Cybercriminals Are Coming for Your Business. Here Are 5 Simple Ways to Keep Them Out

Now, more than ever, is a crucial moment to button up cyber security measures at your company. Small businesses were easy prey for cybercriminals during the pandemic. A shift to remote work meant hackers had their pick of unsecured home networks and devices. Now, even though many businesses have moved back to in-office work, it’s likely they’ll still be targeted by hackers. Savvy thieves often see small businesses as a “Trojan Horse” to the larger businesses with which they partner.

Panelists at a Chamber of Commerce event on Thursday shared tips on what businesses need to keep in mind in order to protect their data and assets from cyberattacks.

Ransomware comes in via email and can hide for several days.

Some cyberattacks will do damage instantly, taking down all of your systems and locking you out. But some, such as ransomware emails, require more time to take root.

“So maybe an employee clicks on an email that goes through their device, and they send that email to somebody else that hits another application or device. It can really be in your system for several days before you notice it,” said Tara Holt, senior product marketing manager at Iron Mountain. The delayed timeline is crucial to keep in mind as you work to nail down when and how a breach occurred.

Backup critical data, both on- and off-site.

Holt and other cybersecurity experts encourage businesses to store a backup of your most critical data as a second line of defense. This should be both off-site and online. Your business may still be able to operate during a cyberattack, even in a limited context, if there’s a backup handy.

Make sure payment processors are PCI compliant.

An overlooked area of cybersecurity is your third-party payment processor. Businesses that make hundreds of transactions per day must ensure that security standards are in place to prevent theft. Most merchants that accept credit cards must adhere to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, or PCI.

A few credit card companies allow merchants that are not PCI compliant, but tread carefully with them — you’ll likely be stuck with the bill in the event of a breach. “If you get a breach, and you’re not PCI compliant, it’s a minimum of $80,000 apiece and MasterCard will have to charge you, because they’re going to have to resubmit new cards for those people whose cards may have also been compromised,” said Renee VanHeel, president of Pay It Forward Processing.

You can pay the ransom, but don’t expect to get your data back.

While taking cybercriminals at their word is always a risky undertaking, when it comes to ransomware, few crooks are honest players. Businesses that pay ransoms must deal with the very likely possibility that any data they get back will either be incomplete or corrupt.

An estimated 92 percent of victims who pay the requested ransom don’t get their data back, according to a 2021 Sophos State of Ransomware report.

Use a “zero-trust network” and multi-factor authentication.

Chances are, your team probably needs a refresher on what makes a strong, unique password, which can go a long way toward securing your systems. Best practices include combining three or more unrelated words — proper nouns are good — with numbers or special characters separating them.

Requiring the use of VPNs is also key. Saïd Eastman, CEO of JobsInTheUS, says his company uses both an internal VPN and a third-party VPN for customers. “We do that because we believe it’s important for us to provide a secure environment for our employees to get in to do their jobs, but also a place for our customers,” he said.

Holt also suggests that businesses create what is called a “zero-trust network” that authenticates users every time they log-in. Multi-factor authentication, where users must enter a passcode that is sent to their phone or email, is another good safeguard.

“Adding in as many different layers of security as you can can really be that first step to protect you,” said Holt.

Dubai Is Using Laser-Beam-Shooting Drones to Shock Rain Out of the Sky

The National Center of Meteorology in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has found a new way to make it rain. It’s using laser-beam-shooting drones to generate rainfall artificially.

Last week the country’s weather service posted two videos offering proof of the heavy downpours in Dubai’s streets.

Here’s how it works: The drones shoot laser beams into the clouds, charging them with electricity. The charge prompts precipitation by forcing water droplets together to create bigger raindrops, essentially electrifying the air to create rain.

This past March, the BBC reported that the UAE was looking to test the drone technology, which it developed in collaboration with the University of Reading in the UK.

Artificially generated rain is crucial because Dubai only gets an average of 4 inches of rainfall annually. This makes farming difficult and forces the country to import more than 80% of its food.

The efforts are part of the country’s ongoing “quest to ensure water security” since the 1990s through the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement, according to the center.

Water security remains one of the UAE’s “main future challenges” as the country relies on groundwater for two-thirds of its water needs, according to the National Center of Meteorology website. The arid nation faces low rainfall level, high temperatures and high evaporation rates of surface water, the center says. Paired with increased demand due to high population growth, this puts the UAE in a precarious water security situation, according to the center.

But rain enhancement may “offer a viable, cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies,” especially amid diminishing water resources across the globe, the center said.“While most of us take free water for granted, we must remember that it is a precious and finite resource,” according to the center.

Cloud seeding projects may also be improving the UAE’s air quality in recent years, according to a 2021 study led by American University of Sharjah. So far, rain enhancement projects have centered on the country’s mountainous north-east regions, where cumulus clouds gather in the summer, according to the National Center of Meteorology website.

There have been successes in the U.S., as well as China, India, and Thailand. Long-term cloud seeding in the mountains of Nevada have increased snowpack by 10% or more each year, according to research published by the American Meteorological Society. A 10-year cloud seeding experiment in Wyoming resulted in 5-10% increases in snowpack, according to the State of Wyoming.

The practice is used in at least eight states in the western U.S. and in dozens of countries, the Scientific American reported. The UAE is one of the first countries in the Arab Gulf region to use cloud seeding technology, according to the National Center of Meteorology website.

It also doesn’t help with the country’s sweltering temperatures. On June 6, for example, Dubai recorded a sweltering temperature high of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dubai’s rainmaking technology is not entirely dissimilar to cloud seeding, which has been used in the US since 1923 to combat prolonged periods of drought. Cloud seeding requires crushed-up silver iodide, a chemical used in photography, to help create water clusters in the air.

Forbes reported that the UAE has invested in nine rain-enhancement projects over the past few years, which cost around $15 million in total. The bulk of those projects have involved traditional cloud-seeding techniques.

Critics of the drone technology worry that it could unintentionally cause massive flooding. And they also worry about such technology being privatized, Forbes reported.

In the US, innovative solutions to the extreme effects of the climate crisis have been explored. Billionaire Bill Gates is backing the development of a sunlight-dimming technology that might help to achieve a global cooling effect by reflecting the sun’s rays from the planet’s atmosphere.

In the meantime, more than 80 wildfires are blazing across the US, devastating communities and destroying homes. On July 13, Death Valley in California recorded a temperature high of 128 degrees Fahrenheit, the Earth’s hottest temperature record since 2017.

By:

Source: Dubai Is Using Laser-Beam-Shooting Drones to Shock Rain Out of the Sky

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To Combat Billions In Unemployment Benefit Fraud, Startup SentiLink Raises $70 Million

At least in improper payments, much of it fraud, have been distributed by the Federal government since the pandemic struck in March 2020. In California alone, state officials admitted that as much as of unemployment benefits payments may have been fraudulent.

“Unemployment insurance fraud is probably the biggest fraud issue hitting banks today,” says Naftali Harris, co-founder and CEO at San Francisco’s SentiLink, which just closed a $70 million round of venture capital to expand its business of helping financial institutions detect fake and stolen identities for new account applications.

, a San Francisco-based venture firm, led the Series B round which brings SentiLink’s total capital raised to date to $85 million. Felicis, Andreessen Horowitz and NYCA also joined SentiLink’s latest capital infusion.

SentiLink plans to use the capital raised to continue to help institutions with this recent increase in fraud instances spurred by the CARES Act. They also plan to expand their fraud toolkit to prevent other types of scams, such as and, and investigate new ones.

Harris’ team has seen a huge uptick in fraud rates affecting their clients, as high as 90% among new applications, associated with the CARES Act COVID relief. Fraudsters have been using the same name, social security number or date of birth in several applications, filing in high volumes in several states.

According to Harris, his team is currently verifying around a million account openings per day, and is working with more than 100 financial institutions – due to a non-disclosure agreement Harris could not comment on which financial institutions his company serves.

The company says that beyond simply using artificial intelligence to detect fraud, they have a risk operations team that catches in real time cases of synthetic fraud – a form of identity theft in which the defrauder combines a stolen Social Security Number (SSN) and fake information to create a false identity – that would normally go unnoticed by their clients.

Harris discovered this type of fraud when he was working as a data scientist at Affirm in 2017. At the time, synthetic fraud was relatively unknown, so when he saw that crooks were creating brand new identities instead of stealing  existing ones to apply for credit, he founded SentiLink to focus on tackling this new scam. “We realized this was a really big issue and that nobody in the financial services industry was talking about it,” says Harris.

