Posts by Christine Wilson

Are VPNs on the rise in the United States?

Since the repeal of net neutrality came into effect in June, a spotlight has been shown on Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. These networks allow users to be anonymous while browsing. Some consumers are flocking to them “to maintain some control and security over their digital lives.”

PCMag recently “surveyed 3,000 US consumers about VPN use and buying trends” to see just how popular this option has become in the United States.

The publication says, it found “that while fewer than a third of consumers currently use VPNs, 52 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to use a VPN since net neutrality rules officially went kaput in June. More significantly, one in four respondents (26 percent) said that the net neutrality rollback directly influenced them to purchase a VPN app.”

Of the consumers using a VPN, there were four recurring reasons to do so. Forty-eight percent say “for security purposes,” 30 percent say “to safely access public Wi-Fi,” eighteen percent say “to share data securely,” and seven percent said they use a VPN to “avoid government surveillance.”

It looks like those selling VPNs have a lot to gain from the repeal of net neutrality, even as states such as California are passing laws to bring back the laws within its jurisdiction.

Source: pcmag.com – How Net Neutrality Repeal Is Fueling VPN Adoption
Published: October 22, 2018

Hurricane Michael damaged Verizon Fiber Network

If you live in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama and you have internet with Verizon, there is a good chance you’ve gone without it for days following Hurricane Michael. Four days after the storm landed, 300,000 homes “were still without home Internet, phone, or TV service,” according to Ars Technica, with 200,000 of them being in Florida. 15 percent of cell sites in Florida are suffering outages as well, says the Federal Communications Commission.

Unfortunately, the damage that has left these households without service might be lasting. Although telecoms have worked hard to get their services up and running again, some are facing “extensive fiber damage.”

On Verizon’s webpage for hurricane updates, the company said “The storm caused unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network – including many of our temporary portable assets – to work.”

“We continue to work around the clock on network restoration efforts and have seen some positive movement, although fiber connection… still poses a significant challenge. For example, as soon as we have fiber repaired and start to see sites come back on air, we experience new cuts resulting from other restoration efforts happening in the community such as clearing roads, residential property clearing, and replacing electric poles,” Verizon explained.

This isn’t completely devastating for Verizon’s business in the states hit by Hurricane Michael. According to the carrier, 99 percent of its network in Georgia is in service, and 98 percent in Florida. It says, “”[T]he hardest hit area of Panama City, Panama City Beach and the surrounding communities [are] still experiencing the most impact.”

Source: Verizon fiber suffered “unprecedented” damage from Hurricane Michael
Published: October 15, 2018

Telecom employees penalized for giving customers better prices

telecom cost reduction services logoDon’t like the prices you’re getting from Canadian providers? Neither do their employees. A recent CBC report has revealed that employees across numerous Canadian telecom carriers are being punished for trying to help customers get a better deal, or for having a customer cancel services on them.

The news comes mainly from Rogers, Bell, and Fido employees.

Jason Harley, who worked as a Rogers sales representative in a Kitchener, Ontario call centre for two years call the job “brutal.”

According to CBC, Harley, “is one of a handful of past and present telco call centre employees for Rogers, Fido and Bell who are speaking out as the CRTC prepares to hold a public hearing on the sales practices of telecoms, due to begin Oct. 22.” The inquiry was ordered by the federal government after hundreds of past and present telecom workers contacted CBC with claims of unethical practices.

Harley told CBC that sales representatives at Rogers earn points towards commission for every product or service they sell. However, they also lose points for every time they cancel a customer’s service. “I would do everything I could not to cancel a customer’s services, even though that’s what they wanted,” Harley admitted. He believes that the system created “a culture of dishonesty” at Rogers, where workers employed a variety of tactics to trick customers into not cancelling their service.

One tactic is what Harley calls ‘the hot potato game’, where reps would “transfer a customer who wanted to cancel a service to another agent, who in turn might transfer the call to another colleague.” The point being, the agent that gets stuck with the customer, is the one losing the points.

He even admits that sometimes sales reps simply wouldn’t record a customer’s request to cancel a service. Harley also says that he “often heard agents tell customers who wanted to cut services that it would be easier to go to a Rogers store to do that, instead of the rep handling it over the phone and getting financially penalized.”

Worst of all, Harley told CBC, “I think the most dishonest one is when they say they processed the cancellation, but they didn’t.”

Another employee echoed Harley’s story during her time answering calls for Fido, a Rogers subsidiary. “If I try to help them [a customer], my statistics will go down and I’ll be shown the door,” she told CBC. “So what do I want more? Do I want to help the person, or do I want a paycheque?  It stresses you out.”

