Monthly Archives July 2019

Where are the commercial delivery drones we were promised?

Picture this: It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and you’re getting ready to grill up some burgers in the backyard. You’ve sliced up some onion and tomato, pulled the cheese and lettuce out of the fridge, and ground up your very own blend of 70/30 lean-to-fat beef. Finally, you reach for your favorite brioche buns when you see it: the speckles of blue and green mold.

You could yell for the kids to get out of the pool and get changed so you can head to the grocery store and pick up some buns. You could make an order on a food delivery app and pray they get the right kind to you in a timely manner. Or, you can grab your cell phone, tap a few buttons, and head out to the yard.

You’ve laid out all your ingredients in a perfect assembly line, seasoned your patties, and pressed them on the grill with a satisfying sizzle. And just as you pull your burgers off the heat at a perfect medium-rare, you hear a faint buzzing noise above you. You look up to see a large rectangle adorned with six sets of spinning blades surrounding a sturdy plastic case. It hovers above you for a moment before slowly descending towards an empty section of grass in the yard. It lands and the blades come to a halt. You walk over, click open the plastic case, and retrieve a fresh bag of brioche buns from inside. You close the case, take a few steps back, and the rectangle comes to life, blades whirring, and flies off once more into the sky.

Though it may still sound like sci-fi, this was the future promised to us by countless tech CEOs a few years ago, chief among them being Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Back in December of 2013, Bezos announced that Amazon would be flying delivery drones to customers within five years. That deadline has since passed – but not because of the technology. Instead, it’s the regulation and logistics that are holding back the tide.

Alphabet (the parent company of Google) has a startup called Wing, which became the first drone delivery company to gain the FAA’s approval to make commercial deliveries in the United States in April. Other companies are still waiting for their status to be greenlit, such as Amazon Air, Uber Eats, and most recently, UPS.

The shipping giant has formed a new subsidiary called UPS Flight Forward Inc. and applied for their certification with the ultimate goal of running one of the first commercial drone delivery programs in the United States.

In March, UPS partnered with drone startup Matternet to transport medical samples via drone across a WakeMed hospital system in Raleigh, N.C., which became the first FAA sanctioned use of a drone for routine, revenue producing flights under a contractual delivery agreement.

Just last month, Amazon announced its new commercial delivery drone, promising that it would be delivering packages to customers within months. Of course, Amazon doesn’t have a great track record for meeting their deadlines in the air-delivery space. Amazon’s drone design has seen more than 20 iterations since its announcement in 2013, yet it remains the stringent regulatory restrictions holding back the rollout of their delivery program.

In the U.S., the major piece of regulation you’d need to operate a drone delivery service is called Part 135 certification under the Federal Aviation Administration, which applies to “air carriers and operators.” Drones are considered under the same umbrella as airplanes under federal law, and they’re subject to the same certification processes. The Part 135 certification allows for approved drones to fly at night, over people, and outside the operator’s direct line of sight.

Another factor to consider is public perception. In 2017, a PEW Research Center survey showed that 54 percent of Americans polled disapproved of drones flying near residential areas at all.

Whether or not this opinion has remained the same in the past two years, it hasn’t stopped these companies from continuing their preparation for the future. With UPS joining the fray, Wing receiving their Part 135 certification, and Amazon announcing – again – that Prime Air will be up and running soon, the future of a sky filled with delivery drones doesn’t seem all that far off.

Governmental Solutions to the Question of Rural Connectivity

Internet equality is severely lacking in rural areas in the United States, where the price of service costs significantly more than in cities, and where connectivity and speed are much worse. The Federal Communications Commission found that – as of 2018 – less than 70 percent of rural Americans have access to broadband connection. Although the advent of 5G should reduce some of this inequality, finding solutions is still challenging. Here are some examples of effective responses to the lack of internet access in rural America.

In an article discussing the challenge of bringing highspeed broadband to rural Virginia, The Roanoke Times succinctly depicts the central problem with relying on telecom companies to provide adequate services in rural communities.

“It’s hard to blame the telecom companies,” the article reads. “They’re for-profit entities, but that black ink starts turning into red ink if they have to lay miles and miles of fiber across rural America.”

