WhatsApp To Share Users’ Personal Info

In a change to WhatsApp’s privacy policy from next month, users outside of Europe will have to agree to share their personal information with WhatsApp’s owner Facebook or leave the app.

Outside Europe

From February 8, 2021, a compulsory aspect of continuing to use WhatsApp outside the EU and EEA will be to agree to share personal information with the app’s owner Facebook.  An in-app notice is informing WhatsApp users of the terms of service and privacy policy changes, which are an extension of changes announced in July last year and are the result of discussions with the Irish Data Protection Commission and other Data Protection Authorities in Europe.

Even though the UK has left the EU, it is understood that the need to agree to the new changes will not apply to users in the EU, EEA, and post-Brexit UK because WhatsApp does not share European region user data with Facebook to improve its products or advertisements.

What?

The kind of information that could be shared with Facebook includes phone numbers and other registration information, IP address, battery level, connection information, language and time zone and identifiers of other Facebook products.

Why?

The change is in line with Facebook’s current strategy of tightening up on data security in the light of the damage done to user confidence after the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal and with trying to integrate aspects of its many products e.g., in November, Facebook added self-destruct messages to WhatsApp as a way of integrating and improving the interoperability of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.  This latest change will also mean that user data can be shared with businesses using Facebook to store their WhatsApp messages.

Agree or Delete

If users do not agree to the new terms and policy, they will have to use the in-app feature (Help Centre) to delete their account. Just deleting the app itself and not using the in-app feature to do so may not stop WhatsApp from keeping a user’s data.

Apple

Apple recently asked iOS app makers to list what information they collect from users, and although WhatsApp famously offers end-to-end encryption, it has faced criticism recently about how much and what type of user data it reserves the right to collect.

Alternatives

The news of WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms changes prompted Elon Musk to use Twitter to recommend that users could switch to Signal as an alternative. Signal is a cross-platform encrypted messaging service, and Elon Musk’s suggestion, which was re-tweeted by Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey appears to have boosted Signal’s position to the top of app stores around the world, including the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store in some countries.

What Does This Man For Your Business?

Although WhatsApp has played down the implications and extent of the change to its policy and terms, and WhatsApp has been sharing user information and metadata with Facebook anyway since 2016, the ‘agree or be deleted’ aspect of this change plus privacy worries may cause some business users outside of Europe to decide to switch.  Elon Musk’s intervention and influence may make switching more likely for some, which looks set to be good news for Signal which is already being overwhelmed with sign-ups.  That said, there 2 billion + WhatsApp users, many of whom are likely to quickly agree to the change and stick with an app with which they are familiar.  WhatsApp is trying to keep improving its features to retain users, especially business users, and looks likely to be introducing voice and video calling to its WhatsApp Web desktop version this year which will, no doubt, appeal to many business users who are spending more time working from home on the desktop.

Trump Banned on Social Media

Last week, following the storming of Washington DC’s Capitol building, US President Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have led to some questions about the legal status and regulation of social media companies.

Twitter – Permanently Suspended

Twitter has been US President Trump’s chosen means of regular and instant, direct communication with the public, to bypass the media, and this has been one thing that has set his presidency apart from previous ones.

Twitter states in its rules relating to world leaders that “we assess reported Tweets from world leaders against the Twitter Rules, which are designed to ensure people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely”. Twitter said the permanent suspension of President Trump’s account happened after it had made clear “going back years” that world leader’s accounts were not above the rules and could not be used to incite violence.  Following President Trump’s 12-hour suspension on Wednesday, Twitter’s warning that any further breaches of its rules would result in a ban, Twitter examining President Trump’s tweets in the context of last Wednesday’s events, and following 2 further offending Tweets on Friday, Twitter stated that his account was suspended (permanently) due to “risk of further incitement of violence”.

Calls for Twitter to ban/suspend President Trump have been made over many years as highlighted by Michelle Obama’s tweet last Thursday which accused tech giants of having enabled his “monstrous” behaviour.

Facebook and Instagram

Last Thursday, following the events in Washington, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg banned President Donald Trump indefinitely from Facebook’s platform, and from Instagram.  On his own Facebook account, in addition to pointing out that Facebook had removed or labelled some of the President’s content over the past few years, Mr Zuckerberg stressed the importance of a peaceful period leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, and said of President Trump “we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”.

