information technology


A code of ethics in IT: just lip service or something with bite?

10:57AM | Friday, 9 October

 The emissions scandal that has rocked the car maker Volkswagen has again raised the issue of ethical standards in the tech industry. Reports so far say the company is pointing finger at the “unlawful behaviour of engineers and technicians involved in engine development”. But that’s led to questions about the strength of any codes or practice or ethics that such operators are supposed to comply with. So are such codes any good or are they just words? Here two software experts present both sides of the argument. Codes of Ethics – worthy sentiments, but no teeth when it comes to the public interest Robert Merkel Lecturer in software engineering at Monash University The Australian Computer Society’s Code of Professional Conduct says nice, and generally sensible, things about the values its members should act upon in their professional lives.   The first, and most important value listed is, “The Primacy of the Public Interest”, which informs members that: You will place the interests of the public above those of personal, business or sectional interests.   But IT professionals do not get paid by the public interest – their work is mostly paid for by business and sectional interests. While whose interests a business should serve is a subject of lively debate, to a first approximation management of businesses are expected to act in the interests of its shareholders, and within the law.   Even if the senior management of a business are technologists, in practice it is the legal and cultural obligations of their management role that are taken more seriously than any professional obligations that apply to IT professionals.   In my view, many businesses act in ways that are harmful to broader society in the interests of their shareholders. Some companies have management who, for ethical reasons, choose to avoid certain business activities. But, in a free market economy, if it’s legal (or even if it isn’t) and there’s a dollar in it, at least some businesses will attempt to collect that dollar.   These pressures are not unique to the IT industry. Engineers, accountants and lawyers are professionals employed by businesses in a similar way to IT professionals. But there is a key difference between those professions and IT – those professions have professional bodies or closely related registration bodies (such as the Victorian Bar Council) that control access to those skills, backed by the law.   The vast majority of Australian IT professionals work in roles for which there is no institutional gatekeeper of any kind, legal or otherwise. Nor do employers demand, or seemingly value, accreditation by professional bodies in IT.   Have a look at ads for IT jobs, which overwhelmingly value demonstrated professional experience in technologies and techniques. Credentials, including university degrees, are rarely mentioned.   While a body such as the ACS might seek a de-facto gatekeeper role through its credentials attaining employment cachet, it is hard to see how this might be workable.   IT work tends to hyper-specialisation, and those specialisations continue to evolve faster than institutions can keep up. And, for what it’s worth, I get little sense in my dealing with both students and current professionals that the IT workforce conceives of itself as a unitary profession, and is looking for an organisation to establish itself as a gatekeeper.   So, given the total lack of teeth, and no realistic prospect of gaining any, the ACS Code of Ethics is not something that there is any real obligation to comply with. At best, it is an educative tool and, sadly, not one that students prioritise. Why would they?   In a world where IT degrees are viewed as a meal ticket to a high-paying career, students gravitate to the topics which they believe employers will value. Experience in the perceived hot technology of the day is generally a far higher priority than ethics.   In my contact with IT students a substantial fraction express concerns about how IT can be put to use. Once in the workforce, some of these students might personally resist it being put to use in particular ways, despite a lack of institutional support and personal costs in doing so.   But that’s not enough. As long as those who wish to use IT for sectional interests can pay for sufficient talent, somewhere in the world, history shows that that they will be able to find it, ACS code of ethics or not.   Codes of Ethics – a shift in values sees a carrot more useful than a stick approach Oliver Burmeister Chair of the Australian Computer Society’s Committee on Computer Ethics In my view, one needs to understand the bigger picture within which the Code of Ethics plays an important role, namely, that there is what we might call “a values shift” in progress.   I had the privilege of chairing the process that led to the adoption of the revised Code of Ethics in 2010. It was the first time that the ACS code had been revised in 25 years.   One of the things that was very evident from the focus groups and seminars around the country was that a shift in values had occurred. Namely, the environment featured in almost all discussions.   It was not even a consideration in previous revisions of the Code of Ethics, but the 2010 version reflects environmental issues, because that was important to many ACS members.   Similarly, I believe that there is an increasing values shift towards greater ethical accountability among ACS members. What evidence do I have for this?   Firstly, the ACS has twice partnered for projects on professional ICT ethics funded through the Australian Research Council. This shows that at the highest level of research funding in Australia, professional ICT ethics is valued and given more than lip service.   The earlier (2006) project had a survey response of 1.9% (351), after holding the survey open for six months. The recent (2013) survey had a response of 12.4% (2,315), and was only open for two months. This suggests that in the intervening seven years, ICT professionals have developed a much greater awareness of, and interest in professionalism and ethics.   Secondly, the values shift is seen in that ACS members are voluntarily, at their own expense in many cases, taking ACS Education subjects, including on ethics and professional conduct, and undertaking annual professional development to achieve and maintain a Certified Professional status.   Following a similar successful implementation by Canada’s Association of Information Technology Professionals (CIPS) – the Canadian equivalent of the ACS – the ACS is currently developing an online ethics test, which applies the Code of Ethics to real world case studies, with a view to adding it to the annual certification requirements for professional status.   Finally, this values shift is seen in the United Nations agenda, through the WSIS+10 process in Geneva, June 2014, which was tabled at the UN General Assembly in New York. For the first time ICT ethics and professionalism feature prominently.   Returning to Merkel’s criticisms of the Code of Ethics, ICT is a young profession. I have attended several meetings at Professions Australia (PA), representing the ACS. It is apparent from those meetings that few professional societies have the clout of the old professions of law and medicine.   In law and medicine the “stick” can be wielded – break the ethical code and you get disciplined, which at the extreme could mean being kicked out of the professional society and therefore being unable to practice.   But young professions such as ours can’t mandate membership and therefore PA speaks of codes of ethics as “aspirational”. That is, we use the “carrot” and not the “stick” (or “teeth” as Merkel puts it).   The value shift discussion, above, indicates that there is a lot of evidence to suggest our carrots are working. The PA defines a profession as: a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards […] It is inherent in the definition of a profession that a code of ethics governs the activities of each profession. Such codes require behaviour and practice beyond the personal moral obligations of an individual. They define and demand high standards of behaviour in respect to the services provided to the public and in dealing with professional colleagues. Further, these codes are enforced by the profession and are acknowledged and accepted by the community.   Therefore one measure of professionalism is a willingness to be held accountable for the standard of one’s work, against the Code of Ethics.   So Merkel appears correct that in the past the Code of Ethics had limited traction. But my view is that there is a shift in values in progress and with that shift the Code of Ethics is gaining in importance.   What do you think about the strength of any code of ethics in the IT industry? You can ask both Robert Merkel and Oliver Burmeister who will be online from 3pm to 4pm AEDT today (Friday October 9, 2015) to answer your questions in the comments, below. Robert Merkel, Lecturer in Software Engineering, Monash University and Oliver Burmeister, Associate professor This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Startup nation: the rhetoric and the reality

