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The biggest things happening in Tech right now

The week that was in tech 

5 minute read

Whilst the world seems to be on hold for many, the world of tech is evolving with ever increasing efforts being focused on combating the global pandemic. From wearable tech to enforce social distancing and the fight against the spread of mis-information during the global pandemic, to government ministers mishaps with the mute button on Zoom and the results of what happens when you put  “The Sims” in isolation. Below are just some of the trends we have come across this week and some of the more quirky reactions to the pandemic.

Politics goes Zoom

Eric Yuan, the chinese-american founder of Zoom, could hardly have predicted the start to 2020 his video-conferencing platform has had. Despite a series of security flaws and concerns in recent weeks, Zoom has continued to pile on new users. The company, which only went public 12 months ago, had only 10 million daily users in December, but this week surpassed 300 million daily users.

But with a surge in users comes increased attention from cyber criminals. Last week techradar.com reported over 500,000 Zoom accounts were for sale on the Dark Web and reports of “Zoom-Bombing” have increased in recent weeks. Nevertheless, governments and judicial systems around the world have adopted the technology to keep the wheels of government and civic society turning…with various degrees of hilarity.

In the US, courts have moved hearings online in a response to the stay at home enforcement in many states. The transition hasn’t necessarily been smooth, with some lawyers being reprimanded for “Zooming into court whilst still in bed.” More serious reports include defendants flashing nudity and shouting offensive remarks, behaviour that would not happen in the physical courtroom.

At Westminster, the UK Government has now introduced Zoom into the Commons chamber, hailing the introduction of a hybrid virtual chamber, an unprecedented move for the 750 year old parliament. It was disappointing though not to see some MP’s using Zoom’s backdrop feature…

But at least someone was controlling the mute button in London. The same can not be said in Cardiff, were Vaughan Gething AM dropped F*** Bombs on his Labour colleague during a plenary session of the Welsh Assembly when he thought he was on mute, much to the amusement of his fellow AM’s.

Getting back to normal

Countries around the world now appear to be “flattening the curve”, thanks in the most part to the “lockdown” and “social distancing” measures many governments have put in place. The question many are now asking is how and when we will begin the process of getting people back to work, whilst ensuring further outbreaks of the virus remain within manageable levels for the healthcare systems. Many scientists however, warn that without a viable vaccine, measures such as social distancing could remain in place, perhaps into 2021.

The answer to fast tracking the removal of restrictions could well come from the tech industry. This week, a number of tech companies have announced innovations that aim to tackle some of the big questions governments are now grappling with, specifically contact tracing and maintaining social distancing.

In Belgium, the port of Antwerp hopes to use wearable technology to enforce social distancing. Rombit, a wearable tech company in Antwerp, originally developed the technology to warn users of dangers within the port and are confident new software will warn users if they come too close to colleagues.

Apple and Google have been working on a Contact Tracing system and are hopeful that a cross platform API will be available next week. The API will be made available to developers who are developing apps for healthcare agencies and will keep users identity anonymous.

A Contact Tracing API does however raise security and privacy concerns for users. Apple and Google have said that the cross-platform API will only be approved when security protocols such as DP-3T are used.

Combating Fake News

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, the spread of misinformation on the internet has been one of the biggest challenges facing some of the worlds largest tech and social media companies. This week we heard how some of the household names are tackling the Fake News and misinformation that could have negative consequences in society.

YouTube had already banned conspiracy theories linking 5G to coronavirus and this week announced they would ban and remove any “medically unsubstantiated” content relating to Coronavirus.

Eventbrite announced that they would remove Anti-lockdown protest events following a similar move from Facebook earlier in the week. Protestors argue that it was infringing on their civil liberties but both companies stated that they were removing such events as they were against public health guidance. Facebook has been ramping up their “Fact-checking program” and have also announced that they would remove “pseudoscience” and “conspiracy theory” ad categories.

In a move not necessarily in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Google have announced they will require personal identification and business documentation, previously only required for political ads. The new verification process is expected to be rolled out this Summer according to an article on the companies blog.

Something for the weekend

So what do you do when you have a lot of time on your hands and you are missing your favorite tech scene or hit of creativity and curiosity? This week we came across a couple of articles that show what some people have been doing to pass the time during lockdown.

Brianne Kimmel, an investor from San Francisco created a virtual downtown San Francisco called Stay at Home Valley, recreating many of the bustling cities’ tech haunts and landmarks. Any fans of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley will instantly recognise the cartoon aesthetics. Whilst it won’t transport you to the bay area, playing around in the virtual world built in Figma by Kimmel and other contributors could put away an hour or two as you find quirky PR stunts or insider jokes like Jack Dorsey’s tunnel between Twitter and Square.

Or if you prefer a more DIY project, check out what happens when you put The Sims on Lockdown. That’s exactly what Allyssia Alleyne from Wired UK did. To find out how her households got on over a simulated 40 days, check out her article here.

And if you just want to kick back and relax this weekend and watch some telly, why not check out Secrets of Silicon Valley available on iPlayer. Presented by Jamie Bartlett, who spoke at Digital DNA back in 2018, he explores the tech capital of the world and goes behind the scenes of some of the biggest companies on the planet to see how data and technology is influencing our lives in ways we would never have imagined.

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