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The OECD’s scorecard for the Digital Economy: Australia OK, but could do better

10:40AM | Wednesday, 8 October

In a report that is due to be released next month, the OECD has drawn a picture of the state of the world’s digital economy, or at least that of its member countries. The reported data paint a picture of our modern digital life, with growing numbers of people accessing the internet via high speed broadband or wireless on their mobiles, enabling them to take part in social networks and online shopping. The digital citizen   Overall, the number of adults in the OECD countries that use the internet increased from 60% in 2005 to 80% in 2013. The gap between young and old varies according to country but in the most advanced economies, up to 95% of young people are now internet users. 70% of them also access the internet at school. Buying products and services online has now become the norm, with 50% of users doing so, and an increasing proportion of that is now via a mobile device.   E-Government services were used on average by 35% of individuals and about 80% of businesses. E-Government is defined as people accessing information and submitting completed forms, including tax returns.   A particularly interesting set of data showed the degree to which users in a particular country would watch YouTube content from that country. This was highest in Japan where 75% of YouTube views were of Japanese videos, through to the USA where 33% of content viewed was of US origin and Australia where only 8% of views was of Australian content. Unfortunately the data doesn’t tell us where the majority of content Australians watched came from but one can only assume that it was from countries like the US and UK.   It seems that being a digital native starts young in most OECD countries. The age of first access to the internet in 2012 ranged from 33% being under 6 in Denmark to the majority of Russians being over 10 years old. Australia, as with many things digital, was somewhere in the middle with the majority of kids being under 9 when they first accessed the internet. The not-so-digital citizen   Not all is quite as switched on as it would appear however. In the EU, over 60% of the labour force reported that they had insufficient computer skills they considered necessary to apply for a new job. This included just under 40% of people with a university education. Again in the EU, 30% of internet users cited concerns about security as the reason they wouldn’t buy anything online.   Computer use at work also varied dramatically across OECD countries with countries like Russia and Italy reporting over 50% of workers not using a computer at work. This figure was around 26% in the US and as low as 17% in Norway. Digital companies   Companies have been slower than individuals to adopt digital ways but they have recently been speeding up. According to the OECD, “It took 15 to 20 years for slightly more than three quarters of enterprises to develop a website, but only a few years for around 30% of businesses to become active on social networks”. In the OECD countries, 94% of businesses have access to broadband, 75% had a website, but only 20% conducted any sales online. The standout country here was New Zealand where 80% of companies purchased goods online and 45% of companies sold goods online. The use of enterprise resource planning tools was lowest in the UK where only 10% of companies used this type of software. Wired (and wireless) countries   A key enabler for a digital economy and digital citizens is access to broadband. The main driver here has been access to wireless broadband, principally enabled through the mobile phone. Almost 75% of OECD citizens now have a mobile wireless broadband subscription. In Australia, there has been a radical increase in subscriptions since 2009 where the figure was less than 20%, to now where there are more subscriptions than inhabitants. Australia now has the second highest wireless broadband usage of all OECD countries.   Fixed, or wired, broadband subscriptions in OECD countries tell a different story. Korea leads the world with over 70% of fixed broadband subscribers having speeds above 10 Mbps. The USA is over 30% but Australia is down near the bottom of the list at 10%.   The Digital Economy   The impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the economy is huge. ICT companies spend more on the research and development than the rest of the economy and across the OECD productivity in IT companies is about 60% higher than the rest. Other analyses have estimated that the impact of wireless broaband on the Australian economy has been around $34 billion a year.   As countries continue to look for ways of boosting their economies, investing in productivity and innovation through information technologies seems the most feasible way of achieving this. This is especially true for countries like Australia where the reliance on mining is not sustainable.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The digital divide is narrowing but more needs to be done

10:26PM | Monday, 6 October

The ease of buying shoes or managing our banking over a mobile phone connected to the internet has changed our expectations regarding accessible services. But not everyone is connected to the internet in Australia so how do we make sure any growth is equalled by ability to use and navigate services online?   Australian governments are attempting to deliver more of their services using mobile apps or over internet platforms such as myGov. The federal government’s ICT Sustainability Plan argues for the promotion of Government 2.0 listing the obvious benefits such as reducing costs and improving the convenience and speed of solving problems.   Yet lingering inequalities of access have made the shift to online service provision less effective. The term digital divide describes a form of inequality derived from diminished access to technological services, such as internet access.   While basic access to the internet has improved in Australia, other divisions have become crucial: in speed, hardware and know-how. Educating people to use the internet to access services, and making this easy, should be the next step for government agencies attempting to push their services online.   So who is and who isn’t online?   Research by the Australian Communications Media Authority says internet usage is growing in both regional and urban areas.   Most growth is driven by the use of internet enabled mobile phone handsets.   During the period December 2009 to December 2013, the proportion of the population using the internet via their mobile phone increased from 12% to 49% in major capital cities, and from 5% to 32% in non-urban areas.   Beyond the use of smartphones, the gap is closing slowly. There is a 12-percentage point difference between urban (84%) and rural (72%) Australians with a home broadband internet connection.   The Australian Bureau of Statistics’s report on Household Use of Information Technology also highlighted divisions in use and access based on age and socioeconomic background.   In 2012–13 it found only 46% of older people were internet users and only 44% of this age group had accessed the internet from home in the previous 12 months.   Meanwhile the ABS report says 98% of households with household income of $120,000 or more had internet access, compared to 57% of households with household income of less than $40,000.   Limited access in indigenous communities   Rates of access in remote indigenous communities are particularly low.   A joint study by Swinburne University and the Central Land Council looked at home internet use in three remote indigenous communities – at Kwale Kwale, Imangara and Mungalawurru in the Northern Territory.   Only 10% of total adult participants owned their own computer, and only 10% of those were connected to the internet at home. Even people with access to a computer could not always get a satellite connection and some run off generators rather than the electrical grid.   Australia is trying to solve the problem of the digital divide with the development of the National Broadband Network (NBN). This will provide high speed broadband access to all Australians through a combination of fixed, mobile and satellite networks.   While the Liberal/National coalition government elected in 2013 has reformed the NBN project to provide lower speed connections, they should consider prioritising museums, schools, libraries and community centres with high speed access. These could provide education and training to members of their communities with a reliable internet connection and functional hardware.   The role of high-speed connected schools   Schools have a particularly important role to play in educating young people and servicing communities in rural areas. Skills training in computer literacy and navigation skills are essential to improve accessibility and use of online services.   Therefore schools should be considered as both access points and training centres, and prioritised.   The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report on rural education made it clear that the cost and reliability of internet access must be improved if schools are to play a strong role in closing the digital divide.   Some examples of good inclusiveness policies were listed by the Economist Intelligence Unit in its 2012 Best Practice from Around the World report. It commended the work of Telstra in narrowing the digital divide.   Three of the telco’s projects for managing this change include:   The Access for Everyone program reportedly trained more than 62,000 people in how to access the internet. It targeted low income households, people with disabilities, the elderly and people living in rural areas. Connected Seniors gets high school students teaching older Australians on how to use smartphones and tablets through group workshops. Indigenous Digital X in collaboration with the Telstra Foundation has established the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence to strengthen indigenous participation and entrepreneurship in the digital economy. Many countries confront divides between their rural and urban population in internet access, yet Australia, with one of the lowest population densities in the world, is particularly challenged by its own geography.   So until universal accessibility is guaranteed, any money government agencies and public service providers save as services shift online should be invested into quality internet access, skills training and other inclusiveness strategies. These strategies are key to ensuring existing inequalities are not reinforced by shifting to online delivery of services.   Philippa Nicole Barr does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The PC reaches its twilight years as Windows 10 becomes the last major upgrade

