Friday, April 6, 2018 by Kristen Hicks
April Tech News & TrendsAs usual, the past few weeks have seen a lot of big tech news hit the press, some of which suggests some real changes to come in the tech and business worlds. For busy business people who have a hard time staying on top of new tech stories on their own, we have our monthly roundup of tech news to be aware of this month.
1. Facebook Faces ScandalFacebook has faced scandals and criticism before, but the recent news that Facebook data on 50 million user profiles had been harvested and exploited by the marketing firm Cambridge Analytica may be the biggest scandal yet. The firm used the company’s data to create targeted political advertising campaigns that may have helped sway the last U.S. presidential election and the UK’s Brexit vote. And internal documents suggest that Facebook was aware of the breadth of the data breach and did little at the time it was discovered. This scandal combines people’s worries about fake news with their cyber security fears. The outrage has inspired #deletefacebook to trend on Twitter (although with minimal follow through) and Zuckerberg is set to testify in front of Congress about the scandal. This probably isn’t the end of Facebook, but it’s definitely got a lot of users thinking twice about how they interact with the platform.
2. Snap Has an Even Worse MonthLast month we reported that Snap was having a rocky month between a new design that customers hated and a negative tweet from Kylie Jenner. Well soon after that things went from bad to worse when the platform approved an offensive ad that made a callous joke about Chris Brown’s famous domestic abuse offense against Rihanna.
Is it just me, or is this ad that popped up on my Snapchat extremely tone deaf? Like what were they thinking with this? pic.twitter.com/7kP9RHcgNG— Royce Mann (@TheRoyceMann) March 12, 2018
3. Hackers Disrupt Atlanta’s City GovernmentThe city of Atlanta had to halt a number of city services and operations last month due to a ransomware attack made by hackers. The hackers demanded a ransom of $51,000 in bitcoin to remove the threat to the city’s digital systems. Atlanta has managed to regain some of its systems, but the attack is a reminder of how much power someone with hacking skills can have over the functions of government.
4. Zscaler, Dropbox, Spotify, and DocuSign Go PublicIt’s a big month for tech IPOs.
- To start, Zscaler, the cloud security company had a strong start when it went public last month, making $192 million and watching stocks go up 75% on the first day of trading.
- Dropbox followed suit with a similarly strong offering, going up 49% in its first two days on the market.
- Just a couple of days ago , Spotify launched their IPO, which put their initial valuation at $29.5 billion.
- And sorry, you won’t get time to catch your breath, because DocuSign has also just filed for IPO with the goal of going public later this month.
5. Self-Driving Vehicles Forced to Slow DownUsually the talk around self-driving cars is excited and often brings a feeling of rushing – the companies behind them, the people working on them, and the consumers that want them all seem to be in a hurry for the tech to be ready and available. But last month, a woman was hit and killed by a self-driving Uber, forcing the company to take a step back and slow things down for a bit. The company pulled all its self-driving vehicles from public roads for the time being while they investigate the cause of the crash.
6. Cryptocurrency ControversiesThe city of Plattsburgh, NY made news last month by banning cryptomining. The practice, a way of gaining bitcoin, uses up a considerable amount of electricity and was taxing the city’s electric system. Because the city was using more than it was able to produce and had to buy electricity from outside sources, residents were stuck with much higher electric bills than usual. In response, the city government went ahead and banned the practice altogether. On top of that, Twitter joins a number of other social media networks in banning all ads for cryptocurrency. The move is a way to try to reduce fraud on the site, especially as “crypto twitter” is known for being generally shady. Even with these minor setbacks, bitcoin and other popular cryptocurrencies remain a notable part of our modern economy.
7. MyFitnessPal App HackedThe data breach of the month (at least so far) is MyFitnessPal. The app, owned by Under Armour, was hacked, compromising 150 million profiles. They’ve alerted their members and are requiring everyone that uses the app to change their password. It seems like every month brings at least one new data breach. It’s a good reminder to keep your passwords secure and change them periodically for better protection.