Parler App Suspended and Removed

The shocking events in Washington have also led to the Parler ‘free speech’ app, reported to be popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives, being dropped by Google Play, Amazon’s AWS hosting service and the Apple app store.  This has left the app offline and facing a very uncertain future as Parler’s CEO John Matze cited the need by big tech companies to “kill competition in the marketplace” and a war on “free speech” as the real reasons for the dropping of the app. Some users had been attracted to the app after being censored/suspended after expressing certain views on other platforms e.g., Facebook and Twitter, and there were rumours that President Trump planned to switch to Parler following his Twitter account being suspended.

Questions Over Regulation

The banning/suspension of President Trump’s accounts by Facebook and Twitter have led many, including the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock to question whether, since the big social media platforms appear to be taking editorial decisions, they should be treated as ‘publishers’ rather than platforms and, therefore, subject to the same regulations as other publishers.

Section 230

Also, there is now some speculation that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in the US, the law that gives tech companies the ability to decide how to moderate content on their own platforms and crucially, to shield their platforms from liability for what their users post could be under review when Joe Biden becomes the president.  Despite being a keen user of Twitter, President Trump has also been one of many political and other figures who for some time have supported a review of Section 230.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The action taken Facebook and Twitter following the events in Washington last week may have strengthened the argument of many long-time critics in terms of the need to look again at whether the social media giants should be classed as publishers and whether they should have the protection so far afforded by Section 230.  Facebook and Twitter may argue that it’s simply a case of clearly laid out rules being broken (see Twitter’s arguments about its approach to how World Leaders can use its accounts https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/worldleaders2019.html) although, with the new President Biden, some commentators are predicting that more pressure for change and possibly regulation may be heading Facebook and Twitter’s way.

The recent events in Washington are also an example of how brands can be very quickly and catastrophically damaged by bad behaviour linked to their owners/founders.  Signs that the Trump brand is likely to be damaged beyond repair and to become somewhat toxic to other businesses and organisations are already starting to show e.g., the PGA now looking to move the 2022 PGA Championship from President Trump’s Bedminster club.

Featured Article – Rules & Regs: Social Media

In this article, we look at the rules, policies and guidance around what types of content is –  and isn’t – allowed on social media websites.

Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms reflect many different views and motivations and can be used for harm (as well as good) e.g., cyberbullying, hate speech, grooming and more.  With social media forums positioning themselves as platforms rather than publishers, they are currently protected from the same regulation that publishers are subject to.  Given that there are now vast quantities of rules and guidelines introduced and published by the social media platforms themselves to show that they can work without the need for regulation or other intervention, this article focuses mainly on Facebook and Twitter as examples.

Safe Posting

Safe posting on platforms such as Facebook relies not just upon the user’s own views and behaviour but also on how the social media platforms are able to detect (mainly through algorithms, reports from users and some internal reviews), moderate, and act where posts which break the rules are found.  

Facebook – Community Standards

Facebook, for example, regards its social network as an online community and as such, issues guidance about the types of behaviour permitted or not permitted.  These rules/standards are listed in its ‘Community Standards’.  Facebook says that the goal of these standards is to “create a place for expression and give people a voice”.

Values Vs Expression

Facebook is keen to stress that it favours expression but when it does have to limit this expression, it does so because this expression is at odds with its published values for which are the preserving and protecting of authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity (rights).

Facebook justifies allowing some content that would appear to go against its Community Standards if it is deemed to serve a purpose for “public awareness” (in the public interest/newsworthy). An example of this could be a graphic depiction of war to show the consequences of war.

Challenges

Some of the challenges of moderating a social media platform were revealed in November 2020 when Facebook revealed (via its Community Standards Enforcement Report) that 22.1 million pieces of hate speech content had been found on Facebook and 6.5 million instances of hate speech had been found on its Instagram platform between July and September.  10 million instances of hate speech per month were recorded across Facebook and Instagram during those 3 months.

The same report detailed 13 million pieces of child nudity and sexual exploitation content, and more than a million items of suicide and self-injury being found across Facebook’s platforms in that period.

