Will Google Revolutionize Online Privacy?

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Your online privacy matters, even if you don’t think you have anything to hide. Over the last few years, this has become more and more evident as we watch tech giants profit off of understanding the people who use their services. Facebook, Amazon, and Google are among them. Google in particular has made some recent policy changes that are worth understanding.

Google isn’t a Search Engine, They are an Ad Platform

We all know and use Google as a search engine every single day. A majority of us use their Android smartphones, surf the web with the Chrome browser, use their Gmail email service, watch television through a Google Chromecast, and a whole lot more. Fundamentally, however, Google makes their money by serving relevant ads to people who do Google searches.

Whenever you are on the Internet, you are being watched. Not by human beings necessarily, but by the constantly learning and changing algorithms that power Google and many other similar entities.

It’s how services like Google can get so good at giving you the answers you are looking for. For example, if you search for “chinese takeout near me” Google will give you results based on your location. It collates those results based on reviews and tons of other metrics to try to give you the best possible experience.

Google custom tailors all of its search results for you like that. Gather a few of your colleagues and have them search for hot-button issues and compare results. Google is more likely to deliver content that it thinks is relevant to you and your search behavior. Some of that content might be ads that individuals and companies purchase and pay money for, hence how Google has become such an affluent global enterprise.

What’s New for Google Involving Your Online Privacy

Google plans on dropping some of the methods it uses to track an individual’s online behavior across the web. This is actually pretty surprising, considering that they built their entire business around that sort of thing. For the record, Google has been, for the most part, pretty trustworthy about how they use this type of data, especially compared with how some other entities (we’re looking at you, Facebook) have done some pretty shady stuff with this wealth of information.

Google isn’t eliminating their data-gathering altogether, but they are shifting away from using cookies. Cookies are tiny files that your web browser stores that track your online activity. They are meant to be helpful, mostly. They make it so your browser can remember where you are logged in, they help your website track the number of hits it receives, and a lot more. Most cookies are pretty benign, and often they make your online experience better.

Instead of using cookies, Google is going to start watching trends amongst groups of similar users, as opposed to building individual profiles of each individual user. This builds a sort of “privacy sandbox” that lets a user be a little more anonymous, but should still deliver a good experience overall online. It sounds good on paper, but there has been some scrutiny.

For instance, if a user signs into a website with their Google account, that information is still passed over, and the entity that controls the website (or their partners) can glean any information about your time on that site. The UK, which is often first in line to question privacy issues online, are currently investigating these new tools to find any anticompetitive features.

It’s probably a good step in the right direction for Google, as the world becomes increasingly conscious about how an individual’s data is used, and how other entities can use this information for their advantage.

In general, we have faith that Google has the best intentions, but it’s still up to each of us as people to be careful about what we do and post online. It’s important to stay safe and vigilant, and to take the time to understand what online entities can learn about you.

What are your thoughts? Do you like how convenient websites and search engines can be when they know who you are, or would you rather give up that convenience for more online privacy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to contact us if you have any questions!

FCC Speed Test App to Help Fix Internet Inequality

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With the transition of broadband Internet from a helpful convenience to a prescient need for modern life and business, it is staggering to consider that access to this resource is not equally distributed. While the U.S. Federal Communications Commission intends to change this, they need data to help them gauge the true scope of the problem. To do so, the FCC is pulling out an application that they first released years ago: FCC Speed Test.

How Important is Broadband Accessibility?

To answer this question, all that is needed is a little reflection. Take a few moments to look at your own online activities—how much of your life is now primarily handled online, through the Internet? Shopping online, keeping in touch with friends and relatives, or (most pertinently to our considerations) working remotely?

The lack of consistent broadband access makes these activities considerably more difficult for many people and businesses, if not eliminating them as options altogether. Therefore, the FCC is rallying behind the FCC Speed Test app they launched in 2013 and pushing for people to install it on their mobile devices.

FCC Speed Test

With enough people downloading and enabling the application, the FCC will be able to better keep track of the areas where Internet service quality is lacking. This will in turn enable funds to be most effectively allocated to where they are most needed.

FCC Speed Test evaluates the upload and download speeds, along with the latency, of your mobile device via a Wi-Fi network or cellular connection. Kicking in once every 24 hours, these tests can be scheduled to meet your itinerary and how much data these evaluations will use.

In addition, the app helps to test connectivity speeds, plotting them out by time and geographic location. In exchange, the app collects some data (like location, IP address, device type, operating system, and ISP) but refrains from collecting any personally identifiable data.

You can also report any lacking speeds to the FCC through the app, adding to the data they collect.

Available for either iOS or Android, this application can be downloaded now. Check out the FCC’s official FAQ page to find out more about it.

With any luck, these kinds of actions will help bring more equitable Internet access to more people, businesses, and organizations. While we wait, we will continue to deliver whatever IT services we can to companies. Give us a call at (516) 536-5006 to find out what we could do for you.

The Metric of Productivity With Remote Work

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For any business endeavor, productivity has to be at the very top of the hierarchy of metrics. Think about it, it doesn’t matter what field you work in or what market you cater to, if your business isn’t productive it is going to have a hard time being profitable. For almost a year, many businesses have relied on remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and regardless of what you think about remote work, metrics have shown a fairly surprising rate of productivity out of remote workers over this time. With 12 months of data in hand, we take a look at why productivity is still a king of metrics and how the ongoing pandemic has affected the workforce’s productivity.