10:13AM | Thursday, 2 October

Microsoft will skip the version 9 of Windows and will release instead Windows 10 in 2015. This upgrade will be the last major release of Windows.   The decision to stop releasing Windows as a series of major releases is long overdue and follows the approach (including the choice of the number 10) taken by Apple in releasing minor versions of its Mac OSX system. After the disastrous release of Windows 8, subsequent releases have been largely about rolling back the more radical changes in the user interface. As attention shifts to mobile, the marketing and commercial advantages of releasing major upgrades to operating systems have all but disappeared.   Microsoft will now release changes to Windows via smaller point upgrades, following Apple’s lead with Mac OSX which will shortly be at version 10.10.   This is actually good news for both consumers and businesses who have to deal with the inevitable bugs that come with upgrades along with updates of software changed only to support the new operating system. At the same time, the new features in the upgrade are bringing diminishing direct benefits to consumers as changes become increasingly gratuitous. Insult is added to injury of course when consumers are actually asked to pay for the new versions, a practice that Apple at least has largely stopped.   Businesses who use Windows will also find the end of large upgrades easier to manage as it becomes simpler to deal with more frequent and smaller changes than to deal with a major version change. For Microsoft as well, this will have the added benefit of eventually persuading more of its users to all be on the same operating system. Currently only around 14% of Windows users are actually using Windows 8.x. Nearly twice that are still using Windows XP, a system they offcially stopped supporting this year.   Operating systems should never really have to change as much as they have. The fundamental core of the operating system, called the “kernel)” does now what it has always done. New hardware can be accommodated by adding “device drivers”, something that doesn’t need a change in the kernel to achieve. Likewise, Microsoft learned the hard way that major changes to the user interface are not necessarily welcomed by its customers and even in this case, it would be possible to change this without a major release in the operating system as a whole.   The fact the we may not see radically different versions of Windows, Mac OS or even Linux does not mean that this signals the death of the PC. Like the software that runs on it, hardware on PCs is unlikely to change radically in the future because it has turned out that people are prepared to use multiple devices. Functionality that might have been built into a PC is unnecessary because that functionality becomes available in distinct device types like tablets, phablets, mobile phones and wearables. It has also turned out that adding features like a touch screen to a laptop didn’t make much sense as this was largely made redundant through the use of the keyboard and mouse. Likewise, it is unlikely that devices like the “leap” motion tracking device will become standard on the laptop or PC because again it doesn’t radically improve on what you can already do.   It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that products can reach a point where they fundamentally do not evolve any further and reach a steady state. Technologies that we interact with every day are fundamentally the same as they have been for years, if not decades. A trivial example being the electric toaster which utilises the same technology that it has done for the past 100 years. With computing technology however, we have constantly held an expectation that each year will bring revolutionary change. This is because the mobile phone and tablet have really driven highly public declarations of change in annual launch events. Even here though, we will see mobile phones reach the so-called “climax state”, it might just take the public some time to accept and come to terms with it.   David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five key features you can expect to find up Apple’s sleeve with the iPhone 6

9:22AM | Wednesday, 3 September

Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week.   Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue.   The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements.   Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month.   So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet   As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6.   According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3.   Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s.   Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.   Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments   According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6.   During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks.   Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard.   The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems.   It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash.   While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve?   For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve.   In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market.   Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own.   At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces.   The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8   Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8.   First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users.   The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite.   The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another.   It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices.   iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display   In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen.   While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

A record 300 million smartphones were shipped during the second quarter of 2014: IDC

8:32AM | Monday, 18 August

The worldwide market for smartphones hit a record 301.3 million units worldwide during the second quarter, according to the latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.   To put the market size into perspective, the worldwide market for PCs stands at around 75.5 million units per quarter, meaning that there are now just under four smartphones sold each quarter for each PC.   The overwhelming majority of smartphones shipped worldwide during the second quarter ran Android, with the platform claiming 255.3 million units and 84.7% market share. This was up 33.3% from 191.5 million units and 79.6% market share during the same quarter a year earlier.   In a statement, IDC mobile phone team research manager Ramon Llamas says Android is making significant gains in emerging markets.   "During the second quarter, 58.6% of all Android smartphone shipments worldwide cost less than $200 off contract, making them very attractive compared to other device," Llamas says.   "With the recent introduction of Android One, in which Google offers reference designs below $100 to Android OEMs, the proportion of sub-$200 volumes will climb even higher."   Within the Android market, IDC previously released figures showing Samsung claimed a market share of 25.2% off 74.3 million units, down by 3.9% from 77.3 million a year earlier.   By comparison, Apple and iOS smartphones now make up just 11.7% of the market off shipments of 35.2 million units, with the company’s share of the market falling slightly from 13% a year earlier.   Meanwhile, Windows Phone shipments fell to 7.4 million units, down 9.4% from 8.2 million a year earlier, while BlackBerry’s fell a massive 78% from 6.7 million units a year ago to just 1.5 million.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