Facebook has also reported recently that it is making efforts to crack down upon misinformation relating to coronavirus, conspiracy theories, the Holocaust and QAnon (a far-right conspiracy theory).

In addition to guarding against racism, bullying, hate speech and more, as shown after the 2016 election, social media platforms also need to guard against state-sponsored political misinformation and influence.

Algorithms

Keeping up with policing a vast social media platform involves the use of complex algorithms designed to detect things like hate speech, racial slurs, bullying and more. Facebook, for example, is currently reported to be updating algorithms that detect hate speech and racism as part of its “worst of the world” project (WoW Project). This project is reported to be designed to make algorithms better at spotting abusive content aimed at people of colour, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and jews.

Subjects

Facebook has Community Standards rules and guidelines that are intended to protect its platform and users.  For example, these standards cover:

– Violence and criminal behaviour.  This covers preventing potential offline harm that may be related to content on Facebook, stopping organisations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook e.g., terrorists or human trafficking, stopping posts relating to coordinating harm and publicising crime, prohibiting attempts to buy and sell regulated goods e.g., drugs and firearms, and removing content relating to fraud and deception.

– Safety. This covers content related to child sexual exploitation, abuse and nudity, sexual exploitation of adults, bullying and harassment (with a distinction made between public figures and private individuals to allow for discussion – Facebook also has a Bullying Prevention Hub for teenagers, parents and educators), human exploitation and privacy violations and image privacy rights i.e. “remove content that shares, offers or solicits personally identifiable information or other private information that could lead to physical or financial harm, including financial, residential and medical information, as well as private information obtained from illegal sources.”

– Objectionable content. This relates to stopping ‘hate speech’ which Facebook defines as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disease or disability”. Facebook separates any such attacks on its platform into 3 tiers of severity.  Facebook lists how it approaches many issues relating to hate speech here https://about.fb.com/news/2017/06/hard-questions-hate-speech/ and quotes its own 2017 figure showing that it deleted “288,000 posts a month globally” relating to hate speech. 

– Integrity and authenticity. This relates to stopping fake accounts being created i.e., preventing impersonation and identity misrepresentation by removing accounts that are harmful to Facebook’s community.

Within this section, Facebook also regulates matters relating to dealing with spam, cyber-security i.e., not allowing attempts to gather sensitive user information through the abuse of the platform and products, inauthentic behaviour (people misrepresenting themselves, or using use fake accounts for dishonest purposes), false news i.e., not removing it altogether but reducing its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed to preserve satire or opinion.

– Manipulated media – image, audio, or video (e.g. deepfakes).

– Memorialisation. When a Facebook user dies, friends and family can request that their account is memorialised, whereupon the word “Remembering” is added above the name on the person’s profile.

– Respecting intellectual property. This relates to Facebook users respecting other peoples’ copyrights, trademarks and other legal rights when posting on the platform.

– Content-related requests and decisions. This relates to requests for removal of accounts, additional protection of minors (e.g. removal of child abuse imagery) and decisions referred to Facebook’s Independent Oversight Board.

– Additional information. This relates to gathering information from ‘Stakeholders’ i.e., Facebook wanting to make policies based on feedback from community representatives and a broad spectrum of the people who use its service.

Reporting

Facebook offers fast ways for users to report posts and other users. For example, reporting a post involves clicking on the 3 dots (top right) and selecting “Find support or report post”.  Other ways of reporting are listed here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/help/reportlinks/

Twitter

Twitter, of course, has its own extensive rules and policies designed to “serve the public conversation” which are published online here https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules.

Twitter’s online guidance focuses very clearly on what is ‘not’ allowed on its platform. For example, Twitter is very clear that users must not:

– Threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.

– Threaten or promote terrorism or violent extremists.

– Engage in the targeted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so.

– Promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.

– Promote or encourage suicide or self-harm.

– Publish or post other people’s private information.

– Post or share intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent.

– Use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.

There are, of course, many other rules and guidelines.

Enforcement

Enforcement (i.e. action taken by Twitter if these rules and guidelines are broken/contravened) can be taken at Tweet level, direct-message level and account level.

