disorders, neuro-cognitive rehabilitation for stroke patients, help for children on the Autism-spectrum, and help with pain management or palliative care patients.
  • Robot units that can monitor aspects of patients’ health, administer some aspects of care and medication, and send alerts when needed.

Ethical And Security Issues

Some security and technology commentators have highlighted possible ethical and security issues with the use of robotic solutions. Protection, and the ethical use of the personal data gathered about individuals by robots may be a cause for concern. There is also an argument that the use of robots may simply mean that elderly patients are more isolated, and will miss out on many of the factors that real human contact can bring.

IBM Favours IoT

IBM has been reportedly looking more at IoT rather than robot solutions as a more immediately viable option. For example, the company is reported to have experimented with IoT sensors and how they can be used to identify changes in physical conditions or anomalies in a person's environment. The purpose of this kind of sensor is to understand a person's habits and to spot potentially significant changes to those habits remotely. This will enable the care provider to respond accordingly.

Costs Of Robots A Big Concern

Health and care budgets here in the UK are stretched anyway. With the current likely costs of individual robots running into thousands of pounds, the idea of providing robot nurses and carers on a large scale may still be some way off.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The development and merging of technologies such as AI, robotics, IoT and smart technologies, could present a realm of new business opportunities and opportunities for innovation within existing markets. There appears to be a broad consensus that the need for all kinds of scalable care solutions for the elderly and the sick exists, and will become greater over time. This represents major potential markets for the right technology-based products and services.

£8M Funding For ‘Sell In 90 Days’ London Estate Agent

The innovative London-based start-up Nested, which guarantees to sell your house within 90 days, has raised a further £8 million in funding from investors.

Launched in January last year, the company has now raised a total of £11 million thanks to backing by venture capitalist groups and individuals.

The ‘Win-Win’ USPs

The big difference between Nested’s and other estate agent’s offerings is that Nested guarantees to sell a client’s house for 95-98% of market value within 90 days. It also says that, if it does achieve a higher sale price than the one it guaranteed/offered, either before or after the 90 days, it will split the difference, up to 70/30 in favour of the property owner.

The big benefit to customers that these USPs provide is to take away the uncertainty that the house selling process brings, particularly where the presence of a chain is concerned, or where the house has been on the market with an agent for a few months or longer, and nothing has happened. In both cases, the seller is essentially looking for speed in what has become a crowded housing market, as well as getting a good price, and the USPs that Nested offers appear to be a way to achieve those aims.

Technology Behind The USPs

How the company uses technology and data to accurately price property in the first place are the competencies that have enabled them to build and deliver upon their USPs.

Who Has Invested?

The recent round of investment saw contributions from Passion Capital, GFC (Rocket Internet’s venture arm), and Tim Bunting, who is a partner at Balderton Capital and former Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Broke-Even In Month Four

So far, Nested have proven to be very popular, and figures from the company show that they have an average of 5 clients per month. This translates into an annual run-rate of more than £1 million, and helped the company to reach the break-even point in only the fourth month of trading.

What Next?

The founders of Nested are reported to believe that, with the funding, and with their unique position in the estate agent marketplace, they are able to achieve 1,000+ sales per month in the not-too-distant future. This, no doubt, will make them even more attractive to any future investors and potential stakeholders, and could trigger a round of me-too offerings from existing and new competitors.

Companies such as Purple Bricks have already paved the way for customers to be more accepting of (and more likely to consider) different types of less traditional estate agent models.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how technology-fuelled innovations in existing markets that provide solutions to long-standing challenges can be incredibly attractive to both investors and customers. It also highlights how the technology and the web, and the success of innovative, other technology-fuelled companies have given more options for funding, and have speeded-up the process of bringing new products to market. This creates more potential opportunities for all companies, including start-ups. This story also highlights the fact that, if your company can be particularly smart in how it uses data and technology, it may be possible to create a hard-to-copy competitive advantage.

Facebook Social Data-Sharing & Surveillance Bans

Facebook and Instagram privacy policies are reported to have been updated with the intention of stopping developers and businesses from using the data they find there to provide surveillance tools.

What’s Been Happening?

Facebook, which acquired Instagram in 2012, has reportedly been concerned, particularly in recent months, about how data posted by users of its social networks, such data posted by activists / protesters and other targeted communities, has been the subject of surveillance by developers, businesses and governments.

Facebook also appears to be making the move in response to accusations from rights and pressure groups that Facebook (and Instagram) have allowed these activities to happen too easily. This is one of the main reasons why Facebook has been working with leaders from the Civil Liberties Union of California, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice in order to create Privacy Policy changes that meet with the approval of some of its more high-profile critics.

A Commercial Example

One example of a way in which an Insurance Company was almost allowed to use surveillance of Facebook profiles (Facebook said no at the eleventh hour) of individual users was Admiral Insurance. Back in November 2016, Admiral wanted to trial a scheme, with the approval of Facebook, whereby the contents of the Facebook profiles of young drivers would be used in order to judge their safety as drivers (and thereby influence their insurance premiums). It was reported that the insurance company wanted to look at the posts and likes on a young driver’s Facebook profile and to use them in deciding the level of risk of that the driver. These collected details would, therefore, form part of the personality profile that the company would use as a commercial price setting tool.

Some critics of Facebook’s old Privacy Policy have also said that it allowed the promotion of payday loans to Facebook users, and provided another tool to enable the payday loan companies to decide whether they would approve or deny someone a loan.

The New Privacy Policies

There have been reports that enforcement action has been taken in recent months against some developers who have created and marketed tools meant for surveillance, in violation of the existing Privacy Policies.

