What role can technology play in helping to fight coronavirus? I’ve been keeping a close eye on the potential for smartphones to help contact tracing programmes become faster and more accurate.
While some national health authorities have raced to deploy contact tracing apps for their citizens’ smartphones, here in the UK it’s been a bumpy ride – as I wrote earlier in the summer.
Reporting for BBC Newsround, I gave an update on what happened to the NHS COVID-19 app in England, as well as how other home nations chose to move with their own apps.
Since this report, Apple and Google have pushed ahead with plans to integrate contact tracing right into their smartphones. Exposure Notifications Express means that a dedicated app may no longer be necessary to enable contact tracing.
In a recent report for CBBC Newsround I explained the theory behind how contact tracing apps work to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
When this report went to air in May 2020, contact tracing apps were seen by many as a key tool in helping communities regain some of their social freedoms following restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, at the time of writing this – June 2020 – the UK’s contact tracing app still hasn’t been fully released, beyond a trial on the Isle of Wight.
And today the UK government revealed that its NHS contact tracing app will now change how it works, favouring “decentralised” technology supported by Apple and Google.
The initial version of the NHS contact tracing app was based on a centralised model recommended by scientists from Oxford University:
The team of Oxford scientists argue the UK’s choice of a centralised app architecture will significantly improve the NHS’s ability to refine, improve and evaluate the app’s configuration; they suggest it will ensure the app can rapidly and effectively guide the right people to self-isolate whilst enabling most people to start returning to normal life.
However, this change of direction appears to have been driven in part by mounting concerns over privacy and security – which might reduce the number of people comfortable using the app – along with technical challenges with how accurately the bespoke app was able to detect other smartphones.
Other countries have made similar u-turns, but all will hope that favouring a technology supported by Apple and Google will ensure better public trust and accuracy.
One thing is for sure: the idea that a contact tracing smartphone app might be a silver bullet to tame coronavirus has fallen very flat.
With many of us working and schooling from home during lockdown, our connection to the internet has never been more important. But what happens if our broadband service goes bad?
I was asked by The One Show to share some consumer advice on what to do if your broadband service is unreliable or slower than you were promised. I explain how some simple consumer protections can keep you connected — or help you cut free from your contract.
The consumer protections I explain include:
- The Cooling-off Period – what’s the law when changing your mind?
- Ofcom Code of Practice and Consumer Rights Act – including the “minimum speed guarantee”
- Alternative Dispute Resolution – when complaints fall on deaf ears
Take a look:
The good folks at Resolver – the free independent resolution service – asked if I could put some of my broadband contract and service consumer advice into writing for them: Beating those Broadband Blues.
If you’re parent, you’ll know how much your children are missing their friends at the moment.
Video chat apps like Zoom, Houseparty and Facetime are a great way for children to keep in touch with their schoolmates – but sometimes things can go wrong.
Here’s a piece I filmed with BBC Newsround to help children and their parents learn how to stay safe when using group video chat apps.
A dedicated page on the website features these video group chat tips and some further online safety resources. It also includes a chat with my daughter about how she is keeping in touch with school friends while school is closed.
Newsround is something of an institution here in the UK. For many of us as we were growing up the John Craven-hosted daily show was our main window on the world.
As a parent now, I’ve once again found Newsround to be an invaluable resource, providing my children with just the right balance of information, reassurance and distraction when things outside are so confusing. The Newsround website is also filled with uplifting, informative and topical stories, and has helped us to talk about some big world topics as a family.
Is there a Gadget Doctor in the house? There is now.
In my surgery I mostly cover online safety and cybersecurity. Recently I’ve shared tips on video chat app safety, smart speaker privacy, and how to set up group calls for relatives who aren’t on the internet.
Needless to say, with many of us relying on technology at the moment to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues, we very have a busy mailbag right now.
Also on the Gadget Doctor rota are fellow experts in gaming, home entertainment, smartphones and photography – between us, we have most tech topics covered.