Now, criminals are creating new identities or stealing existing ones to tap into unemployment benefits. Harris says the problem is not only them stealing from the government, but uncovering the tactics they use to deposit the stolen funds.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that as a fraudster you have to be able to use the money stolen, and put it into the financial system,” Harris says.

To Harris, the biggest differentiation in SentiLink’s approach is how much it emphasizes “deep understanding of fraud and identity in our models.”

“We have a team of fraud investigators that manually review applications every day looking for fraud, and we use their insights and discoveries in our fraud models and technology,” he told TechCrunch. “This deep understanding is so important to us that every Friday the entire company spends an hour reviewing fraud cases.”

SentiLink, Harris added, focuses on “deeply” understanding fraud and identity, and then using technology to productionalize these insights.  Those discoveries include the deterioration of phone/name match data and uncovering “same name” fraud. “This deep understanding is so important that SentiLink employs a team of risk analysts whose full time job is to investigate new kinds of fraud and discover what the fraudsters are doing,” the company says.

SentiLink, like so many other startups, saw an increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The various government assistance programs were rife with fraud. This had a cascading effect throughout financial services, where fraudsters that had successfully stolen government money attempted to launder it into the financial system,” Harris said. “As a result we’ve been very busy, particularly with checking and savings accounts that until now have had relatively little fraud.”

genesis-3-1

The startup plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and do some hiring. Today it has 25 employees, with five accepted offers, and expects to end the year with a headcount of 45-50.

Follow me on  or . Send me a secure .

I’m an assistant editor at Forbes covering money and markets. Before joining Forbes, I worked at NextEra Energy, Inc. developing and implementing successful media relations and public relations campaigns in the energy industry.

I graduated from Stetson University with a degree in Finance, and have a master’s degree in Journalism and International Relations from New York University, where I worked as a staff writer for Latin America News Dispatch and New York Magazine’s Bedford + Bowery.

Source: To Combat Billions In Unemployment Benefit Fraud, Startup SentiLink Raises $70 Million

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Banks Are Giving the Ultra-Rich Cheap Loans to Fund Their Lifestyle

Billionaire hedge fund manager Alan Howard paid $59 million for a Manhattan townhouse in March. Just two months later he obtained a $30 million mortgage from Citigroup Inc.

Denis Sverdlov, worth $6.1 billion thanks to his shares in electric-vehicle maker Arrival, recently pledged part of that stake for a line of credit from the same bank. For Edgar and Clarissa Bronfman the loan collateral is paintings by Damien Hirst and Diego Rivera, among others. Philippe Laffont, meanwhile, pledged stakes in a dozen funds at his Coatue Management for a credit line at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In the realm of personal finance, debt is largely viewed as a necessary evil, one that should be kept to a minimum. But with interest rates at record lows and many assets appreciating in value, it’s one of the most important pieces of the billionaire toolkit — and one of the hottest parts of private banking.

Thanks to the Bronfmans, Howards and Sverdlovs of the world, the biggest U.S. investment banks reported a sizable jump in the value of loans they’ve extended to their richest clients, driven mainly by demand for asset-backed debt.

Morgan Stanley’s tailored and securities-based lending portfolio approached $76 billion last quarter, a 43% increase from a year earlier. Bank of America Corp. reported a $67 billion balance of such loans, up more than 20% year-over-year, while loans at Citigroup’s private bank — including but not limited to securities-backed loans — rose 17%. Appetite for such credit was the primary driver of the 21% bump in average loans at JPMorgan’s asset- and wealth-management division. And at UBS Group AG, U.S. securities-based lending rose by $4 billion.

Borrowing Binge

“It’s a real business winner for the banks,” said Robert Weeber, chief executive officer of wealth-management firm Tiedemann Constantia, adding his clients have recently been offered the opportunity to borrow against real estate, security portfolios and even single-stock holdings.

Spokespeople for Howard, Arrival and Laffont declined to comment, while the Bronfmans didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Rock-bottom interest rates have fueled the biggest borrowing binge on record and even billionaires with enough cash to fill a swimming pool are loathe to sit it out.

And for good reason. With assets both public and private at historically lofty valuations, shareholders are hesitant to cash out and miss higher heights. Appian Corp. co-founder Matthew Calkins has pledged a chunk of his roughly $3.5 billion stake in the software company — whose shares have risen about 145% in the past year — for a loan.

“Families with wealth of $100 million or more can borrow at less than 1%,” said Dan Gimbel, principal at NEPC Private Wealth. “For their lifestyle, there may be things they want to purchase — a car or a boat or even a small business — and they may turn to that line of credit for those types of things rather than take money from the portfolio as they want that to be fully invested.”

Yachts and private jets have been especially popular buys in the past year, according to wealth managers, one of whom described it as borrowing to buy social distance.

‘Significant Benefit’

Loans also allow the ultra-wealthy to avoid the hit of capital gains taxes at a time when valuations are high and rates are poised to increase, perhaps even almost double. Postponing tax is a “significant benefit” for portfolios concentrated and diversified alike, according to Michael Farrell, managing director for SEI Private Wealth Management.

Critics say such loans are just one more wedge in America’s ever-widening wealth gap. “Asset-backed loans are one of the principal tools that the ultra-wealthy are using to game their tax obligations down to zero,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

While using public equities as collateral is the most common tactic for banks loaning to the merely affluent, clients further up the wealth scale usually have a bevy of possessions they can feasibly pledge against, such as mansions, planes and even more esoteric collectibles, like watches and classic cars.

One big advantage for the wealthy borrowing now is the possibility that rates will ultimately rise and they can lock in low borrowing costs for decades. Some private banks offer mortgages on homes for as long as 20 years with fixed interest rates as low as 1% for the period.

The wealthy can also hedge against higher borrowing costs for a fraction of their pledged assets’ value, according to Ali Jamal, the founder of multifamily office Azura.

“With ultra-high-net worth clients, you’re often thinking about the next generation,” said Jamal, a former Julius Baer Group Ltd. managing director. “If you have a son or a daughter and you know they want to live one day in Milan, St. Moritz or Paris, you can now secure a future home for them and the bank is fixing your interest rate for as long as two decades.”

Risks Involved

Securities-based lending does comes with risks for the bank and the borrower. If asset values plunge, borrowers may have to cough up cash to meet margin calls. Banks prize their relationships with their richest clients, but foundered loans are both costly and humiliating.

Ask JPMorgan. The bank helped arrange a $500 million credit facility for WeWork founder Adam Neumann, pledged against the value of his stock, according to the Wall Street Journal. As the value of the co-working startup imploded, Softbank Group Corp. had to swoop in to help Neumann repay the loans and avert a significant loss for the bank.

A spokesperson for JPMorgan declined to comment.

Still, for the banks it’s a risk worth taking. Asked about securities-backed loans on last week’s earnings call, Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Sharon Yeshaya said they’d “historically seen minimal losses.” Among the bank’s past clients is Elon Musk, who turned to them for $61 million in mortgages on five California properties in 2019, and who also has Tesla Inc. shares worth billions pledged to secure loans.

“As James [Gorman] has always said, it’s a product in which you lend wealthy clients their money back,” Yeshaya said, referring to Morgan Stanley’s chief executive officer. “And this is something that is resonating.”

By:

Source: Banks Are Giving the Ultra-Rich Cheap Loans to Fund Their Lifestyle

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The 3 Biggest Mistakes the Board Can Make Around Cyber Security

The role of the Board in relation to cyber security is a topic we have visited several times since 2015, first in the wake of the TalkTalk data breach in the UK, then in 2019 following the WannaCry and NotPeyta outbreaks and data breaches at BA, Marriott and Equifax amongst others. This is also a topic we have been researching with techUK, and that collaboration resulted in the start of their Cyber People series and the production of the “CISO at the C-Suite” report at the end of 2020.

Overall, although the topic of cyber security is now definitely on the board’s agenda in most organisations, it is rarely a fixed item. More often than not, it makes appearances at the request of the Audit & Risk Committee or after a question from a non-executive director, or – worse – in response to a security incident or a near-miss.

All this hides a pattern of recurrent cultural and governance attitudes which could be hindering cyber security more than enabling it. There are 3 big mistakes the Board needs to avoid to promote cyber security and prevent breaches.

1- Downgrading it

“We have bigger fishes to fry…”

Of course, each organisation is different and the COVID crisis is affecting each differently – from those nearing collapse, to those which are booming. But pretending that the protection of the business from cyber threats is not a relevant board topic now borders on negligence and is certainly a matter of poor governance which non-executive directors have a duty to pick up.

