Friday, September 30, 2016

Twitter Up For Sale

After 10 years on the web, experts say that Twitter shows all the signs of a need for a buyout: stagnated revenue, inability to innovate, and departing executives. Despite giving the world the concept of microblogging, Twitter has found it difficult to continue growing like its competitor, Facebook. The time has come to sell but there is no shortage of suitors.

Names that have been thrown around include Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Verizon, Apple, and even Disney with an estimated sale value of $71 billion. Who would have the motive and the money to buy?

This tech giant has both the will and the wherewithal for such a buy. Google has been wildly successful as a search engine and with ads and smartphones. However, Google has failed to stake a substantial claim in social networking compared to other platforms. Google+ has been a sore disappointment and YouTube has failed to bring in core members.

Twitter would give Google an additional platform to grow its search engine functions and perfect its artificial intelligence for Android and Chrome OS. Twitter has 313 million followers who are constantly tweeting, making it a rich mine for data.

There is the will but the money is not there. Salesforce has been a leader in software vending and cloud computing. Salesforce wants Twitter for its increased use as a customer service tool and marketing campaign platform. This is a revenue stream that can be optimized. Salesforce also hopes to perfect its cloud artificial intelligence with data from Twitter.

Salesforce’s founder, Marc Benioff, is a man known to take risks. He has been on a buying spree recently and even offered to buy LinkedIn before Microsoft gave a bigger offer. But at a $45 billion market cap, Salesforce does not have the money and would be forced to get into a merge-like arrangement, something the shareholders are resisting.

After buying LinkedIn, Microsoft may be eyeing the numbers in Twitter and the well-developed ad platform to enrich its consumer media. With a pivot to enterprise solutions provision, this would be part of the Microsoft’s reinvigoration strategy. The $71 billion sale money would be small change for Microsoft.

The telecom giant recently acquired Yahoo and rumors are associating it with Twitter’s buy as a way of spreading its web footprint even wider. Twitter and Yahoo could give Verizon an ad platform that could rival Facebook and Google.
Twitter’s market cap went over $20 billion for the first time since its IPO in 2014. The names in this saga continue to be bandied around with the tech industry eagerly watching the developments.

500 Million Yahoo! Accounts Hacked

Yahoo! recently launched a press release announcing there was a massive breach in 2014 on 500 million of its users’ accounts. From the scale of the Yahoo hack, it is suspected by the company to be a state-sponsored attack. This was a cause for worry as over 1 billion people use Yahoo for finance, shopping, betting, and so on. Yahoo mail has over 225 million users monthly.

Stolen data
Yahoo says the attack stole user names, email addresses, hashed passwords, birth dates, phone numbers, security questions and answers. Curiously, Yahoo says the attack did not steal unprotected passwords, credit card data and bank account data. This data is not stored in the same servers that were attacked.

Cyber security experts say Yahoo may have been prompted into doing an internal probe after a hacker by the name ‘Peace’ claimed a Yahoo leak and offered 1 million Yahoo usernames and passwords on the dark web markets. Yahoo found this was untrue, but in its place found out this bigger breach.

Deeper impact
With so many sites to log in to, many people find it easier using the same email address and passwords for multiple accounts. Hackers know this, and will try using the email address and passwords on other sites like Facebook, PayPal, and anywhere else the email has been used. This can be easily done with footprinting applications like Maltego.

An attack like this ultimately leads to identity theft is the user has used the same email and password for critical systems like online banking. Data from an account leak is used in credential stuffing on applications like PayPal. With a success rate even as low as 1% that would be access to funds of 5 million users, which is a massive return for the criminals.

Yahoo advised users who had not changed passwords since 2014, to do so. Indeed, all Yahoo users should change their passwords. Users are advised to make passwords that contain numbers, letters and special characters.

Users are further advised not to use the same password for multiple websites. Password managers like KeePassX can help users generate long passwords for separate accounts and keep them safe.

Two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication, also known as 2-way verification, is becoming a standard for all website logins. The system works by asking the user to confirm of a login attempt on another trusted device like a mobile phone before access is allowed.

Hackers carry out identity thefts successfully by acting like a real user. If a user does $200 of transactions on PayPal they will stay in this range to avoid suspicion. Users are advised to stay vigilant and go through items like bank and credit card statements for suspicious entries. Yahoo! recently launched a press release announcing there was a massive breach in 2014 on 500 million of its users’ accounts. From the scale of the Yahoo hack, it is suspected by the company to be a state-sponsored attack. This was a cause for worry as over 1 billion people use Yahoo for finance, shopping, betting, and so on. Yahoo mail has over 225 million users monthly.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Amazon Announces Plans for Texas Wind Farm

Amazon has developed a plan to build a 100-turbine wind farm in West Texas. The company, whose offices are located in Seattle, announced that the 253-megawatt wind farm will be located in Scurry County and will be the biggest renewable energy project that Amazon has created. The project is expected to bring about over 250 construction jobs to the county.