9:24AM | Tuesday, 29 September

 If recent statements from both the government and opposition are any guide, then entrepreneurship may be a key battleground for the next federal election. For example, Australian’s youngest federal Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy has flagged an interest in fostering growth in the number of entrepreneurial startups across Australia. He apparently has the backing of the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.   Roy’s focus, based on his comments so far, appears to be on wooing back to Australia successful entrepreneurs who have moved to California’s Silicon Valley. He has flagged the idea of issuing special visas for people in “innovation industries”, which appear to be largely in the field of software and information technology.   Not to be outdone, opposition leader Bill Shorten has announced the idea of offering special visas to attract up to 2,000 entrepreneurs willing to start up new businesses in Australia. In addition, a further 2,000 international students would be granted a further year on their study visas if they can demonstrate they have a “credible startup idea” upon graduation.   While I would be the first to welcome a competition between the major political parties over the fostering of more entrepreneurship and innovation, it is important to put these proposals into context and separate the rhetoric from the reality.   Is investment in startups good policy? Professor Scott Shane, of Case Western Reserve University, is a notable academic in the field of entrepreneurship. In a 2008 report to the World Economic Forum he famously argued that encouraging more people to become entrepreneurs is bad public policy.   Shane’s argument was based on the recognition that the number of new business startups generated is a poor metric. As he states in his paper: Encouraging startups in general is lousy public policy because we have no evidence that people create too few or the wrong businesses in the absence of government intervention, and a lot of evidence that these policies lead people to start marginal businesses that are likely to fail, have little economic impact, and generate little employment.   This suggests it is not the number of new business startups that matters but the quality of these businesses. Shane also notes that the investment of money and time in the creation of a new business venture is a worse investment than if these resources were put into the expansion of an average existing business.   He also argues that the creation of new jobs among a cohort of new businesses occurs mostly in the first year or so, and that as that same cohort of firms age, more jobs are lost due to companies ceasing to trade than from those that grow. Further, the pay and conditions in most startups is poorer than in established firms.   Gazelles versus Muppets Politicians' interest in entrepreneurship and startups is driven by the assumption that such firms will provide jobs and become an engine of growth. This is a belief that is shared by governments around the world. However, the scepticism of Shane is shared by others such as Paul Nightingale and Alex Coad from the University of Sussex.   In a 2013 study published in the journal Industrial and Corporate Change, they questioned the assumption that entrepreneurial activity was a major driving force of the economy.   Nightingale and Coad’s view was based on the relative paucity of hard evidence validating rhetoric surrounding entrepreneurial startups as the driver of economic growth and job creation. Part of the problem is the lack of reliable data, and the tendency for a handful of highly successful companies to skew the statistics.   One of the issues here is that much of the growth and job creation is generated by a very small number of high growth young firms generally referred to as “Gazelles”. Such a business is younger than five years, and has experienced an annual average rate of growth of more than 20% over a consecutive three-year period. Such firms are rare. For example, the OECD suggests that they represent less than 1% of all firms by employment and less than 2% by turnover.   If they survive their first three to five years and successfully grow into larger businesses, they contribute significantly to employment and economic growth. They are distinguished from the majority of small to medium firms that choose not to grow, or to grow more modestly. Such firms are dismissed by Nightingale and Coad as “Muppets”.   However, unlike the Muppets, the Gazelle firms are also highly risky. This is because the startup phase is relatively easy, but the scale up or growth phase is very difficult. There is no “magic sauce” that can be applied to them to guarantee their success. From a policy perspective trying to build economic and employment growth by seeking to pick winners is fraught with risk.   Don’t try to replicate Silicon Valley Roy’s apparent fascination with attracting Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to Australia is also open to challenge. For example, Professor Daniel Isenberg, from Babson College, suggests that government policy should avoid trying to replicate Silicon Valley. The conditions that created that well known hub of entrepreneurial activity are unique to that area.   Instead, governments should focus on building on local conditions that favour the “Gazelles” and other high growth firms emerging from existing industries. Many of these are to be found in the low- to mid-tech sectors and, as such, all the attention should not be directed at high-tech or information technology ventures.   In 2010 the OECD issued a report on high-growth firms and what governments might do to facilitate them. This report recommended policy to improve the overall conditions for startups and small firms through reforms of competition policy, regulation and infrastructure.   It also suggested more development of training and management skills for the people running such firms, as well as making it easier for such companies to access finance and credit. It also highlighted the importance of intellectual property.   Finally, there were recommendations for assistance in helping such firms gain access to international markets by plugging into global supply chains, as well as encouraging innovation and entrepreneurial attitudes.   Does Australia need more startup activity? In assessing the need for more entrepreneurial startup activity in Australia, it is important to note that it is already very easy to start a new business in this country. According to the World Bank Australia ranks 7th out of 143 nations as the easiest place to startup a business, with New Zealand ranking number one.   A study published this year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Industry and Science suggests that Australia already has a high rate of new business creation. However, this has been declining and the rate of employment generated per startup is relatively low compared with other advanced economies.   This study points to the significant contribution of a relatively small proportion of “Gazelle” firms to the overall job creation in the economy. Over the time period 2001 to 2013 such firms employed around 15% of the total workforce but contributed about 40% of all new job creation.   This research highlights the importance of a small number of high-growth “Gazelles” and that such firms are found not just in high-tech or software, but across all industries. A feature of such firms is that they are innovative and can generate above average levels of profit, which are essential ingredients for successful growth.   So Australia doesn’t need more startup activity in total terms. But it does need more startups that are potentially scalable into larger firms. Yet the challenge for policy makers is how to identify the winners. Tim Mazzarol, Winthrop Professor, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing and Strategy , University of Western Australia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How new technologies are shaking up health care

9:27AM | Thursday, 3 September

 New tests and drugs have impacted health care for many decades. But we’re now seeing the emergence of completely different kinds of technologies that will radically alter how health care is both accessed and delivered.   In the past, patient and doctor, or other clinician, would generally meet in person. The clinician would employ the traditional process of seeking a history, undertaking physical examination and perhaps organising tests, to obtain details of the patient’s health-care needs and preferences.   The clinician would then relate this information to current knowledge of disease, prognosis and therapeutics, hopefully involving the patient, and together they would make decisions about a management plan.   A changing world The internet has changed all that. Health professionals or not, we already share similar access to vast amounts of information about disease processes and their management. Much of this is readily available so that patients can be, and often are, highly knowledgeable about their health and care options.   A growing number of health apps – of varying quality – are available to support patients' decisions about those options. And social media provide an instant network of peers with whom to share health concerns and experiences.     Wearable devides can monitor physiological processes, and sync with phones and social media. BTNHD Production/flickr, CC BY   Biosensitive wearable technologies now monitor basic physiological processes, such as pulse rate and physical activity, permitting analysis and interpretation in real time. Future wearables and home-based sensors will track a growing range of measures, providing data for increasingly sophisticated assessment of the wearer’s current health status, and decision support for their care.   Many pharmacies and other primary health-care facilities offer point-of-care testing for use on site or at home. Right now such tests are largely limited to simple biological measures, such as blood glucose or cholesterol. But the range and number of possible tests are expanding rapidly, and coming down in price.   Soon it will be possible not only to diagnose a specific infection, but to accurately predict which anti-infective (if any) would be most effective for its treatment. All this will be done within minutes, and often without the need for a doctor, nurse or other health-care professional to examine, test and prescribe.   At the same time, advances in human genomics are providing the basis for redefining and reclassifying diseases. These advances enable increasingly accurate prediction of risk; new opportunities for effective prevention; and rapid confirmation of a growing number of diagnoses, clarifying the patient’s likely prognosis as well as informing treatment selection.   This is the basis of personalised medicine, which seeks to match health-management advice to the individual and not just to their disease. Parallel developments in genetic analysis of tumours and of the pathogens that cause infections are further refining the possibilities for matching the treatment to the patient and their disease.   Mental health too It’s not just physical health care that’s being affected; information and communication technologies are transforming psychological care. Psychologists and psychiatrists rarely examine patients physically, so video-consultations are becoming more common.     Video consults are becoming more common, allowing patients to communicate with their clinicians remotely. Mike Blake/Reuters   A growing number of websites provide online psychological assessment and advice for the user. These range from straightforward screening for common mental problems to sophisticated measurements of cognitive and emotional functioning, which can predict responsiveness to specific therapies.   Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural and mindfulness interventions, are readily available online. There is strong evidence for their effectiveness when used appropriately.   Communications technology can also enable real-time monitoring of patients’ adherence to prescribed medical treatment: this has obvious applications in the care, for example, of people with dementia. And smart dispensers can help all of us remember to take our medicines.   These developments remove the need for patients and their clinicians to meet in person, or even to communicate synchronously, unless physical interaction such as surgery is required. The array of generic and patient-specific information, and of electronic decision support aids that both patients and clinicians can access, are redefining the role of the clinician.   Doctors will increasingly play a role as expert guides to available resources, facilitating patients' choices and decision making. Physical infrastructure for emergency management, surgical intervention and care of the very sick will still be needed. But information technology’s ability to collapse time and space will increasingly alter how health care is accessed and delivered in the community, enabling the right care every time, and at the patient’s convenience.   The implications for health service planning and policy, and for health professional education, are profound. Key considerations will include enabling equity of access to the potential benefits of information technology and ensuring that this enhances rather than distracts from the human connection we all need when we feel ill or fearful about our health.   Tim Usherwood is Professor of General Practice at University of Sydney This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Forget the Silicon Valley revolution: the future of transport looks remarkably familiar