Cyber attacks are in the news every week and have been the direct cause of millions in direct losses and hundreds of millions in lost revenues in many large organisations across almost all industry sectors.

Data privacy regulators have suffered setbacks in 2020: They have been forced to adjust down some of their fines (BA, Marriott), and we have also seen a first successful challenge in Austria leading to a multi-million fine being overturned (EUR 18M for Austrian Post). Nevertheless, fines are now reaching the millions or tens of millions regularly; still very far from the 4% of global turnover allowed under the GDPR, but the upwards trend is clear as DLA Piper highlighted in their 2021 GDPR survey, and those number should register on the radar of most boards.

Finally, the COVID crisis has made most businesses heavily dependent on digital services, the stability of which is built on sound cyber security practices, in-house and across the supply chain.

Cyber security has become as pillar of the “new normal” and even more than before, should be a regular board agenda, clearly visible in the portfolio of one member who should have part of their remuneration linked to it (should remuneration practices allow). As stated above, this is fast becoming a plain matter of good governance.

2- Seeing it as an IT problem

“IT is dealing with this…”

This is a dangerous stance at a number of levels.

First, cyber security has never been a purely technological matter. The protection of the business from cyber threats has always required concerted action at people, process and technology level across the organisation.

Reducing it to a tech matter downgrades the subject, and as a result the calibre of talent it attracts. In large organisations – which are intrinsically territorial and political – it has led for decades to an endemic failure to address cross-silo issues, for example around identity or vendor risk management – in spite of the millions spent on those matters with tech vendors and consultants.

So it should not be left to the CIO to deal with, unless their profile is sufficiently elevated within the organisation.

In the past, we have advocated alternative organisational models to address the challenges of the digital transformation and the necessary reinforcement of practices around data privacy in the wake of the GDPR. They remain current, and of course are not meant to replace “three-lines-of-defence” type of models.

But here again, caution should prevail. It is easy – in particular in large firms – to over-engineer the three lines of defence and to build monstrous and inefficient control models. The three lines of defence can only work on trust, and must bring visible value to each part of the control organisation to avoid creating a culture of suspicion and regulatory window-dressing.

3- Throwing money at it

“How much do we need to spend to get this fixed?”

The protection of the business from cyber threats is something you need to grow, not something you can buy – in spite of what countless tech vendors and consultants would like you to believe.

As a matter of fact, most of the breached organisations of the past few years (BA, Marriott, Equifax, Travelex etc… the list is long…) would have spent collectively tens or hundreds of millions on cyber security products over the last decades…

Where cyber security maturity is low and profound transformation is required, simply throwing money at the problem is rarely the answer.

Of course, investments will be required, but the real silver bullets are to be found in corporate culture and governance, and in the true embedding of business protection values in the corporate purpose: Something which needs to start at the top of the organisation through visible and credible board ownership of those issues, and cascade down through middle management, relayed by incentives and remuneration schemes.

This is more challenging than doing ad-hoc pen tests but it is the only way to lasting long-term success.

By: JC Gaillard

Source: The 3 Biggest Mistakes the Board Can Make Around Cyber Security – Business 2 Community

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Critics:

A data breach is the intentional or unintentional release of secure or private/confidential information to an untrusted environment. Other terms for this phenomenon include unintentional information disclosure, data leak, information leakage and also data spill. Incidents range from concerted attacks by black hats, or individuals who hack for some kind of personal gain, associated with organized crime, political activist or national governments to careless disposal of used computer equipment or data storage media and unhackable source.

Definition: “A data breach is a security violation in which sensitive, protected or confidential data is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen or used by an individual unauthorized to do so.”Data breaches may involve financial information such as credit card & debit card details, bank details, personal health information (PHI), Personally identifiable information (PII), trade secrets of corporations or intellectual property. Most data breaches involve overexposed and vulnerable unstructured data – files, documents, and sensitive information.

Data breaches can be quite costly to organizations with direct costs (remediation, investigation, etc) and indirect costs (reputational damages, providing cyber security to victims of compromised data, etc.)

According to the nonprofit consumer organization Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a total of 227,052,199 individual records containing sensitive personal information were involved in security breaches in the United States between January 2005 and May 2008, excluding incidents where sensitive data was apparently not actually exposed.

Many jurisdictions have passed data breach notification laws, which requires a company that has been subject to a data breach to inform customers and takes other steps to remediate possible injuries.

A data breach may include incidents such as theft or loss of digital media such as computer tapes, hard drives, or laptop computers containing such media upon which such information is stored unencrypted, posting such information on the world wide web or on a computer otherwise accessible from the Internet without proper information security precautions, transfer of such information to a system which is not completely open but is not appropriately or formally accredited for security at the approved level, such as unencrypted e-mail, or transfer of such information to the information systems of a possibly hostile agency, such as a competing corporation or a foreign nation, where it may be exposed to more intensive decryption techniques.

ISO/IEC 27040 defines a data breach as: compromise of security that leads to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorized disclosure of, or access to protected data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed.

See also

The Top 50 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021

Advertising market trends

1.Programmatic Advertising

What is programmatic advertising? It means advertisers automate ad buying to target more specific audiences. This type of automation results in faster and efficient bidding. Advertisers then, have to spend less time and effort planning the ad bidding and buying.

How does programmatic advertising work?

Step 1 – a user clicks on the webpage

Step 2 – the publisher puts the ad impression for auction

Step 3 – the ad marketplace holds an auction where advertisers bid for the impression

Step 4 – the advertiser with the highest bid wins the right to display their ads

2.Marketing Personalization

If something we learned from 2020 is that to succeed at marketing in 2021 you need to personalize your marketing activities, including content, emails and ads. Great examples of personalization are Netflix and Amazon, with their tailored content and products suggestions.

The more personalized the content, the higher the customer engagement and loyalty.

3.Google Ads Smart Bidding

This system allows Google to manage advertisers’ PPC campaigns through Google’s AI system. The system then optimizes the advertiser’s budget to maximize their ROI. Advertisers can choose many criteria for their bid optimization, including device, physical location, remarketing list, ad characteristics, interface language or browser. Anti Ad-Blockers

Many websites have ad-blockers, preventing ads to be served to users. This causes serious revenue damage, which can range up to 40% loss from adblocking. Therefore, one of the trends we are seeing for 2021, is the popularization of anti-ad-blockers.

Anti-ad blockers are useful software solutions that bypass ad blockers. Not all the solutions work for all the ad blockers. You can also opt to work with an ad network that serves ads that bypass ad-blockers. However, not all ad networks work with all the ad blockers.

4.IoT Advertising

To be connected nowadays goes beyond, smartphones, laptops and tablets. There is a world of connected devices, from smart cars to smart houses. These type of connected devices are called the Internet of Things.

Companies have tried to use the Internet of Things for advertising. For example, including ads in smart cars systems, or include sensors in spirits bottles. As more connected devices are developed, more opportunities for IoT advertisement will appear.

Social media market trends

5.Influencer Marketing

What’s an influencer? An influencer is a person that, as a referent, can carry a brand message to their market. Influencers are not only celebrities, but Instagram or YouTube personas, that have their niche of followers. Their audience can go from a few thousand to millions. Influencer marketing has become more popular recently because of the following reasons:

  • It’s organic
  • It’s authentic
  • Connects with the customer

Many companies are leaving traditional advertising in favor of pairing with influencers that carry the word about their products or services. For example, GoodFoods, partnered with 60 influencers to produce content and recipes using GoodFoods products online.

How do you find the right influencer for your company is another story. Luckily, there are AI solutions that allow companies to rank and score influencers by niche, followers and ROI potential.

6.Social Messaging Apps

Messaging apps are not only for communicating with your friends. With more than one billion monthly users active on Facebook Messenger, companies are taking the opportunity to connect with their audience through messaging apps.

Social messages give businesses the chance to send messages to customers directly, answer queries, and conduct direct sales. It works as a live chat for customers to reach you, then you can provide assistance, remind them of abandoned carts, send event invitations, and more.

7.Stories on Social Media

Instagram and Facebook allow users to share stories, and since their appearance, they became really popular with users. Here are some statistics:

  • 500 million people use Instagram Stories every day
  • More than half of Instagram users become interested in a brand after seeing it in an Instagram Story.
  • Half of the users say that they are interested in purchasing a product because they saw it in an IS.

8.From Social Media to Social Marketplace

Social media platforms have added eCommerce features in 2020. The goal is to provide users with a seamless journey from discovery to purchase. We can expect the trend to grow in 2021, with brands using social media platforms as a marketplace. The next section explains what tools they will likely be using.