What data retention is, and why it’s bad

7:15AM | Tuesday, 29 July

With the Australian government “actively considering” data retention, and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief David Irvine telling a Senate committee that it is crucial to intelligence-gathering and that Australians have nothing to fear from it, it’s time for a clarifier on exactly what data retention is and the concerns it raises.   What is data retention?   The compulsory retention of information about a citizen’s telecommunications and online usage, either by telcos and internet service providers themselves, or by a government agency, so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can use it to investigate crime and national security threats.   What sort of data?   Depends. The European Union scheme (now ruled illegal) was limited to telecommunications metadata — whom you called and when, duration of call, location, and the account linked to a particular IP address. The previous Australian government cited the EU model as what it had in mind when it invited a parliamentary inquiry into the idea in 2012. However, some individual countries (like Denmark) went further than the Eu directive and included web browsing history. Most Australian agencies officially only want metadata, not content data (like browsing history and email contents), but some agencies and police forces want the lot. Some things, like email subject lines, could arguably be either metadata or content data. The definition of what data will be subject to a data retention regime is thus crucial.   What would it cost?   In evidence to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that considered the issue in 2012, iiNet said it might cost them $5 a month for every customer to store data. That, in effect, is a $60 a year surveillance tax on every household. iiNet has recently significantly increased its estimate of the likely cost. Remember, both companies and government agencies will not merely need to store this data, but ensure it is stored safely — the vast trove of personal data that data retention will produce will be immensely attractive to criminals (and online activists looking to demonstrate how unsafe it is — in 2012, Anonymous hackers released customer data obtained from AAPT to protest the then-government’s data retention proposal).   What happens currently?   Traditionally, telcos have retained phone records because that was how they billed you. But there is decreasing need for specific call-based billing as consumers move to data-based plans. Moreover, companies have no need for metadata beyond the billing cycle, and given there’s a cost to storing such data, they are keeping less of it for the sort of periods agencies prefer — usually two years. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies call this “going dark” — losing access to phone information of the kind they’ve had for decades.   So what’s the problem - isn’t this just maintaining the status quo?   No. Let’s just focus on phone data. Your mobile phone data includes your location as your phone interacts with nearby phone towers, so in effect it can be used as a tracking device. But more importantly, forget that “it’s just metadata” (or “just billing data” as the Prime Minister said). A single phone call time and duration won’t tell anyone much about you. But in aggregate, metadata will reveal far more about you than content data.   With automated data-sifting software, agencies can accumulate a record of everyone you have called, everyone they have called, how long you spoke for, the order of the calls, and where you were when you made the call, to build a profile that says far more about you than any solitary overheard phone call or email. It can reveal not just straightforward details such as your friends and acquaintances, but also if you have medical issues, your financial interests, what you’re buying, if you’re having an affair or ended a relationship. Combined with other publicly available information, having a full set of metadata on an individual will tell you far more than much of their content data ever will.   And if you don’t believe us, ask the people who know: the General Counsel for the United States National Security Agency has publicly stated, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content”. According to the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, the US government kills people based on metadata it has accumulated on them. As Edward Snowden says: “You can’t trust what you’re hearing, but you can trust the metadata.”   OK, but we’ve already given away our privacy to Facebook etc, haven’t we? Why shouldn’t agencies that want to protect us get the same data?   This is an argument routinely used by data retention advocates, and by Irvine himself. But going on Facebook isn’t compulsory. Citizens choose to use social media or other online platforms and voluntarily engage in the swap of privacy for services that so many applications are built on. Maybe they don’t understand the full nature of what they’re losing in that transaction, but it’s still voluntary. There is nothing voluntary about data retention — not unless you want to withdraw from the 21st century and not use telecommunications and online services.   But agencies say they need it to help prevent and solve crimes.   Let’s look at what happened in Europe. A German parliament study concluded data retention in Germany had led to an increase in the crime clearance rate of 0.006%. (The German scheme was later ruled unconstitutional.) Danish police, who have a much wider metadata and content data retention scheme, said the sheer amount of information was too unwieldy to use.   But such-and-such a high-profile crime was solved with metadata.   Maybe. But that metadata was available without a data retention regime. As the German study demonstrates, the number of crimes solved because of old metadata that would not otherwise have been available is negligible. And anyway, in western societies, we have long accepted that there is a trade-off between the rights of the individual, including a right to privacy, and the state’s power to protect its citizens. We understand that our civil liberties make it harder for the state to prevent, detect and punish crime, but value them enough to keep them anyway. Data retention alters this balance in favour of the state.   But we can trust our agencies to do the right thing.   Australia’s agencies generally have a better record of behaviour than foreign agencies. For example, repeated abuses such as stalking women, sharing intimate photos and listening in to intimate conversations, have been revealed to have occurred in the NSA; the CIA recently spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee while it was preparing a report exposing the agency’s use of torture; MI6 abducted and rendered Libyan dissidents to the Gaddafi regime for torture in exchange for help in the War on Terror.   However, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are by no means perfect and serious questions remain, for example, about both ASIS’s bugging of the East Timorese cabinet in 2004 and ASIO’s efforts to intimidate and gag the whistleblower who revealed it late in 2013. We also know from Edward Snowden that Australians intelligence agencies use electronic surveillance not for protecting us from terrorists, but for economic espionage.   The problem is that, unlike normal government bureaucracies, intelligence agencies have minimal public oversight or accountability, and can use national security as a justification to resist media scrutiny. The lack of oversight means incompetence, corruption, mission creep and criminal activity are far less likely to come to light than in normal government agencies. Public transparency is one of the key motivations for public servants to behave appropriately, and it doesn’t exist for agencies engaged in surveillance. And the more personal data they have access to, the greater the temptation.   But if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.   Wear clothes in warm weather and have blinds in your windows? What are you hiding?   Are you happy for everyone to know where you are all the time, who your friends are, whom you’re having a relationship with, everyone you call, whether you have a medical or financial problem? It is not up to privacy advocates to “prove” the right to or importance of privacy. All governments acknowledge it is a fundamental right. If you support breaching that right, it is up to you to make the case, not demand privacy advocates defend it.   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies don’t merely target people “with something to hide.” People as diverse as whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, non-government groups and activists are subject to surveillance by such agencies, despite not having “done anything” other than reveal wrongdoing by governments and companies and protest against it. Data retention thus indirectly threatens core processes of democracy like whistleblowing, political organisation and scrutiny of governments. And once information is collected, agencies will press for its permanent retention. Some already argue that information should be retained forever. That means all future governments will have access to it. You may be comfortable with the current government having access to your data - but what about all future governments?   And law enforcement and intelligence agencies aren’t the only groups who have access to metadata. In Australia, bodies as diverse as local councils, the RSPCA and health bodies can obtain telephone metadata on citizens without a warrant.   But this is about stopping terrorism – the ends justify the means.   Terrorism is a wildly overhyped threat in western countries. About three times more Australians have died falling out of bed since 2001 than have died at the hands of terrorists; more Australians die from diseases like shingles and chickenpox than from terrorism. More women and children die at the hands of the partners and parents in Australia every year than the total number of Australian victims of terrorism. More Americans die from causes like malnutrition, falls, swimming accidents and work accidents each year than the entire death toll from 9/11. The level of spending we direct toward national security is completely unjustified in terms of the harms it prevents.   As a threat to the health and lives of western citizens, terrorism is negligible compared to deaths caused by poor infrastructure, bad health policies, unsafe workplaces or poverty. Data retention would be yet another expensive, intrusive national security policy that has no objective justification. Doing things in the name of stopping terrorism relies on our emotional fear of attacks, rather than making the case for taking away our rights.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This story first appeared on Crikey.com.au.

The Australian-designed mobile phone that’s targeting the elderly

7:23AM | Monday, 28 July

Google designed a car without a steering wheel, and now Australian startup KISA has released a phone without a screen or keypad.   As smartphones become more and more advanced, they become increasingly inaccessible to the elderly and those with disabilities, KISA phone co-founder Dmitry Levin says.   Levin and his fellow co-founders Dennis Volodomanov and Leon Kosher founded KISA in the middle of last year, after watching family members struggle to use smartphones.   The KISA phone, which launched last Friday, looks like a bulky, less sleek iPhone and features only the most absolutely necessary buttons, contact buttons, on/off, volume, and a SOS button for emergency calls.   Users choose up to 10 dedicated contact buttons which are pre-programmed when they purchase the phone. If one needs to be changed, then this can be done remotely by the KISA phone support team.   The phone is designed to be as light as possible to ensure it’s not cumbersome to use and not dangerous when dropped.   “This is a purpose designed and built device, it’s not for everyone, but it’s designed specifically for the needs of certain people,” he says.   “Even the simplest mobile phones on the market assume something about the user; they assume that they already know how to or are capable of using digital menus, touch screen interfaces, audio commands, or even at the most basic level, they assume the user can read.   “We set out to make a mobile phone that assumes close to nothing.”   While work is being done to make smartphones and communication gadgets as accessible as possible, Levin says there will always be a market for a phone like KISA.   “As humans our ability to deal with new technology diminishes over time,” he says.   “Technology moves on and it makes it easier, but it doesn’t take the fear of technology. For people that are afraid of tech, no matter what you do, if it looks complex it won’t work.”   The phone has been heavily tested, and designed with extensive consultation with Vision Australia and Guide Dogs Victoria.     Levin recalls the experience of one tester which he believes illustrates the value of the KISA phone.   “One of our first testers, she did not know anything about the device, it was given to her, we weren’t present there, but we were told when she was presented with the box, she was disappointed, she thought it was another smartphone,” he says.   “When she opened it her face lit up, and she said I know what this is and I know to how to use it.”   Testers of the phone had difficulty using a regular cable charger, and as a consequence the KISA team developed a cradle charger to make powering-up as easy as possible.   KISA will also be offering what co-founder it says are the simplest mobile phone plans available in Australia, with no lock in contracts, and easy to understand terms.   Levin says KISA has been approached by investors, but plan to continue without investment for as long as possible.   “We believe in it enough to fund it ourselves,” he says.

The top seven insights from Stripe co-founder John Collison for Australian startups

