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Should BT be split?

July 14, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BT.

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BTOpenreach is the “utility” bit of BT- which is the delivery mechanism for broadband to millions of customers.

Think Network Rail owning the railways bit of the train network, or National Grid owning the electricity grid which delivers power to our home.

Openreach is virtually a monopoly service, with Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and others obliged to pay BT for access to the broadband “pipes”.

And as such it is heavily regulated already- although according to John Fingleton, the former head of the Office of Fair Trading- the “enormously profitable” Openreach would be likely to perform better as a standalone company.

Mr Fingleton argues that a separate Openreach would be likely to invest more in improving broadband connections.

As an example he cites Worldpay, a former division of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Worldpay operates a “plumbing business” for banks – providing payment services for card transactions and mobile phones.

Since RBS sold it, as a condition of the bank’s taxpayer bailout in 2008, its new private equity owners, Bain and Advent, have significantly increased investment.

Many believe that Openreach would travel the same route, and the amount invested in it as a standalone business would be more than the present £1 billion BT provides each year.

It could also mean accelerated investment in changing the network from the older copper network to “super-fast” fibre.

To enforce a sale, BT’s ownership of Openreach would probably need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority which has more muscle in this area than Ofcom.

Mr Fingleton agrees this is the best route to decide whether Openreach would be better out of BT’s hands.

Sky – of course a major competitor to BT – concurs, calling this morning for a referral to the CMA.

It says that BT’s performance on broadband delivery leaves a lot to be desired, and that under investment means that appointments to connect its customers to broadband are often missed and that faults regularly remain unfixed.

Sky and BT don’t like each other very much, particularly since the latter took a healthy portion of Sky’s lunch by piling into sports television and winning the rights to broadcast Premier League matches.

There are dark mutterings that BT uses the vast profits from Openreach to fund its incursion into television, a claim the company hotly denies.

BT insists that Openreach’s service has improved, with 2,500 engineers added in the last year and 700 more coming this year. It says it reaches or exceeds all of the 60 service targets set it by Ofcom.

And that it is only because of BT’s large and healthy balance sheet that so much investment has been made in upgrading the network to super-fast broadband.

What won’t be superfast is the Ofcom process. This is just the latest stage in a far wider review of the UK’s digital market which will take months to conclude and years to implement.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet

October 24, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Twitter, Uncategorized

The Queen has sent her first tweet to launch the Science Museum gallery.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet“It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”

That was the Queen’s first tweet – sent through the @BritishMonarchy account – heralding the launch of a major new exhibition at London’s Science Museum.

Three years in the planning, the exhibition is one of the most ambitious projects the museum has undertaken.

The Information Age gallery, opened by the Queen this morning, takes visitors on a journey through the history of modern communications from the telegraph to the smartphone.

There is the first transatlantic telegraph cable which connected Europe and North America, the broadcast equipment behind the BBC’s first radio programme in 1922, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which hosted the first website.

The gallery’s chief curator Tilly Blyth hopes that visitors who may be somewhat blase about the digital revolution will come away with a longer view.

“We really want them to see that our predecessors lived through similar periods of change. Ours isn’t the only revolution – just the latest. in a series of transformations since the electric telegraph in the 1830s.”

You can construct a 1980s mobile phone network, making sure your cell towers are efficiently positioned. You can go into the web story box to find out exactly what happens when you click on a link. And you can plug headphones into a 1950s telephone exchange, and listen to the operators describing what their work involved.

Baroness Lane-Fox, who has campaigned for better access to and understanding of the internet, welcomes the new gallery: “It’s an amazing opportunity for people young and old to come and see the extraordinary developments in technology over the last hundred years or so. It really reminds me of the scale of ambition that people have had to change things.”

She hopes too that visitors will learn of the great contribution made by Britain to the development of communications – from Ada Lovelace, the woman who conceived the idea of computer programming in the 1830s, through to the 1950s when Lyons Corner Houses introduced the first business computer Leo, and on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “I hope that people who visit will have their ambition and excitement lit so we can continue to be world leaders in this field because it’s so important.”

The gallery certainly does show off the role Britain has played, and a number of British companies including BT and the chip designer ARM Holdings have sponsored the Information Age and supplied exhibits.

Mobile position data present anonymity risk

April 02, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: data security, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Personal Security, smart phones, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Scientists say it is remarkably easy to identify a mobile phone user from just a few pieces of location positioning information.Mobile position data present anonymity riskWhenever a phone is switched on, its connection to the network means its position and movement can be plotted.

This data is given anonymously to third parties, both to drive services for the user and to target advertisements.