Tweet-level enforcement includes limiting Tweet visibility, requiring Tweet removal, hiding a violating Tweet while awaiting its removal, or placing a tweet behind a notice explaining why it is a public exception (in the public interest).

Direct Message-level enforcement includes stopping conversations or placing a violating Direct Message behind a notice so that no one else in the group can see it again.

Account-level enforcement includes requiring media or profile edits, placing an account in read-only mode, verifying account ownership, and permanent suspension.

Trump – Permanent Suspension

One extremely high-profile, recent permanent suspension of a Twitter account was that of President Donald Trump following what he said in Tweets prior to his supporters descending on Washington, and after an initial temporary suspension.  Interestingly, Twitter has specific guidelines relating to how world leaders are permitted to use its platform.  See: https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/worldleaders2019.html

Non-Violating Content

Twitter can also act against non-violating content.  This can include:

– Placing a Tweet behind a notice (e.g. adult content or graphic violence).

– Withholding a Tweet or account in a country –  e.g. where laws in a specific country may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content.

Reporting / Complaining

There are already mechanisms built-in-to Twitter that enable users to report a Tweet, account, or conversation on the grounds that it is abusive.  This usually involves clicking on the 3 dots/more icon and clicking the appropriate reporting link from there. Information can be found here:  https://help.twitter.com/en/safety-and-security/report-abusive-behavior

Your Safety

Part of using social media safely involves taking steps to protect yourself in terms of privacy and data security.  Ways this can be achieved include:

– Not sharing personal information online, not ‘over-sharing’ and not sharing anything you wouldn’t want your family to see.

– Not sharing too many personal details that could be clearly linked with your identit (e.g. real date of birth, address details etc.)

– Checking privacy settings, reviewing what you make ‘public’, and being careful when sharing location information.

– Being very wary of accepting friend requests from complete strangers or requests from those you think you are already friends with (this could be a sign of a hacked account).

– Watching out for phishing scams i.e., following links that could direct you to malicious websites.

Safe Posting

Advice for safe posting on social media websites, therefore, could include:

– Be aware of the rules of the platform.

– Keep it “light and interesting”, without revealing too many personal details.

– Post within the rules of any group.

– Avoid getting involved in heated arguments with members of groups or other less familiar Facebook friends.

– Be careful not to use language or express views that could upset others.

– Report abuse/offensive posts and behaviour.

– If you have children who want to use social media, set guidelines about social media use, make sure they’re not posting personal details or photos of themselves and not accepting friends requests from people they don’t know or joining inappropriate groups, keep their profile private and check the privacy settings, and keep an open dialogue with them about their digital activities. 

Brexit – Temporary Data Adequacy Granted to the UK

Worries about the disruption of the flow of data and the effect of this on trade between the UK and EU countries with Brexit have been addressed by the granting of controversial, short-term data adequacy status to the UK.

What Is Data Adequacy?

For third countries, i.e. those outside the European Economic Area (EEA) of the EU (outside the DGPR zone), to be allowed to be granted cross-border data transfer without the need for further authorisation from a national supervisory authority or extra compliance burdens, the third country must prove that it has the right data protection measures and laws in place (i.e. those that are compatible with and are approved by the EU).  If these are in place, the third country can be granted data adequacy status which enables the free flow of data. Countries which have data adequacy status include Andorra, Argentina, Canada Faroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Uruguay.  Data adequacy status is also granted to sectors of an economy, or international organisations as well as countries.

Prior to the final Brexit date, the UK had not yet been granted full data adequacy status, so a temporary measure was needed in the interim.

Temporary Data Adequacy Granted

Under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded in December 2020, the EU granted temporary data adequacy status to the UK.  For data, The EU is, therefore, still currently treating the UK as part of the EU (not a third country), subject to certain conditions i.e., UK ministers cannot use Exit Regulations to determine or revoke data adequacy decisions.

For How Long?

TCA agreement on the data adequacy status means that it could apply for four to six months from 1 January 2021, or when data adequacy is fully granted. There is, however, some mutual consent between the EU and UK Partnership Council that could give further flexibility to this agreement.