The new Privacy Policies, which have been described as a “first step” by Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, have made it even clearer that developers and businesses cannot use the data obtained from the platforms to provide tools that are used for surveillance, and more enforcement action looks likely.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses and other organisations hoping to create, provide or use tools that are used for surveillance will now have to be more inventive about where and how they obtain their data, although this change from Facebook is essentially good news for customers. The policy changes could potentially influence other companies e.g. tech companies to better protect users’ privacy, and to refuse to share data for the purposes of wide-scale government surveillance.

Timely Content ... Or A Sneaky Advert?

Google recently removed an unprompted audio advert from its Google Home smart speaker / digital assistant system after accusations that the piece was simply an unrequested advert.

Beauty and the Beast

The controversial incident occurred when 'Google Home' users were played some unprompted, unrequested audio about the opening date of the new film Beauty and the Beast. The announcement about the film, which was broadcast just after the time and weather listings and the travel update, was reportedly regarded by many listeners to have resembled a short advert.

The 41 second video of the audio piece was posted on Twitter, and prompted accusations from other Twitter users that this could be an example of an attempt to ‘monetize’ the system, and that Google Home users could end up paying someone to advertise to them in the privacy of their own homes.

The video can be found here: https://mobile.twitter.com/brysonmeunier/status/842358950536318976

Google Says It Is ‘Content’

According to Google, the piece that Google Home users heard was not an advert, but was an example of "seasonal timely content". The audio piece was part of "My Day" feature, the idea of which is to let the digital assistant provide users with an update, which can include calendar events and news bulletins.

Could Do Better

Google has stated that it has been experimenting with new ways “to surface unique content”, and that the Beauty and the Beast feature “wasn't intended to be an ad”. A Google spokesperson has been publicly quoted as saying that the tech giant “could have done better in this case” in terms of ‘surfacing’ the ‘content’.

Intrusive

Technical commentators have pointed out that unlike TV, where we expect to see and tend to naturally ‘filter out’ adverts, with an audio digital voice assistant, adverts tend to stand out much more and can  be seen as intrusive.

Not Unless Requested

One of the benefits of the Google Home system that is valued by users is that they are able to choose and request what they listen to on a system that is offering something quite different to a pre-prepared, commercial radio programme.

Google Home and Amazon Echo

The Google Home digital assistant, which is not yet available outside the US, is similar to the Amazon Echo but it appears to be based on a different business model. Whereas the Amazon Echo digital assistant is funded by the Amazon sales that it helps to drive, Google products tend to be based on a model that relies partly upon funding from advertising.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of how businesses need to be very clear about (and stick to) the offering that they make to customers about a product or service. Any change that has not been communicated to customers adequately and which appears to ‘move the goalposts’ can result in negative publicity, lost customers, and damage to sales revenue. This also illustrates how many customers dislike interruptive and intrusive advertising. It also shows what a fine-line companies have to tread and how careful they have to be when choosing to promote 3rd party products / services within their own services and channels. It is the view and perception of the customer that is ultimately the most important and most powerful one.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Robot Lawyer For Refugees

A UK student has developed a chatbot computer program that can be used to provide refugees with legal advice and help, via the Facebook Messenger app.

DoNotPay

The program was originally launched in March 2016 by a 20-year-old British man, Joshua Browder, who is currently studying at Stanford University. The program was named “DoNotPay” because it was originally designed to help users to get out of parking or speeding tickets. Mr Bowder was inspired to develop the program after his own experiences of receiving tickets as a young driver.

A version of the chatbot was also altered from helping drivers, to helping those in need of emergency housing in August 2016.

Inspired to Adapt the Program by Family History

Mr Browder said that the inspiration for changing his original chatbot into something that could provide help to refugees came from the fact that his grandmother was a refugee from Austria during the Holocaust.

How Does It Work?

The chatbot is primarily designed to help refugees to the UK and the US complete their immigration applications and it has been developed using the help of lawyers in both countries.

Users of the chatbot are asked a series of questions which are designed to discover whether they are eligible for asylum protection under international law. As well as capturing the personal details needed to automatically fill in the application form for the user, the program uses AI to provide feedback, and makes suggestions as to how an asylum seeker can best answer questions to maximise their chances of having their application accepted.

In addition to enabling users to complete an application, the chatbot also provides other location specific instructions, documentation and resources.

Availability

The chatbot is available through the Facebook Messenger app, and can be used on both Android and Apple devices. There are plans to make the chatbot available in other languages in future, including Whatsapp.

Criticism

Although the intention of helping vulnerable people has been widely praised, some critics have pointed out that refugees are often among the least internet-connected groups in society, and only 39% of them have mobile internet access (UN figures).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The use of AI chatbots is becoming much more widespread in many different business sectors (e.g. banking) because they can play a useful, cost-saving and quality-maintaining role in some aspects of customer service. This story also shows how they are being applied to 3rd sector projects and organisations and AI chatbots represent an opportunity that has not yet been fully explored for organisations of all kinds.

Google’s New Simpler Captcha

A new Captcha system, developed by Google, will secretly study how your interact with a web page rather than asking questions or setting puzzles in order to prove that you are a ‘human’ visitor.

Why Captchas?

‘Captcha’ is actually an acronym (dating back to 2000) for ‘Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart’. Captchas are used to stop automated bots accessing and using websites and other online resources. If Captchas are not used, some of these bots can post spam comments in blogs, sign up for thousands of email accounts every minute e.g. on Yahoo, buy multiple tickets from ticket sites, gather email addresses (written in text) from web pages, distort online polls, and launch dictionary attacks on password systems. The use of Captchas can also offer full protection to pages that you don’t want indexed by search engines, and offer worm and spam protection.