9.Social Commerce & Shoppable Posts

As mentioned above, social media platforms are investing in adding ecommerce features to social posts. For instance, Instagram shoppable posts:

How do you do it? You can add tags to the products on your stories or posts, the tags will take your customer to a page where they can purchase the product.

10.Facebook May Have Reached its Peak

According to the recent 2020 Facebook performance update, there is reason to think that the network is entering plateau.

The network is showing less monthly and daily new users. Why there are less users is not clear, but the network is completing its second decade, and there are other competitors appearing.

11.Focusing on the social media channels that work

With so many social media channels available, companies can feel overwhelmed to try to keep relevant on all of them. Therefore, reducing their social media channels to focus on what it really works for their audience is likely to be a necessity for 2021.

12.The rise of UGC (user-generated content)

User-generated content will become a central part of marketer’s strategy in 2021. Advertisers are using AI to create ads that work with user-generated content. Brands like Lush cosmetics use Instagram hashtags to drive UGC to work for them.

Another example that uses user generated content is Aerie. They usually #regram — taking a post from another user account and reposting on your own — as a social media strategy.

SEO market trends

13.Content Marketing Is Still King

Content is king, we are used to hearing. The reality is that search engines like Google, prioritize well-written content and useful links when ranking sites and presenting search results to users.

In recent years, the changes in Google algorithm prioritized, even more, the relevance of content for SEO. The effects on marketers were fast to follow:

88% of marketers are realizing that creating content that is useful to their audience presents their organization as a credible source.

Moreover, investing in content marketing can be a cost-effective way to attract customers to your site and engage them.  

“Content marketing has lower up-front costs & deeper long-term benefits than paid search, says @JuliaEMcCoy.

With search engines prioritizing well-written and useful content, it is safe to say that content marketing is a trend that will continue well into 2021.

14.Branding focus

Consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options they have every time they research something online. With this marketing landscape, having a distinct, unique, and recognizable brand is key for success.

As most companies moved online last year, the problem of too many options is even worse. In 2021, you’ll see more companies focusing on branding strategies than on hard selling. One of the reasons branding is so critical now for survival is that search engines prioritize ranking brands over sites. More in the following section.

15.EAT

E.A.T is one of the most important criteria Google uses to rank brands and sites. It stands for:

  • Expertise: your pages need to have quality content written by an expert in the subject.
  • Authority: you need to build your brand’s authority on the subject.
  • Trustworthiness: your site needs to connect with other authorities on the subject.

These criteria measure the quality of a web page. It works because all websites need to have it if they want to get ranked in a search engine. The higher they measure in these three criteria, the higher the rank. E.A.T measures how a page fulfills the purpose of helping users. As Google says in their terms:

“Websites and pages should be created to help users”

16.A/B Testing for SEO

A/B testing is used across industries, not only in marketing. But it is safe to say that currently, much of modern marketing is about testing and analytics. Long gone are the days of measuring a campaign’s success by trial and error.

By applying A/B testing to SEO, you actually test the content beforehand. Then, you can identify which version of the site is generating more results.

What can you use A/B testing for? 

You can use A/B testing to experiment with:

  • Meta titles and descriptions
  • URL structures
  • Headlines
  • Calls to action
  • Sales pages
  • Product descriptions

17.Interactive Content

Interactive content is one of the trends that grew faster last year. With our lives moving online, consumers wanted to replace as much as possible personal interaction with the brands. Examples of interactive content include:

  • Quizzes and polls
  • Augmented reality solutions
  • VR ads

The key is engaging the user and offer an immersive experience. Online retailers, for example, let you know what is your exact size with online calculators. Beauty brands use AR to let you try hair color with a virtual assistant to check how a specific hair color will look on you. The possibilities are endless to make the experience more memorable for the user.

18.The Rise of the Featured Snippet

What is “position zero”? The term refers to the topmost position in SERP results. This position is usually occupied by the featured snippet. 

What is a featured snippet?

This is the useful summary of information Google presents first on the page to answer your query. Why is it important? Well, this coveted space answers a user query without the need to click a link. If you get to rank in this space, you found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Moreover, featured snippets are used to answer voice searches. Since a third of Internet searches are done using voice search, you can get your content to answer the question.

19.SEO Is Not Dead – It Uses Structured Data

The term structured data refers to any data organized so search engines can crawl and categorize it. Structured data can give your site’s SEO a boost, since your content will be more useful and easily to categorize. Structured data can get you in the coveted position zero, as a featured snippet or a Knowledge Graph Box.

Structured data generates “rich snippet results”, the snippets with images, pricing and statistics:

Rich snippets are great for driving traffic and clicks, especially with mobile users.

20.Cumulative Layout Shift

This metric measures how visually stable your page is. To put it simple, the CLS score helps you understand how likely your page is giving an unpleasant visual experience to users.

According to Google, a good score for mobile and desktop pages is less than 0.1. A score greater than 0.25 is considered not good.

What can cause CLS?

  • Many different fonts in the page
  • Ads that shift the content

Why is it important? Unsurprisingly, a high CLS causes conversion rates to drop and bounce rates to rise. After all, few users will stay and purchase on a site that gives a rugged experience. That’s why we are likely to see more sites analyzing their CLS in 2021.

21.Pillar Content

Unlike what you may think, in 2021, the usual under 1000 posts won’t get you anywhere. According to experts like Neil Patel, posts that are around 3000 words long attract the most traffic and engage more readers. The length offers readers the opportunity to explore subjects in-depth. A content creator that produces long-form content regularly can establish itself as an authority on a subject.

A study found that long-form content helps more with SEO, as gets three times more backlinks than short articles. Want more proof? When you search a query on Google, chances are that the top 10 results are longer articles. Some benefits of pillar content include:

  • Longer time-on-site
  • Reduced bounce rate
  • More backlinks and social media shares
  • Higher Google ranking

22.Image and video SEO for visual searches

This was a game-changer. Instead of trying to describe what you want to search, you can upload an image and get more specific results.

You just upload the image of what you want to look and Google offers similar images:

Visual search is so convenient and useful that many companies jumped into the trend. One example is Pinterest Lens, a visual search tool that lets you take a picture of an item to search for similar products, view pin boards about it or find out where to buy it online.

The success of this tool shows how much visual search is engaging users. Since the beta version, Lens recognizes 2.5 billion home and fashion items and it drove Pinterest searches to skyrocket.

But not only Pinterest is taking advantage of this, Google and Bing also launched similar visual search engines.

23.Semantic Keyword Research

All content writers have heard it: Write for people, not for Google. A blurb of 4000 words won’t get the results you want if it is not matched to user intent. When Google analyzes your content to check if it matches a specific query, it doesn’t take only into account lone keywords.

The engine makes a semantic analysis to discover what exactly wanted the user to achieve with this question. When you write with the user intent in mind, these semantic keywords give Google a better idea of what your content is about and how it can help users.

24.More Investment in Analytics

As we explained before, today’s marketing is all about metrics. Therefore, more companies are investing in better analytic tools that go beyond the basics of Google Analytics. Better analytics result in better business intelligence and support decision-making.

25.Increased Security

As more people conduct activities online, the need for more security to protect the websites is greater. A secure website makes a user feel safe to hang around.

Data breaches happen to everyone, small and large websites and platforms. Therefore, most consumers think that how you manage their sensitive data can be a deal breaker when consuming your content, products or services. In 2021, increasing web security is not an option.

26.Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

You have responsive sites that work on mobile as well as on desktop and you have mobile apps. Now, this new trend, Progressive Web Apps, is basically websites that work like mobile apps. For web developers, this can be a one-in-all solution to have a website and an app all in one.

As the number of mobile users increase, more companies will leverage this type of web app.

other engines have appeared with the intention to provide users with more privacy. One such example is Privado.com. This engine focused on private searching, gives the users the possibility of searching without being tracked. The engine doesn’t store personal information, nor uses cookies or any means of tracking. The goal is to provide the user with an absolutely private search experience.

28.Artificial Intelligence

Back in 2017, Gartner predicted that AI would be in almost every software product by 2020. And they were right. The artificial intelligence market is expected to reach $190 billion by 2025.

AI can collect and analyze data from social media and customer interactions to evaluate customer’s behavior. AI searches patterns, allowing you to understand your audience preference.

