Internet News (May 2018)

The Mozilla Foundation conducts Internet Health Report

With the rather tumultuous recent climate surrounding big data and social media companies, such as the painfully recent issues Facebook has been undergoing regarding security and privacy surrounding people’s data and its mishandling of, in relation to the 87 million plus people that data firm Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain meaningful and private information on, it’s no wonder than many other companies are taking notice, not least of which is the Mozilla Foundation.

Mozilla have released a report, with presumably more articles and analysis being added in time, titled the “Internet Health” report. Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, describes the report as being “a look at human life on the internet.” Within this report, the company has collated both research and stories in relation to five key areas, and their main points of contention and sources for future improvement include privacy and security, user control, cyber security and government surveillance. The report also looks at matters promoted by the openness of the web arena, such as support for open source projects, engagement in copyright reforms, the influences on patent policy, decentralisation and net neutrality, interoperability, competition and choice.

Above all, it also looks at the human factors side of the internet, what it gives in terms of contribution on both a local and global level; matters such as digital inclusion, the promotion of diversity and respect, how universal access is important, as well as web literacy and digital citizenship issues, issues which affect us all.

Broken down into each of these sections and subsections in this report, there is a lot to talk and think about when moving forward with improvement of the internet and its culture as a whole.

While that is quite a lengthy number of areas that need nurturing and improvement, Mozilla also notes that things on the internet aren’t all bad, citing that more people are connecting than ever before due to many factors, including that access is becoming cheaper overall and that people’s data is much more likely to be encrypted and thus less vulnerable.

It’s not all peaches and rainbows though, as the company notes that in other areas things have grown, and are still growing worse, such as online harassment and the proliferation of censorship enacted by governmental bodies, noting that the companies that are in control of the internet, are mostly composed of employees that are vastly different from the diversity of the users themselves.

Outside of these main broader areas, Mozilla also addresses some more specific issues; securing the IoT (Internet of Things), the dubious phenomenon of “fake news”, and internet company monopolization by giants like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google, to name but a few.

Mozilla also brings to light the “core business models”, as they put it, of the internet, which are reliant heavily on user data that can be sold to advertisers, namely the business practices that made companies like Facebook and Google so much money over the years, and the use of data which is under almost constant threat of being leaked or misappropriated such as the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal linked to Facebook’s inadequate privacy policies and data protection.

Surman argues that this doesn’t have to be the way of things, stating that businesses on the internet don’t need to necessarily resort to reliance on data collection for profitability. “We’re in this kind of fat data economy, where we collect as much as we can and let it interconnect, and then we end up with these toxic data spills. It’s a human decision to have the advertising system work the way that it does. We could have a much leaner, more ethical set of data-driven advertising practices if we actually set our mind to it. We do know how to turn things around and it’s a human system, it’s not so mysterious.”

The report also includes work done by people trying to improve the internet in order to make it a much better place than it was before, highlighting the efforts of those such as Santhosh Thottingal who is working towards creating an internet that is vastly more multilingual than it is in its current form, or Holly Jacobs, founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, an organisation that aids victims of revenge porn.

While the report contains positive elements, it undoubtedly skews towards the negative overall. Surman knows it is an uphill struggle. “There are so many people who are actually trying to build a better internet, but trying to tell that in a way that’s actually going to get people’s attention and actually dedicating resources to it is hard. I would love for us to be able to do a better job of telling the story of who’s building stuff that’s good.”

Also included in the report are the multitude of ways you and others can get directly involved in improving the internet we all use every day. The report itself is open source, and Mozilla are openly asking for feedback on the whole thing. Mozilla themselves are paying a number of individuals to study everything related to the internet and its culture. “We just need a bigger brain trust of people who are going to spend their careers thinking about this stuff,” says Surman.

Mozilla have also started working on ways to provide options to internet-goers, such as releasing a browser extension that blocks Facebook from tracking you even when you’re not using the site itself, something they are now focused on acutely after recent events with Cambridge Analytica, with the company itself also ceasing to advertise on the platform, even publishing a call to action to Facebook itself to fix its privacy holes.

Change is real, and can happen if we as a whole want it to. We simply cannot be complacent in protecting and improving the very technology that connects so many of us across this blue marble.