Captchas are also useful to search engines in training their AI bots to recognise aspects of photographs.

Typical Types

Typical Types of Captchas include puzzles (when logging into a website) that ask you to tick the boxes in picture puzzle grid that show e.g. parts of a shop-front or road signs, or asking you to enter a series of letters and numbers that you can see displayed in a Captcha-generating box.

Google’s New ‘reCaptcha’ System Is ‘Invisible’

The important difference about Google’s new system ‘reCaptcha’, from a user perspective, is that it is invisible i.e. it no longer sets puzzles or asks the user to record their interpretation of visual or audio cues (in most cases).

Tick A Box First

Instead, reCaptcha asks users to tick a check box on the website they are using. It then runs in the background, monitoring the behaviour of user on the web page, and therefore relies upon its ability to be able to tell the difference between human and robot behaviour. For example, humans may take longer to complete online forms, will move the mouse around, and will need to interact with elements of them, such as the submit button. Robots on the other hand can complete this kind of process quickly, and with little or no mouse use.

Where the new system is particularly suspicious that web page activity is robot-like, it can still choose, at that point, to deploy a puzzle.

What Does It Mean For Your Business?

For web users i.e. potential or existing business customers, although they may be used to being met with a Captcha when accessing many services online, it can still be an irritation, a possible deterrent, and can have a negative impact on the experiences of customers on business websites. The reduced impact and interruption of the new system could therefore allow businesses to strike a better balance between providing good online experiences, while providing effective protection from spammers, and other problems that unlimited bot access can create.

Company Tracked Customer Sexual Activity Via ‘Smart’ Sex Toy

Worries about the security vulnerabilities in ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices just reached a new level after a Canadian ‘adult sensual lifestyle products’ manufacturer was found to have been secretly tracking their customers’ use of their sex toys.

Big Turn-Off

Customers of start-up firm Standard Innovation, manufacturers of ‘We-Vibe’ products, have been left red-faced and angry after the company was judged by a court to have been guilty of covertly gathering data about how (and how often) customers used their Wi-Fi enabled sex toy.

Why Wi-Fi Enabled?

The We-Vibe product was made Wi-Fi enabled because it was designed to be controlled via a smartphone app over long distances and via Bluetooth over shorter distances, thereby offering users a new kind of shared but distant experience.

What Kind Of Data Was Collected?

The kind of data that was collected via the smartphone by Standard Innovation, reportedly without the knowledge or consent of their customers was when customers had been using the sex toys, information about the intensity of the vibration settings used, and the email addresses of customers.

Ouch

After being found guilty in class action lawsuit brought by two anonymous females at the North District of Illinois Eastern Division District Court, Standard Innovation agreed to pay £2.4 million to those who had purchased the smartphone app-controlled We-Vibe products. As a result of the ruling, those persons who used the app to control their We-Vibe device prior to 26 September 2016, will be entitled to £6,120 compensation, while those did not use the app will be entitled to £120.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Despite the payouts and the bad publicity, Standard Innovation seems set to woo customers back with new and improved products in the future. The company has reportedly stated that it will improve security in the products, and provide customers with more choice in the data they share.

IoT Paranoia

This story comes hot on the heels of a week where there seemed to be an outbreak of IoT paranoia in the US after comments made by President Trump’s senior counsellor Kellyanne Conway suggesting that microwaves have been used for spying, and we heard news that we could also be monitored via our smart televisions.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although there is a light-hearted element to this story, continual media reports about anything from wearable fitness devices to household appliances being vulnerable to misuse or hacks, are evidence and manifestations of the kinds of worries and hopes that we have about the IoT and how it can best be safely used.

Where businesses are concerned, back in July 2016 a Vodafone survey showed that three quarters of businesses saw how they use the Internet of Things (IoT) as being a critical factor in their success. Many technology commentators have also noted that the true extent of the risks posed by IoT device vulnerabilities are unknown because the devices are so widely distributed globally, and large organisations have tended not to include them in risk assessments for devices, code, data, and infrastructure.
It has also been noted by many commentators that not only is it difficult for businesses to ascertain whether all their hardware, software, and service partners are maintaining effective IoT security, but there is also still no universal, certifiable standard for IoT security.

Businesses therefore may wish to conduct an audit and risk assessment for known IoT devices that are used in the business. One basic security measure is to make sure that any default username and passwords in these devices are changed as soon as possible.

Security experts also suggest that anyone deploying IoT devices in any environment should require the supply chain to provide evidence of adherence to a well-written set of procurement guidelines that relate to some kind of specific and measurable criteria.

Microsoft has also compiled a checklist of IoT security best practice. This highlights the different areas of security that need to be addressed by the organisations involved throughout the lifecycle of an IoT system e.g. manufacturing and integration, software development, deployment, and operations.

Amazon Drone Shot Down With Patriot Missile

At the recent Association of the United States Army (AUSA) symposium, General David Perkins told the audience about an incident where a close ally of the U.S. used a £2.5 million patriot missile to shoot down $200 drone purchased from Amazon.

Overkill

The incident, which has been described by commentators such as Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute as “overkill”, was recounted to an audience of military personnel and military supply company representatives. News of the incident was used by the General in his speech in order to illustrate the kinetic / economic challenge facing military commanders (of all nations) where cheap technology is now being used by adversaries for attacks.

Quadcopter From Amazon

The drone was reported to be a $200 quadcopter purchased from Amazon, but the details of exactly which ‘close’ US ally chose to fire such an expensive, sophisticated and powerful weapon at the shop-bought drone has not been revealed.