8:32AM | Friday, 7 August

 From autonomous vehicles and the rapid rise of Uber to the global diffusion of bike-sharing schemes, transport is changing. Developments in information technology, transport policy and behaviour by urban populations may well be causing a wholesale shift away from conventional cars to collective, automated and low-carbon transport.   Yet there are still many uncertainties in technology development, finance and trends in user practices and expectations about the scale of these changes may well be inflated.   Perhaps the most significant development is “peak car” use – the stalled growth or modest decline in car ownership and use since around 1990 across the developed world. As well as economic reasons and the returning popularity of city living, this seems to be driven in part by a move away from pro-car planning. Metropolitan governments in particular are increasingly reallocating road space away from private cars and concentrating office and housing developments around public transport stations.   They are even supporting a wide range of innovations in local transport, including self-driving pod cars called up by a smartphone app. All these initiatives aim to reinvent “old” transport systems – metro, tram and cycling – as efficient, fashionable and healthy, enabling both economic growth and a better quality of life.   Public transport problems However, public transport still faces significant challenges. Research consistently shows that satisfaction with tripmaking is lower on bus and rail than on other forms of transport. The industrial-era logic of only offering services at particular stops or stations at specific times sits uncomfortably with the changing rhythms of work, shopping, care-giving and leisure in post-industrial societies.   These service provision problems are particularly acute in suburbs (and of course rural areas) where the flexibility afforded by private cars continues to be the norm. Yet, even in the densest parts of cities, public transport only meets everyone’s needs when there are more flexible options as well. This is why greater public transport use is linked to, and to some extent triggers, increased use of cycling and, more recently, smartphone-enabled taxi services.   These forms of transport are available (almost) everywhere at all times – and therefore better compatible with the individualised lifestyles of people accustomed to the convenience that private car use epitomises. But even bike and car-sharing schemes with fixed docking stations and parking bays suffer from some of the same limitations as public transport does. The future may well be brighter for smartphone-dependent “free-floating” schemes, whereby cars can be picked up and left at any location within a designated zone that stretches across a city or parts thereof.   Pod to the future. Department for Transport/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND   There are also big obstacles to a public transport revolution in the form of entrenched government patterns and vested interests. Past planning decisions, in particular, constrain current and future changes in transport systems. This is because the construction of road infrastructure, sprawling suburbs, car-dependent retail/leisure complexes and mono-functional business areas since the 1950s is largely irreversible, at least for the coming decades.   Industry fightback The car industry remains powerful and does not sit still. In many countries, car manufacturing continues to be important to the national economy and can therefore count on considerable support from local, national and supranational (EU) governments. This is exemplified by the UK government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles which was set up to stimulate the uptake of electric and other low-carbon vehicles.   Car manufacturers may now be experiencing competition from powerful technology companies such as Google and Apple, but this is catalysing their own development of innovations. The Google driverless car may be the most famous but the first such vehicles from conventional manufacturers are expected to hit the market by 2017-2018.   Many hurdles still need to be overcome. The technology needs substantial refining, major issues around insurance and liability need to be resolved, it is not clear how adaptations to road infrastructure will be financed, and public opinion is divided. Based on experiences with electric and fuel cell cars in recent decades, current expectations about commercialisation and consumer uptake are (vastly) over-optimistic.   Unexpected and unforeseeable events may radically reshape current development trajectories, but there are good reasons to expect that transport systems in 30 years will not be drastically different from today.   Tim Schwanen is Associate Professor in Transport Studies and Director of the Transport Studies Unit (from September 2015) at University of Oxford.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A bit of coding in school may be a dangerous thing for the IT industry

5:39PM | Sunday, 31 May

It sounds compelling, but what does Opposition Leader Bill Shorten actually mean when he says all secondary school pupils should be taught “digital technologies, computer science and coding”? And, equally importantly, why?   In his budget reply speech, as part of a focus on science and technology education, he stated that “coding” should be part of Australia’s national curriculum.   He doesn’t define precisely what he means by “coding”, but it’s likely the speech was at least partly inspired by the work of, a US-based multi-national computing education programme.   Barack Obama participated in one of the organisation’s largest projects, the introductory “Hour of Code” for primary school students, allegedly becoming the first US President to write a computer program in the process.’s lessons introduce basic programming skills in bite-size chunks, in simplified programming environments that make it easy to get small examples working.   While a great deal of thought (and not a small amount of time, talent and money) has gone into constructing’s lessons, many of the approaches are not new. Attempts to teach children programming date to the late 1960s with the Logo programming language.   One of Logo’s key innovations was “turtle graphics”, in which students learned programming by controlling the movement of a “turtle” that could move forwards or backwards, rotate, or raise and lower a pen to draw as it moved.   Hour of Code’s Frozen-based tutorial puts turtle graphics, and MIT’s graphical Scratch programming language, in Disney wrapping.     The fact that these approaches are evolutionary rather than revolutionary doesn’t make them bad. We speak from personal experience that learning to code in bite-size chunks can be both instructive and inspirational. This kind of introduction led us on paths that resulted in computing becoming our careers.   It’s fun, creative and much more accessible than pop-culture stereotypes about introverted “genius” programmers. By democratising access to such introductory lessons in coding, a broader pool of people may enter the profession, which is a very good thing.   It might be coding but is it IT? But this approach to teaching, in focusing on the accessible and the enjoyable, has the unfortunate side effect of misrepresenting much of the work IT professionals really do.   To create and work with information technology at a professional level, both computer science and software engineering are essential skills. But they are rarely even hinted at in coding exercises for children, even at secondary level.   The core of the discipline of computer science – algorithmics (the topic of a new unit in the Victorian Certificate of Education) – is the science of solving problems by devising and analysing procedures. These procedures can then be turned into computer programs. It is rewarding, but much like its sister discipline mathematics, it’s hard, sometimes tedious and often highly abstract.   Similarly, a huge fraction of what IT professionals do falls in the domain of software engineering – the profession focused on building large software systems within the constraints of the real world. Planning, design and management of large development teams are very challenging problems.   That said, over the past 50 years we have learned a lot about how not to build large software systems, and have found systematic methods that work far better than unstructured trial and error.   Team effort So, while getting some small programs to run might inspire students, the kind of things that can realistically be taught to a broad range of children only help a little as preparation for professional study in IT.   In fact, they might be counterproductive. The creative ad-hockery of individuals working alone or in pairs for short periods is not an approach that scales to large systems that actually meet the needs of their stakeholders. For that, you need the analysis that computer science brings and especially the skills and perspective that software engineering teaches.   But in our experience as tertiary educators, many students believe that they have come to university to learn how to perform solo ad-hockery in a particularly expert manner.   Consequently, they do not take anything that isn’t “programming” seriously until they run headlong into the year-long team projects in their final year of tertiary education.   At best, they have a lot of catching up to do. At worst, they don’t learn from the experience and enter the employment market without the skills and attitudes that successful IT professionals exhibit and that switched-on employers expect. Cowboy coders are those who can’t or won’t work in teams and who focus on code to the detriment of actual user needs, and they will find it difficult to compete for jobs.   Cowboy coding is hardest to discourage in those students with the most confidence in their own programming abilities, usually students with the most pre-university programming experience. Learning ad-hoc programming without exposure to computer science and software engineering runs the risk of exacerbating the misconceptions behind cowboy coding.   What if you don’t want to work in IT? According to a report by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, just 4% of the Australian workforce is employed in information technology roles. The majority of Australians, now and into the future, will not make information technology their career.   So what of those who don’t dedicate their lives to IT, what do they get out of a bit of exposure to coding at school?   Given the role that computing plays in our lives, there’s a strong argument that participation in our democracy will be enhanced by giving every Australian some knowledge of how computers function. A future attorney-general might not be quite so confused about the meaning of “metadata”, for instance.   One potential justification for coding in schools is that an increasing number of professions call for some programming skills. Scientists and engineers of all kinds, financial analysts and managers (among others) will have to either perform programming themselves, or work closely with those who do.   Even the relatively technology-phobic journalism profession is conducting a lively internal debate about the value of journalists knowing how to code, both to create interactive content and to support the kind of statistical analysis performed in data journalism (exemplified by the work of Nate Silver, the American statistician who writes about baseball and elections).   But it’s important to keep what non-specialists can achieve in perspective. If you want to see the results of amateurs struggling to design, plan and manage large, complex physical construction projects, watch an episode of the TV show The Block. Large software construction projects are difficult for amateurs to pull off for similar reasons.   Realistic ambitions The Australian national curriculum already contains a proposed “digital technologies” section, and a revised version is likely to be adopted in the next few years. This curriculum proposes to teach computing with a heavy focus on computer science and software engineering, far beyond the coding mentioned in Shorten’s speech.   The proposed curriculum is extremely ambitious. Were it to be taken literally, Year 10 students across the nation would be expected to master abilities and bring a mindset that we struggle to achieve in our graduates, who have a strong interest in the topic and years of specialist training as well as the patience, focus and perspective that adulthood brings.   As such, we are extremely sceptical that much of this can actually be effectively taught to the end of mandatory curricula at Year 10 level, let alone earlier in secondary or primary schooling.   In practice, we think it likely that students in the compulsory years of schooling will do some experimental, creative small-scale coding in lessons like those provided by, but at best will be told about computer science and software engineering, which has very limited effect.   Telling students about these disciplines, even at tertiary level, does not on its own lead to any ability to apply them, or even to recognise when they might be needed.   We believe that there is indeed justification for teaching students more about computers in the years of compulsory schooling. But this should be tempered with a clear focus on what we want students to learn, and some realism about what can be achieved in a school setting in compulsory lessons.   Otherwise, we not only run the risk of wasting valuable resources, we run the risk of actively harming students' chances of later mastering the full range of skills required of IT professionals. Robert Merkel is Lecturer in Software Engineering at Monash University. Robyn McNamara is Assistant Lecturer in Software Engineering; PhD candidate in Computer Science Education at Monash University.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