Need help with a tech tongue-twister? Drop the team a line at ku.oc.ortemnull@rotcodtegdag
On BBC Radio 4 Money Box Live today I spoke about the jaw-dropping rise of the video game industry – and the human and financial impact on those who play.
The numbers behind video gaming may come as a surprise to many: with a revenue of around $150 billion worldwide in 2019, video gaming dwarfs Hollywood ($43 billion) and the music industry ($19 billion) combined – as it has for the last decade.
Yet many of the industry’s leading video games are billed as “free”. 2019’s biggest title, Fortnite, earned publisher Epic Games $1.8 billion despite not charging to download or play.
How? Welcome to a colourful world of in-game purchases where virtual coins, currencies, power-ups and “loot boxes” make the digital worlds go round.
Altogether less welcome are the stories of addictive behaviour, debt and theft we heard from Money Box Live listeners today.
I’m not anti-video games – far from it, I play Fortnite on my iPad, was (once) a whizz on Pro Evo and enjoy fewer things more than a round of Mario Kart with my kids.
But what concerns me is an unregulated gaming industry that makes hundreds of billions of pounds yet frequently shirks its responsibilities around duty of care, refuses to acknowledge its game mechanics – yes, loot boxes, among others – are gambling in all but name, and misses opportunities to put controls in place to protect younger and vulnerable gamers.
Keen to make sure your family enjoys video games safely responsibly? Here are two excellent resources:
When I first spoke about Deliveroo scams for BBC Watchdog in 2016, I had hoped the fast food delivery service would have taken away some tips on how to keep its customers’ accounts safe from fraudsters.
Yet here we are in 2019 and once again I’m investigating – this time for The One Show – why Deliveroo can’t seem to be able to keep its customers’ accounts secure.
Three years on and it seems little has changed at Deliveroo HQ.
Desperate Deliveroo customers are still finding orders being placed without their consent and delivered to addresses they know nothing about. Victims are still discovering that their email address is being changed, passwords updated, payment details changed, refunds issued – and even their name changed – without any apparent verification or controls.
Deliveroo vehemently denies that its own systems have been hacked. Instead it deflects responsibility back to its customers, admonishing them for reusing passwords across multiple online services.
Deliveroo: You Get Stuffed
Deliveroo claims that criminals are using “credential stuffing” attacks to take over customer accounts. It says usernames and passwords leaked from other online services are used to try and log in to Deliveroo accounts. Because many of us use the same passwords for multiple services, this can be a fruitful method of attack for criminals looking to hijack others’ accounts.
In my opinion, this victim-blaming doesn’t let Deliveroo off the hook. Other online services also acknowledge that these kind of attacks take place – and take further sensible precautions to protect their users.
One method used by many online services to add an extra layer of security is two-factor authentication. With “2FA”, a text message containing a one-off security passcode is sent to the account owner’s smartphone. It works because even if a hacker has identified a potential victim’s username and password, it’s unlikely they will have access to their smartphone too.
The new series of BBC Rip Off Britain kicks off this week and once again I’m helping to shine a light on the digital shams and scams that have been plaguing viewers across the country.
Such as this one, where Facebook fraudsters buy or cultivate pages with thousands of likes, then rename the page and clone their victim’s shopfront before defrauding their customers:
It can be difficult for shoppers to know which pages are real and which are fakes.
For this film I created an almost identical clone of the BBC Rip Off Britain Facebook page within a matter of minutes. It’s also a challenge for owners of Facebook pages who feel can powerless to stop scammers ripping off both their business and their customers
My advice for Facebook page owners – and for visitors to those pages – is to look out for Facebook verification badges. These grey or blue ticks alongside the profile name indicate that the page has been vetted by Facebook, with official documentation provided in some cases, and can reasonably be expected to be the real deal. Page owners can request a grey tick by following Facebook’s verification process.
To find out more about this – and other digital rip offs – tune in to BBC1, weekdays 9.15 to 10.00am or watch on-demand on BBC iPlayer.