29.Chatbots and Conversational Technology

Last year, conversational technology exploded as a contactless way for consumers to connect with companies. According to Gartner peer insights, the conversational platforms that are driving trends include:

  • strong Natural Language Processing capabilities,
  • supports voice and text input
  • Use personalization for natural conversation
  • Allow media and document sharing
  • Provide dialogue management
  • Multiple chatbot orchestration
  • Data maintenance

Why chatbots?

  • 24 hrs service
  • Provide an instant response to customer queries
  • Allows to triage and solve simple issues.

For example, Olive, the assistant of Woolworths, Australia’s supermarket chain, lets you order and upgrade your mobile SIM card.

Brands, like Sephora, are leveraging on chatbots to provide help and product recommendations to potential customers.

30. Big Data and Deep Learning

Big Data and deep learning will continue to grow in 2021, according to a report. More importantly, more companies will use big data analysis to improve their business efficiency and drive innovation.

One downside is that while more companies are using big data, the requirements of protecting the management of consumer data increase. More regulations like the CCPA and GDPR entering effect.

31.Augmented Reality (AR) & Immersive Technologies

Companies like Facebook are diving deep into the use of augmented reality to enhance the customer experience. Facebook Oculus gives users the opportunity to play without pushing buttons, transforming the gaming experience into an immersive virtual reality one.

Marketers can take advantage of this technology to provide immersive experiences for their customers. Some brands, like IKEA, Tom’s shoes, Patron Spirits, and even Marriott International, are already giving customers a VR experience.

Other ways you can use VR to provide meaningful experiences to your audience:

  • Augmented Reality ads – for gaming and consumer products
  • 360-degree videos – for real estate, tourism.

32.`Predictive & Augmented Analytics

Predictive analytics consists of the combination of data mining, predictive modeling, and machine learning to identify patterns and come with forecasts. More digital marketing companies are using predictive analytic tools to predict consumer behavior and identify trends. 

Gartner defined augmented analytics in 2017, claiming it to be the future of data analytics.

Augmented analytics is the use of enabling technologies such as machine learning and AI to assist with data preparation, insight generation, and insight explanation to augment how people explore and analyze data in analytics and BI platforms. It also augments the expert and citizen data scientists by automating many aspects of data science, machine learning, and AI model development, management, and deployment.”(Gartner)

Putting it simply, augmented analytics use machine learning to deepen the understanding of the data and take even larger datasets.

33.Live streams (TikTok anyone?)

Streaming is every day more popular, and the explosive growth of TikTok confirms it. With Instagram adding Reels with in-video shopping capabilities and Tik Tok on the way to do the same, it won’t be longer before live streaming in social media turns into a real-time marketplace.

34.Companies pivots may stay that way

2020 changed the digital landscape for good. It is unlikely we will come back to pre-2020 conditions. Consumers are enjoying the convenience of online commerce. Hence, companies that pivoted to adapt last year, may find now their customers expect them to continue on the same line.

35.Purpose-driven campaigns

Last year marketing campaigns were tinted with a purpose: helping customers overcoming the pandemic as much as possible. Purpose-given campaigns will be still relevant in 2021. These campaigns promote social activist themes, for example, the campaigns about Black Lives Matter. The issues resonate with customers and increase engagement with relevant audiences. These campaigns are effective because customers identify with the same social issues the brand cares about.

36.Voice search

Smart speakers and voice assistants are no longer a trendy item to purchase. Statistics predict over half of American homes will own a smart speaker (Google Home, Alexa, and others) by 2022. People use the voice assistants not only for routine activities but for voice shopping. The voice shopping market is expected to reach $40 billion in 2022.

37.Virtual events are here to stay

In 2020, companies and individuals shifted to virtual events out of necessity due to the pandemic. Chances are that in 2021 many events will continue to be virtual because of the benefits it brings to companies. Virtual events can reach a wider audience and allow for higher attendance. So in 2021 we will continue seeing more virtual events.

38.Monetization marketing

If 2020 saw a growth in online activity, it also gave a lot of opportunities for companies to make money from their digital properties. Display ads, search monetization, and in-app advertising are some of the monetization trends we may see growing in 2021.

39.Growth of Geo-Fencing

Geofencing is a marketing approach where you put a geographic limit around a point of interest. If a user’s mobile enters the area, the geofence triggers an alert and delivers relevant ads. Here are some of the benefits of geofencing:

  • Mobile ads with geofencing have double the click-through-rate
  • It is compatible with most of the smartphones.
  • 53% of consumers visited a retailer after receiving a message that is location-based

40.Conversational Marketing

Conversational marketing is the use of conversational technology for marketing purposes. For example using chatbots as “sales assistants”, or SMS marketing to communicate with customers. Several big names are using this technology: Domino’s, Sephora, 1-800-Flowers.

41.Video Marketing

This is one of the most important marketing trends today. Here are some statistics that show why you should incorporate video marketing to your strategy:

  • 86% of companies are using video as part of their marketing strategy.
  • 93% of these marketers say that video is an important part of their marketing strategy, from a 91% in 2019.
  • The videos with most success are explainer videos (73%), followed by social media videos (67%)..

42.Personalized Email

Email personalization uses personal information from subscribers to produce tailored emails. It allows you to send highly targeted email marketing campaigns. Why should you use email marketing personalization?

  • 82% of marketers report an increase in email open rates because of email personalization.
  • Personalized promotional mailings have 29% more open rates than non-personalized.

43.Browser Push Notifications

With the boom in online commerce, push notifications rose, with most online stores using some type of push notification. They tend to be more effective than a newsletter. You can send abandoned cart reminders, product suggestions, and more. Because of that, we’ll probably see more companies using personalized push notifications in 2021.

44.Omnichannel Marketing

You probably heard about omnichannel marketing in 2020. Is an approach of marketing that uses multiple platforms (for instance, social media, blog, email marketing) to connect with leads. It gives the benefits of providing a cohesive brand message across channels. Omnichannel marketing tends to show higher engagement rates and conversions than using a single channel. Simply put, you broaden the number of touchpoints.

4 5.Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is not new. Back in 1999, Harvard scientists conducted the first MRI research as a marketing tool, starting the neuromarketing field. This is a research field that analyzes people’s brain activity through head scans to find out the type of content they like. The first studies were conducted for retail marketing. One of the results of neuromarketing is the eye-maps, which measure the interest of a viewer on a website according to where they look on the page. Companies use this information to optimize their content and strategies.

46.Blockchain Technology

A blockchain is a connected series of data records. The records are stored in immutable blocks, secured and connected to each other via cryptography in a neutral computer.

According to Investopedia, “the blockchain is copied and spread across a network of computers, not storing any of its information in a central location”. 

Although usually associated with finances and supply chain transactions, it is starting to get implemented in digital marketing. Since Blockchain eliminates the intermediary, we may see digital marketing companies using blockchain to track media buys, verify online identities or protect personal data.

47.5G Technology

This trend, the fifth generation of mobile technology, will bring many changes to digital communications. Telecom companies aim to achieve a fully mobile connected society, bringing high-speed data transmission to far-reaching areas. Yet, it is more than that, it will give way to more integrated technology.

48.Privacy Marketing

Privacy protection is not only a way of protecting data. These days, with data breaches happening every now and then, consumers need to know they can trust companies will keep their data safe. Thus, marketing teams need to focus on gaining the trust of their audience. One of the ways is protecting the privacy of users by not saving personal data in records. This ensures that in case of a breach, an attacker won’t have sensitive data to steal.

49.Gamification

Keeping your customers engaged can be a challenge. Companies like Starbucks use gamification techniques to connect with their customers. The app uses purchase history and location data to personalize the customer experience and encourage the use of their loyalty program. The app increased their revenue to over $2 billion.

Digital Marketing Landscape

Here are the key statistics you need to know to understand where the digital marketing landscape is heading for 2021.

  • Spending on digital marketing decreased in 2020.

2.Spending Is Recovering

Digital spending is recovering, and it is expected to reach $389 billion in 2024, from $332 billion in 2020. The increase is driven by the market bouncing back and trying to tap into the customer’s increasing online activity. The trend doesn’t stop there, with an expected growth of  $525.17 billion by 2024.

  • LinkedIn ads spending grew 40% during 2019-2020

LinkedIn ad spending reached $1 billion in the US, establishing the network as a solid advertising channel for B2B marketers (eMarketer).

  • Personalization is going strong

Most marketers would focus their personalization efforts on improving the customer experience through service and product recommendations.

From the consumer’s side: 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that offers personalized experiences. (Instapage)

Digital Marketing Basics

If you want to succeed in digital marketing, there are a few basic pillars that you need to master: digital presence, branding, and relationships. These three core concepts can help simplify what may be a multifaceted field.