Issues

Critics, such as Douwe Korff, professor of international law at London Metropolitan University, have argued, however, that there many reasons why the idea of the UK being granted this temporary third country status under EU law is unacceptable.  In short, Professor Korff argues that there are five good reasons why the UK being granted this kind of status are unacceptable in law, which are that:

1. This undermines EU data protection law as guaranteed by the EU Treaties, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU data protection instruments as interpreted by the Court of Justice of the EU.

2. The issue of data protection (including in respect of transfers of personal data) should not be addressed in a free trade agreement.

3. UK mass surveillance, which is directly relevant to the issues of data protection adequacy and data transfer, is not being considered.

4. The specified four to six months period can be extended by the EU and the UK at will.

5. It appears to be assumed that a positive adequacy decision on the UK will be issued within the “stipulated period” i.e., four to six months.  This is not a certainty.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Since the UK has recently departed from the EU and, therefore, was already up to date with EU data protection laws, it would have been unfair to immediately treat the UK as a third country, hence the temporary arrangement.  The secure free flow of data without the need to comply with additional regulations or to face costly, complex, or time-wasting hurdles are essential for UK businesses to maintain their competitiveness.  The fact that this temporary agreement is flexible (e.g. four to six months or longer by agreement) is a double-edged sword because although it is convenient now, it doesn’t provide certainty going forward.  It is also worrying that some legal expert commentators have spotted potential legal flaws in the existing arrangement which could represent another threat for UK businesses looking for consistency and more certainty.  If the UK, at any point chooses to let its data laws and practices fall below EU standard, this could lead to negative consequences for businesses dealing with EU countries, so it is in the UK’s interests now to make sure that the increasingly important matter of data and data security are areas where standards are continually monitored and improved.

Tech Tip – Optimising Storage

You can make sure that you are making the best use of the space on your computer by using the Storage Sense feature in Windows 10.  Here’s how:

When enabled, Storage Sense will automatically work in the background when your PC is getting low on space to free-up space by ridding your system of unwanted, unused files and content in e.g., the temporary files folder, recycle bin, and the download folder.  To put Storage Sense to work for you:

– Go to Settings.

– Select “System” and “Storage”.

– Set the toggle to “On”.

– To clean up unused files now, rather than when space is running low, click on the “Configure Storage Sense or run it now” link.

Those Who Understand Stats Less Prone To COVID

New Research from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), suggests that people who understand statistics and data are more likely to take COVID-19 prevention advice seriously.

The Results

The research results, published in the paper ‘The Role of Statistical Literacy in Risk Perceptions and Behaviour During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ suggest that people are more likely to voluntarily comply and wear a mask, practice social distancing and get vaccinated to prevent others from getting infected if they understand statistics and data. The research results also suggest that statistical literacy leads to a better understanding of the virus threat, the ability to keep up with changes in the situation, and the ability to more accurately incorporate new information in the formation of expectations.

By the same token, researchers Professor Daniel Metzger and Dr Mikael Paaso from RSM and Dr Vesa Pursiainen from the University of St. Gallen’s suggest that those individuals who don’t have a good understanding of statistics can make less well informed and potentially inappropriate decision making which could make them more likely to catch the virus.

Confidence in Science

Those who more are statistically literate also have a higher level of confidence in science and in healthcare and this is thought to be one of the main reasons why statistically literate people generally consider flu vaccinations more important.  It follows, therefore that statistically literate people may be more likely to voluntarily receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The research results also suggest that statistically literate people are likely to have been less satisfied with communication by the government during the pandemic, as well as being less satisfied with advice coming from media and science.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The research results appear to show that those who understand statistics and data may be better equipped to protect themselves (and others) during the pandemic and to act in a way that appears to be responsible given the messages from science, the government, and the media. The results also suggest that there is an education gap in the population that could be contributing to a higher infection rate.  This means that more effort is needed by government and health organisations to clearly explain and present any statistical data and how this relates to government advice and measures. Clear explanations of what figures, charts/graphs and pandemic statistics mean could lead to wider understanding and acceptance and could make more people voluntarily compliant in a beneficial way.  This is particularly important as regards to information about the new vaccines and how safe they are, given what appears to be a fast development time.  Employing other methods such as showing influencers, celebrities, and people who appeal to many different reference groups receiving the vaccine and endorsing advice and measures may also help.  It should be remembered, however, that there are many different influences on attitudes and opinions in addition to just statistical literacy and a more holistic approach may be needed to tackle what is a critical issue.