An education for the 21st century means teaching coding in schools

5:05AM | Thursday, 21 May

Bill Shorten’s recent announcement that, if elected, a Labor Government would “ensure that computer coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia” has brought attention to an increasing world trend.   Estonia introduced coding in primary schools in 2012 and the UK followed suit last year. US-led initiatives such as and the “Hour of Code”, supported by organisations such as Google and Microsoft, advocate that every school student should have the opportunity to learn computer coding.   There is merit in school students learning coding. We live in a digital world where computer programs underlie everything from business, marketing, aviation, science and medicine, to name several disciplines. During a recent presentation at a radio station, one of our hosts said that IT would have been better background for his career in radio than journalism.   There is also a strong case to be made that Australia’s future prosperity will depend on delivering advanced services and digital technology, and that programming will be essential to this end. Computer programs and software are known to be a strong driver of productivity improvements in many fields.   Being introduced to coding gives students an appreciation of what can be built with technology. We are surrounded by devices controlled by computers. Understanding how they work, and imagining new devices and services, are enhanced by understanding coding.   Of course, not everyone taught coding will become a coder or have a career in information technology. Art is taught in schools with no expectation that the students should become artists. Drag and drop A computer program is effectively a means of automating processes. Programs systematically and reliably follow processes and can be used to exhaustively try all the possibilities.   The languages used to program computers have evolved in the 70 years we have been building computers. Interfaces and programming environments have become more natural and intuitive. Language features reflect the applications they’re used for.   What is needed to easily express a business process, scientific equation, or data analysis technique is not necessarily the same as what is needed to rapidly develop a video game.   However, throughout the evolution of programming languages, the fundamental principles have remained the same. Computer programming languages express three essential things:   The order in which a sequence of instructions is performed A means of repeating a sequence of instructions a prescribed number of times And tests as to whether or not a sequence of instructions is performed.   While personal preference influences which computer language a programmer uses, there is a greater understanding of which languages work well for teaching introductory programming. For example, Scratch is popular for primary school students and is quick to learn. Alice has been used to help students quickly build computer animations. Python is increasingly used for scientific applications. Visual programming languages – where students can drag-and-drop icons rather than type code – allow for rapid development of simple programs.   At Swinburne University of Technology we run workshops to introduce school students to program NAO robots. Students use the Choregraphe environment to link robot actions from a library.   Students previously unused to programming can develop interesting robot projects in a couple of days. More sophisticated development of the robot requires students to use a more detail-oriented language, such as Python or C++. The simpler options lead to positive student experience. Computational thinking Writing and then executing a program gives immediate feedback as to whether you have correctly expressed instructions for the computer. Ultimately, the understanding of how to express concepts so that a computer can perform tasks accurately and efficiently is far more important than the details of the programming language.   Underlying all computer programs are algorithms, which specify in a more abstract way how a task is to be done. Algorithmic thinking – also called computational thinking – underlies computer science, and there has been a growing movement on algorithmic thinking in schools.   The new national curriculum reflects algorithmic processes, and materials are being developed to help teachers with the new curriculum. Victoria has recently developed a new subject for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) entitled Algorithmics. There are even materials for teaching algorithmic thinking without computers. The Computer Science Unplugged movement, led by Tim Bell and colleagues at the University of Canterbury, has developed resources that teach students concepts through movement and fun activities. Teaching for the this century Teaching computer coding in schools is very different from initiatives that advocate for computers in the classroom. I was not, and am still not, supportive of compulsory laptop programs in schools.   The idea is not necessarily to expose students to the technology itself, which is almost inevitable these days with the wide penetration of mobile phones. Rather, students are exposed to the skills needed to develop computer applications.   While IT skill shortages is a contentious topic, there is no doubt that not enough of the best and brightest are studying computer science at university. A significant factor is insufficient exposure to the topic at schools. Teaching coding at schools is aimed at addressing the lack.   It might be said that whatever programming language is taught will be obsolete by the time the students enter the workforce. My experience is that, if taught properly, students can rapidly transfer the principles of one language to another.   In the 19th and 20th centuries, the challenge was to understand the physical world, and harness force and energy. This understanding percolated into the school curriculum. In the 21st century, the challenge is to understand and harness data, information and knowledge. Computer programming is a necessary way of introducing students to these concepts.   Leon Sterling is Pro Vice Chancellor Digital Frontiers at Swinburne University of Technology.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nominations about to close for the 2015 iAwards

3:31PM | Sunday, 22 March

Startups now have less than one week to enter the 2015 iAwards, with nominations for this year’s competition closing on March 25, with categories recognising startups and R&D, young entrepreneurs, and social enterprises.   The iAwards are organised by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Western Australian Information Technology and Telecommunications Alliance (WAITTA). They seek to recognise ICT innovators who are having a positive impact on the community.   After nominations close, the State iAwards will take place in June 2015, ahead of the National iAwards. Winners will be announced at a gala dinner on August 27.   As part of the awards, for innovators under 25, the Hills’ Young Innovator of the Year Award offers a total of $25,000 in prizes for innovation in the categories of mobile, data and the cloud.   The awards will be judged by a panel of ICT industry experts, led by Fulvio Inserra, who is the chief executive of IT professional services company The Mastermind Group.   Categories for the iAwards 2015 span a number of industries and initiatives, including:   Development: Research and development, new products and startups Industry: Applications, tools and platforms, financial and industrial   Service: Consumer, education, government and health Society: Regional, social enterprises and sustainability Under-25s: Hills Young Innovator of the Year Award (mobile, data and cloud) Students: Secondary, undergraduate tertiary and postgraduate tertiary Pioneer: Victorian Government Inspiration iAward and Regional Encouragement Award   Startups interested in entering can do so at this page.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.

