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How data is shining a light on global property markets

April 14, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, search engines, Uncategorized

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The prices you’ll see on most websites are asking prices. The value of a done deal – the real price – can take land registries weeks to process, by which time a fast-paced market will have moved on.

So those on the inside doing the deals, such as estate agents and developers, have a distinct advantage.

Could technology help blast open this closed market?

Teun van den Dries, chief executive of Dutch software company GeoPhy, believes his data analytics software program could do just that, starting with commercial property, a global market worth about Ä22.5tn (£15.7tn), according to the European Public Real Estate Association.

His program crunches lots of different data sets – public transport, roads, congestion, location, demographics, local economy, building quality and so on – to calculate an estimated value for a property.

And he has data for 41 countries, from Singapore to Spain, Brazil to Belgium.

“If you look at the current property market, almost all transactions are handled by estate agents that will describe property as being well situated, with great accessibility and beautiful views,” he says. “And that could all be true, but it doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t allow you to compare.”

Location accounts for 70%-75% of the weighting in the algorithm – a mathematical set of rules – and his pricing is accurate within about 5%, he says.

Estate agents are known for their creative euphemisms when it comes to property descriptions, but data could help cut through the sales speak to arrive at a more realistic assessment, he believes.

But, he notes, “a valuation is never right until someone pays. So, it’s the same price point a surveyor will put their signature on.”

The only difference is that it’s derived from data and a set of comparable rules, he says.

However, there are some valuations it can’t help us to understand – parts of London, such as St James’s Park or Mayfair, home of the £90m mansion, simply defy data analysis.

At present, his customers are pension funds and other large institutions that own property portfolios. They want quick access to property valuations, as well as other data, such as the energy efficiency of their buildings.

But he hopes this type of analysis could also help make the residential property and rentals markets more transparent, too.

So when your landlord says prices are rising in your area and hikes up your rent, you’ll be able to see if that’s really the case, says Mr van den Dries.

 

But not everyone is so sure about the benefits of data analytics in the commercial property market.

For example, a seller may offload a building to make a loss to offset against tax and as such will sell at a lower “rational” price, he says.

And shifts in economies thousands of miles away – China or in the Middle East, perhaps – could suddenly empty money out of a given market, without the data giving any warning.

While many large publicly owned property owners have talked about using data, many “just don’t really know where to start and are only at the start of the journey,” he says. “Commercial property is the last imperfect market.”

“Homes may be better, as they are more homogenous and could be more comparable,” he adds.

Mr van den Dries admits that there is some resistance to this new data-driven approach – a number of property owners have expressed displeasure at having their buildings benchmarked, he says.

But he, and others, remain convinced that better analysis of more data is key to a more efficient – and less mysterious – property market.

Tablets ‘eroding’ children’s digital skills

April 09, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, data security, Dr Search, Email, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, smart phones, Tablets, Uncategorized

Children are learning very different skills via tablets and smartphones, suggests a report.

 

Children’s growing use of mobile devices may hamper their learning of key technology skills, says a report.

An Australian educational body noted a “significant decline” in IT literacy among some students since 2011.

Its report said children learned very different skills on tablets and smartphones to the basic technology skills required for the workplace.

Changes to the way that ICT was being taught in Australian schools could explain some of the decline, it said.

The report added that significant alterations in the types of devices people use could also be behind some of the changes.
Poor performance

The report by Australia’s National Assessment Programme looked at technology literacy among two groups of children – one just leaving primary school and another in its fourth year of secondary school. More than 10,500 students took part.

It compared digital literacy scores from 2011 with those from a survey carried out in late 2014.

“This report shows a significant decline in their ICT literacy performance when compared to previous cycles,” it said.

Both age groups saw a decline in IT proficiencies, it added. Statistics revealed that the average performance of 16-year-olds in the 2014 group was lower than the average in any other year.

In addition it found that the number of children meeting basic ICT literacy standards in these age groups had dropped.

Pupils now made “increased” and “extensive” use of mobile technology and it was possible that this meant they were “practising fewer of the skills that have been associated with ICT literacy,” it said.

Tablets and smartphones were making children competent at using many forms of online communication, it said, at the expense of those other skills emphasised by the curriculum.

It warned against assuming that children who use tablets and other portable devices were more widely competent with technology.