Bitcoin Skyrockets

The value of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency has risen sharply, reaching a value of £22,000 for the first time ever.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a digital web-based currency that operates without the need for central banks and uses highly secure encryption to regulate the currency units and to verify transfers of funds. Bitcoin, which was first produced in 2009, 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’.

Bad Times

Back in 2017, after a meteoric rise in value, the Bitcoin value ‘bubble’ famously burst and took a nosedive in 2018, hitting a 4-month low in November 2018.  At the time, this crash was attributed to factors such as the overconsumption of bitcoin in the first place, extra regulation in the US., investors’ fears over the currency’s volatility, security fears and Investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission of initial coin offerings and crypto exchanges, as well as too long a wait for the January 2019 launch of bitcoin futures by Bakkt, Intercontinental Exchange’s crypto platform.

Good Times Back or Another Bubble?

Bitcoin’s value rose again in March and, on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, by November 2020 the number of bitcoin futures and options contracts open had quadrupled since the same time in 2019 (Bloomberg).  This boost in value carried on through December as Bitcoin reached £22,000 for the first time.

Why The Rise?

The latest rapid rise in Bitcoin’s value may be attributed to several factors including:

– More speculation and/or Investors seeking safety after an uncertain year at the hands of COVID-19 and its effects on the global economy.

– Some investors e.g., family offices, looking for an alternative investment to gold as a way of protecting against inflation.

– Recent falls in the value of the US dollar.

– Encouraging noises about Bitcoin from the world’s biggest payments groups.  For example, PayPal is allowing US customers to buy, sell and hold bitcoin (and other tokens) in their online wallets, Square buying $50m in bitcoin in October because of its perceived future growth potential, and major banks e.g., European Central Bank, considering getting into cryptocurrencies.

– A greater acceptance of cryptocurrencies by younger investors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The benefits and the need for digital currencies have been understood for some time but their adoption by mainstream financial players was delayed by many issues including a lack of regulation and security fears.  Despite the continued volatility of Bitcoin, the uncertainty of the current economic times, the attractiveness of Bitcoin as an investment appears to be a possible replacement for gold in some portfolios, and apparent commitments from big payment players have made Bitcoin look more attractive now than it has for years.  Some critics still see its purchase as too speculative and suggest that this is another bubble, but economies have undergone massive unforeseen changes over the last year where digital transformation and faith in technology have been accelerated. There is also a general feeling among some big investors that the benefits Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are now beginning to outweigh their drawbacks and that there is a general willingness to see what positive aspects they can offer if given the chance to be used more widely.

Featured Article – AI in 2021 For Small Businesses

In this article, we look at some of the ways that SMEs can access and use AI to improve efficiency and add value.

SMEs Optimistic About AI

Contrary to a popular belief that AI may still be a little ‘pie in the sky’ for many SMEs, an Adecco study (2017) showed that small businesses are more open and optimistic about AI and its potential to boost business growth than larger companies. The study, which took into account the views of 1000 workers in 13 sectors across the UK showed that companies with more than 5,000 staff are almost twice as sceptical about the business impact of AI compared to businesses with less than 250 employees.

Machine Learning and AI

Just to clear up some of the popular terminologies that are often used interchangeably, artificial intelligence (AI) is the encompassing concept that machines can execute tasks “smartly” whereas machine learning contributes to this as machines (through algorithms) can be trained, can learn, and can adapt through experience.

Business-Led Approach

Business-led (rather than technology-led) applications of AI are likely to yield better results as this approach leads to a focus that can mean AI solving real problems in a value-adding way.

Already Using AI

Some examples of how SMEs are already using existing AI-powered tools in a business-led way as part of their daily/regular work include:

– Operating systems and add-ons + digital assistants. These include Windows 10 which has Cortana, Teams, and other AI-powered features. Apple incorporates the Siri assistant and Amazon’s AI-powered digital assistant is, of course, Alexa. 

– CRMs. These include Salesforce and Zoho, with its ‘Zia’ AI-powered assistant.

