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Why data power must shift

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Information is one of the most valuable commodities today and in order for businesses to ensure their livelihood, it is vital for them to move from static to dynamic automated and reliable data storage models, says MARK TAYLOR, CEO of Nashua.

Information is one of the most valuable commodities. Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created and either has a direct monetary value or can be mined for business intelligence to get a competitive edge. Data is the lifeblood of any organisation. Without the Internet and connectivity, business survival and economic growth is impossible.

The original intent of the Internet was the unrestricted flow of information in an open and shared network owned by the community. Data ownership was intended to reside with its creators in a decentralised model, free from monopolistic or centralised control.

However, large corporations quickly realised the value of tracking, storing, organising and monetising information for use in centralised services. Although not owned by a single entity, large corporations and data giants like Google support some of the most critical components of the Internet, such as search engines, web hosting, cloud computing and email services.

The case for decentralisation

As the reliance on the Internet deepens, so does the sharing of sensitive data and the need for greater privacy, data security and integrity. One proposed solution is a fully decentralised Internet independent of centralised control. This can be achieved with Blockchain technology – a decentralised and distributed ledger system that facilitates and verifies secure peer-to-peer data exchanges.

The biggest issues facing the Internet, such as net neutrality, privacy and security, pertain to issues of structure. Under a centralised model, access and convenience is offered to users at the expense of data ownership and privacy. While many service providers offer to store and safeguard data, security can’t be guaranteed. Servers can fail, networks can be hacked and privacy rights can be violated.

Decentralisation enables data and vital services to be owned by users and powered by a network of independent computers. This creates a setting much more resilient to hacks and failures as encrypted data can only be released and accessed through private keys. Decentralisation also breaks down the centralised barriers to business. With reliable high-speed Internet connectivity from Nashua, any business can access better, faster and cheaper services.

Here’s how decentralised models can revolutionise the Internet and cybersecurity.

Decentralised web

A truly decentralised Internet is possible with Blockchain technology. Ethereum is a platform on which apps can be built and run without fraud, censorship or third-party interference. User information is encrypted and stored on the Blockchain which prevents service providers from hoarding and mining user data.

Decentralised web hosting

With only one target to hit, cybercriminals can quite easily shut down a website hosted on a centralised system. On Blockchain-based platforms, thousands of nodes or computers are employed to each serve a part of the website. This makes targeted attacks much harder and reduces hosting costs. It speeds up user access to websites by bringing cached content closer to site visitors. Self-executing smart contracts can also be used to manage resources and payments while users also have the opportunity to rent out idle network and computing resources.

Decentralised data storage

Blockchain enables users to use applications while retaining ownership of their data. By storing data on a decentralised and distributed network, the data is broken up, encrypted and stored across the Blockchain network. To access information, users need a private key to download the data from several locations at once. This not only speeds up the file access speeds but makes it increasingly difficult for cybercriminals to gain access.

Decentralised search engines

Google controls up to 95% of searches. The engine tracks search activities and has access to personal user information. Decentralised search engines store encrypted user data across a network as opposed to in a central location where it remains vulnerable. They also use open and transparent search ranking factors. This will level the playing field for businesses and content creators.

Decentralised social media

Social media platforms add significant connectivity value but at the cost of user privacy and data ownership. Decentralised social media channels will give back to users the ownership of data and reward users who choose to share information.

The full potential of a distributed economy is still unwritten but innovative solutions by emerging Blockchain innovators have already proven that the sky is the limit.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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