Digital Presence

This is the key to any digital marketing you may start. These days, a digital presence is equal to having a presence at all. It is not enough to have a website or a social media page. You need a clear strategy that drives how and where you should build your presence.

Unsurprisingly, it all starts with your audience. Here are a couple of questions that can give you direction when building your digital presence:

Where does your audience spend their online time? 

The golden rule of marketing is to know your customer. So, if you want to reach your audience, first find out where they spend their online time. What type of content do they consume? What social networks do they spend time on? What search terms do they use? This will help you define which channels are the most effective to build your presence.

What’s the purpose you want to achieve with your marketing strategy?

Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your online presence. Do you want to raise brand awareness? Here, your strategy shouldn’t focus on the hard-sell. If your goal is to increase conversions, then landing pages can help you close the deal with clear direction and calls-to-action.

Branding

Your brand encapsulates what your company stands for. It includes everything, from your company name, color scheme, mission statement, slogan, logo, and more.

To stand out on a sea of brands, your brand needs to showcase what it makes it unique. Keeping strong brand awareness is one of the most critical ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. Yet, it is not enough to stand out in the marketplace, but you need to stand out online too. So, refine your online branding strategy in a way that search engines recognize your brand instead of your site. In fact, the Google algorithm considers a strong brand one characteristic of a “good quality site”

Relationships

Your digital marketing strategy should not be limited to trying to appear on Google’s first page. Social networks, blogs, forums, social apps, and other similar platforms can help you build a relationship with customers online.

When we talk about marketing, relationships will always be the foundation of good business. Building an online presence will get you noticed, but creating a relationship with your audience will get you conversions.

To form effective relationships with customers, you need to be personable and personal. Using social media and good content, you can connect with your audience and let them know your brand message.

 5 Challenges for Digital Marketing in 2021

  • Less spending in marketing 

Marketing budgets took a hit in spending in 2020. While marketing companies are recovering, the spending is not yet at the levels we expected before 2020. Although the e-commerce ratio increased dramatically, companies have yet to catch up with the new needs in digital marketing.

  • Driving engagement across multiple channels

In 2021 it will become even more relevant to connect with customers where they are. Creating engagement will become more challenging, via adopting mobile messaging channels, and leverage personalized and dynamic content to improve the customer experience and customer loyalty.

  • Mobile-first strategy

More people are browsing and shopping from their smartphones than ever. A mobile-first approach allows your customers to consume your products/services on the go, anytime and from anywhere. So, when creating your marketing strategy for 2021, think about a mobile-first approach.

  • Establishing Omnichannel Marketing

Customers are active on multiple devices and platforms. Marketers need to combine online and social media strategies. This aims to make it easier for your audience to reach you wherever they are. Omnichannel marketing allows you to focus on the platform where your audience is most active. The key is to provide your customers a smooth customer experience when they change from a channel to another.

  • Complying with Privacy and Data Sharing Regulations

Marketers will need to adapt quickly to evolving privacy and data sharing regulations. Since many of the regulations target across frontiers, marketers need to take that into account. The phasing of third-party cookies compounds the challenge for marketers to understand a customer’s purchase intent.

The future of Digital Marketing – top 3 predictions

After analyzing the major trends for 2021, we explored the top predictions for 2021:

  • From digital marketing activities to experiential events

When the pandemic hit, customers pivoted to use new technologies and performing activities online. But in 2021, many people are already exhausted from living their lives online most of the time. Keeping customers engaged will depend on how rich is the customer experience they provide. Marketers should evaluate their digital experience and refine engage customers without producing “digital fatigue”.

  • Customer experience integrates with other functions

In the report, Gartner predicts that by 2023, a quarter of organizations will see marketing integrated with sales and CX into a single function. The goal is for customer-focused functions to work together with synergy.

  • Content curation and moderation become more important

By 2024, Gartner predicts a third of organizations will consider moderating user-generated content a priority. Using software and tools that allow companies to monitor, moderate and manage user-generated content to prevent impact on their brands.

The bottom line

Hopefully, these trends we have aggregated and shared at CodeFuel will help guide your marketing strategy for 2021. Partnering with an expert in monetization can maximize your marketing efforts, and increasing the ROI of your strategy. Start monetizing today with CodeFuel.

Source: The Top 50 Digital Marketing Trends for 2021 – CodeFuel

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References

Kim, Angella J.; Johnson, Kim K.P. (2016). “Power of consumers using social media: Examining the influences of brand-related user-generated content on Facebook”. Computers in Human Behavior. 58: 98–108. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.047.

Amazon Facing Calls From Civil Rights Groups To Permanently Ban Police Use Of Facial Recognition As Deadline Approaches

Amazon

Civil rights groups are calling on Amazon to permanently ban use of its facial recognition software, as an approaching deadline looms on the future of the technology.

In an open letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and incoming CEO Andy Jassy, 44 civil rights groups pointed to ongoing instances of police violence against the Black community as evidence that Amazon should stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement. “As a company, Amazon has a choice to make: Will you continue to profit from selling surveillance technology to law enforcement? Or will you stand for Black lives and divest from giving law enforcement these harmful tools?” said the letter, which was published Monday.

After national protests that followed the death of George Floyd last year, Amazon followed Microsoft and IBM in stopping the sale of its facial recognition technology to law enforcement. However, unlike IBM, which abandoned its program, and Microsoft, which indefinitely suspended police use of its facial recognition until a federal law is introduced, Amazon opted to impose a one-year ban to  “give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules” to govern the use of the technology.

While some cities have imposed bans on facial recognition technology being used by police departments, the technology isn’t regulated by federal authorities. Amazon has yet to say whether it will continue its moratorium after it expires next month, or lift the ban and sell the technology to law enforcement.

“They did share that they are committed to standing with the Black community and standing for racial justice,” says Jennifer Lee, technology and liberty project manager at the ACLU in Washington State, where Amazon is headquartered. “If they’re going to do that they need to permanently divest from selling facial recognition technology and cease involvement with police and law enforcement.”

Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment. However, the Seattle-based giant is pushing against shareholder calls for more transparency around the use of its facial recognition software, called Rekognition.

Ahead of the company’s annual general meeting on May 26, one shareholder proposal is calling for an independent third-party audit on the risks linked with government use of Rekognition, citing calls of more than 70 civil rights organizations to stop selling the technology, who said it contributed to “government surveillance infrastructure.” Another shareholder proposal is calling for an independent report on how Amazon conducts due diligence on its customers, including law enforcement agencies that use Rekognition.

In a proxy memo filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Amazon said that it has “conscientiously acted to review and address the concerns expressed in the proposal and transparently provided information regarding our actions to the public” and that it is actively engaged in policy debates around facial recognition regulation.

Amazon introduced Rekognition, a cloud-based technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify people and objects in photos and video, in 2016. But the technology became a lightning rod for civil rights groups and anti-surveillance advocates after researchers at MIT found it identified gender of certain ethnicities less accurately than similar products made by Microsoft and IBM.

(Amazon said the MIT findings were “misleading and drawing on false conclusions” and asserted that its own tests had found no such inaccuracies.) After it was revealed the company pitched the software to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, hundreds of Amazon employees sent an internal letter to CEO Jeff Bezos stating that they “refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.”

The heightened awareness around racial equality and concerns about police surveillance are making such shareholder proposals harder to ignore for institutional investors. Glass Lewis, a proxy advisory firm, issued a report last week recommending investors vote in favor of both shareholder proposals about Rekognition, given the previous controversies linked to the software, and the fact that no federal regulations appear set to pass before the moratorium passes.

“We have to draft these proposals in a way to get them on the ballot, so we go with a softer approach,” says Brianna Harrington, shareholder Advocacy Coordinator at Harrington Investments, which is bringing the proposal calling for an audit of risks linked to government use of Rekognition. “In a perfect world they’d stop selling the technology.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.

I’m a staff reporter at Forbes covering tech companies. I previously reported for The Real Deal, where I covered WeWork, real estate tech startups and commercial real estate. As a freelancer, I’ve also written for The New York Times, Associated Press and other outlets. I’m a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where I was a Toni Stabile Investigative Fellow. Before arriving in the U.S., I was a police reporter in Australia. Follow me on Twitter at @davidjeans2 and email me at djeans@forbes.com

Source: Amazon Facing Calls From Civil Rights Groups To Permanently Ban Police Use Of Facial Recognition As Deadline Approaches

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In July 2018, the A.C.L.U. ran a study that it said matched the headshots of 28 members of Congress to mugshots of known criminals. A secondary test performed by the M.I.T. Media Lab in January 2019 and reported by The New York Times found that Recognition had a hard time identifying female faces and the faces of dark-skinned individuals. Representatives from Amazon, however, pushed back against those claims, saying both the A.C.L.U. and M.I.T. Media Lab studies didn’t use the Recognition technology properly.