Startups looking for more support from both LNP and Labor in QLD election

1:28AM | Thursday, 22 January

More than 80% of Queensland startups think the Newman government is not doing enough to support the state’s startup ecosystem. However, only 19% believe Labor’s policy on startups is up to scratch, according to research conducted by River City Labs.   The survey, which collected responses from 200 entrepreneurs, investors and startup employees, paints a bleak picture for the technology and startup policies of the major political parties.   Steve Baxter, founder of River City Labs, says the Queensland government – regardless of whoever wins the election – needs to pay more attention to the startup sector.   “Governments the world over are investing time, energy and resources to understand and support technology startups,” he says.   “They have become accepted as key drivers of employment opportunities and economic growth. Ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurship are not finite resources, and with a little elbow grease and a lot of government support, I truly believe Queensland has the potential to be a powerhouse for global innovation.”   Baxter says Queensland tech startups want to see a government committed to “doing things smarter, faster and more agile”.   “Startup and technology are not exactly simple areas to understand, and traditionally Australian politicians have struggled to get their heads around where they fit into the government agenda,” he says.   “In recent years we have seen some market improvement steps, but based on our straw poll it appears the report card says ‘more effort required’.”   The survey also identified the policies the Queensland startup community wanted the state government to focus on. Topping the wishlist was the establishment of financial and regulatory incentives to attract more Australian and international tech startups to Brisbane.   Wanting startup funding grants and a Queensland startup precinct in the state’s capital to bring the ecosystem together also ranked highly.   River City Labs is not the only organisation lobbying Queensland political parties to pay more attention to tech startups. Yesterday, the Australian Computer Society called on both major parties to commit to making Queensland the leading digital economy in Australia.   Chair of the ACS Queensland Branch, Dr Nick Tate, said in a statement digital technologies are “critical drivers” of productivity, growth and innovation and therefore higher standards of living.   “We need to use digital technologies to help create new industries, help existing industries retain a competitive advantage, and provide new opportunities for employment and growth,” he said.   Chris O’Halloran, founder of Queensland startup Grapple, told StartupSmart it’s not easy for entrepreneurs to find the support they need. He says Labor’s promise of a $40 million fund to help startups only scratches the surface when it comes to solving the issues facing the local tech ecosystem.   “I don’t know if just having a fund is going to fix the problem because we still need to have an ecosystem that helps startups thrive – particularly in the early days – and there isn’t a lot of support out there,” he says.   “At the moment as a startup one of my key levers to getting resources is giving away equity, which causes a lot of issues for taxation purposes. Those roadblocks need to be removed.”   Kelsey-Lee Stay, a Queenslander who works for local startup Cohort Solutions, says she definitely thinks government could do more to drive innovation and therefore create more jobs.   “In comparison to our competitors overseas and what their governments are doing… we’re lagging behind,” she says.   “If we could get some decent funding that would be the number one thing. But also understanding the tech sector and encouraging people to explore new technology and providing help for them to do that.”   Queensland Innovation Minister, Ian Walker, told StartupSmart the LNP Government has strongly encouraged, supported and planned for “a turbo-charged startup community”.   “Three years ago, Queensland was borrowing money at unsustainable levels,” he says.   “This government has reduced that debt, and has a strong plan to balance the books and provide the most vibrant and innovative entrepreneurial climate in Australia.”   Walker pointed to the Startup Queensland fund, as well as the $90 million Research to Reality fund which was announced at the recent LNP campaign launch.   “In addition, If re-elected, the LNP’s $500 million Entrepreneurial and Innovation fund will make Queensland the best place in Australia for a startup company,” he says.   “Queensland’s entrepreneurs start with a problem and create job-generating businesses. We’re intending to do the same.”   Labor’s opposition spokesperson for innovation and IT, Dr Anthony Lynham, was contacted for comment but did not respond prior to publication.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

New mining-focused Perth accelerator drills deep for tech startups

12:26AM | Tuesday, 9 December

A new tech accelerator has launched in Perth which will nurture startups solving problems in the mining industry.   Unearthed will run for six months and organisers are aiming to bring on board three startups in its first intake. They’ll take part in a pilot program, and if successful, the hope is by 2016, the accelerator will be able to scale up to 10 startups per class.   It’s organised by Resource Innovation through Information Technology (RIIT) and supported by the likes of Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Gold Fields and Austmine.   Startups taking part will receive $70,000 worth of seed funding in exchange for 10% equity. The idea for the accelerator program spawned from a successful mining technology hackathon which RIIT held in Perth earlier this year.   Hackathon’s will be a key part of this new accelerator’s strategy. It plans to hold Unearthed hackathon events around Australia in 2015, in the hopes of creating new startups solving problems in the mining industry.   The first startup to be accepted into the program is Newton Labs, which won the Unearthed Hackathon earlier this year with their idea for a unique monitoring system that helps detect oversize boulders in hard rock mining – a problem that costs the industry around $100 million a year.   Newton Labs co-founder Simon Vincent, says without that hackathon, there’s no way the startup would have been founded.   “We didn’t even know it was a problem really,” Vincent says with a laugh.   “But after the event we were able to speak to industry experts who guided us and kept pushing us to keep going.”   RIIT’s Justin Strharsky says the mining industry’s current approach to innovation is to make substantial investments in the hopes of seeing returns in 10 to 15 years’ time. Unearthed is taking a far quicker approach, hoping to help create and support startups that have the potential to solve problems in under two years.   “We’re about open innovation and helping their investment create significant changes in between 12 and 18 months,” he says.   “The event format lowers the barriers to experimentation and expedites the development of proof-of-concept solutions to high-value resources sector problems.   “Australian mining has experienced a steady decline in productivity over the past decade. Most stakeholders believe part of the solution lies in innovation and the ability of the mining industry to more quickly adopt new technologies.”   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.

Meet the Aussie startup hoping to Prezentt the future of slideshows

8:40AM | Tuesday, 5 August

Perth-based startup Prezentt has launched its cloud-based slideshow service which it hopes will complement, rather than compete with, existing presentation apps such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides or Apple Keynote.   Co-founder Jeff Robson told StartupSmart the new service is designed to work in a web browser.   “Before a presentation, [the presenter] uploads a PDF of their slideshow,” Robson says.   “Then, during the event, while the presenter shows off their PowerPoint presentation, the attendees can view the slides on their own smartphone or tablet, take notes on their mobile device, or request a contact. In the future, you will also be able to share your presentation on social media.”   Because it works in a web browser, Robson also says that aside from Apple or Android smartphones and tablets, Prezentt will also work on a range of other platforms, including BlackBerry and Windows Phone.   According to Robson, a number of high-profile customers having already signed up to use the product, including News Corp, RSM Bird Cameron, SaaSu, Access Analytic and Pitcher Partners.   “We have about 200 people signed up from a range of different industries – big businesses, small businesses, consultants who present, and even charities. There’s directors who use it for meetings and presentations,” Robson says.   “At our launch event, we had a number of people from local universities, so tertiary education is an obvious market. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be used in high schools or even schools at more junior level.”     In terms of monetisation, the cloud-based service uses a subscription-based model rather than advertising.   Robson justifies the strategy, saying if it manages to land a presenter one extra sale per year, the subscription price pays for itself.   “There’s nothing worse than having your slides with your competitors’ ads on your slides,” he says.   “So it’s subscription-based, where it’s free for the attendees, presenters get their first four presentations free per year… But if you want to do more than that, the subscription is $20 per month if you pay annually.”   The service has already won critical acclaim, taking out the development domain prize at Western Australia’s premier Information Technology awards event, the WAiTTA Awards. Prezentt will now represent WA at the National ICT iAwards in Melbourne later this month.   Looking ahead, Robson says slideshows are a market ripe for disruption over the coming years.   “We see this as the future of presentation – a little like mobile banking. Seven years ago, no-one did mobile banking. Now, if you went into a bank branch and told you they don’t have an iPhone or Android app, you’d think they were a little backward, he says.   “We think it will be the same thing with presentations.”

Your life in their hands – privacy and your mobile device

7:18AM | Tuesday, 29 July

The explosive uptake of mobile devices including smartphones and tablets has us immersed in a complex, volatile soup of hyper-connected digital technologies, where not only is the perception of time being compressed, but privacy protections are being reshaped.   Smartphones and mobile devices are highly sophisticated micro computers packed with tightly integrated geospatial, optical, voice synthesis, radio transceivers, motion detectors and other technologies, glued together by very smart software.   The concentration and integration of these technologies into a single handheld device transforms the smartphone into a truly multifunctional device. This concentration, however then becomes a serious threat to privacy protection, as we are seemingly inseparable from our smartphones.   For the most part, we still appear to be concerned about our own privacy online.   The 2013 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) Community Attitudes to Privacy study found the majority of those sampled were concerned about the loss of protection of their personal information online whether through identity fraud, theft, misuse or other means. These findings are also mirrored elsewhere.   Notwithstanding our concerns about privacy, will our love of smartphones lead us to willingly trade off our concerns of privacy for this convenience?   Privacy legislation meets the smartphone – who wins?   Legislation may be passed, but how effective it is in a virtual, volatile and jurisdiction agnostic digital world remains to be seen. The rapid pace of development and change in digital technologies stands in stark contrast to the comparatively glacial rate of change in legal and regulatory frameworks. The effectiveness of any legislation is based on considerations such as the deterrence factor, the actual protections afforded under the law and the practicalities of enforcing the law.   But when it comes to new and emerging digital technologies - which cut across conventional legal jurisdictions - the effectiveness of legislation is sadly lacking.   The effectiveness of privacy and data breach legislation is questionable, at best. The volume and severity of data breaches continues apace, despite the substantial increases in spending on information security measures as well as the existence of privacy protection legislation and mandatory data breach reporting in many countries.   The dismal rate of successful convictions of elusive cybercriminals is testament to the comparative ineffectiveness of our jurisdiction-bound legal frameworks in the face of rapidly evolving digital technologies and their associated applications.   A rich target   Given the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, they are rich targets for legitimate information harvesting as well as cybercrime as they concentrate, generate and broadcast a wealth of personal information about our lifestyle patterns and habits in one place. The array of systems and apps on your smartphone that continually harvest, interrogate and report back to their masters on the various types of your usage data including geospatial, phone call details, contacts and hardware information is where the real value lies to others.   Internet security company Kaspersky Labs, recently uncovered an extensive legal cyber sleuthing network with over 300 servers dedicated to the collection of information from users located in over 40 countries including Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Colombia, China, Poland, Romania and the Russian Federation. A number of these countries, however, are also associated with known cybercriminal activities.   The bottom line is that, as an individual consumer of smartphone and tablet based technologies loaded with apps, we are relatively powerless to do anything about protecting our privacy.   Your ultimate protection lies in your choice whether to download that app or not, or to limit the use of your smartphone to only making phone calls.   When deciding to load any smartphone services, in the majority of cases, you have to agree with non-negotiable terms and conditions of the provider. A Hobson’s choice at its best.   Tips for protection   Despite this, there are nevertheless a few fundamental steps you can take to help mitigate the risks to your privacy. These include:   Purchase reputable mobile device security software and install it to your mobile device. This will not only help keep your device clear of known malware and viruses, but also scan all apps and other software for known privacy risks. If you are no longer using an app, remove it from your device. Download apps from reputable sources only. If the originator is a real, legitimate business, delivering a real service using their bespoke app the risks of mal- and spyware are minimal. The challenge is that reading the standard “terms and conditions” of the app (if offered) can be not only onerous, but the full ramifications from accepting that the app will access other services on your mobile device (such as location, contacts, call details or any unique network or hardware identifiers) may not be fully understood. Mobile devices are easily lost or stolen. Ensure you setup your power-on and screen lock security, as well as a other security measures including remote wipe and location identification services. When disposing your mobile device, ensure you remove any SIM and data cards then perform a hard factory reset. This will return the device to its original ex-factory settings, and remove all traces of your data from the device.   Rob is a Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and is lecturing Master’s Degree students in the Information Technology Management Program (ITMP).   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tracking your digital fingerprint online raises privacy issues