7:24AM | Wednesday, 23 July

On Tuesday night John Collison, who co-founded online payments startup Stripe with his brother Patrick Collison, spoke with SEEK co-founder Paul Bassat on all things Stripe, startup and internet related, to help celebrate Stripe’s Australian launch.   Here are our top seven pieces of advice Collison offered startups on a range of topics.   1. On co-founders:   “You want to have a very high level of trust and the ability to work together because there’s so much for you to do, there isn’t time to sort out other stuff. Every day there’s this big lump of work and you both attack it and it works great, but as the company grows in size you really have to start splitting the responsibility.”   2. On co-CEOs:   Collison recalled a chat he had with an investor while searching for funding for Stripe during which the investor highlighted appointing co-CEOs doesn’t work.   “He tells this to people anytime they come in and say they are co-CEOs,” Collison says.   “He says ‘ok just to clarify here, you’re trying to be co-CEOs? So you’re making everything confusing for all your employees today and all the employees you’ll ever hire. Who will get decisions from the both of you and they’ll never quite understand where they stand, just so you guys don’t have an awkward conversation right now?”   3. On hiring:   “We hired fairly slowly throughout Stripe.   “We’ve always been willing to simply not hire for a role and leave it unfilled rather than settle and be willing to compromise. And I think it’s been really important if you’re looking at it from a really long term perspective.   “When you’re hiring a person you’re not just hiring them, you’re hiring the next ten people after them. I remember when we were hiring a graphic designer, it took a year to find the right person and so for that intervening year Stripe was just really ugly.   “But again we preferred to be ugly for that year and have the right designer over the next many years, than settle immediately. They’re going to affect the quality or the calibre of people you recruit after that. You’re not hiring on a role by role basis, you’re gradually corralling people into this nebulous sphere.   “Your ability to directly influence hires actually decreases as the group grows in size so you better hope you’re doing a good job with those early hires.   4. The future of e-commerce?   “The way we think about it is, if we’re just getting people to move over from a competitor to Stripe, stirring up the existing pot but not actually changing things, that’s not actually that interesting.   “The global e-commerce market, coming up with these figures always involves a heavy dose of making up numbers, but people generally put it at around a trillion dollars, and it sounds like a big figure, but is it actually that big?   “Around two per cent of consumer spending globally happens online right now. You can kind of argue where that’s going to end up, and if you base it on the time you all spend online on our phones, we’re going to end up with a very significant spend of our portion online.”   5. How to build a successful global business?   “If you think of any global business that has been very successful, you quickly find they have a pretty clear idea about their core competency.   “I use this app if I need to travel, and I’m not using Airbnb, I’ll open Hotel Tonight and book the first thing available, they’re heavily discounted, but I realised my loyalty has shifted, it’s not with any particular hotel chain, it’s now with the app itself and staying in Hotel Tonight.   “They decided that the really valuable brand, the really valuable piece to own is the app and the booking experience and who runs the hotel and who employs all the people that’s not that important.   “If you’re a hotel that’s terrible. You’ve spend decades building up this brand. A lot of these companies have backed themselves into these corners.”   6. Do you need to go to Silicon Valley to start a startup?   “In general I think people see Silicon Valley as this place that has a monopoly on tech innovation and I think there’s actually some pretty good reason to believe it’s becoming increasingly spread out.   “You’re getting to a point where a team of 50 or a team 100 talented people can completely disrupt a market.   “I think the jury is still out a bit on how much the availability of capital affects things, because certainly there are plenty of problems where you do need outside capital for the tech to grow quickly, otherwise it can be very slow.”   7. Is Silicon Valley encouraging the best and brightest of our generation to only solve problems felt by the middle class?   “I think it’s actually a very good thing to be worried about. We solve problems for people like us, and so we come from a very privileged background so we’re going to solve problems of people from our background and there’s a large spate of the population that you ignore.   “People talk about WhatsApp being acquired by Facebook for $19 billion dollars, but I think there’s kind a bit of an availability bias here. You only hear about the most egregious examples right. You hear about Yo! getting funding, but you don’t hear about Theranos in Silicon Valley which does blood diagnostics on your iPhone and they’ve raised $400 million. No one talks about it because it’s more fun to talk about Yo!   “You look at where WhatsApp was most popular, it was in reasonably poorer countries like India where the cell phone providers who previously were charging these extortionist rates. [WhatsApp] came along and used the fact that people had smartphones to completely eliminate $100 million of carrier revenue from SMS.”

Melbourne startup aims to kick-start your mobile phone’s battery life

7:21AM | Wednesday, 9 July

  Is your phone constantly out of juice? Not to worry, a Melbourne-based startup is coming to the rescue.   Eubi, an Australian business that specialises in portable phone chargers, launched yesterday with products that resemble a small, stylish battery. The chargers, which are available in a range of colours, are compatible with any mobile device as long as the user has their phone’s USB cable.   Co-founder Melvin Chee says he started out selling electronics online and soon realised there was a gap in the market for portable mobile phone chargers. However, the concept for Eubi really took hold after completing an internship with Groupon Malaysia in December 2013.   “I was really, really surprised that people don’t actually know the usefulness of a portable charger,” he says.   Immediately after his internship, Chee flew back to Melbourne and started working on Eubi with three other co-founders. In March this year he started searching for a manufacturer in China.   While Eubi chargers are currently only available in Australia, Chee told StartupSmart he is looking to take the idea beyond our shores.   “We are looking to expand to New Zealand soon,” he says.   Eubi’s website is modern and sleek, with taglines like “stay on the go” and “cherish moments”. Chee says this is all part of the business’s marketing plan – he would like users to think of Eubi as more than just an electronic device.   “We don’t just brand it as an electronic brand but a lifestyle brand,” he says. “Something you carry around every day like a laptop or iPad.”   So far Chee has been bootstrapping the project.   “It’s been quite difficult,” he says. “Every penny we spend we say, should we spend this money? It would be great if we had an investor.”   The fact the project is being self-funded is all the more admirable when you discover that Chee is still a student, juggling his passion for startups while studying business, economics and finance at RMIT University. But he says he is getting the work/life balance “right for now”.   When asked what his advice to fellow entrepreneurs would be, Chee says sometimes you just have to put down the textbooks and take a leap of faith.   “Just do it,” he says. “Theory is good, but I always like to get out and do things.”

What the police can get from mobile phone tower data

7:00AM | Wednesday, 9 July

Metadata is in the news again with revelations that police in Australia have been getting access to data collected from mobile base stations (cell towers).   In the wiretapping world there is a distinction between call content and call metadata. The call content is the actual recording of the conversation. Metadata is data about the call, such as who has called whom and when.   In the Fairfax report it says the metadata is about the location of mobile phones and hence the location of the mobile phone owner. According to the report law enforcement agencies are accessing data that tells them who was located within particular cells at particular times.   What’s the cell in cellphone?   Mobile telephony is based on the idea of cells. As we move around we are connected to a nearby base station. The coverage of a base station is called a cell.   The size of a cell depends on many factors but its diameter ranges from a kilometre or less in densely populated areas up to about 30 kilometres in rural areas. Consequently, data on which base station we are connected to can provide information as to our location.   Most people do not appreciate just how “chatty” their mobile phone is. When a mobile phone is switched on, there is a constant dialogue between it and the network, even without a call being made.   In particular there is a constant exchange of data as to which cell the device is currently located in and which base station it should be connected to. If a signal becomes too weak because we have moved out of the cell, or if the current base station we are connected to becomes too congested the phone connection may be handed over to another base station.   All this happens without our intervention and without us making a call.   Locating the baddies   The data exchanged as part of this process can be of great use to law enforcement agencies since it can provide information as to the approximate location at certain times of the owner of the mobile phone.   At the very least it can tell an investigator which cell the mobile device (and hence the owner of the device) was located in at a particular time. But if the investigator is prepared to analyse the data, much more accurate location information can be obtained.   To manage handover between cells, the base station monitors the signal strength from the handset. This can give an approximate measure of the distance from the base station.   Also, since most base stations use directional antennae, the base station can give a good estimate as to the location of the mobile device. Multiple base stations may be monitoring the signal strength, making it possible for an investigator to pinpoint the location of the mobile phone to a particular house.   It is worth pointing out this method of estimating location is quite distinct from GPS used for location aware apps in smart phones. Apps in smart phones may include GPS data (such as location services in mapping applications or geotagging in images) but accessing it by law enforcement agencies is not straightforward.   In contrast, determining location using tower data is much simpler since the method relies only on monitoring who is connected to the base station and what their signal strength is.   Should we be worried?   The main concern expressed so far is the indiscriminate nature of data collection. Rather than collecting data for particular individuals, it is claimed that all location data for the base station is collected and the investigators pull information of interest.   If true, there are obvious possibilities for data to be collected and leaked about people who are not suspected of being involved in criminal behaviour.   There is also concern about disposal of collected data.   So unless we are confident that there is some trusted oversight of it, then yes, there is some cause to be worried.   Trusted oversight in the past has been through a magistrate issuing a warrant for an intercept. At the moment police do not need a warrant to access phone tower data. Maybe that should be changed.   This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Startups a beacon of hope for snack food giant’s quest to change its culture

