Technology

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Facebook launches Clubhouse-like live audio rooms and podcasts

Media|World|Business|: Facebook Inc on Monday launched its own Clubhouse-style live audio rooms and a way to find and play podcasts on its platform, marking a push into social audio by the world's largest social network. Facebook's rollout of a potential Clubhouse rival follows the explosive early success of the invite-only live audio app, which became a hit as people stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was one of the Silicon Valley celebrities who have made appearances on the app, which recently expanded to Android users. Facebook, which has said it wants to make audio a "first-class medium" on its platforms, joins Twitter Inc and messaging platform Discord which have already launched their own live audio offerings. Spotify debuted its own version, "Greenroom," last Wednesday. Slack, Microsoft Corp-owned LinkedIn and Reddit are also working on similar products. Public figures and certain Facebook Groups in the United States using iOS will be able to create live audio rooms, with up to 50 speakers and unlimited listeners. These users can also invite people without a "verified badge" to speak, Facebook said in a blog post. Users on iOS and Android can listen to the rooms. The company, which has been vocal about its push to attract content creators, said it is partnering with public figures including musicians, journalists and athletes in the live audio rooms rollout. Listeners will be able to send Facebook's virtual currency "stars" to creators in live audio rooms. Zuckerberg has said the company will not take a cut of creator revenue until 2023. A number of select podcasts will also be available on Facebook to US listeners and the company said it would soon add to this initial slate. Facebook, which has been criticized for its handling of problematic content across its products, will face the challenges of moderating live and recorded audio content, including in private Facebook Groups. Facebook is also working on a project with Spotify to share and listen to music on the platform.

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Facebook, WhatsApp urge Delhi High Court to stay CCI notice in privacy policy matter

India|Media|: New Delhi: Facebook and WhatsApp on Monday urged the Delhi High Court to stay the Competition Commission of India (CCI) notice asking them to furnish certain information in relation to a probe ordered by it into the instant messaging app's new privacy policy. A vacation bench of Justices Anup Jairam Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh said it will pass an order on the application. During the hearing the bench said since it was sitting on a vacation bench, it did not want to delve into the merits of the matter even as the main petitions are pending before a bench headed by the Chief Justice. 'We will pass an order. The matter will be listed on July 9 (the date already fixed for the main petitions),' the bench said. The case relates to the appeals of Facebook and WhatsApp against a single judge order dismissing their pleas against the probe CCI ordered into the instant messaging app's new privacy policy. The high court had earlier issued notices on the appeals and asked the Centre to respond to it. Read more WhatsApp to Delhi HC: No deferment of privacy policy, trying to get users on board WhatsApp sues India government, says new media rules mean end to privacy Facebook says it aims to comply with India's new IT rules India police summon Twitter chief over viral video Twitter loses 'safe harbour' shield in India over non-compliance to IT rules In their fresh applications filed in the pending appeals, Facebook and WhatsApp sought stay on the CCI's June 4 notice asking them to furnish certain information for the purpose of inquiry conducted by it. Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing WhatsApp, said the problem is that they have received a fresh notice on June 4 and the last date to respond is today, that is June 21. He said the privacy policy is already under challenge in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court by way of a batch of petitions and even the government is looking into it. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, said the question here is of propriety and it is not correct as the highest court of the country, that is, the Supreme Court is looking into the matter. 'Why did they wait for June 4 evening to issue the notice? They could have done it earlier,' he said. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aman Lekhi, representing CCI, opposed the pleas saying at the stage of inquiry furnishing of information will not lead to any order by the CCI and the notice is in pursuance to the inquiry which was not stayed by the high court and that this not the first notice issued to them. ASG Balbir Singh, also appearing for CCI, said since there is a statutory order against Facebook and WhatsApp, they should not use the high court's order and say that they will not furnish the information sought by CCI and the information should not be stalled at this stage. When the court asked what was the hurry of issuing notice by CCI, Lekhi said the question was not of hurry but the matter itself requires a lengthy process. He said till a report is submitted by the Director General to the CCI, there will be no precipitate action against them. The high court had on May 6 issued notice and sought reply of CCI on the appeals filed by Facebook and WhatsApp. The single judge on April 22 had said though it would have been "prudent" for the CCI to await the outcome of petitions in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court against WhatsApp's new privacy policy, not doing so would not make the regulator's order "perverse" or "wanting of jurisdiction". The court had said it saw no merit in the petitions of Facebook and WhatsApp to interdict the investigation directed by the CCI. The CCI had contended before the single judge that it was not examining the alleged violation of individuals' privacy which was being looked into by the Supreme Court. It had argued before the court that the new privacy policy of WhatsApp would lead to excessive data collection and "stalking" of consumers for targeted advertising to bring in more users and is therefore an alleged abuse of dominant position. "There is no question of jurisdictional error," it had contended saying that WhatsApp and Facebook's pleas challenging its decision were "incompetent and misconceived". WhatsApp and Facebook had challenged the CCI's March 24 order directing a probe into the new privacy policy. CCI had also told the court that only after the investigation can it be determined whether the data collection by WhatsApp and sharing it with Facebook would amount to an anti-competitive practice or abuse of dominant position. It had also contended that the data collected, which would include an individual's location, the kind of device used, their internet service provider and whom they are conversing with, would lead to creation of a customer profile and preference which would be monetised by way of targeted advertising and all this amounts to "stalking". The two social media platforms had contended that when the top court and the Delhi High Court were looking into the privacy policy, CCI ought not to have "jumped the gun" and intervened in the issue. They had also said that CCI's decision was an abuse of the commission's suo motu jurisdiction. They had claimed that the CCI in the instant case had "drifted far away" from the competition aspect and was looking into privacy issues which were already being looked into by the apex court and the Delhi High Court. In January, the CCI on its own decided to look into WhatsApp's new privacy policy on the basis of news reports regarding the same.