“We cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction,” it said. “They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills.”

Eben Upton, who came up with the idea for the bare-bones Raspberry Pi computer, said the Australian research presented some “interesting” conclusions.

“It’s always been my belief that ‘appliance-like’ hardware platforms don’t encourage real computer literacy because there are missing rungs on the ladder between being a consumer and being a producer,” he told the BBC.

“There’s a place for tablets in education, but we need to get away from the idea that knowing how to pinch-zoom makes your toddler the next Bill Gates,” he said.

Paris attacks: Silicon Valley in crosshairs over encryption

February 18, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Apps, Computers, Customer Service, data security, Email, Hackers, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Grief over the Paris attacks will soon make way to demands for action.

Grief over the Paris attacks will soon make way to demands for action.

As well as increased military activity, and the controversial suggestions to close the door on refugees, the next battle in the “surely something can be done” arena will be aimed squarely, and angrily, at Silicon Valley.

Tech companies were already under pressure to make it easier for governments to access “private” communication apps and services. Those calls have intensified greatly since the attacks in Paris.

The “problem” is to do with encryption.

Without encryption, all of the things we do online would be insecure, be it emailing, or shopping, or banking. They all rely on the principle that if you encrypt data using complex mathematics it is nigh-on impossible to crack.

If you’re using communication apps such as WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, WeChat and so on, your messages are encrypted by default.

It means that even if those companies wanted to hand over your messages to law enforcement, they couldn’t.

“There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult, both technically as well as legally, for intelligence and security services to have the insight they need to uncover it,” said CIA director John Brennan at a security forum on Monday.

“And I do think this is a time for particularly Europe, as well as here in the United States, for us to take a look and see whether or not there have been some inadvertent or intentional gaps that have been created in the ability of intelligence and security services to protect the people that they are asked to serve.”

An opinion column in the New York Times, authored by Manhattan’s district attorney, and the City of London Police commissioner, said “encryption blocks justice”.

In the piece, published back in August, they wrote about a murder near Chicago in which a father of six had been shot. At the scene, officers found two mobile phones. But they were passcode locked. Neither Google or Apple (the phones ran their software) could unlock the phones, and therefore the data was inaccessible.

“On behalf of crime victims the world over,” the opinion piece read, “we are asking whether this encryption is truly worth the cost.”

It’s an argument that can be made with more vigour than ever after the Paris attacks.

With access to communications, the anti-encryption advocates say, we could perhaps stop these tragic events from occurring. That’s a claim worth scrutinising.

It’s early days in the investigation, and no evidence has yet been offered to show that encrypted communications were used to organise the atrocity.

But technology industry is, on the whole, against the suggestion that law enforcement should have “backdoors” into popular services – the term given to a hidden way of circumventing the app’s security.

A backdoor, in the infosec world, is the term given to a method in which a supposedly secure system can be accessed. It could be a quirk in some code, or a vulnerability in how a system communicates. Whatever the weakness, typically, once backdoors are made public, they are fixed.

Hackers make serious money by discovering backdoors and selling them on – often to government security services.

Many in law enforcement and government feel there should be a backdoor made just for those in authority to investigate and stop criminals and terrorists.

But some of tech’s most influential figures say that the notion of a secure, secret backdoor is dangerously misguided.

If any backdoor exists, hackers will find it eventually. It would mean data security for all of us, not just criminals, would evaporate.

 

Cost concerns over web spying proposals

February 13, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, data security, Dr Search, Google, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Disentangling data can be difficult and costly, say net experts.

Disentangling data can be difficult and costly, say net experts

UK MPs are investigating what it will cost ISPs to meet government proposals to log where Britons go online.

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee is looking at whether gathering data on net-using citizens is even feasible. It also wants to look into the potential impact that logging browsing will have on how people use the web.

The consultation comes as questions mount over the money the government will set aside to support monitoring.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) was unveiled last week and it attempts to update the way the state, police and spies gather data to fight crime, terrorism and other threats.

One of the most contentious aspects of the IP Bill obliges ISPs to record information about the services, websites and data every UK citizen uses. These “Internet

The Science and Technology committee has said it wants to look more deeply into this and its potential cost.