Five Times the Speed of Sound Vs 80km/h


Patriot missiles typically fly at five times the speed of sound, whereas the top speed of a quadcopter drone is approximately 80km/h. Whilst the General pointed out, as may be expected, that the missile was extremely effective at eliminating the drone (the kinetic exchange ratio was good), he was eager to point out that the ‘economic ratio’ of this kind of response was not good.

The General expanded the point by saying that, as a strategy, this would be at least disastrous economically if an enemy decided, for example, to purchase and use multiple and cheap drones, knowing that they would be attacked with missiles costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Electronic Warfare and ‘Cyber’ Approach

General David Perkins highlighted the fact that faced with attacks using cheap, widely available and evolving technology, military commanders will soon have to employ a wider variety of tactical defence options available to them, including electronic and cyber warfare, to enable a response that is effective, proportionate, and economically viable.

Drones Common Sight in the Near Future

There was a 20m ‘near miss’ of an Airbus A320 carrying 165 passengers on its approach to Heathrow Airport on 18 July last year. Amazon has also been widely reported to have successfully tested, and be hoping to introduce drone parcel delivery services in the UK. It could therefore mean that drones may be an increasingly popular sight in the skies in some parts of the UK in the near future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story helps to illustrate how different kinds of fairly sophisticated and often unregulated technologies (not just drones) are now becoming available, for relatively low prices, and can be used for wrong-doing.
This problem is now something that is being faced by businesses which have the threat of cyber criminals using very cheap, but advanced and often effective attack methods to steal data and money. A server-crippling DDoS attack for example, can be bought off-the-shelf and can cost the criminal just £30 to execute (presumably excluding labour costs), but the financial costs to the company that has been targeted can be huge, and potentially fatal for a business. Companies, therefore need a budget to provide a good level of cyber and data security, which may include spending on staff training to spot threats early, guarding against human error and fending off multi-vector attacks.

BT to Separate From Openreach

Last week Ofcom (the telecoms regulator) announced that BT has agreed to legally separate from Openreach, which owns and operates the UK's broadband infrastructure.

Why The Split?

Through Openreach, BT owns (and is responsible for providing) the vast majority of the UK’s telecoms network infrastructure, not just for itself, but also for any competitors such as TalkTalk, Sky, and Vodafone (and BT's own retail arm). This has led to competition problems, and rivals have argued that, since BT has a third of the country's broadband market, a company from its own group should not be providing the infrastructure

There is has also been an argument in recent years that greater investment is needed in the network, and that action needs to be taken to improve broadband and phone services across the UK.

Also, in July 2016, Ofcom recommended that Openreach should be run as a separate company from BT, and in November 2016 Ofcom ruled that it would force a separation via the European Commission. BT has also faced pressure from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to separate the two businesses.

Jumped, Rather Than Pushed

The agreement by BT to separate itself from Openreach means that potentially costly and damaging legal battles and imposed regulations can now be avoided.

What Happens Now?

The deal to separate the two companies, which took two years to complete, will actually mean that Openreach will have its own board, and will make its own investment decisions, but the BT board will still set the annual budget.

General Approval

The announcement by Ofcom has been met with general noises of approval by rivals Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone (all users of the Openreach network) who had long argued that the link between BT and Openreach had been bad for competition and had impacted upon the levels of service that competitor companies had been able to offer their customers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

On the face of it, the potential for business broadband services to improve for all of us is, of course, a good thing. Telecoms commentators have, however, pointed out that expecting a sudden investment of billions more in fast fibre broadband connections just because there is a new, independent Board is unrealistic. There is also the small matter of how BT's shareholders will feel about seeing an important part of the business going, although, shortly after the announcement of the impending separation, shares in BT jumped 4.3% to 344.2p in the morning trading.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Windows 10 Programmable Updates

In response to complaints by Microsoft Windows 10 ‘Home’ edition users that the enforced reboots required for some updates are disruptive, Microsoft is enabling users to choose when their updates are installed, as from next month.

Schedule Your Updates Days In Advance

Microsoft has announced, via one of its many blog posts, that at any time within 3 days of being informed of when a security update (and perhaps a reboot) is required, Windows 10 (Home) users will very soon be able to schedule when that installation actually takes place.

More Convenient If Users Are Prepared

This is likely to be a lot more convenient for users and could go some way towards addressing concerns and complaints that date back to the Anniversary Update of August 2016.

This update took away the configurable option relating to the scheduling of updates (for Windows 10 ‘Home’ users) and instead instructed the software to apply patches overnight, automatically restarting devices to enable the updates to take effect. The big problem was that users who left their computers running overnight were often unprepared to have their computer re-started.

Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise editions have the ability to prevent and re-schedule forced updates anyway.

Part of the Creators Update

The change to security (and privacy) features will be rolled-out next month as a small part of the wider ‘Creators Update’. The main focus of this new update will be upon 3D, game broadcasting and tournaments to gamers across Xbox and Windows 10 PCs, and improvements to popular apps and Microsoft Edge.

Downloads Less Disruptive Too

As part of the announcement about ‘Home’ users being able to schedule update reboots, Microsoft’s Michael Fortin (CVP of Windows and Devices Group Core Quality) has stated that after the Creator Update, downloads will have less impact on device performance while they are in progress.

Privacy Changes.

Fortin also announced that leading on from an announcement made by Microsoft’s Terry Myerson in January, the Creator Update will also bring new features that will make it easier for users to choose their own privacy and diagnostic data collection settings.

Security Risks In Delaying Updates

Security commentators have been quick to point out that giving users the chance to delay security updates (which often contain critical security fixes) could make them more vulnerable to hackers and other cyber-security risks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you are a business user who has a ‘Home’ edition of Windows 10 on your device(s), the Creator Update will mean that you have some control over when your computer is re-booted and updated. This could mean less disruption during working hours and the chance to plan updates so that no vital work is interrupted / disrupted ... or lost. It is, however, important to understand that you may be exposing your business to a degree of risk by delaying vital security updates for days rather than minutes or hours.