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India responds to UN, says new IT rules 'designed to empower ordinary users of social media'

India|Technology|: New Delhi: India's permanent mission at the United Nations has clarified that India's new IT rules are "designed to empower ordinary users of social media" and that they were finalised after the government held broad consultations with civil society and other stakeholders in 2018. India's mission at the UN has in a letter responded to concerns raised by three rapporteurs of the Special Procedures Branch of the Human Rights Council in a communication sent to the government on June 11 this year, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) on Sunday in a statement today. The Indian government told the UN that it had framed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 ('new IT Rules') and notified the same on February 25, 2021. The Rules have come into effect from May 26, 2021. Read more Twitter loses 'safe harbour' shield in India over non-compliance to IT rules India police summon Twitter chief over viral video India government serves final notice to Twitter over non-compliance of new IT rules India asks Facebook's WhatsApp to withdraw privacy policy update WhatsApp sues India government, says new media rules mean end to privacy Facebook says it aims to comply with India's new IT rules WhatsApp to Delhi HC: No deferment of privacy policy, trying to get users on board India needs stricter action as WhatsApp privacy policy goes live It said that "The Rules are designed to empower ordinary users of social media. The victims of abuse at social media platforms shall have a forum for redressal of their grievances. The IT rules finalized after due discussion with various stakeholders." The enactment of new IT Rules, wrote the government, had become necessary due to widespread concerns about issues relating to increased instances of abuse of social media and digital platforms, including inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc. The letter to the UN explained that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting undertook broad consultations in 2018 with various stakeholders, including individuals, civil society, industry association and organisations and invited public comments to prepare the draft Rules. Thereafter, an inter-ministerial meeting had discussed in detail the comments received in detail and, accordingly, the Rules were finalized. "The concerns alleging potential implications for freedom of expression that the new IT Rules will entail, is highly misplaced," the government wrote. India's democratic credentials are well recognized. The right to freedom of speech and expression in guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The independent judiciary and a robust media are part of India's democratic structure, it said. "On the traceability of the first originator of the information, it may be noted that the new IT Rules seeks only limited information. Only when a message already in public circulation is giving rise to violence, impinging on the unity and integrity of India, depicting a woman in a bad light, or sexual abuse of a child and when no other intrusive options are working, only then the significant social media intermediary will be required to disclose as to who started the message," the government wrote in its response to the UN letter. Several social media platforms, which use end-to-end encryption technology to ensure user privacy, have argued that they will have to read, track and trace all user messages in order to trace the first originator of the texts that are offensive. "The concern that the Rules may be misused deliberately to make a large number of complaints so as to overwhelm the grievance redressal mechanisms created by social media platforms is also misplaced, exaggerated and disingenuous and shows lack of willingness to address the grievances of the users of these media platforms while using their data to earn revenues," the government said. India said it fully recognises and respects the right of privacy, as pronounced by the Supreme Court of India in K.S. Puttusamy case. Privacy is the core element of an individual's existence and, in light of this, the new IT Rules seeks information only on a message that is already in circulation that resulted in an offence. The Rules, said the government, have framed in exercise of the statutory powers of the IT Act, fully taking into account the principles of reasonableness and proportionality.