– Popular email platforms. In September for example, Mailchimp launched a set of AI-based tools to give small businesses access to the same kind of capabilities as their larger competitors. These include personalised product recommendations for shoppers, forecasting tools for behavioural targeting (of those most likely to buy), a tool to help businesses design their own visual asset and a tool to help write better email subject lines.

– Banking apps. For example, the Lloyds Bank, Halifax, and Bank of Scotland banking app use AI to give customers mobile notifications which can be customised to track their spending and transactions.

– Online and mobile advertising e.g., AdWords and Facebook adverts.

Resources

There are many resources and solutions to be found online that can help SMEs to access and use AI.  Some of the AI resources include:

– Google’s AI Tools.  Google’s online AI tools at https://ai.google/tools/ include the TensorFlow browser-based library for training ML models, and ML Kit as well as guides to ML and AI at https://ai.google/education/. Other AI products such as AI platform (for building machine learning models), Cloud AutoML for building ML models with minimal expertise, and AI Building Blocks can be found at https://cloud.google.com/products/ai.

– Microsoft’s (Azure) AI platform ‘Microsoft AI’ offers tools and help to develop AI solutions in conversational AI, machine learning, data sciences, robotics, IoT, and more.  See: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/overview/ai-platform/.  Also, Microsoft BI uses AI to model and visualise business data to help with decision making.  See: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/what-is-power-bi/

– Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a set of set machine learning tools for businesses here https://aws.amazon.com/ai/ plus a number of resources and guides here https://aws.amazon.com/ai/resources/.

– Funded by UK Innovate, the GoSmarter Toolbox gives SMEs six automation tools to easily and quickly automate invoice processing, meeting management, online bookings, sales processing, social media listening and more.  See: https://gosmarter.ai/.

– The UK government website provides many guides related to the use of AI, such as https://www.gov.uk/guidance/planning-and-preparing-for-artificial-intelligence-implementation.

– Various ‘out of the box’ AI-based tools can help solve common problems for SMEs. Examples include Timely, an app/digital record of all project and team time (https://memory.ai/timely), and Sage Ap Automation to help work with freelancers or external contractors this AI-based tool manages outgoing and incoming expenses and does the banking reconciliation. Other interesting ‘out of the box’ examples include Brisk which uses real-time data feeds to automate the monitoring of risks and opportunities for small businesses e.g., late-paying customers, supply chain disruption, online reputation, cybersecurity, employee well-being and more (https://www.getbrisk.com/), Scribless which enables small businesses to create handwritten messages at scale (replicate the handwriting of clients) to help create more effective marketing campaigns (https://scribeless.co/), and multiple applicant tracking/recruiting/HR solutions such as People HR (https://www.peoplehr.com/recruitment.html) and GoHire (https://gohire.io/).

Real-World Examples

Real-world examples of how SMEs are have used/are using AI to leverage their resources and add value include:

– Predictive Algorithms.  For example, as highlighted by NatWest, hotel technology specialist Noetic have developed predictive algorithms for hotels, based on data gathered through their websites that can identify what makes a good guest and can help the hotel to keep the guest and rely less on travel agents by offering these cheap to acquire, high spending guests more of what is known to attract them and keep their loyalty.

– Virtual customer service agents.  For example, SoDash, a social media and digital customer services agent can make customer service more efficient by collecting messages from many different channels e.g., Twitter, Facebook, email, and SMS, categorising them and sending automatic responses to common enquiries.

In Summary

In summary, AI can be used to enhance and improve many different aspects of business for SMEs including improving marketing and sales (making them smarter and improving insights), reducing repetitive, mundane tasks and freeing up more valuable resources, helping to manage finances, HR and recruitment, expanding the team with a chatbot, tracking a website user’s journey (and analysing their behaviour), and much more.

Using a business-led approach, looking closely at particular work challenges, and conducting an inventory of what skills are available within the business, companies can decide how they want to begin using AI e.g., an off the shelf solution, buying in initial expertise or committing in-house development time and resources in order to start gaining real-world benefits from AI that could translate into important competitive advantages.

Looking Ahead

The extreme disruption caused to global markets, business and supply chains by the pandemic and the realisation that more future business will be online lends itself to greater use of AI.  With more accessible and affordable AI products and resources available than ever before, many SMEs may now be seriously thinking about how AI can help them at least improve efficiency and improve automation as they look towards making the best of the recovery when it comes.