So often, the solutions to the challenge of rural internet access come not from the telecom companies, but from governments or the communities themselves.

For example, the state legislature of Virginia passed a bill that “would allow utilities – such as Dominion Power and Appalachian Power – to install cables that would carry broadband into hard-to-reach areas.”

Another bill would allow localities to “create a ‘service district’ that can contract with internet service providers to extend broadband into underserved areas… this gives local governments a tool to take matters into their own hands.”

In the example of Virginia, which is seeing bipartisan efforts taken to bring all of its residents broadband connectivity, the onus is on the state government to take responsibility where telecoms can’t or won’t. In other instances, municipalities have taken charge.

Take, for example, the case of Tuttle, Oklahoma, which completely lost its internet and cable service after the local telecom provider went bankrupt, becoming the largest city in the United States – with a population of 6,000 – without service. Private telecom providers were concerned about the lack of profit and weren’t interested in providing their services to Tuttle. The only solution for the city, along with other rural Oklahoma communities, was to set up municipal broadband networks.

But while making broadband a public utility might sound like a great solution for plenty of rural communities and under-serviced towns, it isn’t that simple. As Voice of America News (VOA) writes, “At the moment, more than two dozen states have limitations on city-run broadband – from restrictions on parameters to entire bans.” Attitudes against government interference have made this trend pervasive, leaving small towns in the cyber-dust.

However, there are some legislatures that are seeing the error in this.

“Arkansas, for example, passed a law in 2011 stating ‘a government entity may not provide, directly or indirectly, basic local exchange service,’” VOA explains. “Earlier this year, the Arkansas Legislature unanimously voted to repeal that ban.”

Explaining the state’s decision, Arkansas state senator Breanne Davis told Citylab, “We were one of the five states that had the most restrictive laws [on municipal broadband] in the nation, and [ranked] almost last in broadband [access].”

So far, municipally run broadband networks have been a success. In Tuttle, excess revenue is even being directly reinvested into better connectivity for rural residents. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mayor Andy Berke enthusiastically promotes the municipal fiber optic network which has “exceeded all expectations.” Berke believes the new network is responsible for the city’s low unemployment rate.

It can be expensive and unrealistic for private telecom providers – even the big-name companies with exorbitant wealth – to create highspeed broadband networks in small towns and rural communities. However, problems arise when a large portion of America’s population is excluded from the ever-increasing amount of services that are exclusively offered online. The onus, then, is on the government – whether it be federal, state or local – to step in and create a solution for its citizens. The equity of quality of life is at stake.

 

Payment Processing: Innovation, Security, Threats

As the number of electronic transactions grow, so do the opportunities for cybercriminals to steal money. As a merchant, you need to provide the best payment security possible, so your customers don’t have to worry about their data. As a customer, you need to be aware of the threats against you – and the technological advances that help combat them.

From the cardboard and celluloid cards pre-1958 to the biometrics, geolocation and tokenization security of today, the merchant services industry has been evolving in the security department since the very beginning. Here are some of the important aspects of payment security and how they’ve developed over the years.

PCI Compliance

PCI Compliance refers to the security standards established by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council in 2006, and they’re an important indicator of security status today. These standards were created to ensure that anyone who processes, transmits or maintains payment data has proper security in place. PCI standards are frequently adapted, and they differentiate security measures for merchants based on both the volume and type of transactions they process. In other words, PCI compliance is both very important, and very confusing.

Card Tech

In 1958, the first plastic payment card was created. By the 1970s, we’d seen the addition of tamper-resistant signature panels, microprint security, and card embossing designed to protect card carriers from nefarious counterfeiters.

Electronic security found its stride in the mid-80s with the development of risk scoring and real-time electronic authorization designed to protect against fraud. In the 90s, we saw the addition of the CVV security code for magnetic stripes, and the first inklings of EMV chip card technology. EMV chips were added into payment cards because of the greater payment security it offers, plus its resilience against “skim” scams compared to magnetic strips. Chip technology also uses encryption and tokenization to further protect against theft. In fact, the Department of Justice estimates that 86 percent of identity theft cases originate with existing account information. This information is protected by EMV chips in the case of a breach.