The company also issued a lengthy response statement on how it uses Recognition. Lawmakers and other tech companies, though, are calling for greater oversight over the technology. The response to facial recognition Ahead of Amazon’s shareholders meeting, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement groups, while Massachusetts currently has a bill seeking to put a moratorium on the tech in committee.

Microsoft (MSFT) President Brad Smith has said that his company rejected the sale of its own facial recognition technology to a police department out of fear that it would disproportionately impact women and minorities. Smith said that the technology had primarily been trained with white males, and, as a result, wouldn’t have been accurate. The company also denied the sale of its tech to a foreign country. Google (GOOG, GOOGL), meanwhile, has chosen not to sell its technology at all. For more on Yahoo Finance’s and Dan Howley’s coverage of this story please click: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/amazon…

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Don’t Let a Bad Tech Stack Hurt Employee Retention

A bad tech stack can make it difficult for companies to succeed against competitors in everything from customer engagement and sales to production and innovation. But, outdated, annoying or confusing technology can also harm your organization’s ability to attract and retain top talent, which will be increasingly difficult and important as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and the labor market tightens.

To be sure, it will be several years before the U.S. and global economies return to pre-COVID levels. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the U.S. won’t hit pre-pandemic employment levels until 2024. But given that major enterprise IT shifts can also take years, now is the time to evaluate your tech stack and ensure your organization has the right tools for a digital workforce that’s geographically dispersed, discerning when it comes to technology and willing to walk if an employer’s technology hinders their success.

Don’t believe me?

According the State of Software Happiness Report 2019 from G2:

  • 52% of workers said they have “become dissatisfied at work due to missing or mismatched software”
  • 24% of respondents said they have “considered looking for a new job” because they “didn’t have the right software”
  • 13% of employees said they have actually left a job because of the software their employer required them to use
  • 95% of workers said they would be “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with better software tools
  • 86% of respondents said they would be “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with more software tools

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to close offices and most office workers to become telecommuters, technology became and even more important factor in employee job satisfaction. According to Adobe Workfront’s State of Work 2021 report, released last week:

  • 32% of workers said they had left a job because the employer’s technology “was a barrier to their ability to do good work.” This was up from 22% pre-COVID.
  • 49% of U.S. workers said they are “likely to leave their current job if they’re unhappy or frustrated with the technology they use at work.”
  • 12 point increase in the number of people “who report turning down a job because the tech was out of date or hard to use” between February and March 2020 to November and December 2020
  •  7 point increase in the number of people “who reported applying for a job because they heard a company’s employees use great technology” between February and March 2020 to November and December 2020

Check out Dallon Adams’ article on ZDNet sibling site TechRepublic for more insights from the Workfront report on how Gen Xers are thriving in the world of remote work with millennials are struggling.

5 ways companies can improve employee IT satisfaction

So, as companies race to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to meet the needs of their customers in the new normal, they should also re-examine the hardware and software their employees are using. Here are few tips for building a tech stack that can help promote employee success, boost productivity, and build good will for IT.

  1. Make sure existing tools meet user needs and work as expected: Before you roll out new hardware and software, start with what you already have. Conduct a user satisfaction survey to find out if your current tech stack is meeting employee needs. A TechRepublic 2014 enterprise application software report found that only 26% of respondents were “very satisfied” with their software. IT can also use service desk call logs or reporting tools within their IT service management solution to detect applications and hardware that create regular pain points for end users.
  2. Give employees access to “new” technology: According to the Workfront report, employees are more interested in having access to “new” technology now compared to before the pandemic. The report showed a 5 point increase in the number of respondents who said that “old technology is making it harder to take on more work.” I know budget is always a consideration with any IT purchase, but if your staff is still using 7-year-old computers, it’s time to rethink your IT budget.
  3. Offer employees choice as a rule not an exception: Another data point from the Workfront report was that employees “expect their employers to trust and empower them to know how to achieve the right outcomes.” When I first started my IT career, there were Windows shops and then there was everything else. But today, and honestly for the last decade, modern device management tools and cloud services make it easier than ever to manage multiple operating systems, applications, and hardware platforms. With few exceptions, IT shouldn’t lock employees into (or more importantly out of) tools they believe will help them achieve company goals. I’m not suggesting you should run 5 different finance or CRM systems, but, there’s no reason not to support multiple productivity suites. If accounting needs Excel, sales wants PowerPoint, and everyone else wants Google Docs…fine. Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace can coexist. And if you’re thinking, “But Bill, we’ll get a price break if we use a single software platform.” Those initial low-price deals often expire in a few years (like an introductory interest rate on a credit card) and then you’re back to paying market rates. The same goes for hardware. If Legal wants Windows laptops, the Sales staff wants MacBooks, and your devs want Windows workstations make it happen. Sure, you can have a “standard” machine and drive image that you give to 80% of staff, but don’t just be the department of “no” when someone makes a legitimate business request.
  4. Support flexible/remote working environments: Even as COVID vaccines reach more workers, employees return to offices and public venues reopen, the nature of work has been forever changed by the pandemic. More people will work remotely than before COVID, and IT will need to switch from reactively supporting telecommuters to proactively empowering them. This means giving people have access to the hardware (monitors, keyboards, mice, trackpads, cables, external storage devices, etc.), software, and cloud services they need to work effectively from their home.
  5. Balance security with ease of use: If you make a security measure too onerous for people, they’ll find a way around it. This fact holds true for physical and cybersecurity. There’s no doubt in today’s world of constant cyberattacks everyone organization and individual needs to use strong security tools and follow best practices, there’s a fine line between doing security and overdoing security. For example, IBM released research in 2020 that shows simply deploying lots and lots os security tools doesn’t lead to stronger security. “The enterprise is slowly improving its response to cybersecurity incidents, but in the same breath, it is still investing in too many tools that can actually reduce the effectiveness of defense,” wrote Charlie Osborne for ZDNet’s Zero Day in her article on the report. For practical tips on balancing security and user accessibility, check out Scott Matteson’s list of cybersecurity do’s and don’ts.

When done together, these steps can go a long way to build a tech stack that fosters employee satisfaction with IT and the company as a whole, which as research shows is important for hiring and keeping top talent.

By:

Source: Don’t let a bad tech stack hurt employee retention, use these tips to improve worker IT satisfaction | ZDNet

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More Contents:

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AI ethics: How Salesforce is helping developers build products with ethical use and privacy in mind

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Salesforce: Combining AI and automation can give us superpowers and make us more productive

If Bing is the answer then Australia is asking the wrong question

COVID-19 vaccine distribution requires IT, data management, and a lot of iteration

Google: Here come new docking stations for your Chromebook

 
 
 
 
 
 
  •  

European Banking Authority (EBA) Microsoft Exchange Servers Hacked

Paris Looks to Charm London's Brexiles

The European Banking Authority (EBA) has confirmed it has fallen victim to the ongoing Microsoft Exchange attacks.

With a total of four highly valuable zero-day exploits, previously unreported vulnerabilities that give cybercriminals a head start in any attack campaign, the attacks against on-premises Microsoft Exchange servers were always going to be a big deal. Those initial attacks, which prompted Microsoft to publish an emergency out-of-band security update, were attributed to a nation state-sponsored group identified as HAFNIUM. The nation in question is China. However, Microsoft has now confirmed that it “continues to see increased use of these vulnerabilities in attacks targeting unpatched systems by multiple malicious actors beyond HAFNIUM.”

As I reported on March 6, credible sources were suggesting that the attacks against vulnerable Microsoft Exchange servers were thought to have compromised ‘hundreds of thousands’ of servers, more than 30,000 in the U.S. alone.

One of those attacked outside of the U.S. was the European Union’s banking regulator, the European Banking Authority. On March 7, the EBA issued a statement confirming that it had “been the subject of a cyber-attack against its Microsoft Exchange Servers.”

While stating that a full investigation was underway, the EBA went on to add: “As the vulnerability is related to the EBA’s email servers, access to personal data through emails held on that servers may have been obtained by the attacker. The EBA is working to identify what, if any, data was accessed. Where appropriate, the EBA will provide information on measures that data subjects might take to mitigate possible adverse effects. As a precautionary measure, the EBA has decided to take its email systems offline. Further information will be made available in due course.”