Rogers is of course denying the allegations made by Harley and the anonymous Fido employee, saying in an email that the stories “do not reflect our values or our customer service practices and we have no tolerance in our organization for unethical behaviour.”

Stories from Bell employees are much of the same. Former Nordia employee – Nordia being a call centre company owned by Bell – Anthony Savage told CBC that “the incentive is to do as little as possible [for the customer].”

It is no surprise that Canadian telecoms are facing complaints from customers, but all these damning stories from former employees give the complaints a lot of credibility. Do you think Rogers, Fido, and Bell will have to change their tactics?

Source: CBC.ca – Rogers, Fido and Bell call centre workers penalized for reducing plans, offering credits
Published: October 14, 2018

Google working on detecting spam from call ads

A new report from Search Engine Land explains that Google is looking to crack down on spam advertisements. According to the publication, “Google has begun informing advertisers that it may record some of the calls that come in through call-only ads and call extensions in ads.”

Google is apparently making a goal of protecting users “from fraud and spam and to ensure a trusted environment for advertisers.”

In an email to Search Engine Land, a Google spokesperson said, “Fraud in the advertising calls ecosystem is a growing issue and we are committed to combating it and improving call quality for consumers. We have introduced a program in the U.S. to record a small fraction of the calls in call ads. Our efforts will help prevent spam and other negative user experiences as well as reduce wasted marketing spend for advertisers.”

You might know that Google already has a similar program with text ads, in which it collects data to better understand and detect signs of fraud. The call program will work “much in the same way.” Google wants to build a model that will automate fraud detection and prevent fraudulent calls and texts.

The program will work in the following way: “only a small fraction of calls will be recorded, and only in the U.S. Callers will hear a message that Google will record the call for quality assurance — a standard type of message used across industries… Google will anonymize recording data and evaluate calls to ensure they comply with Google’s ad policies around misleading, inappropriate and harmful ads.”

Google promises none of the information collected will be used for ad targeting.

Source: searchengineland.com – Google to record some calls from ads for quality assurance
Published: October 9, 2018

Are we under-producing batteries?

They power our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and the growing number of electric cars. Batteries are everywhere. But The Toronto Star has some bad news about them; the world might not be producing enough batteries to keep up with the consumer demand of the “smart” era.

The paper asserts that “All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers.”

A large contributor to the new demand comes from the electric car market.

“Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries — in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities — will have to come from somewhere,” says The Toronto Star.

The Star says that a key player in the battery shortage is South Korea: because of some change in government policy, the country’s main battery producers Samsung SDI and LG Chem – two of the leading international manufacturers – are “prioritizing sales in their home country.” Meaning, relying on batteries coming out of South Korea might have disappointing results in the future. The Star explains that U.S buyers in particular “often rely on Korean-made batteries. Almost 60 per cent of the utility-scale batteries deployed in the U.S. last year were made by Samsung SDI and LG Chem.”

Larash Johnson, chief technology officer of Stem Inc, one of America’s largest U.S battery companies, told The Toronto Star that “There is definitely some tightness in the global market. It’s one of the reason we’re looking for new suppliers.”

Another large battery supplier is Tesla, which has a sizeable battery factory in Nevada. Despite its high capacity for production, Tesla “can pick and choose who they want to deliver to” and “they are not delivering to everyone.” As The Star says, “Together, Tesla and the Korean battery-making giants can expect to enjoy intense demand.”

These three companies might have a near monopoly on battery production, but another potential source for production expansion is China. New factories are popping up across the country with huge capacity for production.

Source: thestar.com – For now, at least, the world isn’t making enough batteries
Published: October 5, 2018

Get ready for the Pixel 3

On October 9th, Google will be announcing the upcoming Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones. According to TechRadar, excited customers can also begin pre-ordering the devices immediately following the announcement.

The news apparently comes from an email received by Android Central. As Tech Radar explains, “The email also apparently shows a number three, which transitions between black, white and mint colors, which seems an obvious hint that the Google Pixel 3 range might come in those shades.”

The mint theory is backed up by leaked images of a white Google Pixel 3 phone with a mint-coloured power button. Mint is not a colour commonly seen in smartphones, so this is a potentially unique design that could stir up some real attention.

TechRadar says that Android Central’s email ended by suggesting “some things to ask Google Assistant, namely ‘What’s this announcement about?’, ‘When are you making this announcement?’, and “How can I found out more about this announcement?’ … The answers don’t give much away, but one response is ‘Looks like there might be something about a new phone – and maybe, just maybe a few other new things.’”