Amazon Echo makes its way into healthcare programs

Argenti Telecare, led by PA Consulting and partnered with Hampshire County Council, are working towards utilising  the Amazon Echo system, which will be the first local authority to make use of the technology, as a means to the elderly in hopes of reducing social isolation for those who still live in their own homes.

The Echo, as many of you may already know, is a smart speaker with wi-fi and voice activation features running on Alexa, an AI personal assistant developed by Amazon. The Echo can add new functionality via a skills system of add-ons that you can install on it, in order to extend the features and utility of the product. For example, in relation to this new initiative, it can be set up to remind owners to take medication and to keep informed of when a carer is next scheduled to arrive.

Liz Fairhurst, a Councillor for Adult Social Care and Health at Hampshire County Council, is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “We are looking to trial this new technology with 50 adult social care clients in Hampshire to help support and manage their needs within their own homes and avoid the need for additional care packages.”

“This is a world first for Hampshire County Council and our care technology partners. Working directly with Amazon will ensure our trial is backed by the experience of one of the biggest internet-based retailers in the world. We are very excited about the possibilities this project could open up in the future and its potential to benefit the future of social care.”

The new bespoke skills for the Echo which have been created for this initiative are due to be in use for those designated as testers by the end of the year with the project running throughout the year. Those new skills are planned to be extended, and more are in development right now. There are numerous more planned add-ons for the device including ideas such as reminders to stay hydrated by adding motion sensors into the elderly’s homes that will detect when they are in the kitchen and remind them to have a drink.

The Echo could also have potential applications in helping people keep fit – from making suggestions about local walking routes of varying distances based on preference and capability, to more fundamental questions to aid with combat the problem of social isolation, such as asking about the weather or the news, listening to the radio or audiobooks.

Adult social care expert at PA Consulting, Steve Carefull is a part of this groundbreaking project. “Our award winning work with the County Council is industry leading, and we are proud to be working with one of the biggest household names to help Hampshire County Council continue to deliver innovative services to the most vulnerable people. This technology can complement support from human carers and help ensure resources are focused on supporting those with the greatest needs.”

Many TSB customers still unable to access online accounts

Six days after customers were locked out of their internet banking accounts, roughly only half of them have been able to regain access, with the bank admitting its internet banking is operating at around 50% capacity, while also admitting that the mobile app is up to somewhere in the 90% range.

The upgrade to its banking systems has been nothing short of utter chaos. Paul Pester, Chief Executive of TSB,  in a recent interview that “our internet banking and mobile app isn’t functioning as well as it should be.”  Something of an understatement.

He went on to apologise for the rather significant inconvenience this has caused customers and said that none would be out of pocket from the incident.

On the Wednesday following the initial issues,  Pester tweeted: “Our mobile banking app and online banking are now up and running. Thank you for your patience and for bearing with us.” But, by the afternoon of the same day, he had admitted that numerous significant issues were still present.

TSB had initial hopes that full service would be resumed by Tuesday afternoon, after taking both the mobile app and online banking down earlier that day to fix issues that arose after numerous customers complained. As with most things, however, plans soon change, and after those hopeful so-called “few hours” ended with a huge influx of customers wanting to access their banking after the scheduled downtime ended.

Numerous customers reported issues even after all of this. By Wednesday morning, mere hours after the system had been restored to service for the second time, many were commenting on its poor performance and its inability to access pages and features.

Many vented their anger and concern at TSB on Twitter, ranging from dissatisfaction over the inability to access their money, to worries over bill payments and charges and on top of all that some customers also reported on Sunday that they were able to see details of other customers’ accounts, a suspected potential data breach that the Information Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating.

These issues have caught the attention of MP Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury Committee, who made it very clear to the bank, in no uncertain terms, that the bank needs to explain its plan to compensate those customers affected by the data breach, data that naturally is of a highly sensitive nature.

The Financial Conduct Authority also weighed in on the matter with a statement saying that “We will be talking to the firm to understand exactly what went wrong and the steps that they are taking to ensure something like this does not happen again.” The City watchdog has said it is working with TSB to aid customers, ensuring they are accommodated and properly compensated.


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Internet News – April 2018

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