7:28AM | Monday, 28 July

Just how much information we give away about ourselves as we browse the web has been raised again by a tracking device used in thousands of websites.   Researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven have revealed the widespread use of a technique called “canvas fingerprinting” that tracks the activities of people on a website without their knowledge.   More than 5,600 websites were identified using the fingerprinting technique including Australian websites such as Australia Post, the Fairwork Ombudsman and the Sea Shepherd conservation group.   While this technique is relatively new, it represents another front in a very long battle to find out what users do online, and raises concerns about our ability to control our online privacy.   Here, have a cookie   Technical mechanisms for uniquely identifying web users date back to the introduction of the cookie in the Netscape browser in 1994.   When the user loads a webpage they get all the information necessary to display the page, such as the text, layout and images. But they also a small amount of “cookie” data sent along too, which is stored by the browser on the user’s computer.   When the user requests another page from the same website, the browser appends the cookie to the request to the server. In this way, the server hosting the website knows that the request came from the same computer.   Cookies are extremely useful and without them there would be no support for website logins.   But they can also be used to provide a complete record of a user’s use of a website. The use of “tracking cookies” allows this recording to extend across many, many websites, providing a comprehensive picture of a user’s browsing history to whoever controls the tracking cookie.   This becomes particularly intrusive if this browsing history can then be tied to any identifying data.   Privacy management   Understandably, many internet users aren’t terribly enthusiastic about their browsing history being so readily available to third parties. Tools to manage cookies have been incorporated into internet browsers and third-party privacy tools.   Deleting cookies, or controlling whether particular cookies are sent back to particular websites, gives the user more control over the extent of monitoring.   The technical response of browser developers has been combined with legal measures, such as the European Union’s privacy directive.   Under these rules, cookies used in a potentially privacy-invading manner must be disclosed to website visitors and explicit consent obtained.   Browser fingerprinting   Some internet companies have now turned to another ingenious technique for uniquely identifying and tracking users.   Rather than relying on browsers to send back a previously sent cookie, they collect enough information about the user’s browser environment to uniquely identify the user.   Modern computers have specialised hardware that greatly speeds up the computations needed to draw pictures on the screen. These graphics chips, made by companies such as NVidia, have made possible the amazing graphics of modern games, and speeded up your browsing and spreadsheets on today’s high-resolution monitors.   But the wide variety of such hardware, and the software used as “drivers” to control them, means that different computers will render such pictures in subtly different ways.   Images rendered by the graphics hardware (and thus subtly different on different computers) can be created from within a browser, analysed and sent back to a web server.   On its own, this is not enough to uniquely identify a user. But when combined with information such as the browser name and version number, and the list of fonts available on the system, it can provide a unique “fingerprint” of a user’s computer.   This provides a tracking mechanism that can be operated across many websites; a “super-cookie” that can’t be deleted as it is inherent to the computer it’s running on.   Again, this is most intrusive if it can be combined with personally identifying information. But even without this, it is very much against the spirit of the cultural norm (and the EU law) that requires internet sites to explicitly gain the consent of their users to enable tracking.   The University of Leuven research indicates that around 5% of the world’s top 1,000 websites make some use of this fingerprinting method, which was originally identified by University of California researchers in 2012.   Interestingly, however, the vast majority of websites using browser fingerprinting had done so by incorporating a third-party element into their website.   Free tools come with a hidden price   The primary product of AddThis is sharing tools – an easy-to-add component that website developers can incorporate on their sites that allow visitors to easily share the page they are viewing on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.   While AddThis charges for some use of some these components, others are available for free. Free and good-looking website components are to website developers what honeypots are to bears, so it’s not surprising that they have been widely adopted.   But AddThis extracts an additional quid pro quo – collecting browser data about those who visit sites usings their tools, much more than either the visitors, or the website owners, would have realised.   AddThis’s Rich LaBarca said it carried out a six month test using the fingerprinting and that any data collected was used for “internal research”. The code has since been disabled.   But the White House blog on the website of the US President didn’t realise that incorporating AddThis tools to its website violated its own privacy policy.   Taking what most of us give away anyway   As a computer geek from way back, I can’t help but grudgingly respect the ingenuity of those who perfect these privacy-invading tools, even as I deplore their ethics.   But my outrage is also tempered by the knowledge that these companies are taking by stealth what most of us choose to give away freely to other companies.   As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff observed, we – or, more precisely, our personal information – are “products” to many online companies such as Facebook, Google and AddThis.   The greatest fortunes of the 21st century have been founded on collecting and exploiting the personal information of billions of people, with a level of detail that companies such as AddThis can only dream of accessing.   And they’ve found that providing an easy way for us to share webpages of amazing cat videos and pictures is compelling enough that most of us will freely give them that information.   So what of ethics?   Do those who actually build these technologies – the programmers, analysts, testers and other IT professionals – have any obligation to consider the ethics of the tools they build? In theory, they do.   The two largest global professional bodies of the IT profession – the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (IEEE-CS) – have jointly developed a Software Engineering Code of Ethics. The Australian Computer Society also has its own code of ethics.   Unfortunately – and unlike law, medicine or other fields of engineering – professional societies and their codes of ethics have virtually no influence within the information technology community.   Despite occasional efforts to set themselves up as gatekeepers through licensing, they have had little success. As such, however virtuous these codes of ethics may appear, they have no teeth.   Much as I would personally like it to be otherwise, it’s unlikely that attempts to violate the privacy of individuals will reduce through the self-regulation of IT professionals.   The financial incentives for companies to do so are likely to continue. Privacy protection will have to come through some combination of public pressure, legal means, and individual adoption of technical and behavioural countermeasures.   Robert Merkel receives has previously received Australian Research Council grants to investigate aspects of software testing and reliability.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Geelong draws on sports history for tech future headstart