Lincoln Clean Energy, based in Chicago, has been contracted for the job and is expected to construct, own, and operate the farm. The project supposed to be completed by the end of the year 2017.

According executive director of Development Corp of Snyder, the wind farm has been in the works for the last two years. Amazon plans to buy over 90 percent of the power generated from the farm to power its Web services Cloud data centers. The farm is expected to produce 1 million megawatt-hours each year.

According to the Lavers, the county has never had one client buying so much power from the region and that the deal was a shot in the arm for the community given that there was a downturn in oil. The Amazon spokesman said that the wind firm will be on east sides of US 84 highway, and another wind farm, Fluvanna, is planned for the western side of the highway, but the price of the project is not yet disclosed. It is estimated that both wind farms will bring a total of over $400 million in investment to the county.

Members of the community that have been affected by oil downturn have started making plans for the jobs that are coming up in the areas. Some have started preparing groceries and other services for the workers who will be stationed at the farm.

Amazon has three other wind farms located in North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana and a solar farm in Virginia. Declan Flanagan CEO of Lincoln Clean Energy applauded Amazon for purchasing renewable energy. He also added that long term thinking from clients like Amazon would be a major driver in transition to getting others purchase renewable energy around the USA.

Amazon has been in the forefront in taking in renewable energy as it expands across the country. Texas is best placed for wind farming owing to it climate, space and availability of strong wind. Other big companies such as HP, Proctor and Gamble, and Google are investing Texas wind farms as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wells Fargo Fined $185 Million for Creating 2 Million Fake Accounts

Since 2011 Wells Fargo employees opened over 2 million fake accounts using data from existing customers. This state of affairs has led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to punish Wells Fargo with a $185 million fine.

Sales figures
This massive scandal was perpetrated by employees to drive up their sales figures. The employees opened multiple bank accounts for unsuspecting customers then proceeded to fund the accounts by making unauthorized withdrawals. They opened about 1.5 million deposit accounts and another 565,000 credit card accounts.

The scandal was widely executed with the employees going as far as applying for debit cards with PINs for these accounts. They also created fake email addresses to apply for online banking to go with these accounts.

The Wells Fargo scandal enabled the bank to reach its sales objectives, and the employees earn unwarranted rewards. The losers were the existing customers whose accounts were raided to fund the new accounts. Many of these accounts incurred overdraft charges and insufficient funds penalties. The bank is estimated to have collected $400,000 in fees from 14,000 accounts.

Massive fines
A third party consulting firm discovered the Wells Fargo fake accounts after noting that consent for account creation was lacking. Further investigation lead to the discovery that the new accounts were funded with unauthorized withdrawals. An internal investigation by the bank unearthed the full extent of the scandal.

The bank acted by firing over 5,300 employees involved in the scandal, totaling about 1% of the employees on its payroll. The CFPB moved in to slap Wells Fargo with a $100 million fine, the largest it has ever imposed. The bank avoided massive lawsuits by consenting to the CFPB order without denying or agreeing to the charges. In addition, Wells Fargo will also pay a penalty of $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of Currency. The bank will also pay $50 million to the County and the City of Los Angeles. Another $5 million will be spent on customer remediation. Customer reimbursements averaged $25 per account.

To calm the market, Wells Fargo put out a statement claiming, “Wells Fargo is committed to putting our customers’ interests first 100% of the time, and we regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request.”

Affected employees have blamed the Well Fargo scandal on the massive pressure to make sales. As one of them told the LA Times they were always reminded that they could always resort to working McDonald’s if their performance did not impress.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Spotify, Apple, and the Future of Exclusive Music

Music has been a part of the human life for decades and most people cannot simply do without listening to it. The days are long gone when you have to drive to the nearest store just to buy your favourite music album, which you sometimes have to return if it doesn’t play properly on your music player. The innovation in Information Technology has made it possible to buy virtually anything online and musicians have never had more options for distributing their songs to fans once the album is ready, from music libraries like iTunes to streaming services such as Pandora. With Spotify offering free music on the Internet, Apple’s iTunes is gradually losing users since most iTunes songs are not free.

It is obvious that over the past decade we have seen music streaming services in the industry rise tremendously, with new players coming up. The idea of music streaming services is to bring you millions of songs, of all types of genres, and you will find that you never lack something to listen to. In the past when music streaming was not very common, you had to pay a fixed price for a single song on iTunes and then upload it to your device. It is clear that streaming services are taking over in today's age with iTunes even developing its own. Regardless of whether it’s movies or music, streaming online comes with much more convenience, and more music lovers are turning to it as the best option.

Spotify has millions of free songs for streaming from most major music labels, and the company’s compensation plan has been endorsed by many music studios, hence the popularity it is enjoying around the world today. Spotify offers more flexibility by allowing users to share their songs and playlists with friends and also create social playlists in which users work on collaborative playlists. You can pretty much say it’s a social media platform for songs.