Source: techradar.com – Google Pixel 3 pre-orders apparently start on October 9
Published: October 5, 2018

The CRTC will not take a stand against content piracy

Schooley Mitchell complaintsAccording to The Chronicle Herald, the FairPlay Canada coalition – a group of media organizations that includes Bell Canada, Rogers, the CBC, and more – was shut down by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in its effort to fight “content pirates.” On Tuesday, October 2nd the CRTC said it does not have the authority to police the activities that FairPlay Canada is fighting against.

FairPlay Canada originally asked the CRTC for help back in January of 2018. The coalition wanted the CRTC to “help protect their ownership and licensing rights by setting up an independent agency to help locate websites with pirated material.”  The Chronicle Herald explains that the coalition “also wanted the CRTC to require internet providers to block access to pirated material.”

The CRTC said in is ruling that is agrees “piracy causes harm to the Canadian broadcasting system and the economy” but unfortunately it does not have the jurisdiction to intervene under the Copyright Act.

“There are other avenues that are more suitable to address this issue, such as the reviews of the Copyright Act, the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act,” the commission decided.

Source: thechronicleherald.ca – CRTC rejects call to block content pirates, cites lack of jurisdiction
Published: October 2, 2018

California reinstates net neutrality

According to CNBC, on September 30th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that would restore open internet protections or “net neutrality” in his state. These laws were repealed federally in December 2017.

By doing this, California is clashing with the decision of the Federal Communications Commission. Before the bill was passed, FCC chairman Ajit Pai made a speech calling the legislation “a radical, anti-consumer internet regulation bill that would impose restrictions even more burdensome than those adopted by the FCC in 2015.”

On the other hand, Gigi Sohn a former senior aide to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, told CNBC the California law “is now the model for all future state and federal legislation … this is what internet users across the political spectrum have said they want by overwhelming majorities.”

Needless to say, opinions are torn over whether California made the right choice.

Without net neutrality, says CNBC, ISPs have “sweeping new powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes.” However, since the new rules came into federal effect in June, providers have not made changes in access.

Source: cnbc.com – California governor signs state law to reinstate ‘net neutrality’
Published: September 30, 2018

Why it’s important to keep current with device updates

It can be annoying when your smartphone, laptop or tablet sends you repetitive notifications about those pesky software updates. They are easy to ignore, rather than taking the time out of your day to update. If you are one of the many people who do this – because we know you aren’t alone – Popular Science has some advice for you.

In an article attempting to convince you not to ignore these updates, Popular Science says, “Gadget updates take care of a lot of problems, but their most important application might be security. When disasters strike, they usually hit hardware that’s running outdated software. To prevent this, manufacturers will regularly roll out crucial patches that protect your laptop, phone, and other gadgets from the latest threats.”

So while you might not care about getting the latest slew of emojis, there is some real benefit in updating your device. In fact, it could be a real safety concern if you don’t. On top of that, a lot of performance issues you might be experiencing could be related to not installing updates.

“If your gadget suffers from poor battery life, can’t connect to Wi-Fi properly, keeps displaying strange characters on screen, a software patch might sort out the issue,” Popular Science explains.

Each device is different in terms of when and how many updates you are likely to receive. iOS devices get updates much more frequently than Pixel phones, for example. If you are an iOS 12 user, you even now have the option of using the new Automatic Updates feature, selectable on the Software Update screen. By choosing to enable this feature, your device will “automatically apply patches overnight, waiting until the device is idle, plugged into a power charger, and connected to a Wi-Fi network.”

Source: popsci.com – Stop putting off your device updates – here’s why
Published: September 23, 2018

Square Payroll is now mobile

Launched back in 2009, Square is a popular merchant services aggregator that has become very popular with small businesses and retailers. In 2015, it introduced Square Payroll, a desktop service which allows its customers to process payrolls. Now, three years later, the service is going mobile.

ZD Net explains that using Square Payroll mobile, “Employees clock in and out of their shift via integrated time cards on Square’s Register app. When the pay period closes, the business owner imports employee hours and Square’s payroll service calculates applicable taxes and sends the funds out to workers. Employees have the ability to enter their own tax details upon setup, and state and federal payroll taxes are filed automatically for the business.”

For Square Payroll customers who are considering going mobile, the company assured in a recent blog post that the experience will be very similar. “Import your timecards or enter hours, submit your pay run, and leave the rest to us (we’ll take care of filing, paying, and withholding your payroll taxes). And now you can easily do all of this on your mobile device, no matter where you are,” Square assured.

If you use Square Payroll, the process may have just become a little easier for you. It also showcases the growing trend of having access to everything from our smartphones at the drop of a dime.

Source: paymentsjournal.com – Square Payroll Goes Mobile
Published: September 26, 2018