6:33AM | Monday, 30 June

Australia has long punched above its weight in sports, and now a new accelerator aims to help Australian sports technology startups excel.   The Australian Sports Technologies Network (ATSN) has launched HeadStart, an accelerator that aims to incubate and invest in up to 40 new sports technology and information technology startup businesses over the next four years.   Headstart will offer investments in the $20,000 to $50,000 range, for an equity stake ranging between 10% and 15%.   Headstart is based in Geelong and is the culmination of three years’ of investigation by the ASTN.   ASTN chair James Demetriou says Australia is well suited to the sports technology industry.   “We have a competitive advantage in medical technology, health technology, ICT and in smart apparel and wearables,’’ he says.   “One thing about Australia is we are comparatively strong throughout the world in sport, we accept we’ve got great sports people, great sports coaches, great sports innovators.   “What we think now from our research, and anecdotal evidence, we can grow the industry to be worth over a billion in Australia.”   Demetriou says ASTN also plans to launch a follow-on funding program, which will help the best graduates of Headstart.   The program will be based on the AngelCube model, and AngelCube founder Adrian Stone is part of the Headstart team.   Demetriou says it’s the first accelerator of its kind in Australia.   “What we’ve tried to do is develop a sports technology and ICT accelerator, the first in Australia and probably the region, we’re not going to duplicate what’s already out there,” he says.   “It’s based on very clear research, we’ve been validating and searching, and now we’re confident we’ve got the right model going forward.”   Seven startups have already commenced the program in a non-investment intake and while Demetriou couldn’t give specific details about the startups he says they’re involved in wearable technologies, sports governance platforms and unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.   The establishment of HeadStart was supported by funding from Enterprise Geelong and the Department of Employment.   Demetriou says the accelerator will bring its first batch of 10 startups onboard in the coming months.   At the HeadStart Accelerator Program launch with James Demetriou Chair of the Aus Sports Tech Network. @DarrynLyons — Geelong Mayor (@Geelong_Mayor) June 30, 2014

NICTA vows to carry on “getting good technology out the door” despite funding uncertainty

5:44AM | Monday, 19 May

NICTA, Australia’s information technology and research centre, will continue to focus on being a wealth generator rather than a revenue maker, in light of looming funding cuts, according to CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte.   Last week’s federal budget confirmed that the government would only continue to help fund NICTA until the middle of 2016, a move the organisation had been expecting since late last year.   While NICTA doesn’t rely on government funding, Durrant-Whyte says losing government contributions will certainly have an impact on the organisation.   He says NICTA’s primary goal is “getting good technology out the door” and building wealth for the country rather than revenue for itself.   “You would hope at some point you would get enough licensing income, corporate revenues, company sales to keep doing that,’’ Durrant-Whyte says.   On average, NICTA helps create a new startup every three months.   Last week it sold a company for more than “an eight figure sum”, although Durrant-Whyte would not elaborate on the details.   “Last year we spun out four companies, Saluda Medical being one, we probably put about $10 million into developing it,’’ Durrant-Whyte says.   “It is producing a medical implant that in principle can eradicate pain in the legs and back.   “It has the potential to be the next Cochlear [Australian maker of hearing products].”   After NICTA has got startups off the ground, by the time they make it to market, and after the company has raised more funding through investors, NICTA takes a relatively small cut.   “Let me be clear here, we already get a significant amount of revenues from external sources,’’ he says.   “The problem is none of that ever really allows you to fund the blue sky deep scientific research to come up with all this great stuff to start with.”   To help build the expertise required to commercialise some of that ‘blue sky research’ NICTA recently set up an office in San Francisco.   “Why did we start it? In the end what we lack in Australia truthfully is the skills and experience to figure out how to commercialise deep technology,’’ Durrant-Whyte says.   “Opening up that office is really a chance to say to our startups ‘go and find out what the rest of the world is doing’.”

“Uber for tennis” launches

5:02AM | Monday, 12 May

Tennis Buddy an app that promises to help users find a tennis partner in less than 10 minutes is billing itself as “Uber for Tennis”.   Co-founded by Australian-educated entrepreneur Marius Kraemer, Tennis Buddy is a location-based app that enables users to find strangers close by and available to have a game of tennis. The app is available in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.   “When building Tennis Buddy, I wanted to especially help busy people such as business travellers who often only have a two hour window of spare time that opened up due to a cancelled meeting for instance,’’ he says.   “With a user base of over several hundred users in cities like London, Sydney or even 900 in LA already, the broadcast always finds that one person who is available at that very moment.   “This is what makes Tennis Buddy so fast, as it brings down the average response time for a broadcast to under 10 minutes.”   Kraemer studied a Masters of Information Technology at the University of Sydney, during which he launched his first startup, Matewire, a local events finder which was backed by Australian accelerator Pushstart in 2012.   Kraemer, who was studying in Australia on exchange, struggled to find and market-fit for the product and, coupled with visa troubles, had to shut Matewire down.   His latest effort was co-founded with Sophia Vogt, a former professional tennis player, and together they’re chasing the lucrative US tennis industry.   He says he was inspired by Uber’s ‘get what you want at the press of a button’ mentality.   “Similar to Uber, which is going after the $10 billion US taxi industry, we are going after the $5.6 billion US tennis industry,’’ Kramer says.   “By the end of the year, (we) aim to have 500 users in over 100 cities each, so that we can connect people across all the international cities of the world.”

CeBIT StartUp 2014 – the rundown from a startup’s perspective

5:37AM | Friday, 9 May

I’ve just returned from CeBIT after three days and, I have to say, I’m a bit dazed and confused. As a first-time CeBIT attendee, I thought I’d reflect on our experience to help other startups evaluate if the event is right for them in 2015.   What is CeBIT StartUp?   CeBIT Startup is a part of CeBIT: a large-scale tech event that began in Germany and is considered a barometer of the state of the art in information technology.   The startups were all hosted in “StartUp Alley”, placing us side-by-side with over 100 other startups.   Why did we go?   I am the director of marketing for Mapely, a startup that recently graduated from ilab. We had a sponsored stall so there was no financial cost for us to attend, just the loss of our team from the office. Being from Brisbane, it was also an opportunity to line-up meetings and do the “Sydney” thing.   What sort of people attended?   This year the organisers had to make a decision between hosting at Pyrmont and Sydney Olympic Park. If you missed one of the three express trains in the early morning, it was a 35-minute cab ride from the CBD – much too far to pop out to on a lunch break.   For us, this meant we had fewer tourists and more people genuinely interested in what we are working on, so for B2B it’s not a bad range of attendees. I’m not sure what impact the location had on the attendance of key decision-makers, but for us, we had a fair number come past our stand.   For businesses in a specific niche, you would need to have a game plan for how you were going to make CeBIT work in your favour and how to weed out the time-wasters. For B2C startups, conferences probably aren’t the best way to reach the masses anyway, but it could be useful for user-testing and feedback.   The pitch event   This event was nothing short of bizarre to me. Like everyone else, we had been asked to register our interest in the pitch event. The first questions I had were who are we pitching to and what are we pitching for?   Don’t get me wrong: I’m all-for a good pitch event. But I have to be conscious that at the stage we are at in our startup, I need to make sure I am not wasting my CEO’s time pitching for pitching’s sake.   Unless there is a clear outcome, the investment that goes into creating a pitch relevant to both the audience and the prize is potentially a misuse of our company’s time. And if we are unclear of our goals, it can be embarrassing.   It was with overwhelming sadness that I discovered the prize pool was Airbnb vouchers: $2000 for first prize and runner-up prizes of $1000 each. It's a bit of a slap in the face to know that there's a hackathon happening a mere 50m away with a $10k prize pool.   Most startups took the opportunity to ignore the prize pool and make the task relevant to their current needs.   Maestrano CEO Stephane Ibos used the opportunity to pitch their expansion to the US.   “Maestrano is aiming to raise money to expand to the US and we’re asking for a $5m Series B to fund our US expansion: funding the needs for a US workforce, 24/7 support, US office and funding marketing for growth in the US,” Ibos pitched.   Despite not commenting on how they would use the Airbnb vouchers during the pitch, Maestrano still managed to score a runner-up prize.   Massive credit is due to the winners: grand prize winners Mathspace and runners up Workible, Maestrano and Caremonkey. Great startups with great pitches deserving much better than this very mediocre prize.   Nat Bradford from BlueChilli said you should come to CeBIT with a clear goal in mind and that for most startups it’s about raising awareness of your business.   “It’s nice to pick up sales here and there, and it’s nice to meet the right people, but it’s generally to see what else is going on in the ecosystem, know who is doing what in your space and to share the news about your startup and your business plans,” he said.   Was it worth it?   For us, it was definitely worth attending. This was a surprise: we had low expectations and came away with a good number of strong leads and confidence in our business. We met with other startups and having a pool of so many in one location was really useful for us.   There were a few minuses: the time and monetary cost of travel if you can’t use the three express trains, the energy it takes to run a stall and be “on” for three days straight, and the overall feeling that CeBIT StartUp could have been a bit better supported by the organisers.   Some businesses did not last the three days, with at least 10 stalls with no-shows on the Wednesday.   But for us it was worth it and I would hope that over time CeBIT StartUp grows into a must-attend startup event.