8. U.S. Considers Requiring Social Media Info for All Visa ApplicantsThe U.S. state department has announced a desire to begin requiring all visa applicants to the country to provide details of their social media accounts. If the department moves forward with this plan, nearly 15 million people will be required to provide this information as part of their application – a requirement many feel is a serious invasion of their privacy. While the administration claims this requirement is a way to combat terrorism, many are skeptical that it would make a meaningful difference while also concerned that it oversteps reasonable boundaries of privacy. Before a final decision is made, the public has a couple of months to provide comments on the proposal.
9. Collision ConferenceMeeting from April 30-May 3 in New Orleans, the Collision Conference brings together over 25,000 attendees to network, view tech exhibits, and discuss and learn about topics ranging from AI to cryptocurrency to brand activism. For anyone looking for a good opportunity to learn more and meet like minds, it’s the best tech conference this month to consider.
Happy April!Like most months, April is a busy one for the tech world. Check back next month to see what tech trends to look forward to in May.
Monday, November 6, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Top Tech Trends for NovemberAs we move into the holiday season, you may be too focused on the biggest buying (and marketing) time of year to stay on top of technology news. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Here are the main tech news stories that should be on your radar moving into November.
Walmart Starts Using Robots for InventoryThe fear of robots taking jobs from people is nothing new, but now and then it rears its head anew. This past month, Walmart announced plans to begin using robots that roll through the aisles to perform tasks like scanning the shelves for items that are out of stock or mislabeled. Walmart has assured worried employees that the robots won’t be replacing humans – they claim they’re just to make human jobs more efficient. But if there’s less to do, it just makes sense that fewer people will be needed. This is only one small move in the direction of human work being handed over to robots, but it is a move in that direction nonetheless.
Sophia the Robot Gains CitizenshipRobots aren’t just taking jobs; they’re also gaining citizenship. Late last month the robot Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. The announcement predictably prompted criticism, but not just about the idea of AI citizenship in general – people were particularly critical that the move came from a country that still places serious limits on the freedom allotted to women citizens and doesn’t even allow non-Muslims living in the country to become citizens. Handing over more rights to a robot than it provides to a number of humans in the country definitely got the country headlines, but maybe not the kind of attention officials were hoping for.
Amazon Key Incites Strong ReactionsAmazon is in the news for something just about every month, but rarely do they make an announcement that gets the kind of negative (although often comical) reaction that Amazon Key inspired. Amazon Key is meant to be a way for people concerned about package theft to know their packages will make it into their home safe and sound, even when they’re out. It’s a system that allows the deliveryman to unlock the door and set the package inside while on video so both Amazon and the recipient can see if they try anything else. The system is only available to Amazon Prime members and costs $250, but based on the early response, few people seem to see much value in the option. Responses in both media and on social media are much more focused on the risks of such a service, specifically the loss of privacy and fear of robbery, which far outweigh the benefit of avoiding stolen packages in most people’s eyes.
me: I’m worried about Amazon Key Amazon: Don’t worry it’s entirely opt-in me: whew Amazon: pic.twitter.com/pXmlaez2u8— dan mentos (@DanMentos) October 26, 2017
Even the trending topic description for Amazon Key makes it sound like a horror/thriller premise. pic.twitter.com/X5qq85TaiR— Alexandra Scarin' (@alexandraerin) October 25, 2017
Tech Platforms Tackle Russian AdvertisingOne of the stories that followed the election last fall was the realization that companies backed by the Russian government had paid for a large number of ads on some of the main tech advertising platforms, including Google and Facebook. In response, Facebook last month delivered thousands of ads to a congressional investigators looking into Russian interference in the election. Twitter responded by banning two Russian media companies from advertising on the platform. Even as the tech companies take these steps, a bipartisan group of senators are working to pass legislation that would reduce the ability of foreign powers to use similar methods for election meddling in the future.
ForeScout Technologies and ZScaler File for IPOTwo of the biggest tech IPOs of the last month were focused on the same area: security. Zcaler provides cloud security to big companies worried about data breaches, while ForeScout is an Internet of Things security company that helps businesses monitor the many devices connected to their networks for possible intrusions. With the Equifax breach still fresh in everyone’s minds, both companies provide solutions for one of the biggest tech problems of our era.
MongoDB Goes PublicThe software development company went public to an enthusiastic response from investors. Based on early interest, the company increased the price of shares from the originally planned $22 to $24 right before launching and still saw a 34% increase in its first day. This looks like one more tech success story in the stock market this year.