In a notice announcing the inquiry, the Committee said it wanted to find out if it was possible for ISPs to meet the IP Bill’s requirements. The text of the Bill asks ISPs to log where people go but not what they do when on a site or using a service.

MPs also want to find out how easy it is for ISPs to separate data about a visit to a site from what happens once people log in, because more stringent rules govern who can discover what people do on a site as opposed to the sites they use.

The Committee will also look at how much it might cost the providers to do this.

The government has said it will provide £175m to ISPs over 10 years to pay for data to be gathered and stored.

ISPs watch the flows of data across their networks to help manage traffic, he said, but they typically only sample these streams because they deal with such massive quantities of information every day.

How to protect your online brand against cybersquatters

February 02, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, Google, internet, Uncategorized

Cybersquatting is buying up website addresses, or domain names, that sound very similar to existing well known brand names.

 

When Google recently launched its new parent company Alphabet, and the abc.xyz web address, there were more than 20,000 registrations by people attempting to take advantage, registering names like googlefiber.xyz or googledocs.xyz.

And in January, eBay won one of the largest cybersquatting cases, winning the ownership of more than 1,000 domains that had used its trademark.

Protecting your brand name online is of critical business importance for smaller companies as well.

The potential for cybersquatting has grown since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the international body responsible for co-ordinating all these addresses – began issuing hundreds of new generic top level domains (gTLDs), such as .xyz, and .nyc, as well as controversial ones like .sucks and .porn.

When ICANN proposed allowing these new generic top level domains, the trademark world was not receptive to that idea because they were so concerned about cybersquatting and poaching. Those concerns would appear to have been justified.

People were “just overwhelmed” by the number of gTLDs becoming available.

In the distant history you had .biz or .info and things like this coming online in a small round of five or six new gTLDs. Now the burden of protecting your brand online is potentially much higher as more extensions become available.

So how do you protect your brand online?

Registering it as a trademark is a good first step as it gives you more rights over related web addresses.

Under ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) rules, a domain registry must provide a “sunrise period,” during which trademarked brands registered in the TMCH can buy domains before they are publicly available.

Simply buying up lots of addresses that are variations of your brand name is one option. But this can get expensive for a small business, as domains can vary in price from 99p to several thousand pounds.

GoDaddy, a web hosting company, says: “Really, nobody has to go out and buy hundreds of domain names across their brands and keywords to protect themselves. Be thoughtful about the handful of names that are most important to you and think about registering those – ones that if you saw in the hands of your closest competitor, you wouldn’t be happy about it.”

If you think a cybersquatter has bought a domain name that infringes your trademark, you can go through ICANN’s uniform domain name dispute resolution (UDRP) system to have your case heard by a panel of experts.

“The UDRP keeps people out of court,” says the WIPO. “If you’re sitting in the United States and there’s somebody in Vietnam that’s squatting on your brand, you don’t have to go a local court.”

Another option is the uniform rapid suspension (URS) system, which is a “lighter version.”

At the end of the UDRP process, I get the domain back in my portfolio and keep it out of the hands of other infringers. Under the URS though, it just gets suspended or taken down for the duration of the registration period.

The brand owner then has the choice of trying to obtain the domain in the future or waiting to see if anyone takes it again.

The cybersquatting issue is likely to keep lawyers and dispute resolution panels busy for years to come.

TalkTalk hack to cost up to £35m

January 10, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, Hackers, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The cyber-attack on TalkTalk could cost it up to £35m in one-off costs, the company has said.

The cyber-attack on TalkTalk could cost it up to £35m in one-off costs, the company has said.

Following the hack, which divulged some 255,000 users’ financial details, all customers of the telecoms group will be offered a free upgrade.

Chief executive Dido Harding said that despite the hack, TalkTalk was “well positioned to deliver strong and sustainable long-term growth”.

The firm expects still full year results to be in line with market expectations.

TalkTalk shares were still down more than 20% compared with their pre-hack value.

She added that in recognition of the uncertainty that this had caused customers, they would be offered an upgrade.

A spokesperson said the type of upgrade offered would depend on the kind of package customers already had. For example, customers with TV packages might be offered a sports channel that they did not already have.

Customers who were financially affected directly will be free to leave TalkTalk without financial penalty. They would have to be able to show they had lost money as a result of the hack.

Customers who wish to leave for a different reason – for example, if they feel their data is not secure – would still have to pay a contract termination fee.