7:48AM | Thursday, 3 July

Are beacons the future for snack food companies? You might think so given they were the common theme amongst the startup pitches at Mondelez International’s Mobile Futures Pitch in Melbourne this week.   The snack food giant is searching for startups that can work to solve pressing problems facing some if its major brands.   Mondelez International owns brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, among others.   Thirteen startups pitched over the course of the two day event, which began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday, hoping to become one of five that will receive $40,000 to work closely with Mondelez with the goal of launching a pilot program in 90 days.   The thirteen startups included:   Streethawk – segmentation, messaging, campaign automation and measurement plug-in for apps. Issue – turns brand content into a magazine that is interactive and shoppable, curating content from social media, blogs and product categories. Popup Brands – an online marketplace for listing and booking short-term commercial spaces. Snaploader – uses image recognition to enable users to snap an image and connect to all the relevant content behind the image and augmented reality to enhance the content experience. Kouperific – an app that distributes interactive, gamified coupons to a consumer’s mobile phone in order to drive impulse buying and improve positive brand perception. Proximiti – a location-based services and geo-analytics platform that helps companies craft personalised customer interactions and discover insights from geo-spatial and customer location data. SkyFii – mobile technology that uses Wi-Fi and beacons to help venue owners understand their visitors and engage with them via mobile. Lighthouse – a mobile marketing platform that leverages Bluetooth low energy beacons to deliver content and experiences based on proximity to things in the physical world. MyShout – a mobile app that allows you to shout your friends food and drinks at cafés, bars and restaurants. OnePulse – a new take on market research that produces real-time consumer insights effectively and inexpensively via mobile. GeoMoby – geo-location platform that uses GPS, BLE, Wi-Fi and GSM to deliver the right mobile message to the right person at the right time. BlueCats – allows marketers to add context to any app user’s experience in real time using BLE beacon, an SDK and a cloud-based management platform. Blocks Global – has developed Screener, a disruptive approach to traditional signage software, delivering stable web content to digital signage in-store, in real-time.   Mondelez International corporate affairs manager Julian Polachek, who was one of the judges for the pitch event, says all 13 startups did a fantastic job with their pitches.   The 13 startups were the best of 60 who applied to take part in the program.   “It was really engaging, so professional overall,” he says.   “Really interesting to see a spread of ages, professional backgrounds and also to see the ideas were so refined.   “There was a ubiquitous mention of beacons throughout the whole thing. Beacons were absolutely everywhere, but the particular take that each startup had on the beacons, you see how differently they could use the technology.”   He says the winning startups will be notified late next week and shortly after they will be linked up with the brands they will be working with.   Brand managers from each brand will then spend an ‘emersion week’ where they go and work inside their respective startups.   Mondelez International has run similar programs in the United States and Brazil.   “It’s so interesting seeing the cultural change aspect of the project really dawn on (Mondelez) participants,” Polachek says.   “Startups are vastly different to how we typically work inside the company. For good or bad we come with 100 plus years of knowledge about how we do things in manufacturing.   “In some sense some of that has to be unlearned. For these guys to be successful, they need to learn to fail often and in small ways, which is what startups are absolutely about.   “The challenge of changing our culture into a more entrepreneurial culture is going to take a while, but what we’re trying to do here is change it rapidly.”

Amazon’s Fire Phone launch offers a warm platform for growth

6:36AM | Thursday, 19 June

Amazon, the e-commerce internet giant, is launching its first smartphone. Media attention is focusing on whether the phone’s features, such as its rumoured 3D interface, are really as cool as portrayed in its trailer video which aims to wow early users. But by entering into the fray of an already hyper-competitive mobile phone industry, Amazon is doing a lot more than adding another gee-whizz feature to a smartphone.   This launch tells us a great deal about CEO Jeff Bezos' strategy for his company – and what it might mean for the future of competition and innovation in our increasingly digital world.   First, let’s ask the obvious questions. Why is Amazon, known for internet retailing and related software development, entering a hardware market where leading incumbents like Nokia have already failed? After all, what does Amazon know about the telecoms business? Can it succeed where Google has failed?   We have seen Google, which has virtually limitless financial resources, enter the mobile phone handset industry by purchasing Motorola Mobile in 2012, only to take a heavy loss after selling it on less than two years later. Even incumbent firms who had a very strong set of phone-making capabilities have taken tough hits in this turbulent market – witness Nokia’s dramatic plunge, which led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft.   Platform Number 1   You cannot understand Amazon’s move without situating it in the broader context of platform competition. Platforms, these fundamental technologies such as Google search, Facebook and the Apple iPhone, are the building blocks of our digital economy. They act as a foundation on top of which thousands of innovators worldwide develop complementary products and services and facilitate transactions between increasingly larger networks of users, buyers and sellers. Platform competition is the name of the game in hi-tech industries today.   The top-valued digital companies in the world (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all aggressively pursuing platform strategies. App developers and other producers of complementary services or products provide the armies that sustain the vibrancy and competitiveness of these platforms by adding their products to them. The more users a platform has, the more these innovators will be attracted to developing for them. The more complements available, the more valuable the platform becomes to users. It is these virtuous cycles – positive feedback loops, or “network effects” – that fuel the growth of platforms and transform them into formidable engines of growth for the companies and developers associated with them.   The smartphone is a crucial digital platform. Achieving platform leader status in this space is a competitive position all the hi-tech giants are fighting for. Google has its ubiquitous Android operating system, Apple has shaped the whole market with the iPhone, Microsoft has purchased Nokia’s phone business, and Facebook has invested $19 billion in WhatsApp among other acquisitions for its growing platform.   In fact, I suppose I should have rephrased my question a little earlier – why hasn’t Amazon already staked its claim to lead this digital space after having launched its Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box?   Opening the door   Simply put, the smartphone is the main gateway to the internet today, and, in the hand of billions of users throughout the world, is the physical embodiment of a conduit that links those users to each other and to the whole content of the internet. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world (and only 1 billion bank accounts). And the trend is staggering. Mobile payment transaction value surpassed $235 billion worldwide in 2013, and is growing at 40% a year, with the share of mobile transactions already reaching 20% of all worldwide transactions.   So, while risky, Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business is a classic play: a platform leader entering an adjacent platform market that is also complementary to its primary business. All platform leaders aim to stimulate complementary innovation (think how video game console makers aim to stimulate the provision of videogames), and they often attempt not to compete too much with their complementors in order to preserve innovation incentives. But at some point all platform leaders start to enter these complementary markets themselves. Google has done it through Android, Apple has done it with iTunes, Facebook has done it with Facebook Home.   It happens when platform leaders feel threatened by competition in their core market, or when they want to steer demand, competition and innovation in a particular direction. The idea is to use their own user base as well as their own content and technologies to create an unassailable bundle, one that is difficult for external competitors to break into. Think of it as creating barriers to entry, while expanding the core market.   The reasoning behind entering a complementary market is well known, and related to the benefits of bundling. In the case of hi-tech platforms, the benefits are even stronger. By optimising and controlling the interface between a platform and complements, a company can have a structuring impact on the evolution of the platform ecosystem – and that means on all the innovators around the world that invest and make efforts to develop complementary products and services.   In your hands   So, these are the reasons why Amazon is entering the mobile phone market, despite the difficulties inherent in taking on an über-competitive market. This strategic choice makes a lot of sense.   As to whether Amazon has a fighting chance of succeeding, there are reasons to be optimistic. Beyond its deep financial resources, Amazon has learned something of what it takes in the development and successful commercialisation of various versions of the Kindle. That has given it expertise in hardware, on top of its software background, and should prove a useful training ground to allow it to launch other consumer products such as the smartphone.   But the ultimate judge will be you, gentle readers. Will you be willing to swap your favourite mobile phone for a yet another new kid on the block, even if it does let you browse Amazon’s ever-growing catalogue in splendid 3D?   Annabelle Gawer is Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Imperial College Business School.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the

