Archives for Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Florence victims will receive free telecom services

According to telecompaper, wireless and prepaid customers of AT&T and Verizon who live in the areas most impacted by Hurricane Florence will be receiving free services from their carrier. This will mostly apply to customers living in the Carolinas.

AT&T will be providing unlimited talk, text, and data for its impacted customers. Likewise, Verizon will be giving free talk, text, and data to its customers effected by the storm.

Both carriers have also lifted speed caps and restrictions for first responders in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

This small but crucial act could be lifesaving, and shows just how important carriers and ISPs are in disaster situations. If not lifesaving, at the very least this service allows victims to keep their friends and families updated to their status and safety during the hurricane.

Source: AT&T, Verizon to give unlimited communications to customers affected by Hurricane Florence – telecompaper.com
Published: September 12, 2018

Amazon expands Whole Foods delivery to ten more cities

Last year, Amazon acquired Whole Foods and began its journey towards adding another facet to its shipping and e-commerce empire: food sales. Since the purchase, Amazon has been working to expand food delivery to Prime subscribers.

Whole Foods Prime Delivery was available across 28 cities, but now Prime subscribers in Charlotte, Las Vegas, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Raleigh, Seattle, and Tucson have the option available. Prime subscribers can “opt for free, two-hour deliveries between 8am and 10pm each day.”

New York City, Los Angeles, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area have already been in the Whole Foods Prime Delivery zone, but exclusive to certain neighborhoods. According to PC Mag, those neighborhoods are also now growing in number, so if you live in one of these cities and have not been able to access this service, you might want to see if your status has been updated.

With the success of food delivery, Amazon has also expanded to alcohol delivery. NYC, LA, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Seattle Prime members will have access to this service through Whole Foods Prime Delivery.

Source: pcmag.com – 10 More Cities Get Whole Foods Prime Delivery
Published: September 12, 2018

Rural Ontarians want the government to take their connectivity needs seriously

According to CBC, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is pushing Ottawa “for a hefty investment in broadband expansion for rural and remote parts of the province.” In fact, for the 2019 federal budget, the OFA is asking “the feds to commit to rural Internet expansion to the tune of $100 million per year.

That sounds like a lot, right? But the OFA argues it is necessary. Neil Currie, general manager of the OFA, compared the situation to the electrification of rural Ontario, all the way back in the 1930s. Currie told CBC that the electrification process was “an essential service in the 1930s, just as broadband is essential now, and actually quite long overdue… We should’ve been doing this in the 90s.” Currie points out Southwestern Ontario as a particular part of the province that has been neglected in the past, and could benefit from this investment.

This isn’t the first time this issue has come up in Ottawa. As CBC explains, “in 2016, the federal government committed to $500 million in funding to bring broadband Internet access to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021.”

Despite the low customer density for broadband services that makes the service quite expensive, Currie believes that federal investment will ultimately benefit all Canadians. As CBC explains, “Experts say Canada has an opportunity to become a leading player in the world’s agri-food industry, but that investment is needed to make that happen.” One of these investments is equipping farmers with the tools to make their life easier, such as high-speed, reliable internet connectivity to stay up-to-date with the latest market trends, among other things.

Doug Knox, VP of Guelph-based agri-tech accelerator Bioenterprise, told CBC that one way farmers can benefit from reliable broadband is through the growth of “precision” agriculture. Farmers apparently “can now use sensors to extract information about everything from soil content to the growth stage of their crops, which helps to make data-driven decisions about fertilizing and planting.” But with poor connection, the process of collecting and downloading data is long and tedious. Knox believes many farmers choose not to implement better technologies because of the “severe” time lag.

“The yield may be lower because of not being able to understand what’s happening with the crop that’s growing, and so the impact is huge for the farmer,” Knox told CBC.

In order for Canada to feed not only its own population, but the growing world population, broadband is looking incredibly important. It is up to the federal government to decide if they deem the investment is worth it.

Source: cbc.ca – ‘Long overdue’: Ontario farmers say lack of reliable broadband Internet is hurting their business
Published: September 05, 2018

Apple releasing two new cost-effective computers in 2018

According to The Vancouver Sun, Apple plans on releasing a “new low-cost laptop and a professional-focused upgrade to the Mac mini desktop later this year.”