IBM To Offer Quantum Computing Service

IBM is preparing to offer a service that gives access to (and use of) a powerful, universal quantum computer, via the cloud, thereby enabling users to solve complex problems and innovate.

More Power, Greater Capabilities

The service, which will be called IBM Q, will be the first time that a universal quantum computer has been commercially available.

The big advantage of quantum computers is that they are exponentially more capable than existing ‘classical’ computers and they are able to solve highly complex problems.

Examples of Applications

Examples of ways in which the power of quantum computers have been / can be applied to and can benefit businesses and society include:
  • Dramatically speeding up the process of discovering new and innovative drugs and materials by providing the ability to work through large amounts of complex molecular and chemical data, formulae and variables.
  • Advancing the development of artificial intelligence (AI) features in products and services.
  • Solving complex supply chain logistics problems.
  • Modelling financial data and multiple global risk factors to enable better investment choices.
  • Applying the laws of quantum physics to computer systems could improve security.
Building The Interfaces

IBM are currently reported to be at the stage of introducing the application programming interface (API) that will enable developers to begin building the interfaces that will be necessary for a five quantum bit (qubit) cloud-based quantum computer to talk to traditional computers. The company has also recently upgraded the IBM Quantum Experience simulator.

Development Kit Released Soon

A software development kit on the IBM Quantum Experience is scheduled to be released in the first half of this year. The kit will enable users to build simple quantum applications and software programs, connect to IBM’s quantum processor through the Cloud, study the tutorials, and start running algorithms, experiments and simulations on the quantum computer.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The use of a quantum computer will give businesses and organisations of all kinds a chance to solve many of their most complex problems, develop new and innovative potentially industry-leading products and services and perhaps discover new, hitherto unthought-of business opportunities. If IBM Q lives up to its promise, it could offer businesses to chance to develop products that could provide real competitive advantage in a shorter amount of time and at much less cost than their traditional computer architecture and R&D practices previously allowed.

Sage 50% Price Hike In April

Sage One customers have reportedly received letters informing them that as of April 1st this year, the price for the service will be increased by 50%, from £10 per month to £15 per month.

Greater Value From Enhancements = Pay More.

According to the letter, the stated reasons for the accounting-as-a-service company dramatically increasing the price of its SaaS Sage One (including Sage Intelligence Reporting) service include:
  • Price / value re-alignment. Sage appears to be saying that product portfolio evolution and enhancements, which are giving greater value to customers, now need to be reflected in the pricing.
  • Continued investment for more improvements needs to be paid for. The price rise can help Sage to invest in the technologies that can enable more product / service improvements in the future.
What Kind of Enhancements?

According to recent media reports, the kind of product enhancements that could be delivering enough extra value to Sage One customers to justify a 50% price increase could include the increased quality of statements that could help businesses to get paid quicker.

According to Sage however, one key element of their service that sets them apart from competitors (the 24hr telephone and email support provided all UK customers) comes at no extra cost.

Evidence of Sage Investing.

One area where there is clear, recent evidence of Sage investing in the future of a product is in its acquisition of cloud human-capital-management provider Fairsail in order to upgrade its ‘Sage People’ service. Farsail’s more famous customers are reported to include Aveva, Paddy Power Betfair and Trainline. ®, and the integration of Fairsail’s technology into the ‘Sage People’ service could, therefore, provide significant product improvements.

Irony?

Ironically, an article posted on the Sage One blog from a week ago (around the time of the letters informing customers of the price hike) gives customers advice on “Raising prices: 5 steps to take that won’t lose you customers”. As well as suggesting that offering new features could help justify an acceptable price rise (as in the case of Sage One), advice includes “plan meticulously” and “raise the issue in advance”. The article states that a price rise is more acceptable to customers if they know that are getting something extra in return and if an honest approach is taken in informing them.

Expected?

If FSB figures are anything to go by, Sage One customers could (like one in five small firms) have expected an increase of 44% for the price of service from April.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

April may be the time for many price increases but for many businesses, a price rise of 50% with no immediate, perceived increase in value received may be viewed as excessive. The saving grace for Sage, in this case, may be that it is not easy for businesses to switch accounting systems, and that the monthly costs at £15 are still relatively low. This also serves an example to businesses that clear and regular communication of the ‘value’ that services / improved services offer to customers can go some way to softening the blow of any price rises.

Bitcoin More Valuable Than Gold

The value of a unit of the web-based crypto currency ‘Bitcoin’ has exceeded the value of an ounce of gold for the first time.

Last week, the markets recorded the value of a unit of Bitcoin at $1,268, compared to a troy ounce of gold at $1,233. A troy ounce is an imperial unit measure of the mass of a precious metal.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital web-based currency that operates without the need for central banks and uses highly secure encryption (a crypto-currency) to regulate the currency units and to verify transfers of funds. Bitcoin uses the ‘Blockchain’ technology. Blockchain is an open and programmable technology that can be used to record transactions for virtually anything of value that can be converted to code and is often referred to as a kind of ‘incorruptible ledger’.

There are approximately 15 million Bitcoins in existence, and in order to receive a Bitcoin, a user must have a Bitcoin address (of which there is no central register). This address consists of a string of 27-34 letters and numbers, which act like a virtual post-box, to and from which the Bitcoins are sent.

The Benefits of Bitcoin as a currency for users are that payments can be transferred easily and quickly and anonymously (because it is outside of central banks and government control), across borders, continents and time-zones.