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Etisalat and Ericsson partner to commercially deploy 5G high-band in the UAE

Technology|: Abu Dhabi: Etisalat on Sunday announced that it has joined forces with Ericsson to deploy 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) across its commercial network. The 5G high-band commercial deployment will help achieve high performance 5G downlink data speeds of 4.2Gbps and latency of 8 milliseconds (ms). Etisalat has built a 5G network infrastructure that can be enabled with superior performance, including ultra-high speeds and ultra-low latency to enable the digital transformation in the country and the wide implementation of use cases related to industry 4.0, automation and Internet of Things (IoT). The UAE leadership is a driving force in accelerating the digital vision along with the telecom regulatory authority TDRA (Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority) becoming one of the first to allocate mmWave spectrum to be used for 5G technology deployment across the country. 5G mmWave delivers high spectrum and capacity, making it ideal for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to deliver fast, fiber-like internet speeds wirelessly over the last mile, and for crowded hotspots such as stadiums, malls and large indoor events that require high peak rates. It also includes wide spectrum segments available for 5G along with lower latencies.“ Etisalat has always been at the forefront of the telecom industry, and we continuously work to provide our customers with the best possible digital experience. This deployment is in line with our overall vision to ‘Drive the digital future to empower societies’ empowering our customer with the experience of ultrahigh quality 5G connectivity. Moving ahead we look forward to expanding this technology further on demand for all customer segments,” said Haitham AbdulRazzak, Chief Technology Officer, Etisalat. The 5G standardisation focuses on certain requirements to provide connectivity for superior services, such as enhanced mobile broadband to smartphones and other mobile devices for video streaming and real-time online gaming, as these have extreme requirements on availability, latency, and reliability. In response, 5G radio frequency ranges were widened to meet the need for enhanced mobile broadband and performance. The 5G radio frequencies now include all those previously held by 4G, as well as more frequencies up to 6GHz (Sub-6) and the high-band (mmWave) spectrum beyond 24GHz. The next wave of 5G expansion will allow businesses of all types to reap the benefits of enhanced mobility, flexibility, reliability and security, making emerging technologies outlined for the future development of the UAE such as autonomous driving, automated factories, robotic process automation, virtual and augmented reality possible.

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Facebook doubles down on detecting deepfakes

Media|: San Francisco: Facebook has collaborated with researchers at the Michigan State University (MSU) to develop a method of detecting and attributing deepfakes. It relies on reverse engineering, working back from a single AI-generated image to the generative model used to produce it. "Our reverse engineering method takes image attribution a step further by helping to deduce information about a particular generative model just based on the deepfakes it produces," said research scientists Xi Yin and Tal Hassner at Facebook. It's the first time that researchers have been able to identify properties of a model used to create a deepfake without any prior knowledge of the model. Deepfakes are being treated as video forgeries that make people appear to be saying things they never did, like the popular forged videos of Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and that of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral. Deepfakes have become so believable in recent years that it can be difficult to tell them apart from real images. Image attribution can identify a deepfake's generative model if it was one of a limited number of generative models seen during training. "During image attribution, those deepfakes are flagged as having been produced by unknown models, and nothing more is known about where they came from, or how they were produced," said Facebook. The company said that with the new method, researchers will now be able to obtain more information about the model used to produce particular deepfakes. "Our method will be especially useful in real-world settings where the only information deepfake detectors have at their disposal is often the deepfake itself," Facebook said. To combat the spread of disinformation, Microsoft also last year unveiled a new tool that will spot deepfakes or synthetic media which are photos, videos or audio files manipulated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) which are very hard to identify if false or not.

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Google is totally changing how ads track people around the Internet. Here's what you need to know.