Some of TalkTalk’s millions of customers might have been angry enough to try to terminate their contracts when the telecommunications company first revealed details of a major data security breach last month.

But, with contracts for mobile, fixed line, broadband and television services of up to two years (always worth looking at those few lines at the bottom of the paperwork) customers found they couldn’t leave TalkTalk without incurring hefty costs.

When Dido Harding, the chief executive, first announced two weeks ago that customers would only be able to leave if they could show a “direct impact” on their bank account – a pretty high bar – investors heaved a sigh of relief and TalkTalk’s share price bounced up.

It was up again this morning – by more than 12% – as the half-year results revealed that TalkTalk was still expected to make £300m profit before tax this year. And that revenues were up 6%.

On 21 October, hackers attacked TalkTalk’s website, stealing confidential customer data including passwords and bank accounts.

The firm was initially uncertain as to the extent of the hack, but after an investigation it said last week that 157,000 of its customers’ personal details had been accessed.

Ms Harding told the BBC that it was “too early to tell” what the longer-term impact of the breach would be on the business.

“We of course saw an immediate spike in customers cancelling their direct debit, but actually after a few days we saw many of those customers reinstating their direct debits again, so time will tell, but the early signs are that customers think we are doing the right thing,” she told BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed.

Swiss email firm pays web attack ransom

December 06, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Email, Hackers, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

A secure email firm, based in Switzerland, has paid a ransom of more than £3,600 after web attacks crippled its website.

A secure email firm, based in Switzerland, has paid a ransom of more than £3,600 after web attacks crippled its website.

The anonymous network behind Bitcoins has made the virtual cash popular with cyber thieves.

The hi-tech criminals behind the web attacks said the payment would stop the deluge of data hitting the site. But despite paying up, the web attacks continued, leaving Protonmail struggling to operate.

It has now launched a fund-raising drive to raise cash to tackle any future attacks.

In a blogpost, Protonmail said it received an email on 3 December that contained a threat to attack its website unless it paid a ransom of 15 bitcoins (£3,640).

Protonmail did not respond to the message and, soon afterwards, was hit by what is known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This tries to knock a server offline by bombarding it with more data than it can handle.

Protonmail is a free, web-based, encrypted email service that needs its site up and running to serve customers.

The first attack knocked out Protonmail for about 15 minutes and then stopped. A second attack the next day was much bigger and overwhelmed efforts by the email firm and its ISP to stop it.

“This co-ordinated assault on key infrastructure eventually managed to bring down both the datacenter and the ISP, which impacted hundreds of other companies, not just Protonmail,” it said on the blog.

In a bid to halt the attack, Protonmail said it “grudgingly” paid the 15 bitcoin ransom.

However, it said, this did not stop the attacks which continued to cause problems for many other firms.

Eventually, Protonmail’s ISP took action to remove the company’s site from the net to stem the flow of data.

Post-attack analysis suggests Protonmail was targeted in two phases, the company said. The first aided the ransom demand but the second was “not afraid of causing massive collateral damage in order to get at us”.

Switzerland’s national Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert), which helped Protonmail cope, said the attack was carried out by a cybercrime group known as the Armada Collective. This group has also targeted many other Swiss web companies over the last few weeks, the team said.

It said anyone who received ransom email should not pay up. Instead, they should talk to their ISPs about the best way to defend themselves against attacks.

Protonmail said that despite its work to harden itself against attack, it was still vulnerable to DDoS data deluges. It said it planned to sign up with a commercial service that can defend against the attacks but this would be likely to cost it more than £66,000 a year. It has started a fund-raising drive to gather the cash to pay this fee.

Are homes about to get a lot smarter with the Internet Of Things?

November 09, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, internet, Online Marketing, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Gartner forecasts that there could be more than 500 Internet Of Things connected devices in the home by 2022

Gartner forecasts that there could be more than 500 Internet Of Things connected devices in the home by 2022

Gartner has just launched a report highlighting the huge business opportunity of teh Internet Of Things- which it believes the connected home presents for retailers, insurers, manufacturers, utilities and telecoms companies.

Theyrealised that the smart home will be a mass market – 50% to 80% of people say they’re interested in smart home services.