Tesla Delivered (Almost) 500,000 Vehicles in 2020

Tesla reached its target of producing 500,000+ vehicles in 2020, although it very narrowly missed its target of delivering that number of vehicles.

Target

Electronic vehicle company Tesla’s own target set five years ago under CEO Elon Musk, of producing half a million vehicles in a year was reached in 2020 when deliveries in the fourth quarter of 180,570 pushed it over the line to the tune of 509,737 electric vehicles.  As for its (guidance) target of delivering 500,000 electric vehicles in 2020, Tesla only marginally missed this milestone as it recorded delivering 499,550 electric vehicles.  Near miss or not, this still represents a huge 36 per cent increase in vehicle deliveries on the previous year.

New Models Helped

The Tesla sales boost in 2020 was helped by the launch of the Model Y, the mid-sized SUV, and a general rise in demand for the company’s more affordable and newer models e.g., the Model 3 and Model Y vehicles of which it delivered 161,650 in the fourth quarter.

The increase in model Y production was enabled by Tesla operating a new car plant in Shanghai, and the addition of new battery cell suppliers (as well as its existing partner Panasonic) contributed to growth by allowing more high voltage battery packs to be added to Tesla’s electric cars.

More Factories

Future growth of Tesla car sales looks likely to be boosted by the company’s building of more new factories in 2021 in Austin, Texas and Brandenburg, Germany, although it is understood that these new factories could take 12 to 24 months to hit full capacity (slower than the Shanghai factory).

Pandemic Hit Car Industry

From March 2020 the lockdown measures, a mass loss of income and jobs, the closure of car plants and showrooms worldwide, and a huge dent in ‘consumer confidence’ hit the car industry hard and there was an inevitable downturn in the sales and registrations of new cars in 2020.  Also, The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures showed that only 4,321 cars were registered in the UK in April 2020 during the national lockdown.  This was the lowest monthly level since 1946 and marked a 97 per cent plunge in sales from the same month in 2019 and large numbers of unsold cars were stored outside waiting for an upturn in the market; for example, a vast quantity of cars estimated to be worth £35 million were stored outdoors at Heyford airbase close to Bicester, in Oxfordshire.

At the end of the first national lockdown, however, ‘pent up demand’ led to a boost in car sales, and the cleaner air experienced globally during in the lockdown helped to highlight the benefits of electric vehicles.  A change in policy by the UK government in November also led to the commitment that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will end by 2030.  Looking ahead, Bloomberg NEF has forecasted that electric vehicle models will reach 31 per cent of the overall car fleet by 2040, accounting for 58 per cent of new passenger car sales and that combustion engine car sales will continue to gradually decline from their peak in 2017.

Competition For Tesla

Although Tesla’s latest figures are promising, the company faces some stiff competition going forwards in both the luxury and lower-priced car segments for the big car companies, all of whom are now committed to electric models.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These figures, the promise of new factories and battery technology, new models, hope in the marketplace for 2021 thanks to vaccines, and commitments by governments to boost the sales of electric vehicles are all good news for Tesla. Competition in the electric vehicles market is now set to go up a notch and Tesla are clearly positioning themselves to take on the big car manufacturers in different segments.  The change to electric vehicles will also create challenges and opportunities for businesses involved in the supply chain and charging of electric vehicles as well as sales as customers commit to electric vehicles going forward.  In the short term in many countries, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting mobility and still having a serious negative influence on car sales.

Tech Tip – How To ‘Unsend’ An Email With Gmail

If you use Gmail and if you would like to avoid sending an email to the incorrect recipients, without the promised attachments, with the wrong subject line, or worse, here’s how:

– Gmail settings offer the option of pausing an email delivery up to 30 seconds, thereby buying you valuable time to stop it from being sent and to make any corrections.  To enable this:

– In Gmail go to ‘Settings’ and click on ‘See All Settings’.

– Under the ‘General’ tab (left-hand side) find ‘Undo Send:’

– Change the Send cancellation period from the default 5 seconds to 10, 20, or 30 seconds.