Google’s plans for internet access from the sky

6:18AM | Tuesday, 17 June

News that Google representatives are in talks with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are seen as further evidence the web company is looking to set up a series of low-orbit satellites to help connect more people to the internet.   Reports earlier this month said Google was planning to spend more than US$1 billion on a network of 180 satellites to provide internet access from space.   Then Google revealed last week that it paid US$500 million for the satellite imaging company Skybox. It says the deal will give it access to better imaging technology for Google Maps, but it could also see it launch a new satellite network for delivering internet access.   Google is already experimenting with new ways to provide internet access in remote locations through its Project Loon, which began in New Zealand last year and uses antenna held aloft in balloons.   Access to digital networks and information are playing an increasingly important role as we move towards a more networked society.   The global population today is approximately 7.1 billion, yet only 2.4 billion people are connected to the internet. Over the next six years this is expected to double, reaching 5 billion in 2020.   It’s not just about the web   Significantly, internet users will not be the key source of growth. There is increasing demand coming from a range of devices, systems and infrastructure being connected to the internet – home security systems, personal health monitors, cars, trams, trains, smart meters for power, gas and water, traffic lights and offices, as well as public spaces and buildings.   As the internet is further industrialised the big technology companies are tapping into the growth in networked devices – usually referred to as the Internet of Things.   Currently, 16 billion devices such as smart phones, tablets, security systems and smart meters have a network connection. This will grow exponentially towards 50 billion in 2020.   There is a change in the focus of connectivity too - from individual people to houses, towns and cities.   Large information and communication technology (ICT) companies such as Google are driving this increase in global connectivity, as their biggest market growth opportunity lies in the areas of population that do not have internet access.   The World Economic Forum – which monitors the digital divide through its annual Networked Readiness Index – also sees the urgency in making the internet accessible to remote communities from the developing world. They are the people likely to benefit from substantial improvements in the quality of life through access to ICT.   Other players trying to connect the world   Google is not alone in this race. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has also announced similar satellite plans to connect the unconnected, through the internet.org project.   There have been past attempts to increase internet connectivity via satellites, such as the Iridium Project by Motorolla, now Iridium Communications. Iridium provides satellite phone connectivity across the globe via a constellation of 66 satellites.   The service is limited by very low data rates - approximately 10kpbs - with costs of around A$1 to A$2 per minute of access.   Well ahead of its time, the Iridium project faced significant challenges with a range of technological issues as well as failing to effectively monetise the idea.   There were serious issues with the inter-satellite links needed to maintain the network, its handsets were bulky and its internet access plans were expensive. It remains largely an emergency communication tool and for infrequent access such as asset tracking in maritime/defence applications.   Iridium plans to launch a new satellite service, Iridium NEXT, delivering peak download rates of 1.5Mbs by 2017. We will have to wait to see if the second incarnation of Iridium can increase its subscriber base.   There have also been several other commercially yet-to-be-proven proposals that looked at high altitude long operation platforms making use of aircrafts and balloons to deliver similar broadband services.   These platforms use the millimetre-wave (30-300 gigahertz range) frequency bands (currently targeting around 28-33 gigahertz range) to deliver broadband wireless services to locations theoretically wherever access is required. But none have yet to offer a product to market.   Current satellite constellations are small (such as the 66 in Iridium) with each satellite often covering an area in excess of 1000km2. With limited bandwidth (often less than 100 megahertz available) to share between thousands of subscribers, individual subscribers get very low internet speeds.   Looking for growth   Yet new services are emerging. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States has approved Globalstar’s request to use a frequency band adjacent to the WiFi frequency window to offer satellite based WiFi coverage.   Additionally, operators such as Intelsat and Inmarsat provide satellite internet connectivity across the globe.   The growth in connected people and things presents an expanding market opportunity. Google’s business relies on its users delivering information upon which it can target advertising. It appears to be pre-emptively meeting the projected demand in order to increase its services. Satellite technology has matured and is now able to provide increased access and throughput to users and devices.   Google’s approach is similar to that deployed by mobile phone operators. By increasing the number of satellites, individual beams can cover smaller areas, approximately 100-200km2 thus sharing scarce frequency spectrum with fewer customers, increasing internet access rates.   Competition for Australia’s NBN   In Australia, NBN Co offers broadband plans using existing satellites to about 3% of Australian population scattered around the massive landmass in areas with lower population density.   The company has been designing its own satellites, which will be launched soon to increase access to broadband in remote Australia.   But the project is facing major obstacles in terms of securing the highly regulated satellite launch rights. It is reported that NBN is in negotiation to secure a launch orbit spot.   Google is not confining its vision to satellites or balloons. Google Fiber also plans to offer fibre connections with greatly improved speeds (compared to that offered by NBN) in selected USA cities directly competing with traditional telcos such as AT&T.   This is driving innovation in the sector, with these new technologies providing possible options for the NBN to deliver broadband to cheaper and faster to remote Australian regions where wireline access to broadband may be difficult.   Google’s satellite play highlights its serious intention to move into the new converging world of computing and communications, driving further competition and changes in the communications sector in the near future.   Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is currently the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Programs (MAP) which supports entrepreneurial activities of the University Community through business acceleration models. He is also an Associate Director for the Institute for the Broadband-Enabled Society.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tax tips to help tackle the ATO hit list

6:26AM | Tuesday, 17 June

With the ATO announcing their hit list for 2013-14, it is time to do some urgent tax planning.   1. Keeping a car log book could increase your refund by thousands   If you use your car for work purposes and keep a log book for 12 weeks then the deductions can be in the thousands. Make sure that you keep all costs associated with the running of your car (such as petrol, insurance, registration, servicing and lease payments) for the whole year, not just the period that you kept the log book. Remember that the ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!   2. Claim a deduction for the costs you incur in running your home office   This is a big hit-list item of the ATO this year. More people these days are working at home, but not many are aware they can claim a deduction for costs incurred in running a home office, even if a room is not set aside solely for work purposes.   Deductions are available for the work-related portion of home telephone, internet, stationery, computer equipment and printers. Keep a diary of your time that you work from home and claim a 34 cents per hour deduction for electricity, gas and depreciation of home-based furniture.   For those that use mobile phones, look at a bill for one month to work out your ‘mobile phone log’ and apply the work-related percentage across the whole year.   With respect to internet, tablet and computer usage, take note of the time that you use them for work versus personal (especially the kids playing games or doing homework). Note that it is expected that you will have a personal usage as we become more reliant on this technology for personal and social media purposes. On investigation, the ATO would like to see proof of websites that you regularly look at for work.   3. Minimise capital gains tax (CGT) by deferring sale or offsetting losses against gains already made   The sharemarket has had a roller-coaster year in 2013-14. If you made a nice capital gain or two earlier in the year then you can reduce CGT by selling any non-performing shares that you may be holding. Any unrealised gains should be sold after July 1 to defer tax for another year. And remember that if you hold shares for more than 12 months you reduce CGT by half.   4. Build your nest egg quicker by paying 15% rather than 46.5% by salary sacrificing into super   Salary sacrificing into superannuation is one of the best, and legitimate, ways to minimise your income tax bill. You can contribute up to $25,000 per year into super ($35,000 for those aged 60 and over) which is only taxed at 15% instead of your marginal tax rate (potentially 46.5%). There are not many pay packets left to do it this tax year, so keep in mind to start putting extra away when July 1 arrives.   5. Income expected to be lower next year? Bring some 2014-15 expenses forward into this year   If you are expecting that you will have a lower income next year – due to factors such as maternity leave, redundancy, a smaller bonus or perhaps cutbacks to overtime – then why not try to bring forward your deductions into this tax year.   Stocking up your home office with stationery, laptops and printers or prepaying subscriptions and interest for up to 12 months in advance are just some of the simple ways to reduce your income before June 30.   6. Prepay private health insurance   A 29.04% rebate on private health insurance premiums gradually phases out for those who earn over $88,000 (single) or $176,000 (couple). If you are currently under these thresholds, but think you will earn above these levels in 2014-15, you can still get the rebate in full if you prepay 12 months of premiums before July 1.   7. Take advantage of the government’s free money service known as the “super co-contribution”   It is surprising how few people actually take advantage of some free money from the government. If your income is under $33,516 and you contribute $1000 post tax into super, the government will match it 50 cents in the dollar. Whilst this incentive gradually phases out above this figure at $48,516, it’s free money! Also, if you earn less than $10,800 then your spouse can put up to $3000 into your super fund and they will receive an 18% rebate ($540) on tax via the spouse super contribution rebate.   8. Buy a new business asset for under $1000 and claim it as a tax deduction this year   There have been some great tax concessions over the past few years for small businesses, with none greater than the immediate write-off available for the purchase of new business assets.   However, draft legislation is in place to reduce the threshold for this concession from $6500 to only $1000 for business assets purchased after January 1, 2014, so don’t get caught by wily retailers trying to tell you otherwise! There is no limit to the amount of assets that you can purchase under this concession.   Businesses also can no longer immediately write-off the first $5000 of any new vehicle purchased. If your business is registered for GST, then you can buy a business asset for less than $1100, claim the 10% GST credit and get an immediate write-off for the balance in this year’s tax.   9. Keep your receipts   With the ATO continuing to ramp up their audit activity yet again it is important that you keep your receipts. The ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!   10. Get a great accountant   Avoid paying too much in tax or leaving yourself to a visit from the taxman. Great accountants are like surveyors – they know where the boundaries are. And their fees are tax deductible!   Dr Adrian Raftery is a senior lecturer in financial planning and superannuation at Deakin University and author of 101 Ways to Save Money on Your Tax - Legally! 2014-2015 edition.

