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Travel without tears, Pt 2: Bill-beaters

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In the second part of a guide to reducing the stress of travel , ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK offers practical tools for avoiding cellphone bill-shock on return.

One of the most traumatic moments in overseas travel is the cellphone bill that arrives well after the trip is over. ‚”Bill-shock‚” is the term that’s emerged to describe the effect of exorbitant roaming charges on data. The costs are based on ‚”reciprocal‚” agreements between networks, but that is really a euphemism for mutually exploiting customers.

The European Union has clamped down on this abuse. In July 2012, it mandated a price cap on roaming charges within member countries. But, because its jurisdiction does not extend beyond its members, it allows them to continue ripping off foreign visitors.

The typical cost of international roaming for Vodacom customers is R128 per Megabyte (MB) of data downloaded. For MTN customers, it is a relative bargain at a ‚”mere‚” R108 per MB.

The roaming rates for MTN are quoted in increments of R2,70 per 25kb. Multiply that by 40 to get the real rate.

Vodacom’s website, under a heading that reads ‚”Why should I use data roaming?‚”, blithely soothes the customer with this line: ‚”You will receive real-time Data Roaming notifications which will be sent to you at every R5000 of data spent.‚”

Talk about ‚”ouch‚”. The question is, what to do about it?

The previous column in this series looked at how to make travel more convenient. This time, it’s about how to save as much as the cost of the plane ticket.

The most obvious advice, but not always the easiest to follow, is to buy a local SIM card. This is not ideal for business travellers who need to be contactable on their normal numbers, or if they have to spend so much time trying to find the appropriate SIM deal and a store – that they lose valuable productive time.

The solution to keeping your number is to obtain a portable WiFi router, such as the Vodafone R205 WiFi Router (R879) or Huawei E5331 (R998) or E585 Router. These are usually available on contract, but can also be bought upfront. Then, a local SIM card with data included can be inserted into the router, and both phone and tablet or laptop can be connected to the router simultaneously.

In some cases, you can insert the SIM into a phone and set it up as a WiFI hotspot. It’s called tethering, and many networks specifically don’t allow it on their pre-paid SIMs.

The best pre-paid data deals I’ve come across for key travel destinations are:

United Kingdom: the 3 network (three.co.uk) offers a pre-paid SIM for ‚Ǩ15, which includes 300 voice minutes, 3000 SMSs and ‚Ķ unlimited data. You can buy the SIM card from a vending machine at Heathrow airport when you land. The price there is ‚Ǩ20, but it comes with adaptors for the three main sizes of SIM slots on smartphones. The 3 SIM won’t work as a hotspot on a phone, but provides unlimited data when used in a portable WiFi router.

United States: T-Mobile (t-mobile.com) offers a Pay By the Day option, which provides unlimited data for $3 a day. It’s paid upfront in multiples of $10, $25 and $50, and credit is only used on days the service is used. Only the first 200MB used per day is accessed at 4G speed, though: after that, the user is throttled down to a lower speed. The package includes unlimited talk and SMSs if you’re using it in a phone.

The beauty of both the UK and US options is that there is no hassle about topping up or going back to the beginning when you reach a cap.

If getting a SIM card in every country is too much for you, a locally-originated option is offered by execMobile (execmobile.co.za). It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t bill-shock either. It provides an online account management portal and a post-paid roaming service that uses global partners who’ve negotiated ‚”near local rates‚” in various countries. That translates into R8.50 per MB for ad hoc use in the USA, but opting for a large bundle upfront can bring it down to as little as 26c below ad hoc charges in South Africa.

A package called GigaZONE offers bundles starting from R2.49 per MB for Europe and R4.99 for most other countries, including 21 in Africa. Still expensive? Not for the time-stretched executive, says execMobile founder Craig Lowe.

‚”For corporate travellers who travel with multiple devices and may do multiple countries on a trip or make several trips in a year, the convenience outweighs the costs.‚”

* Readers are invited to make their own suggestions for sites, resources and options to reduce the cost of international data roaming.

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper

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Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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