But a study Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility in Scientific Reports warns that human mobility patterns are so predictable it is possible to identify a user from only four data points.

The growing ubiquity of mobile phones and smartphone applications has ushered in an era in which tremendous amounts of user data have become available to the companies that operate and distribute them – sometimes released publicly as “anonymised” or aggregated data sets.

These data are of extraordinary value to advertisers and service providers, but also for example to those who plan shopping centres, allocate emergency services, and a new generation of social scientists.

Yet the spread and development of “location services” has outpaced the development of a clear understanding of how location data impact users’ privacy and anonymity.

For example, sat-nav manufacturers have long been using location data from both mobile phones and sat-navs themselves to improve traffic reporting, by calculating how fast users are moving on a given stretch of road.

The data used in such calculations are “anonymised” – no actual mobile numbers or personal details are associated with the data.

But there are some glaring examples of how nominally anonymous data can be linked back to individuals, the most striking of which occurred with a tranche of data deliberately released by AOL in 2006, outlining 20 million anonymised web searches.

Recent work has increasingly shown that humans’ patterns of movement, however random and unpredictable they seem to be, are actually very limited in scope and can in fact act as a kind of fingerprint for who is doing the moving.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Catholic University of Louvain studied 15 months’ worth of anonymised mobile phone records for 1.5 million individuals.

They found from the “mobility traces” – the evident paths of each mobile phone – that only four locations and times were enough to identify a particular user.

“In the 1980s, it was shown that you need 12 points to uniquely identify and characterise a fingerprint,” said the study’s lead author Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye of MIT.

“What we did here is the exact same thing but with mobility traces. The way we move and the behaviour is so unique that four points are enough to identify 95% of people.”

“We think this data is more available than people think. When you think about, for instance wi-fi or any application you start on your phone, we call up the same kind of mobility data.

“When you share information, you look around you and feel like there are lots of people around – in the shopping centre or a tourist place – so you feel this isn’t sensitive information.”

Sam Smith of Privacy International said: “Our mobile phones report location and contextual data to multiple organisations with varying privacy policies.”

“Any benefits we receive from such services are far outweighed by the threat that these trends pose to our privacy, and although we are told that we have a choice about how much information we give over, in reality individuals have no choice whatsoever.” 

Number of people in UK games industry employment increases

March 21, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Gaming, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized, Website Design

A new report by video games industry trade association Tiga has found that both employment and investment in the UK sector increased in 2012.Number of people in UK games industry employment increasesBy the end of the year there were 118 more studios and 336 more creative staff than there had been in 2011. Studios also invested £427 million in games.

The rise in employment figures followed a three year period of decline in staff numbers, said the report.

Tiga said the rise of mobiles and tablets had provided a boost.

“The sector’s return to growth has been driven by three factors,” said Tiga chief executive Richard Wilson.

“Firstly, the increasing prevalence of mobile and tablet devices have created a growing market for games: studios are setting up to meet this demand. Secondly, the closure of big console based studios has been followed by an explosion of small start up companies.

“Thirdly, the advent of games tax relief, which Tiga was instrumental in achieving, is already stimulating growth.”

The games tax relief initiative was introduced in the March 2012 budget and is due to be implemented next month.

A similar scheme already exists in the UK film industry and is due to run until 2015.

British productions with a budget of £20 million or less can apply for a 25% rebate on any new games productions.

Google to shut it’s Reader RSS news feed service

March 14, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, EReaders, Google, internet, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology Companies, Uncategorized, Website Design

Google is to shut down its Reader RSS news feed service in July as usage has declined.Google to shut it's Reader RSS news feed serviceA petition to save the service, which aggregates news content from web feeds, had 25,000 signatures in a few hours.

Experts say shutting Reader is part of Google’s plan to migrate more people to its social media service, Google+.

Google said in its official blog: “There are two simple reasons for this – usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we are pouring all of our energy into fewer products.”

It added users and developers who wanted to use alternatives could export their data, including their subscriptions over the next four months, using its Google Takeout service.

Google Reader launched in 2005, when Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds were a new way to keep tabs on favourite websites and blogs.

The news of its demise has led to a debate about the service on Twitter. Some said its launch had effectively destroyed other RSS competitors.

Security consultant @cortesi tweeted: “Google – a destroyer of ecosystems”.

In his blog, he added:” “Google destroyed the RSS feed-reader ecosystem with a subsidised product, stifling its competitors and killing innovation.  It then neglected Google Reader itself for years, after it had effectively become the only player.”