Technology|: It's a common sight: Ads from that time you Googled flights to Cancun, or visited Nike to look for new running shoes, following you around the Internet. Much of that tracking is made possible by cookies - little bits of code that jump off websites and lodge themselves in your browser, allowing new sites you visit to see where you've been before. Facebook and Google, the two most profitable advertising companies in history, use cookies to show ads across the Web based on info gathered on their own sites and social media networks. But that's all changing. Google has vowed to block cookies completely on its Chrome browser, which is used by around 70% of the world's desktop computer owners, by the beginning of 2022. The decision, announced last year, sent shock waves through the advertising world, which has maintained revenue from tracking is necessary to fund a largely free Web. Google says it has solutions to allow advertisers to keep showing relevant ads, but in privacy-protecting ways. Taken together, the company's proposals are meant to let Web publishers, e-commerce companies and advertising agencies continue using targeted ads to make money, while assuring regular Internet users their data isn't being stockpiled by an ever-growing list of companies and websites. But privacy activists have already started poking holes in Google's ideas. And it may not matter. Advertising technology companies such as the Trade Desk have already taken the matter into their own hands, banding together to create new tracking tools that use email addresses. Other major companies have shown signs of pushing back against Google's proposals, such as Amazon, which is currently blocking Chrome from collecting data on which users go to its websites. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.) Meanwhile, politicians and antitrust investigators in multiple countries have raised alarms that Google's move could hurt competitors and further cement its power. And for regular Internet users, this largely behind-the-scenes change could have major implications for how private companies hoover up our data and make decisions about what we see online. Here's what you need to know. How did we get here? Cookies were written into early browsers to cut down on some of the inconveniences of surfing the Web. They allowed passwords to auto-fill, or websites to remember payment information so users didn't have to type theirs in every time they came back. They also created a trail of breadcrumbs that the burgeoning online ad industry eagerly ate up, helping free websites make money. But as the technology advanced, social media took off and consumers' lives were lived increasingly online, it got creepy. Privacy advocates have always criticized the model, and more and more regular people have become aware of the issue, some expressing their displeasure by downloading ad blockers. Google isn't the first to make this change. Apple in 2017 started limiting and eventually blocking third-party cookies completely from its Safari browser. Mozilla's Firefox followed soon after. But those two browsers make up less than 20 percent of the market, according to research firm eMarketer. Despite Google's own reliance on advertising and tracking for roughly $180 billion a year in revenue, chief executive Sundar Pichai admitted during a 2019 congressional hearing that people don't like to feel they're being tracked around the Internet. And in January 2020, Google said it too would block third-party cookies on Chrome within the next two years. The changes come as politicians in the United States and elsewhere step up their attempts to regulate privacy. The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation has forced companies to ask permission before tracking people online since 2018. In 2020, America's most populous state instituted the California Consumer Privacy Act, which gives California residents the right to ask companies to delete whatever data has been gathered on them. As is the case with other consumer-focused regulation, the California law has essentially become the default nationwide. Google was facing pressure from its competitors, too. Apple has been marketing its own privacy features aggressively, trying to paint itself as a privacy champion that doesn't need to gather data to feed an advertising business like Google. It even threw up a giant billboard that loomed over Google's exhibit at the 2019 CES tech conference in Las Vegas. Apple does gather some of its users data and uses it to sell targeted ads in its app store, though its ad business is much smaller than Google's. Some of Google's advertising technology competitors say the move isn't about privacy at all, but a way to hurt its rivals and push advertisers toward Google's YouTube and search ads, which don't need cookies to effectively target people. "You can fix your public perception while at the same time cementing your own dominance and growing your own market share," said Ratko Vidakovic, founder of AdProfs, an independent advertising technology consulting firm. "It seems like a no-brainer." A Google spokeswoman pointed to a company blog from March, where Marshall Vale, a product manager, said the company's goal with FLOC and its other projects is to make cookies obsolete while also helping web publishers grow their businesses. Finding that balance is "critical to keep the web open, accessible and thriving for everyone," Vale said. How exactly does Google's solution for the post-cookie world work? Google can block cookies in Chrome relatively easily because it designs and controls the browser's underlying code. Once it decides to make the change, it can update the browser and poof - no more cookies. To replace that functionality, Google's engineers have marched out a menagerie of bird-themed acronyms like FLOC, FLEDGE and TURTLEDOVE to describe their proposals for advertising without cookies. The ideas are working their way through the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, an international group of tech companies that debates and sets rules for how the Web works. However, Google doesn't actually need to get approval from the rest of the W3C's membership. Since its browser is the biggest in the world, it can simply make new rules and Web developers will have to follow them or risk seeing their websites stop working on Chrome. "Google using the W3C letterhead to do this stuff makes it seem less like a Google power play," said Peter Snyder, senior privacy researcher at Brave, a browser that competes with Google's Chrome. The most fleshed-out idea so far is FLOC, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. Under FLOC, instead of letting websites drop cookies into an individual's browser, the browser itself watches what they do online. It then uses artificial