We could end up paying Ä5 to Ä10 a month, which equates to more than £11 billion (Ä15bn, $17bn) a year in Western Europe by 2019.

His firm is developing an open platform, similar to Samsung’s SmartThings, to act as a gateway for all these connected gadgets, from motion-detecting lighting systems to smart energy meters.

Nearly 40 partners, including big names such as Philips, Bosch, Sonos and Samsung, have signed up to the platform so far.

BMW is already testing car-to-home communications in its 7 Series luxury saloon.

But it seems we’ve been talking about the connected home for years. Why hasn’t it taken off yet?

Well, we didn’t have smartphones, fast home wi-fi or a wide-enough selection of gadgets equipped with networked computer chips. Now, the conditions maybe rightm

Smart meters and thermostats – given an added push by governments – will be able to regulate energy usage in the home, and it’s this ability to save on heating and electricity bills which will be one of the key drivers of growth in connected home technology, he believes.

As more of us use smartphones and apps, retailers and manufacturers are gaining confidence that there is a market for connected products.

But the service most likely to propel the smart home into the mainstream is home security, some believe.

US telecoms giant AT&T is building its Digital Life smart home product around security, offering subscribers video cameras, window and door opening sensors, remote door locking, and motion detectors, all operable from a smartphone, tablet or PC.

In the UK about 30% of homes have some kind of home alarm, and about 10% of those pay monthly for a professional home security service.

But lack of interoperability could be one reason why the smart home boom takes longer to happen than some analysts and tech companies are forecasting.

Big banks consider using Bitcoin blockchain technology

October 07, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Blogs, Customer Service, Google, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The basic technology underpinning the Bitcoin virtual currency could be used by some of the world’s biggest banks.

The basic technology underpinning the Bitcoin virtual currency could be used by some of the world's biggest banks.

Nine banks, including Barclays and Goldman Sachs, may adopt the blockchain system that logs who spends which virtual coins in an ever-expanding computer equivalent of a ledger.

The banks want to use the blockchain method because it is hard to fool – making fraud more difficult.

It could also speed up trading systems and make deals more transparent.

The project to test blockchain-like technology is being led by financial technology firm R3 which has signed nine banks up to the initiative.

The other seven are JP Morgan, State Street, UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, BBVA and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Technical meetings with the banks had prompted discussion of how it could be used within banks’ trading arms.

For Bitcoin, the blockchain acts as a globally-distributed ledger that logs transactions. Everyone involved with the virtual currency contributes to the way the blockchain verifies each deal. The sheer number of people involved makes it very hard for one bitcoin user to get fraudulent deals verified and approved.

Despite this, Bitcoin has been hit by a series of scandals and thefts although most of these came about because hackers exploited weaknesses on exchanges where coins are traded or in digital wallets where they are held.

The banks were most interested in the technical architecture underpinning the blockchain that could be adapted for their own ends. The first place the blockchain was likely to find a role was as a log of who bought which stocks or shares, he said.

By adopting the technology banks could cut the cost of reporting transactions and working out who bought what and when, he added.

No timetable has been given for when technical trials of the blockchain-like technology might begin.

Facebook has a billion users in a single day, says Mark Zuckerberg

September 25, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Facebook, Google, internet, Search Clinic, Social Media, Social Networking, Uncategorized

For the first time over a billion people used Facebook on a single day, according to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

For the first time over a billion people used Facebook on a single day, according to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The “milestone” was reached when “1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family”, he said in a post.

Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion users who log in at least once a month, but this was the most in a single day.

The company gained its billionth user in October 2012. It was founded in 2004 by Mr Zuckerberg while he was a Harvard student.

In his post on Thursday, he predicted that Facebook’s reach would continue to grow.

“This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

In July, Facebook claimed that over half of the world’s online users visited the site at least once a month.

It was only back in October 2012 when Facebook first announced it had one billion users using the site at least once a month – and now, just under three years later, the site has managed to pull in that many in a single day.

The question is how can it continue to grow? Surely it will plateau at some point, right? Yes – but we’re a long way off that.

In Facebook’s headquarters in California on the wall a map of the world highlighted the countries with lots of Facebook users.

Sure, the US, Europe and India are almost at peak Facebook. But there are huge gaps – Africa, much of Asia, some of Latin America. That’s where Facebook is focused on now.

One billion in a day? No big deal.