Now, he said, Google wanted people to experience their favourite websites in a more social way and was seeking to migrate its aggregation platforms to its social media service.

“This has been on the cards for a while. It is part of Google’s strategy to shift people to Google + and other social tools,” he said.

But Chris Wetherell, one of Reader’s chief engineers, told tech news site GigaOm it had been “doomed to fail from the very beginning because Google “never really believed in the project”.

Mobile phone insurance complaints hit record numbers

March 12, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Search Clinic, smart phones, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

A record number of complaints are being made about mobile phone insurance.Mobile phone insurance complaints hit record numbersThe Financial Ombudsman Service says it dealt with around 600 between April 2011 and 2012 and upheld 69%.

But it is expecting a 25% increase on that figure when the numbers for the current financial year are gathered at the end of this month.

However, it says those complaints are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people unhappy with their insurance provider.

Martyn James form the Financial Ombudsman Service said: “We uphold more complaints about mobile phone insurance than virtually any other product we look at.”

“It’s round about three-quarters of all the cases we see.”

The Association of British Insurers says the complaints only represent a tiny percentage of people who have mobile phone insurance and that it’s working hard to bring that number down.

Google criticised for Ivory ads

March 08, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Ecommerce, Google, Search Clinic, Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Results, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Campaigners have criticised Google for encouraging the poaching of elephants by running advertisements promoting ivory products.Google criticised for Ivory adsThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says more than 10,000 ads about ivory were running on Google’s Japanese shopping site.

They have written to the internet giant asking for their removal.

The claim was made at the meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) taking place in Bangkok.

EIA says that they have been monitoring advertising in Japan for a long time, looking for evidence of whale products being promoted for sale. They found more than 1,400 of these types of ads.

But when they carried out a similar search for ivory ads on Google’s wholly owned Japanese shopping site, they found more than 10,000.

The vast majority, more than 80% were for “hanko”, a Japanese name seal that people use to sign official documents. The stamps are often inlaid with ivory lettering.

The campaigners say the ads are contrary to Google’s own policies which don’t allow the promotion of elephant or whale products. And the EIA says they are contributing to elephant poaching across Africa.

“We were really shocked to be honest, to find that one of the world’s richest and successful technology companies with such incredible resources had taken no action to enforce their own policies, especially given that elephants are being slaughtered across Africa to provide these trinkets for the public in Japan.” said EIA’s Allan Thornton.

Google acknowledged that these type of ads violated their own terms. In a statement they said: “Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them.”

EIA says that they wrote to Google on 22 February to inform them of the problem but they have received no response as yet. They say that the adverts are still up and running.

“I don’t know what’s going on in Google,” said Allan Thornton.

“They are considered a progressive company who are interested in environmental issues, but they seem to have made some pretty serious mistakes by letting whale and ivory products be sold on their Google Japan site,” he added.

Dealing with the ivory issues is one of the key tasks for this meeting of Cites in Bangkok.

The sale of elephant tusks was banned back in 1989. But elephant welfare groups say around 30,000 elephants a year are still being killed to meet the demand for trinkets and carvings that are often sold to tourists in countries like Thailand.

The internet has given a huge boost to the ivory business. Last year, another investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found over 17,000 ivory products on sale on Chinese websites.

EU Commission’s IT shortage- despite 26 million unemployed

March 06, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, Ecommerce, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Despite record EU unemployment, the European Commission has launched a “grand coalition” to address the region’s IT skills shortages.EU Commission's IT shortage- despite 26 million unemployedDigital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes told delegates at the CeBIT exhibition that the EU’s competitiveness is “under threat” if it cannot fill the expertise gap.

The shortages come at a time of high unemployment across Europe, she added, calling for greater awareness of IT career opportunities.

Together with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, Ms Kroes said that 1 million euros (£860,000) will be invested into the coalition.

“This coalition is not about reinventing the wheel. It should be about building on existing success,” she said.

“I want people to be open in their commitments, join forces where they see the chance, and recognise we need to do things differently.

“Quite simply, facing hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies, we cannot continue as we were; and we must all do our bit.”

The commission’s own figures suggested that there will be 900,000 vacancies for IT-related roles by 2015. There are currently about 26 million people unemployed across Europe.

The number of “digital jobs” – jobs based around IT – is growing by about 100,000 every year, yet the number of skilled IT graduates is failing to keep pace.

Jose Manuel Barroso launched the digital jobs coalition

Ms Kroes said she now wants to have companies move “from ‘wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if’ to, ‘here’s-what-we-are-going-to-do’.”

The commission highlighted several new initiatives already taking places, including Telefonica’s investment in start-ups, and Cisco’s pledge to train 100,000 people to install smart-meters into homes.