Controversial tech entrepreneur to political leader: The new startup career path

4:45PM | Tuesday, 22 April

Controversial tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom has announced the formation of a new political party, known as the Internet Party, ahead of New Zealand’s next general elections in September.   German-born Dotcom is best known as the founder of the controversial file sharing website Megaupload, for which he was indicted in the US on charges relating to piracy.   Since then, he’s gone on to launch a new venture, a highly encrypted cloud storage service called Mega.   His new party’s positions include delivering cheaper high-speed internet, better oversight of spy agencies, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, copyright reform, the introduction of a digital currency and the introduction of a digital bill of rights.   However, Dotcom is far from the first tech figure to turn to politics – with some having more success than others.   StartupSmart looks at five other high-profile tech figures from the tech world who have gone on to their hand at politics – often with mixed results.   1. Julian Assange, Wikileaks Party   Should Dotcom’s party get off the ground, his political career will inevitably be compared with that of Julian Assange.   Assange is best known as the founder of whistleblower website Wikileaks, along with a long-running series of court cases relating to rape allegations in Sweden. Since August 2012, facing the threat of arrest, Assange has been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.   After being granted asylum, Assange announced plans to form a Wikileaks political party. The Wikileaks Party contested the 2013 federal election, but only received 0.66% of the vote.   Along the way, several high-profile candidates, including prominent academic and former Wikileaks lead Senate candidate Leslie Cannold, abandoned the party.   2. Ross Perot, Reform Party   A far more successful minor party campaign was run in the US by Texan tech entrepreneur Ross Perot.   Perot got his start in the tech industry all the way back in 1962, when he launched an information technology equipment company called Electronic Data Systems. Perot eventually sold the company to General Motors in 1984, which in turn sold the company to HP in 2008.   It was around the time of the sale to General Motors that Perot met another young tech executive named Steve Jobs. After being ousted from Apple, Jobs had launched a new tech startup called NeXT, and Perot decided to make an investment.   The products Jobs’ company developed included an operating system called NeXTStep, which would eventually form the basis of Mac OS-X and iOS after Jobs returned to Apple. Perot also sold another venture – Perot Systems – to Dell in 2009 for $US3.9 billion.   Of course, these days, Perot is best known for standing as an independent third candidate in the 1992 US presidential election against incumbent George Bush Snr. and Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton.   The Texan stood on a platform combining a mix of policies mixing positions traditionally advocated with the left and the right of US politics. For example, Perot advocated a balanced budget, a tough stance on drug policy and opposition to gun control. However, he also advocated in favour of abortion rights, protectionism, an end to outsourcing and a strong Environmental Protection Agency.   Perot ended up winning 18.91% of the vote, an incredible result for an independent presidential candidate in the US. He stood a second time in 1996, picking up 8% of the vote against President Bill Clinton and Republican candidate Bob Dole.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 3. Rickard Falkvinge, Pirate Party   Of course, when it comes to Kim Dotcom, perhaps the best political role model to follow might be Rickard Falkvinge.   Falkvinge grew up in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, next door to the home ground of football club Västra Frölunda.   Falkvinge’s biography reads like a list of tech entrepreneur clichés. He got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, when he was just eight-years-old. By the age of 16, he had launched his first tech startup, a company called Infoteknik. At the age of 18, Falkvinge hired his first employee.   More than making profits, Falkvinge was motivated by the free exchange of ideas that came with the early home computer market. He grew increasingly concerned that harsher copyright laws being lobbied for by the motion picture and record industries could stifle online innovation.   His concerns about patents, copyright law and file sharing restrictions led Falkvinge to form a new political party. On January 1, 2006, he launched the website of his newest venture – dubbed the Pirate Party.   While the new party managed just 0.63% of the vote in its first Swedish elections, it grew to 7.13% for the 2009 European elections. The pirate party model was mirrored internationally, including in Australia. On January 1, 2011 – five years after its launch – Falkvinge stood down as party leader, handing control to his deputy, Anna Troberg.   4. Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal Party   In Australia, the most prominent example of a (far less controversial) tech executive turned entrepreneur is communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Before entering into federal politics, Turnbull has served in many roles, including as the general counsel to Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings, the cofounder of law firm Turnbull McWilliam, the chair of the Australian Republican Movement, a journalist and a partner at Goldman Sachs.   Turnbull became the chair of pioneering Australian internet service provider OzEmail in 1994, also becoming an investor in the company. In 1999, at the peak of the ‘90s tech boom, Turnbull sold the company to US telco MCI WorldCom.   In 2004, Turnbull won the by-election for the federal seat of Wentworth, being elected as the local Liberal Party MP at the general election later that year. Since then, he has served as the environment minister in the Howard government, as well as the leader of the opposition.   5. Paul Fletcher, Liberal Party   These days, Paul Fletcher is best known as the Liberal MP for the federal seat of Bradfield, as well as a parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications. It’s a position he’s held since December 2009, when he won the seat at a by-election after former opposition leader Brendan Nelson retired from politics.   However, before entering into politics, Fletcher served as a senior executive in one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies Optus, between 2000 and 2008.   After stepping down from the role, Fletcher authored a book titled Wired Brown Land? Telstra's Battle for Broadband, which dissected the case for Telstra being allowed to build the national broadband network.   He has also run a strategic consulting business focusing on the communications industry, and also served as the chief of staff to former communications minister Richard Alston.

10 start-ups graduate from Queensland’s iLab incubator

3:20AM | Thursday, 13 March

The start-up founders who graduated last night from Queensland’s ilab technology incubator Germinate program have had an intense three months of planning and pivots.   This is the fifth intake to graduate from the program in two years. All 10 start-ups selected for the program graduated with a demonstrable product.   Program director Bernie Woodcroft told StartupSmart the diversity of the entrants was the most exciting element of this graduating class.   “Seven of the start-ups had founders who were juggling mortgages and kids but still wanting to deliver an entrepreneurial outcome. I find that very impressive.”   Two of the enterprise start-ups have trials confirmed with major corporations and several start-ups will be receiving some of their first payments in the coming months.   “Most of the start-ups will stay on in the ilab space from now without the accelerator program wrapped around them,” Woodcroft says.   Navigation algorithm start-up CB AeroSpace co-founder Michael Creagh told StartupSmart the best thing he learned was that mastering the technology was only one factor in the business success.   “The business solution will need a marketing strategy, a network of people, intellectual property protection and involving the professional world from markets to accountants to lawyers,” Creagh says.   The start-up will enable a much cheaper version of existing navigational systems. Creagh says the increasing uptake of drones bodes well for the commercial potential of the start-up.   “As someone from a technical background, the biggest challenge for me was narrowing down all the advice and filtering through many different opinions to work out what to do,” he says. “In the end I went half with my gut feeling, and the rest from weighing people’s input based on their experience in this area.”   The program is funded by the Queensland government and part of the University of Queensland’s commercialisation arm, UniQuest.   They recently launched a $1.5 million fund for the program in partnership with Artesian Ventures.   In a statement, the Queensland Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, Ian Walker, said technology start-ups will be agents for diversification of the Queensland economy.   “As a government, we need to create the best environment we can to help get new products, services and innovative processes to market,” Walker said.   Applications are now open for sixth intake and close April 8.   The team behind ilab also recently ran a rapid, mass mentoring event for start-ups in the Indooroopilly area.

Co-working space for advanced technology start-ups launches in Melbourne

1:18AM | Wednesday, 8 January

A co-working space for start-ups in the advanced technology industries such as medical devices and nanotechnology has launched in Melbourne.   The Tap co-working space is an initiative of the Small Technologies Cluster, which has been running an incubator for similar start-ups for years.   STC’s head of marketing and business development, Laura Faulconer, told StartupSmart while start-ups all face similar challenges, advanced technology start-ups face complicated hurdles such as regulatory approval.   “We were looking at the emergence of co-working spaces globally and really recognise the value in that, but didn’t see any in Melbourne that really catered to the needs of the advanced tech sector,” Faulconer says. “If you’re a medical device start-up, it’s not as useful to set opposite to someone who is selling shoes online. There just aren’t the same synergies to work together.”   The space can fit up to “30 butts on seats” at any one time, but Faulconer says 30 is a conservative estimate of how many people will use the space as the majority of it will be flexible.   They will also run networking and education events in the space.   “We designed it promote that collaborative work environment that has been embraced by the digital start-up sector, but has been slower to emerge here. Some of that is about culture and personality of the people involved, so we’ve taken that into consideration when designing the space,” Faulconer says.   Advanced technologies also include biotechnology, life science and information technology.