Relatively New and Fluctuating

As a relatively newly introduced(2009) model of currency, Bitcoin has taken some time to gain popularity.

After a tenfold increase in its value in only two months and a surge in value to $1,163 back in 2013, Bitcoin has had its share of turbulent waters.

Predictions of its possible demise and a fall in the value of Bitcoin were fuelled by its collapse on the MtGox exchange in Japan in 2014 as a result of a hack.

Despite a crack-down on Bitcoin trading by Chinese authorities who feared that it was being used to channel money out of the country illegally, Bitcoin surged to reach new heights.

In January this year, the value of 1 Bitcoin received a 2.5% boost and jumped above $1,000 (£815) for the first time in 3 years. Bitcoin’s recent boost in value means that its total worth of $16 billion is around the same value as that of a FTSE 100 company.

Value Drivers

Currency experts attribute the latest big rise in Bitcoin’s value to a big increase in demand in China due to the fall in the value of the Yuan in 2016. This has been the Chinese currency's weakest performance in more than 20 years.

Bitcoin is also now looking like a viable alternative to cash in countries that have a shortage of it (e.g. India, which had high denomination bank-notes removed from circulation in November).

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

For businesses, Bitcoin has many attractive advantages such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place due to the lack of a central bank and traditional currency control.

Using Bitcoin also means that cross-border and global trading is simpler and faster and the ‘crypto’ aspect of the currency makes it secure. Bitcoin’s decrease in volatility in recent times, plus the widening of popularity and potential uses for its underlying technology ‘Blockchain’ mean that Bitcoin looks increasingly attractive to businesses and governments in 2017.

Old Phones Making a Comeback

The launch of the revamped Nokia 3310 handset, 17 years after its debut, and unveiling of a new Android-powered Blackberry with an old-school physical keyboard show how phone companies are using nostalgia to their advantage.

Looking Back For A Better Future.

With new product launches in the technology and communications markets, it’s often the case that the styling, as well as the features, is forward looking. Unfortunately, this can mean that competing products can look similar and many of the positive associations that people have with older models can be lost. Particularly with the re-vamped Nokia 3310 re-launch, and with the new Android-powered Blackberry, mobile phone companies appear to be trying to achieve ‘contrast’ and therefore grab attention and headlines and re-ignite positive past associations.

Customers are, therefore, being offered two things in one - modern features, coupled with a styling and simplicity that they have emotional (and therefore engaging) connections with.

The Nokia 3310

The new version of the Nokia 3310 (unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona) is actually being released under licence by Finnish start-up HMD Global because Nokia now manufactures telecoms equipment but doesn’t actually make phones.

Nevertheless, Nokia's original 3310 was the first mass-market mobile, and by re-introducing a version of it (updated inside), HMD Global could expect to take advantage of “Restorative nostalgia” (refer Svetlana Boym) i.e. a kind of positive rebuilding of a ‘nostos’ or lost brand (and brand values) home in the minds of customers.

In terms of the features it offers, users may be most impressed by its long battery life, as the colour-screened phone has up to a month's standby time, and can deliver more than 22 hours of talk time.

Technical commentators have pointed out that users may be less impressed by its 2.5G connectivity, relatively small range of apps, and two megapixel camera. Some commentators have already pigeon-holed it a kind of ‘holiday phone’ i.e. one that is just for essential but would spend most of its time turned off.

One thing the new 3310 has been very successful at is grabbing attention and headlines.

The Blackberry.

The newly unveiled Blackberry, which is also being made under licence (by Chinese phone-maker TCL Communication) is using similar visual tactics by having an older look and a physical keyboard. Tapping into the strong brand values of the Blackberry glory days makes a lot of sense when trying to revive a brand.

What Does This Mean To Your Business?

If you’re a phone retailer for example, these models may be good attention grabbers for your business and may perform well in terms of sales, perhaps attracting older or less technically knowledgeable customers to your store. For any other business, this story illustrates how powerful old, positive, product and brand associations can be in terms of nostalgia, and emotional engagement. This is often the reason why many companies re-release old adverts that remind customers of the company’s history, and of their own associations with a well-loved brand. Simplicity and ease of use are also things that customers like e.g. an old-style keypad phone. Simple products can be non-threatening, attractive, and can enable customers to more easily their advantages.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Slow-Mo-Phone

The newly launched Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone enables users to film smooth, slow motion footage at rates that top-end smartphones are currently unable to match.

How Slow?

According to technical commentators, the slow motion footage available with the Xperia XZ Premium is four times the rate possible on competing models from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

Why Slow Motion?

Much of the point of the Xperia XZ Premium is to show off the abilities of the camera, as Sony only has very small market share of the smartphone market (around 1%), but makes its image-sensors available to its rivals a year after they debut. In other words, Sony appears to make more money from selling phone cameras to its competitors than selling its own smartphones.

The 960 frames per second shooting ability of the video on the phone is what enables the camera to capture a broadcast-quality smoothness and detail in slow motion. This unrivalled ‘experience’ (due to its superior relative slo-mo quality), is in keeping with Sony’s aim of being able to deliver a clear differentiator in terms of “experiences” that connect with users in emotional and meaningful ways.

For example, at the launch of the Xperia XZ Premium in Barcelona, the audience was treated to a video showing a skateboard topped with glitter, where the skateboarder performed a jump. The idea was to impress, and engage with a display that related to more to what marketers know as the the 'experiential hierarchy of effects'.

What Else Is Great About It?

As well as the slow motion filming abilities, the Xperia XZ Premium offers the world's first 4K high dynamic range (HDR) screen. This means that the resolution is therefore four times better than high definition displays and (for example) blacks are blacker and whites whiter on screens, thus creating an image with more depth.