intelligence to assign them to a cohort of several thousand people that the AI determines are interested in the same kinds of products. Then, instead of buying access to individual people, advertisers pay for ads to show up for users in a specific cohort. For example, if you spent the past few days reading articles on ESPN, browsing New York Knicks jerseys and Googling NBA stats, you might be lumped into a package of several thousand basketball fans who would see similar ads. Cohort IDs refresh every week, so they're based on the most recent browsing behavior. In the old world, websites would constantly be pulling up information about you based on the cookies trailing behind you. Now, the only identifying information your browser would present is which cohort you're in. Google says this system is 95 percent as effective at getting clicks as old-school cookie ads are for advertisers. If that's true, consumers would see pretty much the same kind of ads they do now and will probably still have the feeling of being followed around the Web by ads for sites they recently visited. Generally, yes, but that doesn't mean privacy advocates are celebrating the change. For one, Google's Chrome browser is still monitoring every website you visit and feeding that into its algorithm. The information stays on your device, but it's still being gathered. For those who want less surveillance from tech companies, it might feel like a step in the wrong direction. "The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process," Bennett Cyphers, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a March report on Google's cookie replacements. "It hasn't learned the right lessons from the ongoing backlash to the surveillance business model." It also isn't clear yet which websites will have access to a person's cohort ID. If it's freely available, sites you visit repeatedly could collect them as they change week to week, tie it to other pieces of information about you such as your email or IP address, and build a dossier on your interests, circumventing the stated purpose of FLOC, Cyphers argues. Google acknowledges this issue and says it is one of the long-term problems it is working on. The system also raises the possibility of profiling based on race, allowing advertisers to discriminate against some people. Advertising jobs or housing selectively by race is illegal in the United States. Still, compared to other proposals from the rest of the ad-tech industry, Google's is arguably the best one for privacy, Vidakovic said. "They're trying to balance commercial needs with user privacy needs at the same time," he said. "Despite their flaws, I think the concept behind FLOC and anonymous cohorts are a good balance." What does Google's move mean for competition? Unlike FLOC, cookies aren't owned and controlled by a specific company. They are a generic technology that any Web publisher or ad-tech seller can use to track people and show them ads. The world of cookie advertising resembles a capitalist Wild West, where anyone can hang a shingle and try building a fortune in Web ads. Google's new FLOC system is more controlled, laying out strict rules for how exactly advertisers can interact with the people who use Chrome. Cookies have also been used extensively to check how effective digital ads are. With FLOC, advertisers would have to trust Google that the ads they're paying for are being shown to the right people. Competitors to Google argue the company is pulling the ladder up behind it. Google used cookies to help it build a massive advertising business, but because YouTube and Google Search - which don't need cookies - are its biggest moneymakers, it can afford to live in a cookie-free Web. Advertisers who can't use cookies to find people on the open ocean of the Web will give more of their money to Google and Facebook who can pinpoint the right targets on their own sites, which industry insiders call "walled gardens." In January, the UK's competition authority said it would investigate FLOC and Google's other ideas to "assess whether the proposals could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google's ecosystem at the expense of its competitors." On the flip side, if Google were to simply shut down third-party cookies without building an alternative like FLOC, small companies, and the consumers who look to them for innovative new products, could pay the price. Big brands who already have contact information for their customers can use email marketing to reach them, while start-up retailers use targeted ads to find new people. Without targeted ads, companies such as glasses seller Warby Parker or makeup start-up Glossier might never have survived long enough to compete and bring down the prices that older companies were charging consumers. The same dynamic applies to publishing. Big news organizations who have paying subscribers don't rely as much on targeted ads as small, local news providers. If those small news providers have even fewer ways to make money, the communities they serve will suffer. (The Washington Post is working with the Trade Desk and other companies to use an email-based identifier for targeted ads). Google argues that, unlike Apple and Mozilla, it actually had small publishers, advertisers and the consumers they serve in mind when it said it would build FLOC to account for the loss of targeting ability when cookies go away. Either way, Google is set up for success. If FLOC does work effectively, it gains more control over the advertising ecosystem and can tell its users it has scored a win for their privacy. If it fails, advertisers will likely invest even more in the "walled gardens" - which conveniently include Google's search ads and YouTube. So what does all this mean for me? The debate over cookies is a major reminder of just how much our online behavior is being tracked and recorded by dozens of private companies. It also shows how many companies have a stake in that reality. Targeted advertising has grown up alongside the Internet, and helped create giants such as Facebook and Google, but also fostered an ecosystem of thousands of companies employing hundreds of thousands of people. When companies such as Google make changes to how products used by billions of people work, there are consequences. Getting rid of cookies completely could hurt news publishers and e-commerce start-ups, decreasing the number of voices online and pushing up prices for consumer products. It could also increase privacy and move the Internet in the direction of less surveillance overall. None of this has been fully decided, and keeping track of the big changes made by companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple over the next several years will be key to understanding how our online lives are recorded, packaged and sold.