Dead battery? Charge it with your clothes

6:26AM | Thursday, 12 June

What if you could leave home, safe in the knowledge that your phone would not run out of battery before you return? The latest innovations in battery design could see dead batteries become a thing of the past — by producing and storing energy on ourselves.   Such new technologies could also help reduce Australia’s electronic waste. According to Step Initiative, in 2012 Australia generated around 25.23 kilos of electronic waste per person.   Here’s five of the latest most portable developments; from wearable, stretchable batteries to energy-harvesting textiles which may one day actually replace batteries by generating energy as they go.   People power   People are an an untapped source of energy that could go towards powering our devices.   To tap this energy source, researchers and innovators have had to develop materials that can are activated by environmental conditions — heat, chemicals, movement, and electricity.   Scientists at Berkeley Labs have developed textiles woven with piezoelectric wires. Piezoelectric power is generated when mechanical stress creates an electrical charge. This stress can arise through stretching or twisting the textile. A tiny stamp-sized generator in clothing relies on the piezoelectric property to produce electrical charge when pressed, and (for example) can be integrated into the soles of shoes to allow users to power mobile electronics as they walk.   Australia’s own CSIRO is also trialling smaller scale energy harvesting devices that could one day be accessible to everyday consumers. The Flexible Integrated Energy Device, allows electricity to be generated from an individual’s physical movements. Jogging or dancing, for example, could charge a mobile phone or iPod.   The CSIRO device is comprised of two components: a battery based on advanced, conductive fabric; and an energy harvesting system which responds to movement. As the wearer of the garment moves, the movement of their clothes can be captured and channelled into recharging the battery where it can be stored. The advanced fabric is woven from special conductive fibres made by coating conductive metal layers onto textiles, such as wool or cotton.   At the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology researchers have developed a wearable device that can convert heat into an electrical current to charge a battery. The device is made from glass fibres and is flexible, thin and lightweight as well as relatively efficient at generating power.   A similar project at the University of Southampton is finding ways to print conductive film onto fabric using rapid ink jet and screen printing processes. The film converts movement and heat made by our bodies into electricity which can be used to power personal devices.   You may have noticed a problem: batteries aren’t flexible. So scientists have had to come up with batteries that flex and move.   In the US, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois created a battery which can be stretched to three times its normal size to make them softer and more comfortable.   Powering innovation   These new batteries — new ways to power small, portable devices — have immediate applications in the military. They can help reduce the amount of batteries soldiers carry for computers, phones and other electronic devices. Indeed these military applications are a big driver for academic research into new solutions.   In a market which is coming to rely more and more heavily on electronic devices, there is a demand for more sustainable energy use and decreasing the amount of time spent plugging in and charging up.   At the moment though, these new technologies are too costly for everyday users. The next step in mainstreaming this technology will thus depend on finding ways to make wearable energy storage and harvesting more cost effective, straightforward and attractive products.   Researchers have a way to go before they find exactly the right material and product that can bend to and endure our everyday lives, wash it off, and look like something we would want to carry around, and it may be that commercial research partnerships facilitate this development. But given the number of groups, companies and individuals with an interest in solving the problem, it is probably only a matter of time.   Dr. Glenn Platt currently leads the Energy Transformed Flagship research centre at CSIRO.   Philippa Nicole Barr is a PhD Candidate in Design at University of Technology.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: London black cab drivers take to the streets to protest Uber

6:11AM | Thursday, 12 June

Thousands of black cab drivers in London have protested against technology-enabled taxi services such as Uber.   They are upset that Uber allows its users to call a cab with their mobile phone and the fare is worked out using a mobile phone and GPS.   Cabbies compare this to a taximeter, which legally only black cabs are allowed to use in London.   The protests come just as Uber launches UberTAXI in London, which is open for black-taxi drivers to use unlike its uberX, EXEC and LUX services.   Amazon has another supplier confrontation   Amazon is refusing to sell upcoming Warner Home Video features as part of its effort to gain leverage in a confrontation with a supplier.   In a standoff with Hachette Book Group, Amazon is refusing to take advance orders and delaying shipments.   The two are currently negotiating e-book terms.   Apple tax schemes under investigation   European authorities have launched a probe into whether Apple’s corporate income tax arrangements in Ireland are legal, or whether they qualify as unlawful state aid.   Ireland is the base of choice for many large tech companies’ international operations because of a low corporate tax rate and other favourable laws.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 102.04 to 16,853.88. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Packer set to bet on a return to Las Vegas

4:50PM | Monday, 21 April

James Packer’s Crown Resorts is set to make a bid for a $US2 billion casino on the Las Vegas Strip.   The investment marks a return to Vegas for the gaming tycoon, who was burnt by two Las Vegas Casino investments made on the eve of the global financial crisis.   Packer is believed to be interested in investing in The Cosmopolitan, which was taken over by Deutsche Bank in 2008 after gaming tycoon Ian Bruce Eichner defaulted on a loan, and is located next to MGM Resorts International's Bellagio.   Nokia deal with Microsoft to close this week   Smartphone maker Nokia has told investors it expects the $US7.2 billion sale of its devices and services business to Microsoft to be finalised this week.   The company says it has now cleared all major regulatory hurdles required for the deal to go ahead.   The deal will see Nokia sell its mobile phone division to Microsoft, including its Lumia smartphone line, with the Finnish company retaining its network equipment manufacturing business.   US fibre optic rollout continues   One of the largest telecommunications carriers in the US has announced plans to deploy fibre to the node (FTTN) or fibre to the premises (FTTP) services across 21 US cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta.   The AT&T U-verse deployment comes as Google continues its fibre optic network rollout in selected US cities.   The company claims it already has 10.7 million internet and pay television subscribers using its fibre optic services.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up to 16449.2. The Aussie dollar is at US93.27 cents.

Cybersecurity: Time to think like a fox to fend off the hedgehogs

3:26AM | Monday, 31 March

A report into cybercrime and stolen data has highlighted the risks for online companies saying that “the ability to stage cyber-attacks will likely outpace the ability to defend against them”.   The Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data report says  “attackers can be hedgehogs (they only need to know one attack method, but do it well) while defenders must be foxes (they need to know everything; not just technical knowledge, but knowledge of networking, software, law enforcement, psychology, etc)”.   It also says big companies will be able to secure themselves and follow new Payment Card Industry Guidelines (e.g. use of chip and PIN systems), "but smaller retailers will be hurt because they may not be able to keep up with these new security requirements imposed on them”.   Drew Sing, platform engineer for Bugcrowd – an Australian startup that offers bounties on behalf of companies to discover website vulnerabilities – says attackers can be beaten by fighting fire with fire – the good guys who think like bad guys.   “By incentivizing security researchers to responsibly disclose vulnerabilities through bug bounty programs, it allows them to utilize their specialized testing skills sets (the "hedgehogs") to help make a company more secure,” Sing says.   “This helps level the playing field against malicious attackers, and has been a successful strategy utilized by companies such as Facebook, Google, and Github.”   The approach has worked for Bugcrowd, which was referenced as a successful example of preventing cyber-attacks at least three times in the cybersecurity report.   Sing acknowledges that smaller companies sometimes don't have the resources to pay bounties, but says that by setting up a responsible disclosure policy, they can still benefit from the knowledge of security researchers without having to provide a sum of money.   “A disclosure policy provides a scope of what can be tested, and gives researchers permission to submit vulnerability information to your company without the fear of legal action,” he says.   It's important to remember security researchers want to help companies, but often aren't offered a simple way to communicate this information.   This necessity was highlighted when 16-year-old Joshua Rogers, a self-described white-hat hacker, found a security hole in the Public Transport Victoria website and reported it to the site.   Rogers hacked the site using an unspecified hacking technique to access a database that held personal data including full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, seniors' card ID numbers, and nine-digit credit card extracts of customers of the Metlink public transport online store.   The site didn't respond, so Rogers reported it to the media, who in turn contacted PTV, who in response reported Rogers to the police.   The increased risk to businesses has also seen growth in the cybercrime insurance industry, with Allianz today launching a cybercrime insurance product and saying that cybercrime costs the Australian economy over $1 billion annually.   According to its research, Allianz says cybercrime moved into the top five risks faced by Australian business in 2014.   The new Cyber Protect insurance product will cover up to $50 million to enable businesses to protect themselves against cyber criminals and data loss.   Insurance expert Allan Manning says cybercrime insurance had been around for a while now, but the Allianz announcement was evidence this was an increasing trend with the cybercrime insurance now a billion dollar industry.   “In the future it will be a standard insurance policy that most companies take out,” Manning says. He mentioned that some policies cover bounty payments for people to find vulnerabilities.   Manning says the costs of the cybercrime insurance were not really prohibitive. He took out a policy for his own business which cost around $3000 for coverage between $300,000 and $500,000.   The Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance will release a report comparing the different cyber insurance policies later this year.