The phone can also offer a very high download capacity and speed. For example, its 1 gigabit per second download capabilities means that whole films can be downloaded to the phone in a matter of seconds.

There is a generous size 5.5 inch screen that has ultra-high definition and colour contrast, thus making for a better experience for the viewer.

What Are the Drawbacks?

According to technical commentators, the two big drawbacks of the phone are that:

  1. The user is required to press the button at the exact moment the action is taking place in order to get the super slow motion video capture.
  2. Only a small amount of content that can be viewed on a 4K HDR screen is currently available.
The phone is due to go on sale later in the spring, but the price is not yet public knowledge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For other mobile phone manufacturers, they now know that the technology for the next generation of mobile phone cameras has been developed and will soon be available to them. For phone retailers, Xperia XZ Premium is a product that technology early adopters, film consumers and those with particular visual, film-making, and multi-media interests (and jobs) will like. Other businesses could use this phone to make broadcast quality videos / films that could be used for promotional purposes on and offline.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Psychology of Your Security

At Cybercon 2017 in Plymouth, an independent cyber security consultant and human behaviour specialist told attendees that Teaching IT and cyber security teams about psychology and sociology is key to enabling better cyber security practices.

Users Are A Mixture of ‘Spock’ and ‘Homer’

Consultant Jessica Barker made the point that instead of IT and cyber security teams in businesses being trained by security professionals to expect users to always behave rationally and logically (like “Spock”), they should also be trained to expect that users can also behave like “Homer” (Homer Simpson). This acknowledgement of (and understanding among staff ) of a more rounded model of user behaviour could lead to businesses being better protected against cyber and data security threats.

Protection From Homer

One key point that Barker made was that when people are in a so-called ‘hot-state’ of decision-making, the less rational and more visceral impulses in them tend to overtake the their more rational impulses i.e. ‘Homer’ wins over ‘Spock’. In marketing, a hot-state and the impulsive urge to act can be induced by promotions that tap in to the ‘Id’, and urge people to reduce self-control and act immediately without thought e.g. a slogan like “Hungry? Grab a Snickers’®”

In terms of cyber and data security, training could educate employees to the fact that in social engineering attacks, the attacker is trying to induce this state in the staff member in order to make them divulge information. An awareness that this happens, and the building in of a process that staff can use to a allow rational thought and checking (e.g. empowering them to ask and be rewarded for asking questions) could therefore provide vital protection against costly and disruptive malware data breaches.

Not Just Technical Aspects.

Barker pointed out that in order to provide maximum value to businesses and to deliver maximum effectiveness, IT security trainers need to teach security teams and all relevant staff about relevant psychology, sociology and communication, as well as the technical aspects of cyber and data security.

So-called ‘Techies’ in a company, who are traditionally viewed as being happier with ‘process’ should also be taught about ‘people’ in order to give them a more balanced and effective cyber security skill-set.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Just as an understanding of ‘buyer behaviour’ is important in successful marketing of products and services, by giving all staff a grounding in human behaviour as it relates to cyber criminals and those dealing with potential attacks, you could dramatically improve your organisation’s resistance to attacks.

According to Verizon DBIR research last year, human error accounted for most security incidents experienced by organisations. For example, 30% of phishing messages sent that year were opened (by staff), 12% of those people who opened the messages carried on to click on the attachment or link in the email.

If staff are therefore trained to spot the risks, encouraged to ask questions, and able to re-engage the ‘Spock’ in them at the right moment, it could save your business a lot of money, time, disruption, and possible reputational damage.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Cloudflare Scare

Security company Cloudflare have revealed that a leak of sensitive data (nicknamed ‘Cloudbleed’), which was made possible by a bug in their code, could mean that many users of popular services may need to change their passwords.

What Happened?

A bug in the code of California-based Cloudflare’s software appears to have leaked data from perhaps as many as four million domains of the six million websites that using Cloudflare’s performance enhancement, SEO and security services.

Any requests to websites with the HTML rewrite features enabled, triggered the software bug, which then leaked personal data from any other Cloudflare proxy customers that were in memory at the time, to random requesters.

What Kind of Data Was Leaked?

The kind of personal customer data that was leaked included session tokens, passwords, private messages (perhaps including private messages sent on dating sites), API keys, and possibly even credit card details. The full scope of the leaked data is not yet known.

When ... and For How Long?

The problem, which was discovered and reported by Tavis Ormandy (a Google researcher), resulted in data being leaked (accidentally) over the last six months by data-crawlers and regular website users downloading files and visiting sites. The worst period for the leak is thought to have been between February 13th and February 18th. During this time, it is believed that a memory leakage took place for 1 in every 3,300,000 HTTP requests through Cloudflare.

Complicated Clean-Up.

Although the leak itself was bad enough, it has been compounded and made much more difficult to clean up because :

  1. The leak contained cookies and authentication codes. This means that users can’t clean all of up the mess by themselves, but need website administrators to take action too.
  2. Search engines cached the leaked data, thus making it a lot more difficult and time consuming to clean up. For example, authentication cookies for sites affected by ‘CloudBleed’ can be found in web searches. These could potentially allow someone to log into a website without a password, posing as a regular user. To their credit, it has been reported that many search engines including Google, Yahoo, and Bing did what they could to scrub the data before news of the bug was publicly announced.
Popular Websites Affected.

Data from many popular websites is believed to have been leaked. Websites affected include Uber, Fitbit, Ok Cupid, and Yelp.

Do Hackers Have The Leaked Data?

Security commentators say that, to this point, there is no evidence to suggest that the data has fallen into the wrong hands or is being used by hackers.

What Does This Mean For My Business?

