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Accounting Today

Spying on remote workers, and other tech stories you may have missed

By July 8, 2020July 11th, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on Accounting Today)

150,000 reasons to protect yourself against ransomware, and nine other developments in technology from this past month and how they’ll impact your clients and your firm.

1. A creepy new way to spy on your remote employees
Enaible — a new tech startup — is working to help employers assign “productivity numbers” to each worker to try and monitor and ensure productivity while more and more companies are working from home due to COVID-19. The company plans to monitor employees working from home by attaching AI to already-existing data within a company’s system and providing a score and is based around an algorithm they call the “Trigger-Task-Time” algorithm that can calculate what specific motivation results in which tasks, and what time of day they are performed. (Source: ZDNet)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: One of the biggest concerns small businesses have about working from home is monitoring productivity. I’m of the opinion that my people are grown-ups and that they’re responsible for doing their jobs without micromanagement. But other business owners — many more successful than me — have differing views. I predict more, creepy, monitoring apps like this to come on the market as the remote employee workforce expands.
2. Study says the pandemic will boost the adoption of new technologies
A recent report conducted by Startup Nation Central suggests that the coronavirus pandemic will drive companies to start using more technologies to help them transition to working from home more efficiently. The study revealed that a massive $1.8 billion has been invested in fintech’s during 2019 alone. Startup Nation Central — a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit — detailed that 200 investments were made in the AI sector, 119 in money transfer and payment companies, and 74 in companies focusing on compliance anti-fraud, to name a few. (Source: CTech)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic has made it necessary to find new ways for doing things faster, while safely. That’s at least a silver lining amid a very dark environment.
3. A case study in ransomware
A small Kentucky business recently found themselves the victims of a ransomware attack and ended up paying the $150,000 in order to regain control of their PCs and get their information back. The company — which only has eight computers — simultaneously received messages on their screens stating that the hacker group had control of their PCs and they needed to pay in order to get their files back. Working with a third-party contractor to help handle the ransom — after paying the $150,000 demand which was originally $400,000 — they regained control of their computers and received all of their information (Source: Tech Republic)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: So there you have it: 150,000 reasons to make sure you’ve installed security and online backup software, paid for training and verified that everyone’s running the most up to date operating systems.
4. Cash payments have plummeted in the pandemic
Research released in Australia last month revealed that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of cash payments has greatly decreased. A survey conducted by RBA showed ATM withdrawals have plummeted in the past few months, while annual average debit and credit card transactions per person broke 400 for the first time this year. (Source: ZDNet)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: Yeah, yeah … it’s just Australia. But look, those guys know how to live life and what I’m seeing there is going to continue to spread worldwide. It’s likely that the decline is due to an overall spending decrease coupled with individuals staying home and doing more online shopping. But I think it’s something else. Thanks to the virus, people are using less cash than ever. They’re paying with mobile apps and credit cards. And once many realize these benefits they’ll never go back. It’s a significant trend and your business needs to be prepared to accept payment from any source.
5. Microsoft is replacing employees with AI
Microsoft said it has let go several journalists and instead will be implementing artificial intelligence that has the ability to perform their jobs. Nearly 30 journalists were given a month’s notice following Microsoft’s decision to no longer employ people who would research, edit and choose the various news articles for one of their pages. While the individuals who worked on the site run by Microsoft did not write the stories they were curating, they did edit and pick stories from other news outlets and occasionally edit headlines and material when needed. (Source: Novinite)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: No disrespect to my colleagues, but the fact of the matter is that some journalism is pretty basic. Some have jobs that just take information from a press release or a news story and then convert those stories into a column. Wait a second … that sounds like me! Well, at least I add some commentary and insights. But for stories that only require a summary to make into an article, can’t AI do the same? And can’t AI interpret your own technical agreements and turn them into blogs too? The future is here.
6. Chrome will soon be less of a memory hog in Windows 10
Google revealed that an upcoming release of Chrome is going to be using an approach also used in Microsoft Edge in order to reduce how much RAM is taken up. The intention of the new release is to improve the browser’s efficiency. When Microsoft applied the approach, known as “Segment Heap” memory, memory usage was cut down by 27 percent. (Source: Engadget)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: While the success rate of the updates and improvements will depend on the type of system, troubleshooting has shown that a lot of the systems will potentially see the greatest improvements. If you’re a Chrome shop, you’ll find faster speeds and greater productivity. But keep an eye on Microsoft Edge … it’s growing too.
7. Comcast is extending free Xfinity wi-fi hotspot access
Comcast announced that they are going to extend their offer to provide free, public accessibility to their 1.5 million hotspots through the end of the year. The company will also continue to offer 60 days of internet service — free of charge — to customers who are new to their Internet Essentials sector. Internet Essentials, which is aimed to help customers who are considered to be low-income, will also run through the end of 2020. Comcast was among a group of internet companies offering connectivity and features for free to individuals struggling throughout the financial hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. (Source: The Verge)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: Thank you, Comcast, for recognizing this need among many small businesses, freelancers and independent contractors who are already struggling to keep their costs down and navigate this economic downturn.
8. Amazon is going to use AI in warehouses to enforce social distancing
Last month, Amazon rolled out a new AI-based technology to help ensure that employees at their warehouses and offices are following social distancing guidelines in order to help minimize spreading the coronavirus throughout its workforce. According to the announcement, Amazon’s warehouses will now have monitors that will show individuals who are maintaining the suggested distance highlighted in green circles, and individuals who are not following distancing guidelines will be circled in red. Distance Assistant —the name of the new technology — will also utilize footage throughout the buildings to assist in highlighting areas densely populated. (Source: Reuters)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: As a small-business owner I’m a big believer in following big-business practice. We’re all concerned with keeping our workplaces safe, so how are the big companies doing it? In Amazon’s case, it’s a social distancing AI-driven application. Can our software vendors provide something similar? Is it worthwhile creating an app of our own? Sure, there’s a cost. But there’s also a potentially significant liability for not doing so.
9. Yelp is adding new features for reopening businesses
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Yelp has worked to provide resources for businesses through fundraisers and waiving fees as they navigated the shutdown. Now — with easing restrictions — Yelp is rolling out tools to help businesses during the reopening phase of the shutdown. (Source: TechCrunch)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: One of the two new tools will be an expansion of their existing COVID-19 banners that appear at the top of each profile, allowing businesses to share what they are doing to follow social distancing guidelines. The second feature will come as an update to their waitlist function to help prevent long lines for things like curbside pickup or outside dining. If you rely on Yelp for traffic to your business, then you should make sure you’re familiar with these changes.
10. YouTube is trying to become more transparent
YouTube is working to operate in a more transparent manner when it comes to how channels are able to make money while providing stricter guidelines on the kind of content advertisers will be more willing to pay to have ads on. Historically, YouTube has allowed videos that contain malicious content to contain advertisements. However — due to past and recent events — YouTube has implemented many changes to their guidelines concerning advertising and content, including an “ineligible for advertising” portion of the guidelines based off of hateful content alone. (Source: The Verge)
Why this is important for your firm and clients: If your business is trying to monetize YouTube, it’s important to stay up to date on their latest guides and announcements. I’m doing the same for my YouTube site and am quickly discovering that it’s almost a full-time job. I guess if it were that easy everyone would be doing it.
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