Further information was, indeed, made available by way of an update on March 8. “The EBA investigation is still ongoing and we are deploying additional security measures and close monitoring in view of restoring the full functionality of the email servers,” it read. “At this stage, the EBA email infrastructure has been secured and our analyses suggest that no data extraction has been performed and we have no indication to think that the breach has gone beyond our email servers.”

“The exploitation of the 0days in question required some specific conditions and thus raises questions what exactly happened at the EBA,” Ilia Kolochenko, chief architect at ImmuniWeb, said. “Another key question is when exactly the EBA was compromised?” Kolochenko points out that if the intrusion happened after the disclosure but prior to the emergency patch, the vulnerable systems should have been immediately disconnected to prevent exploitation in the wild. “The EBA is likely not the last victim of this hacking campaign,” he warns, “and more public authorities may disclosure incidents stemming from exploitation of the same vulnerabilities.”

I have approached the EBA for further comment.

Meanwhile, Mark Bower, a senior vice-president at comforte AG, said that “the capacity for attackers to extract sensitive data from emails, spreadsheets in mailboxes, insecure credentials in messages, as well as attached servers presents an advanced and persistent threat with multiple dimensions.”

Although it should be reiterated that, at this point in the investigation, the EBA is saying that “no data extraction has been performed and we have no indication to think that the breach has gone beyond our email servers.” Bower, like Kolochenko, warns that more incidents will be reported. “Affected entities and their supply chain partners will see a persistent secondary impact as a result over a long period of time,” he said.

I’ll leave the final word to John Hultquist, vice-president of analysis with Mandiant Threat Intelligence. “Though broad exploitation of the Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities has already begun, many targeted organizations may have more to lose as this capability spreads to the hands of criminal actors who are willing to extort organizations and disrupt systems.

The cyber espionage operators who have had access to this exploit for some time, aren’t likely to be interested in the vast majority of the small and medium organizations. Though they appear to be exploiting organizations in masses, this effort could allow them to select targets of the greatest intelligence value.”

Update March 9

The EBA has now published a third update, which I reprint here in full:

“The European Banking Authority (EBA) has established that the scope of the event caused by the recently widely notified vulnerabilities was limited and that the confidentiality of the EBA systems and data has not been compromised.

Thanks to the precautionary measures taken, the EBA has managed to remove the existing threat and its email communication services have, therefore, been restored.

Since it became aware of the vulnerabilities, the EBA has taken a proactive approach and carried out a thorough assessment to appropriately and effectively detect any network intrusion that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of its systems and data.

The analysis was carried out by the EBA in close collaboration with the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-EU) for the EU institutions, agencies and bodies, the EBA’s ICT providers, a team of forensic experts and other relevant entities.”

I’m a three-decade veteran technology journalist and have been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at davey@happygeek.com if you have a story to reveal or research to share.

Source: European Banking Authority (EBA) Microsoft Exchange Servers Hacked

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Big Ethical Questions about the Future of AI

Artificial intelligence is already changing the way we live our daily lives and interact with machines. From optimizing supply chains to chatting with Amazon Alexa, artificial intelligence already has a profound impact on our society and economy. Over the coming years, that impact will only grow as the capabilities and applications of AI continue to expand.

AI promises to make our lives easier and more connected than ever. However, there are serious ethical considerations to any technology that affects society so profoundly. This is especially true in the case of designing and creating intelligence that humans will interact with and trust. Experts have warned about the serious ethical dangers involved in developing AI too quickly or without proper forethought. These are the top issues keeping AI researchers up at night.

Bias: Is AI fair

Bias is a well-established facet of AI (or of human intelligence, for that matter). AI takes on the biases of the dataset it learns from. This means that if researchers train an AI on data that are skewed for race, gender, education, wealth, or any other point of bias, the AI will learn that bias. For instance, an artificial intelligence application used to predict future criminals in the United States showed higher risk scores and recommended harsher actions for black people than white based on the racial bias in America’s criminal incarceration data.

Of course, the challenge with AI training is there’s no such thing as a perfect dataset. There will always be under- and overrepresentation in any sample. These are not problems that can be addressed quickly. Mitigating bias in training data and providing equal treatment from AI is a major key to developing ethical artificial intelligence.

Liability: Who is responsible for AI?

Last month when an Uber autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian, it raised many ethical questions. Chief among them is “Who is responsible, and who’s to blame when something goes wrong?” One could blame the developer who wrote the code, the sensor hardware manufacturer, Uber itself, the Uber supervisor sitting in the car, or the pedestrian for crossing outside a crosswalk.

Developing AI will have errors, long-term changes, and unforeseen consequences of the technology. Since AI is so complex, determining liability isn’t trivial. This is especially true when AI has serious implications on human lives, like piloting vehicles, determining prison sentences, or automating university admissions. These decisions will affect real people for the rest of their lives. On one hand, AI may be able to handle these situations more safely and efficiently than humans. On the other hand, it’s unrealistic to expect AI will never make a mistake. Should we write that off as the cost of switching to AI systems, or should we prosecute AI developers when their models inevitably make mistakes?

Security: How do we protect access to AI from bad actors?

As AI becomes more powerful across our society, it will also become more dangerous as a weapon. It’s possible to imagine a scary scenario where a bad actor takes over the AI model that controls a city’s water supply, power grid, or traffic signals. More scary is the militarization of AI, where robots learn to fight and drones can fly themselves into combat.

Cybersecurity will become more important than ever. Controlling access to the power of AI is a huge challenge and a difficult tightrope to walk. We shouldn’t centralise the benefits of AI, but we also don’t want the dangers of AI to spread. This becomes especially challenging in the coming years as AI becomes more intelligent and faster than our brains by an order of magnitude.

Human Interaction: Will we stop talking to one another?

An interesting ethical dilemma of AI is the decline in human interaction. Now more than any time in history it’s possible to entertain yourself at home, alone. Online shopping means you don’t ever have to go out if you don’t want to.

While most of us still have a social life, the amount of in-person interactions we have has diminished. Now, we’re content to maintain relationships via text messages and Facebook posts. In the future, AI could be a better friend to you than your closest friends. It could learn what you like and tell you what you want to hear. Many have worried that this digitization (and perhaps eventual replacement) of human relationships is sacrificing an essential, social part of our humanity.

Employment: Is AI getting rid of jobs?

This is a concern that repeatedly appears in the press. It’s true that AI will be able to do some of today’s jobs better than humans. Inevitably, those people will lose their jobs, and it will take a major societal initiative to retrain those employees for new work. However, it’s likely that AI will replace jobs that were boring, menial, or unfulfilling. Individuals will be able to spend their time on more creative pursuits, and higher-level tasks. While jobs will go away, AI will also create new markets, industries, and jobs for future generations.

Wealth Inequality: Who benefits from AI?

The companies who are spending the most on AI development today are companies that have a lot of money to spend. A major ethical concern is AI will only serve to centralizecoro wealth further. If an employer can lay off workers and replace them with unpaid AI, then it can generate the same amount of profit without the need to pay for employees.

Machines will create wealth more than ever in the economy of the future. Governments and corporations should start thinking now about how we redistribute that wealth so that everyone can participate in the AI-powered economy.

Power & Control: Who decides how to deploy AI?

Along with the centralization of wealth comes the centralization of power and control. The companies that control AI will have tremendous influence over how our society thinks and acts each day. Regulating the development and operation of AI applications will be critical for governments and consumers. Just as we’ve recently seen Facebook get in trouble for the influence its technology and advertising has had on society, we might also see AI regulations that codify equal opportunity for everyone and consumer data privacy.

Robot Rights: Can AI suffer?

A more conceptual ethical concern is whether AI can or should have rights. As a piece of computer code, it’s tempting to think that artificially intelligent systems can’t have feelings. You can get angry with Siri or Alexa without hurting their feelings. However, it’s clear that consciousness and intelligence operate on a system of reward and aversion. As artificially intelligent machines become smarter than us, we’ll want them to be our partners, not our enemies. Codifying humane treatment of machines could play a big role in that.

Ethics in AI in the coming years

Artificial intelligence is one of the most promising technological innovations in human history. It could help us solve a myriad of technical, economic, and societal problems. However, it will also come with serious drawbacks and ethical challenges. It’s important that experts and consumers alike be mindful of these questions, as they’ll determine the success and fairness of AI over the coming years.

By: By Steve Kilpatrick
Co-Founder & Director
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

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