The advice from security commentators is to first check whether details of you / your business may have been leaked by checking the list of domains for that appear to have been affected by the Cloudflare leak. These domains have been posted online here : https://github.com/pirate/sites-using-cloudflare

Other actions that you can take include :
  • Ask your vendors and sites to reset / rotate all session tokens.
  • If you use websites that have a link / button that allows you to log out of all active sessions, click on it. Then, do the same thing again in week or two week’s time.
  • Check your password managers and change all of your passwords, especially those on the named affected sites.
  • Make sure that you set up two-factor authentication on important accounts.
  • Rotate API keys and Secrets.

Friday, March 03, 2017

From Ad-Free to ... Ads

Israeli ad-blocking software company Shine is re-positioning itself as a trusted online ad verification hub for both consumers and advertisers.

Ad Verification & Filtering Service

Shine’s new, free ad filtering and verification service provides a way for consumers to agree to receive adverts that meet quality and relevance criteria, and therefore give advertisers a co-operative way to get around the 'stone wall' that consumer ad-blocking software presents.

What’s The Problem For Consumers?

For consumers, online advertising has proven to be a problem and an annoyance where:
  • There’s a feeling of being bombarded and interrupted i.e. there are too many online adverts, and consumers lives are interrupted, time is lost, data consumption is eaten up, and extra effort has to be made e.g. having to wait due to advert loading / playing and having to actively close or navigate away from adverts. For example, estimates at the amount of a mobile user’s data consumption used up by adverts range from anywhere between 20% and 50%.
  • There’s a lack of relevance in the adverts that are displayed.
  • The adverts are too large, unwieldy and awkward to deal with.
  • There’s a feeling of being 'followed around' by adverts for products that a person may have searched for some time ago.
Turning To Ad Blockers

One option for consumers has been to use ad blocking software. The ease of doing so was aided by companies such as Apple and Samsung allowing the apps on their mobile browsers.

After an announcement in February 2016, the ‘Three’ network also trialled a network-level block on advertising (in partnership with Shine) last summer because it was believed to be more effective than ad blocking apps (many of which were banned from some app stores anyway).

Although advertisers and publishers feared a huge uptake of ad blocking software, Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) figures from last year show only 22% of UK adults were using ad blocking software.

The Problem For Advertising Publishers

The problem for advertising publishers and content providers is that ad blockers essentially cut off the source of revenue that they use to fund much of the content they produce.

The response from advertising publishers over the last year has therefore been to deny access to content to people who use ad blockers.

Value Exchange

This situation of consumers realising that they cannot view free content unless they turn ad blockers off, and of publishers accepting that they should produce adverts that consumers are more happy to receive, has led to the current acceptance of the need for a ‘value exchange’ between all parties.

Shine’s New Role

After working with mobile carrier Three, an advertising agency and a media firm for the past six months, Shine’s new role in the value exchange will therefore be to sit between consumer and publisher to offer a mutually beneficial service. Shine’s ‘Rainbow’ platform will therefore mean that ad agencies will send their adverts to the Rainbow platform to be verified and validated. Consumers who sign up to Shine will then only see adverts that have been verified through Shine’s Rainbow platform. Shine will then provide feed back to advertisers and publishers about their adverts. Shine’s platform will be introduced later this summer.

What’s In It For Shine?

Shine stands to benefit from the branding benefits, from occupying a unique and almost essential positioning and from an insights and analytics product based on the data produced that can be sold on to advertisers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses wanting to beat the ad-blockers and get commercial messages through to more receptive consumers, the Rainbow platform is a potential opportunity, and a chance to gain competitive advantage. For those of us in business who have been frustrated by online and mobile advertising (but who don’t want to lose out on accessing favoured content) Shine’s Rainbow platform could offer a more acceptable middle ground.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Brain Scans Reveal Ads That Work

A team of Dutch researchers have used brain scans of consumers to discover what makes adverts most effective in terms of prompting a person to seek out a product online.

The Research.

The researchers (at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University RSM) showed a group of consumers 11 different adverts, all for the same brand of pain-relieving muscle and joint gel. The research was intended to gain insights into both the reactions of the brain to advertising stimuli, and the resulting online search behaviour.

The researchers studied both the data from the click-through rates and the combination of elements in the adverts for the whole audience group.

From the results of this data, a smaller sub-group of participants were then selected for brain scans, to provide a deeper understanding of the advertising thought-behaviour process.

Why Brain Scans?

Brain scans (also know as magnetic resonance imaging fMRI), were used because the researchers believed that this was the best method to enable them to understand why certain elements of adverts are effective in causing consumers to take to the web to look for a brand / product.

The Results.

Somewhat predictably, the researchers concluded that the effectiveness of a marketing message cannot be explained by simply isolating just one simple brain process, and that a much more complex combination of processes in the brain is actually at the heart of consumer responses to adverts.

The researchers were, however, able to identify some elements that appeared to be present in adverts that got the best responses.

Adverts that communicated the advantages of products were found to trigger the part of the brain that is commonly associated with recognising and identifying objects. The triggering of this area is believed to make people begin thinking about how objects could be used, thereby providing a vital link to behaviour.

The researchers also found that adverts / elements of adverts that appeal to a person’s imagination, or deliver a message in an imaginative way, appear to activate more complex through processes, such as sustained attention, creative thinking, and working memory.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There has already been a great deal of research into advertising and its effects and we already know that appealing to human emotions and traits rather than just presenting cold facts, coupled with repetition can help marketing messages to be more effective.

The interesting fact about this research is that it focused directly upon the brain itself, and how the responses to advertising stimuli elements translated into specifically ‘online’ behaviour. This makes the results more current and relevant to businesses, most of which now need to achieve online visibility.