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At a time of more focus than ever on the protection of children, the digital world becomes ever more dangerous. Two devices could help change that, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It is deeply ironic that, the more options parents have for keeping their children safe through the use of technology, the more vulnerable their children become.

It doesn’t help that many kids are more tech-savvy than their parents, but that is more of an excuse than a reason for parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s digital lives.  The real issue is that the seemingly simple process of finding the right phone for a child – in terms of budget, style and capabilities – has become absurdly complex.

And then, once a phone is handed to the child, the parent is usually clueless about how to set it up, how to limit activities and types of access, and how to configure parental control functions.

The solution lies in stylish devices that are designed for children without detracting from their experience and even self-image.

Two gadgets launched in South Africa in the last two weeks address exactly these questions.

KidTech: Huawei P8 Lite adapted for children

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The first, from a new South African company called KidTech, sensibly uses an existing phone, but adapts it extensively for children’s use. The base phone is a Huawei P8 Lite, a stylish, mid-range handset that has already been successful in South Africa for the past two years.

A 2017 edition, released last year, brings the phone up to date for current apps, while the KidTech adaptation makes it relevant, safe and fun for children. It is provided on a Telkom Mobile contract, and comes with parental controls that sort out these deceptively complex tasks:

  • blocks harmful websites and apps;
  • protects children from cyber-bullying and sexually-inappropriate behaviour;
  • allows parents to control when and how the cellphone is used;
  • tracks kids’ whereabouts at any time;
  • sends alerts when the user leaves a designated area, like home or school.

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“The idea came from witnessing arguments about cellphones between kids who want cellphones and parents who are worried about their kids being exposed to all the negatives that cellphones can introduce,” says Antony Seeff, CEO of KidTech.

The company is a subsidiary of the cellphone account management company, Tariffic, and was started by its executive team.

“KidTech has selected a suite of apps which have been pre-installed and pre-configured to ensure that parents need not worry about their kids online,” says Seeff.  “One app helps parents identify if their kids are being the victims of cyberbullying by monitoring all WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger messages and alerting parents the moment certain bullying keywords are used.”

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Nic Botes, KidTech co-founder, says the software is pivotal in preventing bullying and sexually-inappropriate conversations. And it goes further than conversations.

“Photos taken on the phone are also backed up and shared with parents, so they can identify any worrying behaviour before its too late,” says Botes.

KidTech also drew on Tariffic’s 12-year track record and expertise in identifying ideal contracts for specific needs. Usually geared to companies trying to make their staff accounts more cost-effective, Tariffic’s system was used to identify the perfect cellphone contract for kids.

The R249-a-month top-up contract comes with 1GB of data and free WhatsApp use.  Parents can also top up the account with prepaid airtime or data, allowing tight control of bills.

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“The stories that we’re hearing about what young kids are getting up to on their cellphones are frightening”, says Toma Batev, a  KidTech co-founders. “There are many reports of kids under 10 sending nude photos of themselves, and becoming suicidal after being cyber-bullied online. Parents need to be able to protect their children from these dangers.

“Not giving children phones is not a realistic answer. Rather give them the right phones with the correct safeguards and protections.”

Aside from the customised phone, KidTech has has also created a website, http://www.ismychildbeingcyberbullied.co.za, to help with the wider cyber-bullying problem.

* Visit www.kidtech.co.za for more information

Connected MoveTime Family Watch MT30

TCL-MOVETIME-Family-Watch-MT30

Ensuring the safety of children is also the motivation behind a new smartwatch designed for younger kids. The MoveTime  Family Watch MT30 was created by TCL Communication, the company that also produces Alcatel and BlackBerry phones.

It is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, developed to allow any manufacturer to make small wearable devices. It takes forward Qualcomm’s own vision for the Snapdragon Wear platform, geared to a “new generation of wearable devices designed just for kids”, as the chipmaker put it.

Qualcomm, which announced the platform last year, explained the motivation: “These 3G or 4G LTE connected kid smartwatches can empower a child with a sense of independence, while giving mom and dad some peace of mind with an always-connected device that provides an age appropriate user experience.”

Devices based on the platform were exhibited by Qualcomm at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in January, making it all the more surprising that the first gadgets based on the platform have already arrived in South Africa.

Says Ernst Wittmann, TCL’s regional manager for Southern and East Africa, “TCL’s Movetime Family Watch MT30 combines the robust technology of Snapdragon Wear 2100 with TCL’s design and manufacturing expertise to deliver a connected rich and fun experience for kids and peace of mind for parents, It offers seamless connectivity and reliable safety features to help parents monitor their children’s safety in a fun, feature filled watch.”

The watch has a colourful touchscreen, which makes it both enjoyable and easy for young children to use. Aside from playing built-in games, it allows them to add friends through Bluetooth, and to send them emoji icons and messages.

While instant text messaging is not possible on the device, it allows parents and children to exchange voice messages and to make calls. Eight pre-determined numbers can be set on the watch, and the child can make and receive voice calls, using just this device, to and from those numbers. Calls to and from strangers are, therefore, not possible.

The MT30 promises two days of battery life on a single charge, and it is IP67 rated for water resistance up to one metre deep. It is also dust-proof, making it a great playground companion.

GPS functionality allows for location features, which provide parents with instant indoor and outdoor positioning via an app on their own phones, as well as geofencing, meaning they are alerted when the child leaves designated areas. A prominent SOS button allows the child to call for help in an emergency simply by pressing the button – and parents can then also locate the child instantly.

Startlingly, the watch is also a productivity gadget: it provides to-do lists, with reminder functions, both to ensure kids do chores and homework, and remember events or appointments. It also helps teach kids time management.

The MoveTime Family Watch is available on contract at R149 per month, including a SIM card in the watch, or R2699 as a prepaid purchase.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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