Apple insiders told The Vancouver Sun that the laptop will look “similar to the current MacBook Air, but will include thinner bezels around the screen” and the display will “remain about 13-inches.” It will likely “be geared toward consumers looking for a cheaper Apple computer, but also schools that often buy laptops in bulk.” Given that the current MacBook air costs about US$1,000, we can assume this PC will be cheaper than that.

As for the Mac mini desktop computer, this will be the first upgrade in four years. It is an affordable option for users who want to customize their desktop experience because it “doesn’t include a screen, keyboard, or mouse in the box and costs US$500.” For the new model, the Apple insiders say Apple is gearing the computer towards pro users – who purchase the computer to develop apps, run home media centres, manage server farms, etc.

The Mac line of computers represent a steady eleven percent of Apple sales in the last fiscal year, beating out the iPad. At the same time, however, Apple has been under pressure to adapt the Macs to the increasing professional needs of its users. In addition to the desktop allegedly being released later this year, “Apple has sought to address this by releasing a high-end iMac Pro and a new MacBook Pro with an updated keyboard and faster processor options.”

Apple often launches new computers in October, following the launch of new iPhones.

Source: vancouversun.com – Apple to release a new low-cost Macbook, pro-focused Mac mini later this year
Published: August 21, 2018

Fido doubling data for the back to school season

According to Mobile Syrup, Canadian carrier Fido has some great deals on mobile plans for the back to school season. The publication says, “Most of the back to school plans come with an additional five extra hours of data per month through Fido Bytes, as well as Fido Xtra.”

If you have your own device you want to bring to Fido, you can “hop on” a plan for $65 a month with 6GB of data,  $75 a month for 8GB of data, $85 a month for 11GB of data, and finally $115 a month for 13GB of data. These plans are available across Canada, except Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. “Both of the prairie provinces have a 5GB for $53 deal on bring your own device plans. In Quebec the plans start at 2GB for $35 a month with unlimited minutes, and they go up to the 10GB plan for $56 a month.”

If you do not have a device to bring with you, that’s okay! These plans are available with devices as well, but of course cost more per month depending on the device you choose to purchase with the plan.

Fido’s overage rate is seven dollars per 100MB.

All back to school deals come with unlimited calling minutes, but can be substituted for 500 Canada-wide minutes in exchange for a discount of five dollars a month.

Source: mobilesyrup.com – Fido’s back to school wireless plans offer subscribers double data
Published: August 23, 2018

Traffic cameras may soon be able to connect to your smartphone

PHADE, a new technology developed by researchers at Purdue University, allows public surveillance cameras – such as the ones attached to traffic lights – to send personalized messages to civilian smartphones without knowing the address of that device.

GCN describes one possible scenario where PHADE might come in handy: “You’re about to cross a downtown street and your smartphone beeps to tell you that a text message has arrived.  As you pull out your phone to check the message as you walk, the phone receives an alert from your local police — you’re about to step into the path of a rapidly approaching SUV!”

GCN also explains that PHADE “digitally associates people in the camera’s view with their smartphones by using the subjects’ behavioral address, or the identifiers extracted from their movements in the video… With PHADE, a video stream tracks the movements of people within range, then analyzes and encodes those movements as an ‘address.’ At the same time, an application on a subject’s smartphone is doing the same analysis using the phone’s sensors.  When PHADE broadcasts a message it will be received only by the smartphone that has a matching ‘address.’” This bypasses the traditional requirement for an IP or media access control address to deliver messages, and protects individuals’ privacy.

If you’re not convinced about the privacy aspect, PHADE allegedly ‘blurs’ the data it uses after delivering a message, preventing it from being used to ever identify the user of the smartphone.

The main purpose of PHADE, assure researchers, is to enhance public safety. PhD student and PHADE researcher Siyuan Cao explained that, “For example, the government can deploy cameras in high-crime or high-accident areas and warn specific users about potential threats, such as suspicious followers.”

However, PHADE has many potential uses, such as being “used to provide tailored information to visitors at museums or historical sites.”

You might be thinking that while this is really cool, it is also kind of freaky. You’re not alone. GCN says, “the prospects get even creepier if entities — whether government agencies or private-sector companies — combine PHADE with other technologies, such as face-recognition programs.”

Do you think PHADE has more potential to be a tool for safety, or potentially unsettling behavior?

Source: gcn.com – A majority of U.S. teens are taking steps to limit smartphone and social media use
Published: July 2018