First Reviews in for Google’s Pixel PhonesGoogle released its Pixel phones early last month to much fanfare, followed by a wave of criticism. While the phone gets points from users for having a long battery life and a great camera, the Pixel 2 in particular is plagued with serious display issues. The colors don’t show up right and users report dealing with screen burn-in. In addition, the phone has earned complaints about its audio recording capabilities. This is one product area where Google clearly needs to do some work.
Smart Light Switches May Disrupt Smart Light MarketOne of the easiest changes people interested in smart home technology can make is the switch to smart lights. So far though, that’s meant buying all new light bulbs along with a system to control them (usually from Hue). The startup Noon Home is selling a system that saves you the trouble of having to replace your light bulbs to use the technology – it will control those you already have, enabling you to choose different light settings and manage them all from your phone as you would with any other smart light.
Web Summit Meets in LisbonOver 60,000 attendees from all over the world will show up for what Inc. calls “the largest tech conference in the world.” Web Summit meets from November 6-9 and boasts speakers from huge tech players like Slack and Reddit and those in high-up government positions from various countries alike. Topics will cover emerging technologies, the intersection of tech and politics, using tech for social good and more. As with every month, November’s sure to bring its share of surprises in tech news. We’ll be keeping an eye out in order to report them in next month’s post, so be sure to check back for December’s top tech trends.
Saturday, May 6, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
May 2018 Tech News & TrendsWhile schools let out for the summer and the weather starts to get hotter, the tech world keeps moving. As usual, this month brings its share of tech company scandals, updates to common tech products, and tech news stories. To help busy business people like you stay on top of it all, here’s our roundup of tech trends to pay attention to this month.
Zuckerberg Testifies as Facebook Continues to ProfitFacebook was frequently in the news last month – and mostly not in a good way. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerberg faced hours of questioning in front of Congress about the role the social media platform plays in society and politics. The company potentially faces significant fines and the scandal may be the beginning of government regulations for social media companies.
But even as Zuckerberg was being grilled by politicians, Facebook still finished the first quarter of the year with strong earnings and a growth in daily active users.
Sprint and T-Mobile Looking to MergeThe phone world finished out April with a bang with the news that two of the country’s biggest phone providers will be merging. Sprint and T-Mobile hope that by joining together, they’ll be able to more effectively compete with the two biggest players in the U.S. cell phone carrier space, Verizon and AT&T. And notably, they also hope that the merger will enable them to make the investment in 5G technology that’s required for the U.S. to stay competitive with China. The companies have announced their intention to join forces, but they still face a considerable hurdle: government approval. If the government determines that the combination of the two companies means they take on too much of the market share, then the merger will be shot down in violation of antitrust laws. The companies seem to be banking on the business friendly politics of the current administration in choosing to attempt the merger at this time, but many experts are still skeptical the merger will happen.
Europe’s GDPR Deadline Has Companies ScramblingBusinesses around the world are struggling to make the changes that are required for them to be in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed by the European Union. The regulation officially takes effect on May 25, meaning the deadline for businesses looms large going into the month. The GDPR places restrictions on what businesses can do with the user data they collect and how much data they’re allowed to collect to begin with. It also requires companies to disclose security breaches immediately. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the increasingly common data breaches we all hear about, this change may bring some peace of mind to European citizens. But the costs to businesses to comply with the new regulations is estimated to be up to $1 million per business. And the GDPR doesn’t apply to anyone outside of the E.U., so anyone in the U.S. concerned about data privacy can’t count on seeing any real change.
Gmail Makes Significant UpdatesGmail has just launched a significant update that could change the way you check your email. The new version of Gmail has a cleaner look, along with a number of new features. It puts your main organizational options on the same line as the email subject in your inbox, so it’s faster and more intuitive to move it where you want it to go. It gives a “Snooze” option and provides reminders about old emails that have been sitting in your inbox for a while, so you don’t forget to reply to them. Accessing attachments in a threaded email is easier. And you can choose to view your info from Google’s Calendar, Keep, and Tasks apps alongside your inbox. For people who spend a lot of time dealing with email each day (which is probably true of most of you reading this), these changes can make a big difference to your efficiency and effectiveness.