The two companies that have been in the news lately are Spotify and Apple, with some allegations that Spotify is retaliating against artists who produce new songs and release them exclusively to Apple Music. A recent report by Bloomberg says people alleged that artists who have given Apple some form of exclusive access to new music were told they wouldn’t get their tracks on featured Spotify playlists, as soon as the tracks become available on the service. The allegations further claim that the artists involved found their songs buried in Spotify’s search ranking. However, when asked about the allegations, Spotify says it doesn’t modify search rankings in any way.

The alleged rivalry between the two music streaming companies has been around for a while now, although Spotify has denied doing such to any artist, a good number of people are yet to be convinced that the company is completely telling the truth about the allegations. This provides an interesting look into what could be the future of exclusively-released music. What do you think this means for the future of music?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Race for Autonomy Speeds Up

The goal of a fully autonomous self-driving car is being achieved with mixed results. Google has been leading the autonomy project with Tesla as their biggest competitor. Google has been developing its car for seven years and has logged over 1.5 million miles while Tesla cars have accumulated 130 million miles.

Singapore first
The news that a fully autonomous taxi service has been launched in Singapore came as a surprise as the name behind the cars is relatively unknown. nuTonomy has beaten taxi giants Uber and Lyft to become the first service to offer autonomous driving to the public.

nuTonomy is still in the testing stage where riders have to be invited to ride as part of the ongoing research. Nevertheless, this is a bold move seeing as it is that Google has been reluctant to put roll out its driverless car on a mass scale despite having seven years of research.

Other players
Uber and Lyft have been racing to provide driverless cabs with a goal of major cost cutting. Uber has planned to introduce the driverless car service by end of August 2016. Not to be left behind is Ford. The car maker plans to provide driverless cars on a mass scale with an eye on the demand by these taxi services. Ford has said this could be a reality by 2021.

The concept of a driverless car is yet to be fully comprehensible to the market. Fears of fatal accidents are yet to be fully allayed. This is more so after a fatal crash by a Tesla autonomous vehicle in 2015. Tesla said the technology was still in beta testing which raised the question on whether driverless car makers can make a car that is fully able to replace human judgment. Other fears have been on the malfunction of the car software. Given that computers crash frequently, what makes a car computer better? The prospect of getting the blue screen of death while doing 60 mph is a scary thought.

Hackers showed that it is possible to hack into car computers after a Jeep model was hacked into wirelessly in 2015. How safe would be a driverless car from a hacker with malicious intent?

The future
14 car makers have submitted 111 cars for approval to drive on Californian roads. There are also serious efforts in Europe by car makers such as Volvo. Singapore and Japan lead the push in Asia. Experts say driverless cars could be seen on the roads as early as 2020. Like any other idea, it is a development whose time has come.


Google Punishing Intrusive Mobile Ads

Today, spam and popup ads are put in the same category by most people: both are seen as a disturbance when using applications on their devices. Popup ads have been used as a marketing tool by several business owners with ads targeted at particular customers, where marketers use them as an effective tool for gaining more subscribers and expanding their customer base. With all this said, popup ads are also considered one of the most hated entities today on the Internet, put in the same category along with adware and spam. This is because pop-up ads are intrusive of the online experience, and often they pull the user into a continuous vicious cycle of further advertisement.

Google recently announced that they will soon crack down on mobile sites with intrusive pop-up ads. This is not the first time a major Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Google is trying to stop sites with intrusive pop-up ads. The company announced its plans to punish mobile sites sending advertisements that are not proper or targeted at a particular set of users or take up too much of the screen without a clear exit option. When using a mobile device, users have a much smaller space they are using, and while they work on the larger real estate of a computer screen, having popup ads on such a small display makes them even more obstructive and usually gives the user a difficult time navigating the web on their handheld device.

Although some popup ads can provide useful information to users, they have to occur in a non-intrusive manner. This can be achieved by ensuring that you are providing your users with the type of information you know they need or would be interested in and not merely some paid ads pushed at the user on a random basis. Using invasive ads on your website or mobile app often reduces the number of repeat visitors. The innovation in IT has brought about the use of popup blockers which many people install on their devices to block these ads. In addition to ad blocking software use by individuals, major ISPs such as Yahoo and Google provide users with software they can install on their devices to block ads or with filters to determine the number of ads they see and the sources they derive from.

A good way to find out what ads are working for your company is to use a good call tracking software. I have found that Caller Insight is a really good company to use for tracking across all of your ad buying campaigns. You can even use it to track your sales calls with their sales call tracking options.

There are popup advertisements that are considered unnecessarily obstructive by Google; these are ads that cover the entire content of a page and, where a user is forced to close the ad before they can view the content of the web page. Because most search results using the Google search engine now meet the “mobile-friendly” criteria, the company also announced its decision to remove the mobile-friendly label on search results. Popup ads have been used by many business owners for various reasons and although some follow the proper guidelines for using the ads, most people just push the ads to mobile users without their consent. The move by Google is aimed at bringing some form of sanity to the mobile sites that insist on using intrusive advertising.