Speaking of breaches – some major ones took place in the 2000s. In 2003, it was the DPI data breach that saw eight million card accounts compromised. In 2005, CardSystems Solutions was breached; 40 million cards were compromised. In 2010, ALDI debit card accounts and pins were stolen from nearly 1,100 grocery stores, and the following year Michaels was breached for the first of three times in three years, potentially compromising PINs and three million payment card accounts. In 2013, Target was breached with 40 million payment card accounts stolen and an estimated industry cost of $248 million.

This is all to say that, as security tech advances, so do the threats they protect against. This digital arms race continues today, as we shift away from static solutions to dynamic, more resilient technology.

The Future of Payment Security

The payment card industry projected $31.3 billion in global card losses to security threats in 2018. Another study found that retailers stand to lose some $130 billion in fraud between 2018 and 2023. No matter which way you look at it, financial institutions across the globe must push to be more innovative than the fraudsters if they want to keep their – and your – money safe.

Some of those innovations include tokenization, biometric data, geolocation, improved chip tech, and an ever-increasing base of data analytics. In fact, the technology is becoming so impressive that tech-wizard hackers are no longer the only major threat in day-to-day fraud. Instead, it’s the social hackers using card-not-present scams that have begun to take advantage of less tech-savvy audiences – and retailers are ill-prepared to fight it.

Conclusion

The faster we connect, digitize, and innovate our daily transactions, the more risks are introduced. The payment security landscape is akin to the Wild West, and it is more important today than ever before to make sure your electronic payment processing environment is as secure as it can be.

Thankfully, security is a deterrent to fraudsters in itself. Hackers tend to search for low-risk, high-reward options. Much like keeping your Point-of-Sale terminal under lock and key when it’s not in use, adequate payment processing security is usually enough to make your accounts unattractive targets. After all, you can’t get breached if no one is willing to try!

Is a compost program right for your office?

You might participate in a municipal compost program at home – or maybe not. Either way, if you’re looking to reduce waste in the workplace, one effective way could be to take the initiative and start a compost program at your place of work. There are a host of good reasons to take this initiative, from reducing your environmental footprint to saving your business money on waste disposal expenses. Here are some tips on how to begin.

In a piece on workplace composting, ToughNickel suggests you begin by putting together a workplace compost committee to get the idea off the ground and answer some of the burning questions. Who will be in charge of keeping the compost area tidy and empty it regularly? Will building management need to be involved? Will the city collect your compost, or is this a garden-type initiative? If you think it is going to be too difficult for your busy office to manage, you can hire a professional composting service to do the work for you. Variables like these will need to be sorted out before any composting can begin.

If you are struggling to find a municipally-assisted or outdoor compost program that works, Earth911 recommends trying ‘vermicomposting’ indoors. Essentially, this is an indoor contraption that allows worms to compost your waste in breathable compost bins, taking up relatively little space. It only takes a few minutes a day of maintenance and is a very sustainable option.

Once you’ve made your macro decisions, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. You must decide what kind of indoor compost bin will suit your office. If you’re a smaller team, you may have more options in terms of size and kind of bin. For example, in an office with less than ten people, a large-sized coffee tin with a plastic lid – think the kind Maxwell’s or other brands sell – may be converted into a light-use indoor bin for those who have their own garden compost. If your municipality has a green bin waste collection program, this might make the answer even easier. Regardless of size, the important part is that it has a tight seal – to prevent the smell of, well, compost, from permeating your office – and be easy for employees to identify and use. You may also have to decide how many bins you need if your office is too large for just one.

After deciding on the right bin for your program, your compost committee is going to want to purchase or design posters that are “eye-catching and easy to read.” ToughNickel says that “posters will make it easier for staff to determine what goes into the bin and what stays out.” And depending on what kind of compost program you choose, this might be different to what they can compost at home. Sustainable America also recommends providing training to your staff ahead of time so that they understand how to best use the compost program. Make sure it is clear to your employees that composting is a group initiative, and while some people may have more to do with the program than others, it is everyone’s responsibility to be tidy, eco-conscious, and at all costs, careful to keep the lid of the compost bin closed.