Zuora Launches, Sonos Files, and Tencent Considers IPOWe are in the midst of a huge few weeks in tech IPOs. In mid-April, Zuora, a company that provides a billing system for SaaS companies, went public and was an immediate success, jumping from $14 at launch to $20 at closing. Following close on their heals, the smart speaker company, Sonos, has quietly filed paperwork to go public as soon as this coming June. And inspired by Spotify’s successful IPO, China’s largest music streaming service, Tencent, is also eyeing a public offering – one that experts expect to be one of the biggest IPOs of the year. This year has already been big for tech on the stock market, but the news this month suggests we’re just getting started.
Amazon’s Massive Profits ContinueIn unsurprising news. Amazon had a great first quarter, with over $1 billion in profits. And with a $20 increase in the cost of Amazon Prime, they look poised to keep making even more. That is, if the government doesn’t make changes that hurt the company’s profitability. Some recent Tweets from the president suggest he’s not a fan of the company and, in particular, the deals they receive from the United States Postal Service. Whether or not his opinion will lead to actions that influence Amazon’s bottom line is hard to predict at this point.
I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
Snap Spectacles Get an UpgradeAfter a harsh couple of months, Snap finally has something positive for us to report on. They just released version two of the Snap Spectacles camera glasses and so far the response is positive. The Spectacles can take photo and video, work underwater, and actually look good. They appear to offer the stylish looks and convenience that earlier models of AR glasses (like Google Glass) couldn’t manage. The Spectacles have already gone on sale for $150. Reviewers seem to like them, we’ll know soon enough if consumers agree.
Alexa Getting SmarterAmazon’s smart assistant is set to gain some new features in the next few weeks. Amazon has announced that Alexa will soon be able to remember any information you tell her to, answer follow up questions using the information you provided in the first question, and pull out Amazon Skills in response to specific questions without you having to load them to the system first. These features will make Alexa that much more useful to people and may give the product more of an edge in the smart assistant space.
Here's to MayAs you can see, the tech world is in the midst of a busy month. We can only guess at how much more is to come in the next few weeks. Check back here next month for an update on the tech trends to be aware of going into June.
Monday, January 9, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
The Top Tech News of January 2018It’s a new year and we’re excited to see what’s to come with new tech innovations and stories in the next twelve months. To start the year off, we already have an inkling of some of the stories you’ll be hearing about in January. Here are some of the tech news subjects to keep on your radar this month.
1. The Bitcoin Roller CoasterYou’ve probably been seeing a lot of references to Bitcoin lately, but what you hear can change day to day. The cryptocurrency has been making headlines for big spikes and drops in value over the past few weeks. In early December all the talk was about how the currency was worth far more than most experts anticipated. As we neared the end of the year, the news shifted to drops in the price. In the New Year, it’s on the rise again (although that may have changed by the time this story goes up). If this trend continues, we’ll likely be hearing a lot about Bitcoin well into January and possibly for the entire year to come.
2. CES ConferenceThe Consumer Electronics Show, one of the most important conferences in the tech world, is happening January 9-12 in Las Vegas. Put on by the Consumer Technology Association, the conference is famous for being the place where many of the biggest tech businesses in the world announce their most exciting new products and updates to the larger public. Expect to see a steady stream of stories from tech journalists covering innovations in areas like AR, the smart home, and more. And check back here next month if you’re worried about catching it all – some of the news is likely to make our February roundup.
3. Disney and Fox Move Toward MergerTwo media behemoths are about to join forces, as long as the government doesn’t stop the merger as an antitrust violation. The merger is largely being reported as part of Disney’s larger plan to shift their business model toward the popularity of streaming entertainment. They’ve already announced plans to release their own streaming platforms, and access to all of Fox’s content properties will go a long way to making them more competitive in a space dominated by brands like Netflix and Hulu that got there first.
4. YouTube Makes a Deal with Music CompaniesAfter a long negotiation process, YouTube has signed deals with Universal Music Group and Sony Entertainment to provide payment to artists whose music is shared through the platform. The deal will help support YouTube’s move to get more sign ups for the relatively new subscription version of the platform.