GulfNews Technology

How much more of a defence can companies put up against ransomware?

Analysis|Trends|: The trade in cyberattacks is now so advanced that Darkside, the Russia-based group responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack that shutdown a 5,500-metre-long pipeline in the US, sells its own ransomware software. And even has a tech support service in place should you need additional help in using it. Some cyber-experts have even suggested that this latest attack is essentially a marketing campaign to show just how effective its software is at extorting cash from victims. Colonial were reported to have paid $5 million to take back control of its systems. Not a scattershot approach It has become clear that these attacks are becoming more widespread. In 2020, the UAE recorded a 183 per cent increase in cases where the cyber criminals breach a system and make it impossible for a service to be delivered – known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. As the Colonial attack has proven, it is no longer small and often defenceless companies that are targets for cyber criminals. Instead of targeting several companies for smaller ransoms, hackers can identify one larger company that has weaker protection or has perhaps neglected its responsibilities towards cyber security. Those millions only help to a point Nevertheless, even organisations that have spent vast sums on cyber security are not immune from attack. We believe there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to cyber-crime. As it is constantly evolving, ransomware is capable of evading even the most advanced of defences, meaning industry standard security can become obsolete and inadequate very quickly. It is important to have security systems implemented throughout the entirety of a utility network, as hackers often target cloud-based or managed data centres that are remote enough from the grid to be more easily breached. Internal and external communication channels must also be secure. If there are many levels of security, where components of the whole system are divided into separate branches, it will prove much more difficult to break. A major concern regionally is that now our systems are so digitally advanced and reliant on each other, that if one system becomes compromised others will follow. Rail systems, power plants, water treatment plants all use the same technologies, so it is critical that all, not just one of these systems, are fully protected. Most exposed Cybercriminals have taken advantage of the pandemic by attacking at a time when many organisations are at their weakest. Tightened budgetary controls and home working has diverted attention away from IT and info-security concerns, leaving vulnerabilities throughout networks. Despite it being inconvenient to users, multi-authentication practices should be introduced in certain circumstances where sensitive information could be breached. One-time passwords and verification codes are examples. Regular security audits are recommended to help identify areas of susceptibility, too. Outside of a tightened regulatory environment, there are practices that companies can adopt to limit their exposure. Resilient and hard to breach sensors combined with highly secure communication and analytics systems are a strong pillar to the entire security system. Regardless, if resources are not devoted to the problem in sufficient measures, problems will remain. If the pandemic has taught us one valuable lesson, there were warning signs that were ignored, which resulted in catastrophic repercussions. Have we now done enough to be truly confident that our IT systems are safe and secure? Maybe, but what is protected today may not be tomorrow… Francois Frigaux, Special to Gulf News The writer is Director at Sensus, a Xylem brand.

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Spread of new skills within organisations cannot be done with a silo mindset

Analysis|Companies|: After all the upheaval we’ve faced in the last year, we hardly need more workplace disruption. But World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs report predicts that machines and AI technologies will take over half of all work tasks by 2025. Where does that leave us ? A pessimist might say that our role in business is coming to an end and that more sophisticated automation and AI had put paid to that. It’s difficult to take that view seriously following the pandemic, though. Where machine learning models struggled to adapt to sudden market changes - and algorithms failed to predict school grades - humans stepped in and saved the day. What businesses needed more than ever was common sense and humanity – that only humans could deliver. True, we’ve only scratched the surface of what AI is capable of. But nothing can beat the adaptability and creativity of human minds. It is thus the HR leaders who are charged with unleashing and harnessing that potential, nurturing it and giving it space in the business to grow. What new skills pay the bills? Every business and industry is changing in its own way, and each requires its own new competencies. In supply chain, the focus is on resiliency and the integration of self-healing capabilities to guard against future shocks. For customer experience, the emphasis is on embedding data-driven customer understanding that creates more tailored ‘human’ experiences digitally. However, despite the supposed chaos, there are strong similarities beneath the surface. Organisations are rapidly embracing an enormous depth of business applications. These cloud apps rely on AI to help people integrate, orchestrate and automate, helping organisations adapt and transform when they need to. We’re at the point where AI not only automates mundane and repetitive tasks, but can also perform highly complex tasks - like business forecasting - accurately and reliably. This doesn’t mean AI is about to replace us – in fact, the inverse is true. Almost every worker, whatever their role, could benefit from the use of a cobot or ‘digital twin’. Resetting workplace culture If many workers are denied access to the latest cloud and AI tools, meaning businesses can’t reap the rewards either. To level up this learning across a business, HR leaders must think differently – but they’ll also need to be more targeted in their approach. They not only need an understanding of what skills are lacking right now, but what talents will be commodities in the future. How does a company know what skills to teach, and which employees are best able to take the business forward? These decisions have to be guided by HR data from all lines of business. Everything from payroll information to messaging and sentiment analysis should be considered to understand where employees may be struggling, and what they need to improve. The larger the organization, the more complex it becomes to maintain a programme of constant learning. That said, during the pandemic, low-carbon energy leader Engie extended its cloud-based HCM platform to maintain business transformation across its global 170,000- strong workforce. By integrating data from across the business and using AI tools, Engie was able to streamline and standardise a global policy of continuous improvement, career development and best practice sharing across the business. Humans make a company’s culture – but helping them learn and grow with the right tech can make it even better. HR plays a crucial role, and when aided by the right AI tools and data-driven insight, they can make the best decisions for the business and its people. No matter what shape the next great disruption takes, HR leaders can lay the groundwork work now to ensure employees can meet the challenge head on. Yazad Dalal The writer is Oracle's HCM Strategy Leader for EMEA territory.