Introducing the Best Social Change Entrepreneur finalists for the 2014 StartupSmart Awards

3:16PM | Monday, 31 March

Not all startups and entrepreneurial enthusiasm is wound up in making heaps of money. Increasingly, organisations that are striving to create social good are opting for commercial models for increased flexibility and sustainability.   The winner will be announced at the StartupSmart awards event tonight. You can follow the awards night with the hashtag #susawards.   Eat Me Chutneys   Ankit and Jaya Chopra are trying to change the world, one jar of chutney at a time.   Not only are Eat Me Chutneys ethically sourced, they also pay a fair price by buying Fairtrade ingredients.   They also repurpose otherwise wasted food, including over 300 kilograms of tomatoes and 200 kilograms of eggplants in 2013.     TalkLife   Launched by Jamie Druitt, TalkLife is a mobile phone app and social network for important conversations about mental health using social networking.   Designed to reach out to the thousands who struggle to get the support they need, they offer a helpline via smartphone technology for those considering self-harm, so the barrier to getting help is lowered.   GiveEasy.org   GiveEasy is a mobile donation platform allowing donors to give to the charity of their choice off their mobile device in a simple, smart and social way.   Founded by Jeffrey Tobias, the giving platform provides a channel for over 280 charities and has recently greatly increased its reach through a partnership with Australia Post.   Twenty of the charities are currently involved in a pilot program for donations via SMS technology.   HERO Condoms   Using a partnership model, HERO Condoms donates a condom for every one sold locally to a developing country in an ambitious bid to reduce the spread of HIV.   The startup grew out of a marketing project founder Dustin Leonard did at university.   The range is now stocked in over 900 stores and 72,000 condoms have been donated to Botswana.   Hello Sunday Morning   Founded by Jamie Moore and Chris Raine, Hello Sunday Morning is trying to change Australia’s relationship with alcohol.   The online platform offers community support and programs for people to take short breaks from alcohol.   Launched in 2010, the community now includes 22,000 users who have taken three to 12 month breaks from drinking and documented their experience online.   According to the founders, more than 90% of Hello Sunday Morning bloggers use alcohol dangerously and 52% are dependent on alcohol, and an audit has shown the platform has reduced participants’ risk of alcohol-related harm by 40%.

All the winners from the 2014 StartupSmart awards

4:46AM | Tuesday, 1 April

The fourth annual StartupSmart awards have again uncovered a diverse and creative entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the Australian startup community.   The judges remarked it was tough just getting the entrants down to five finalists, never mind selecting the winners of categories.   This year also saw the addition of a People’s Choice Award with over 7000 votes recorded by our enthusiastic community.   The awards ceremony was held on Wednesday night, culminating in a celebration of all the hard work so many have invested in their startups.   StartupSmart would like to congratulate all the winners.   The winners for each category are listed below:   Best NEW Start-up: Pocketbook   This personal finances management app has been growing rapidly, accruing its first 50,000 users without spending a cent.   Pocketbook combines a variety of financial information such as bank statements, bills and receipts in one easy to follow forum.   Co-founded by Bosco Tan and Alvin Singh, the app has been making waves online with their own Whirlpool thread and across the media. The app brought in just over $50,000 in revenue in 2013.   Pocketbook recently raised $50,000 and shared their growth plans with StartupSmart.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Start-up Idea: CareMonkey   CareMonkey is a software for schools, clubs and businesses that enables these groups to access parent-controlled emergency and medical forms.     From permission slips to serious medical information, the app is designed to ensure carers have access to the information they need to make the right decision for kids.   The app was part of a Startup Leadership Program and has rolled out into 21 schools in 2013.   Launched by Troy Westley and Martin Howell, they’ve been building their sales team and are looking to expand into the UK and US later this year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Disruptor: Health.com.au   The simple name may belie how significant an impact this online-only health insurance offering could cause in the competitive but slow-moving health insurance industry.   After struggling to understand their own health policies, co-founders Andy Sheat, Chloe Quin and Alex Geers decided there had to be a better way to do insurance and decided to find out.   Health.com.au is two years old and makes over $58 million in annualised revenue. Sheats spoke to StartupSmart about becoming the first new health insurer in 30 years in August last year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Start-up Hero: BENT OVER Silicone Nozzles   The idea for this nifty flexible plumbing tool was born after founder Alex John landed badly on his back while using a self-constructed home waterslide, dislodging a fragment of his spinal cord that could have turned him into a quadriplegic.   While watching a demonstration of what happened to his spine in hospital, John had a lightbulb moment about a problem he kept facing in his plumbing business with silicone and sealant application.   He patented the BENT OVER Silicone Nozzles technology and has been busy selling it ever since to the building and construction.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Regional Start-up: She's Empowered   Before She’s Empowered launched, pregnant women working the construction, resources and transport industry struggled to find safe, high-vis gear that they could fit into and often had to resort to wearing male clothing with dangerous long or large sleeves.   Based in regional Queensland, founder Kym Clark created a range of appropriate maternity wear for the growing number of women employed in these industries. Clark has sold over 300 shirts already and says she’s just getting started.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Social Change Entrepreneur: TalkLife   Launched by Jamie Druitt, TalkLife is a mobile phone app and social network for important conversations about mental health using social networking. Designed to reach out to the thousands who struggle to get the support they need, they offer a helpline via smartphone technology for those considering self-harm, so the barrier to getting help is lowered.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   People's Choice: Simply Raw   Simply Raw was established in October 2011, offering a range of organic, raw super food products, handmade in a home kitchen at Bondi Beach, Sydney. Simply Raw started selling its products at local Sydney food markets in early 2012.   Simply Raw then introduced a range of Raw Superfood bars to the Sydney retail market, with a handful of stockists in Melbourne and Adelaide. Four of the most popular Raw Superfood bars were launched on to the national market in March 2013.    Fastest Growing Start-up: Paws for Life   Pet supplies may not sound like a rich opportunity for startups at first, but when you consider the prevalence of pets and how much their owners are willing to spend on them, it becomes a very attractive industry quickly.   For Paws for Life cofounders Mike Frizell and James Edwards, it was too good an opportunity to miss, as they saw the millions of venture capital dollars being poured into similar online offerings in the US.   The company made over $5 million in revenue last year and are growing rapidly.   They spoke to StartupSmart about their $1.5 million raise and growth plans last year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Startup: Wine Cru (Vinomofo)   After a couple of years trying to find the right business model to monetise their passion, wine deals site founders Andre Eikmeier, Justin Dry and Leigh Morgan have settled on a good one that brought in over $10 million in revenue last year.   Taking on the two biggest grocery sellers in the country, Vinomofo connects wine consumers to deals and a wider range.   In the past six months, the user base has almost doubled, and their ecommerce rates already have.   Eikmeier spoke to StartupSmart about the struggle to find the right business model and the risks they took to make it work in November last year.   We'll be profiling all the winners in a series running over the next few weeks. 

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