The commission’s proposals include simplification of the certification system, making it easier to prove what skills a graduate has, regardless of the EU country in which they have worked or studied.

Technology skills shortages have been cited as a pressing problem for several companies which rely on highly-skilled engineers to further their development.

In January, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced that his firm was to contribute to a scheme to give schools 15,000 free microcomputers.

The British Raspberry Pi devices will also be used to encourage young children into learning coding skills.

Paypal predicts the end of passwords

March 04, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, Ecommerce, Hackers, Personal Security, smart phones, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

The days of the tiresome password may be numbered- according to Paypal.Paypal predicts the end of passwordsThe fact is that the way we users typically deal with having multiple passwords for our online accounts makes us too vulnerable to spyware, phishing and identity theft.

Many of us rely on the same password, while many more of us only use three or four passwords.

Ideally, the best password would be at least 16 characters with capitals, numbers and special characters – but you’d never remember it.

So the industry is looking to ditch passwords, and is turning to a variety of solutions, such as voice recognition, key stroke analysis and finger print identification.

Payments firm PayPal is one of those leading the changes, and president David Marcus says the aim is to make the whole process seamless.

“Like magic, you’ll be authenticated, and the payment will go through. We want to move away from passwords, and get to embedded fingerprint scanners on mobile phones.”

“You’re going to start seeing that type of experience later this year, with a mass roll-out in the year to come.”

Earlier this month, PayPal, Lenovo and others announced the formation of the Fido Alliance (Fast Identity Online) to change the way online security checks are carried out.

The idea is that users will be able to select the type of authentication that suits them best – from fingerprint scanning to USB tokens.

“The best protection is the one you don’t see – it’s the one that happens in the background, that verifies your identity accessing your own data,” says Mr Marcus.
‘Untapped potential’

For PayPal, solving the password security problem is important because so many people now use it to make purchases – it has 125 million customers in more than 190 countries.

“You shop offline more than you shop online, but in most of these transactions mobile is involved now,” says Mr Marcus.

“As the offline market is 17 times bigger than the online market, there is still huge untapped potential for us.”

The key driver for this has been the way in which customers are increasingly using phones, tablets and other handheld devices to make purchases.

Last year, PayPal recorded $145 billion (£95bn) in total transactions, of which $14 billion were via mobile devices, says Mr Marcus.  “But the year before it was less than $4 billion.

All of which should be welcome news for those of us who continually have to email our online retailers for new passwords, because we’ve forgotten the one we asked them for the last time we tried to buy something from them.

PlayStation 4 console announced by Sony

February 22, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Gaming, internet, Search Clinic, Social Networking, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Sony has announced its next-generation gaming console – the PlayStation 4.PlayStation 4 console announced by SonyIts new hardware is designed to offer superior graphics as well as new social features including the sharing of recorded gameplay clips.

It will succeed the PlayStation 3, which went on sale in 2006 and has sold about 75 million units.

Sony also confirmed a range of big-name software for the machine including Bungie’s upcoming “shared-world shooter” Destiny, which will include exclusive content for the PS4.

The developer’s previous title, Halo, helped drive sales for the rival Xbox platform.

A successful launch might spur on sales of Sony’s new televisions and other consumer electronics, helping turn around its fortunes.

Sony posted a £3.2 billion loss in its last financial year, marking the fourth year it ended in deficit.

But the firm has forecast a profit for the current financial year ending in March.

Sony said the console was “coming holiday 2013” suggesting it will go on sale in at least some countries in or around December.

Sony described the machine as being like a “supercharged” PC.

It runs off an x86-based CPU (central processing unit) – similar architecture to that found in most desktop computers – and an “enhanced” PC GPU (graphics processing unit). Both CPU and GPU are designed by the US firm Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

It comes with the new DualShock 4 controller, which includes a touchpad, a “share button” and a lightbar, which allows a separate camera to track its movement.

Another new feature is that gamers can let one of their friends connect to their machine and take control of their character to help if they have got stuck, or allow several friends to watch their live progress as spectators.

While the graphics shown during the demonstrations were more advanced that those in current games for Nintendo’s Wii U, Sony must also convince gamers to choose its platform over PC-based systems.

Sony did not announce how much it plans to charge – perhaps holding the news back for the E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles in June or a later announcement.
Quantic Dream demo Developers say they can create more realistic looking in-game characters, making it easier to convey emotions

The PlayStation 3 was initially sold at a loss, so if that practice is repeated with the new model its launch may initially put fresh strain on the firm’s finances.