GulfNews Technology

Movie theatres should try and build a working relationship with streaming platforms

Analysis|Trends|: The way we consume content has transformed significantly and is happening at multiple levels. We now consume content on more screens and the amount of content produced has also increased exponentially as new digital mediums make the economics of niche content viable. Currently there are four dominant channels to consume paid content: Movie theaters: This is the one of the oldest modes of content consumption. Consumers generally go there for the immersive experience and pay on a per-view basis. Cable TV: This is largely streaming for sitcoms and live TV driven content. The most common model is the monthly subscription plan. Many of us would have this as they are typically bundled with telephone and internet connectivity. Over-the-top (OTT) bundles: These are on-demand content providers - typically through an app on a smart device. The pricing model is generally monthly subscriptions that allow users to watch all of the content on the platform. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Shahid are some dominant players in this category. Pay per-view (PPV) OTT: This mode is generally for live events and to watch content on a pay-as-you-go basis. Apple’ iTunes, GooglePlay, Zee5 and Mxplayer are some OTT players who have pay-per-view options. Taking them inhouse Recently, the biggest OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon have started producing movies for their own platform. In this model, they pay a bulk fee for an already produced movie or produce it themselves. Over-the-top players are now the dominant entertainment channels with consumers spending almost 20 hours per week in Middle East. This is twice the time consumers spent on OTT platforms just two years ago - and many times more than spent in movie theatres. Such large-scale OTT usage presents an opportunity for the movie ecosystem to reinvent and provide more choices to consumers. Link up on OTT For example, new movies can be released on a per-view model on OTT platforms, thus providing more choices to movie studios and also to consumers. It can make economics of niche movies viable and can drive Arabic content production in the region. Even movie theatres can reimagine themselves and create a pay-per-view revenue sharing channel that complements the existing physical movie business. That way they will be able to ride the OTT wave and make it more efficient for all stakeholders in the process. Movie theatres will continue to be relevant for the immersive and social experience they provide. For this to really take off, privacy concerns will need to be addressed. But OTT does open up more possibilities for new movies. We are already seeing in this in some form – it is only a matter of time for it become mainstream. Sandeep Ganediwalla The writer is regional Partner at RedSeer Consulting.

GulfNews Technology

Bank, airline web outage 'not caused' by cyberattack

Technology|World|Business|: Sydney: A major online outage that hit bank and airline websites on both sides of the Pacific was not caused by a cyberattack, the tech provider responsible said Friday. In a statement, US-based Akamai said around 500 of its customers were briefly knocked offline on Thursday because of a problem with one of its online security products. The outage hit American, Delta, United and Southwest Airlines and most of Australia's major banks, leaving customers unable to access websites and mobile apps. also read Internet outages briefly disrupt access to websites, apps Fastly blames software bug for major global internet outage Akamai said the problem was resolved in just over four hours, although most websites experienced problems for around an hour. "The issue was not caused by a system update or a cyberattack," Akamai said, adding the issue had been narrowed down to a data routing problem that had now been fixed. It is the latest incident to draw attention to the stability of economically vital online platforms and the key role that a handful of little-known "CDN" - content delivery network - companies play in keeping the web running. Last week, US media and government websites, including the White House, New York Times, Reddit and Amazon were temporarily hit after a glitch with cloud computing services provider Fastly. Fastly offers a service to speed up loading times for websites. Akamai offers a range of similar IT products designed to boost online performance and security. The firm said this problem was linked to a product that prevents DDoS attacks - an often crude cyberattack that knocks websites out by peppering them with requests for data. "Many of the approximately 500 customers using this service were automatically rerouted, which restored operations within a few minutes," the company said. "The large majority of the remaining customers manually rerouted shortly thereafter."