5. Tech Shakes Up How We Get GroceriesBuying groceries is one of the most common chores that almost everyone has to do, but what the task looks like is changing as tech companies continue to disrupt the market. Amazon buying Whole Foods last year already suggested a big shift to grocery delivery replacing trips to the store. Getting into the same game, Target bought Shipt, a grocery delivery company, just last month. Another big change taking shape is the move toward unmanned stores. Amazon opened one last year, but one of their biggest competitors in China has plans to open hundreds of people-less convenience stores in the near future. These stores skip the checkout process, letting you simply choose what you like and leave, while tech that recognizes who you are and what products you’ve chosen takes care of the payment process for you.
6. Apple Draws Derision in Battery ControversyEvery year, Apple releases updated iPhones and many customers eagerly switch over to the new model. Those who patiently opt to stick with the phone they have eventually find it working more slowly or failing to stay charged as long until they too choose to upgrade to a new model. Turns out, the slower functioning of older phones is by design. Apple upset lots of its customers last month by admitting that new iOS updates intentionally slow down older phones. They claim it’s because the batteries get worn out, so the slower functioning saves the phones from shutting down as quickly, but many customers suspect it’s a ploy to get people to shell out for new phones. Some customers have gone as far as suing, and Apple has responded to the outrage with apologies and an offer to sell new batteries for old phones at a lower rate than previously. Their competitors have (perhaps smugly) responded with assurances that they would never slow down customers’ phones. Whether or not this will put a dent in the iPhone’s overall popularity remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn’t make the company look good.
7. Tech IPOs on the HorizonExperts are predicting that 2018 will be a big year in tech IPOs. For January, many eyes are on Xiaomi, a Chinese smartphone company, which could become one of the biggest tech IPOs ever if or when it comes to fruition. DocuSign’s another possibility this month, as they alerted the media last year of their plans to go public in “early 2018.” IPOs are notoriously hard to predict, so we’ll see which companies actually take the plunge in the month and year to come.
8. Amazon and Google Rivalry Gets PettyWhile a lot of the news this month is about companies merging, there are still plenty of big players in competition with each other. Last month, two of the biggest tech giants of all, Amazon and Google, got petty in their rivalry when Google chose to deactivate its YouTube app on all of Amazon’s Fire TV devices. Customers who could easily pull up YouTube on their Amazon Fire TV or with the Fire stick now get directed to a browser where they have to type youtube.com in to access the popular video service. Many see this as retaliation for Amazon’s refusal to sell certain Google products like Chromecast and Google Home on the site (if you type in “Google Home” in Amazon, you get Amazon’s smart home products in the results). The main losers here are the customers who have to deal with compatibility issues between different products and services. But at least in this case, the workaround is pretty simple.
9. Mixed Reality Goggles on the WayThe company Magic Leap has started to share details of its augmented reality system with the public. While they haven’t announced a release date yet, they’ve shown a demo of the product to tech journalists. Their system includes goggles and a handheld controller that are linked to a small pocket-sized computer. The three pieces all work together to provide an immersive AR experience where you can interact with video game characters that make eye contact and see a fictional world and characters transposed on the world around you.
If the product hits the market in 2018 as intended, it brings us that much closer to the kind of virtual reality experience people have been imagining in sci-fi stories and movies for decades.
10. Amazon Extends Smart Home Business with Blink AcquisitionAs if it wasn’t already obvious that Amazon wants to take over our homes with technology, their acquisition of the smart security startup Blink adds to the type of products and technology they now have access to. Blink’s smart security devices, including cameras and a smart doorbell, offer connectivity between different security devices and your phone at a more affordable rate than many competitors. They’re a natural fit for Amazon, which is already behind many of the most popular smart home products on the market.
11. Britain Makes High-Speed Internet a Legal RightWhile the U.S. has been debating the repeal of net neutrality, the UK made a move in the opposite direction last month, declaring that all the country’s residents deserve access to high-speed internet as a legal right. Internet providers in the country will be required to provide all homes with at least 10 megabits per second of data speed, the amount the government has determined is required for reasonable use by the average family. The decision puts internet on par with utilities like water and electricity in how the government handles it, showing just how important internet has become to how people live their day-to-day lives.
Happy January!January promises to be a big month for tech news, and 2018 is sure to bring us loads of surprises and interesting stories. Check back next month to see what’s going on in the tech world In February.