GulfNews Technology

Internet outages briefly disrupt access to websites, apps

Technology|Oceania|Business|: The Hong Kong Stock Exchange said in a post on Twitter Thursday afternoon Hong Kong time that its site was facing technical issues and that it was investigating. It said in another post 17 minutes later that its websites were back to normal. Internet monitoring websites including ThousandEyes, Downdetector.com and fing.com showed dozens of disruptions, including to US-based airlines. Many of the outages were reported by people in Australia trying to do banking, book flights and access postal services. Australia Post, the country's postal service, said on Twitter that an "external outage" had impacted a number of its services, and that while most services had come back online, they are continuing to monitor and investigate. Many services were up and running after an hour or so but the affected companies said they were working overtime to prevent further problems. Banking services were severely disrupted, with Westpac, the Commonwealth, ANZ and St George all down, along with the website of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Services have mostly been restored. Virgin Australia said flights were largely operating as scheduled after it restored access to its website and guest contact center. "Virgin Australia was one of many organizations to experience an outage with the Akamai content delivery system today," it said. "We are working with them to ensure that necessary measures are taken to prevent these outages from reoccurring." Akamai counts some of the world's biggest companies and banks as customers. Calls to Akamai, which is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but has global services, went unanswered. The disruptions came just days after many of the world's top websites went offline briefly due to a problem with software at Fastly, another major web services company. The company blamed the problem on a software bug that was triggered when a customer changed a setting. Brief internet service outages are not uncommon and are only rarely the result of hacking or other mischief. But the outages have underscored how vital a small number of behind-the-scenes companies have become to running the internet.

GulfNews Technology

Facebook begins health fact-check in India

India|Media|: New Delhi: Facebook on Wednesday joined hands with The Healthy Indian Project (THIP) - a health specialised fact-checking site - as part of its third-party fact-checking programme in India to combat COVID-19 and all other health related misinformation on the social media platform. During the pandemic, Facebook removed more than 18 million pieces of harmful misinformation across its platform and Instagram and labelled over 167 million fake news posts on COVID-19 with the help of third-party fact-checkers. The partnership with THIP "will enhance its capabilities to understand and curb health-related misinformation on the platform", the social media giant said in a statement. THIP Media works with verified medical professionals to fact check misleading news and claims about health, medicines, diet and treatment in English, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati. Globally, Facebook is working with 80 fact-checking partners that help in content monitoring in more than 60 languages. Facebook's fact-checking partners have been certified through the independent, non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. In India, Facebook has 10 fact-checking partners, one of the largest after the US. This includes India Today Group, Vishvas News (Dainik Jagran), Factly, Newsmobile, Fact Crescendo, BOOM Live, AFP, NewsChecker and Quint who fact-check in 11 Indian languages along with English. The Indian languages include Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi, Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati, Assamese and Kannada. "Third-party fact-checkers evaluate stories, check if the stories are factual, and rate their accuracy. When a fact-checker rates a story as false, Facebook shows it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its dissemination and reducing the number of people who view it," the company said. Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will also see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetise and advertise temporarily removed. Community members are presented with a pop-up notice if someone tries to share a fact-checked post so that people can decide for themselves what to read, trust and share. People who share a story that's later debunked are notified so they know there is additional reporting on that piece of content, the company added. Facebook has also launched a fellowship with 10 fact-checking organisations (including Factly and Quint in India) and will provide virtual training sessions by third party experts to help the participating fact checkers enhance their capabilities to combat misinformation related to COVID-19.

GulfNews Technology

Truecaller adds Group Calling, Smart SMS features

Media|World|: Bengaluru: Swedish caller identification app Truecaller announced on Wednesday that it is rolling out new features to further augment the user experience, which include Group Voice Calling, Smart SMS and Inbox Cleaner. All of them are based on user feedback and are designed to cater to the evolving needs of the consumers, Truecaller said. "With Group Voice Calling, Smart SMS and Inbox Cleaner, I am hopeful that the consumers will be able to operate more effectively given the benefits of staying connected, using messaging service smartly to stay on top of important information," Rishit Jhunjhunwala, MD India, Truecaller, said in a statement. Smart SMS offers a host of new features designed to make day-to-day communication more convenient, while Inbox Cleaner lets consumers free up space on their phones by removing unused messages. Inbox Cleaner also helps the user clear out all old and unwanted messages in just a few seconds. Group Voice Calling allows users to add up to eight participants to a call while retaining high voice clarity. Truecaller will also help identify spam users in the group if they are added without the user's knowledge. Additionally, the feature offers a smooth dial back option from call logs making it easy to manage the group - including adding or removing participants - when dialing them back. "We continue to remain focused on the evolving needs of our users and meet those needs with innovative solutions. These features get us closer to our mission to make communication safer and more efficient for everyone," Jhunjhunwala said.