Remote Work?

Before March of 2020, a large percentage of businesses wouldn’t dream of letting their staff work from home for more than one day or less. It had been tried—with varying degrees of success—for the past decade. Most business owners cited drops in productivity as the core reason why it was disallowed. When governments started instituting shelter-in-place mandates last March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many business owners had little choice but to allow their staff to work remotely. They could sustain operations apart or shut down together.

Most immediately chose to allow for remote work.

There were a litany of problems with this. Firstly, not all businesses had the infrastructure in place to allow their staff to work remotely. They had to scramble to purchase remote-access software or other solutions that would allow people to work remotely without taking on extraordinary risk. At the same time, hackers and scammers shifted into overdrive as the pandemic was a perfect opportunity to try and get over on people and businesses.

Finally, a workforce that was clamoring for years for additional flexibility got their wish but weren’t ready to do their jobs from home.

This whole storm led to a hiccup of productivity. For the first two months of the pandemic, more businesses failed than in any two-month stretch since the housing crisis. Productivity was way down, and many businesses made the decision to either pull the plug completely or make the investment overhauling their workspace so that their employees could come back to work. All-in-all, March-to-May 2020 was a stressful time to be a small business owner.

A Productivity Miracle

As summer 2020 approached, something happened. People settled in. Government stimulus programs helped businesses afford the technology they needed. Productivity went up. Not just to pre-COVID levels, but slightly higher. The newly-remote worker took this as an opportunity to show their employers that they could be productive from home, and they were. Businesses were learning how to properly get the most out of their employees, even if they hadn’t seen them face-to-face in months.

The reason that is actively cited for this is technology. Communication and collaboration had to improve for business to work, and they did. In fact, productivity is known to grow by 20-to-25 percent in organizations that prioritize connectivity between employees. Technology makes this possible, so any productivity growth that was there in the summer of 2020, had to do with the fact that (despite people being in different locations) they had to be more connected in order to effectively do their jobs.

Reality Sets In

As the pandemic has dragged on, productivity levels have slowly started to decrease. People working from home for long periods of time remained productive, but the people that were never allowed to began to struggle, and it showed up in the productivity statistics. From June to October of 2020 productivity was at comparable levels to where it was in 2019, but as winter came, productivity dropped substantially. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, productivity dropped a total of 4.8 percent in the 4Q of 2020.

That is the single largest drop since 1981. Let’s take a look at the reasons why productivity is trending downward (it’s not all the weather).

  1. Stress – The pandemic has had a marked effect on public stress, that much is true. How quantifiable is it? Right now, the collective stress levels are comparable with the levels when the pandemic started a year ago. In the past year, America has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial protests, a contentious election, a riot in the Capitol, and a stumbling vaccine rollout (just to hit the big points) and mental health professionals are suggesting that the people of the U.S. are experiencing collective trauma. People simply don’t have the capacity to continue to be stressed at levels we are now seeing and it has a major impact on their ability to be productive, inside of an office or at home.
  2. Fatigue – Regardless of what you do for a living, when your job changes drastically, but expectations don’t, it will tire you out. People that are working remotely are tired of being at home all the time. They are tired of their kids not being in school. They are tired of utility bills increasing. They are tired of being tired. Fatigue is one of the largest productivity killers inside any business, and with people largely stuck at home, it’s difficult to get the energy to sustain the focus that is expected.
  3. Lack of Incentive – Workers, whether they work at home or at a brick-and-mortar location, aren’t seeing the returns they’d like to see from their hard work. Many workers, especially front-line healthcare and retail workers have been going to work the whole pandemic with very little reward for the perceived risks. For remote workers, especially those who have children, their priority hierarchy is dictated by the situations they face. If they need to home-school their kids or find solutions for pandemic-related issues, it won’t be a big surprise when their work suffers. Businesses are doing all they can to stay afloat, so wage growth or other incentives that they may have seen are all but removed from the equation, as well.

Productivity is extremely important for every business and to get the most out of your staff, you will need to stay engaged. Where your workforce works have less to do with their productivity than other factors, that if confronted, will work to boost their output. One of the biggest misconceptions business owners and managers have is that paychecks are the best motivator. Sure, they are effective, but if you are seeing drops in productivity with remote work (or your in-house staff) engage your staff. Make them see that you are trying as hard as they are and only when everyone does the best they can, will we pull ourselves through this period.

AE Technology Group can help you utilize technology to boost productivity. If you would like to learn how, give us a call today at (516) 536-5006.

Data Backup Protects Everything You’ve Built

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When you have a thorough and powerful data backup strategy in place at your business, you are protecting your operations, your employees, and your customers from an array of terrible scenarios. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t think of data loss in the terms it should be considered in, a complete travesty. Today, we thought we would briefly describe the long and short of data backup and recovery practices that can put your business in a position to secure and restore your data should it be corrupted, destroyed, or stolen.

The Role of Data Backup

The first thing you should know about a backup solution is that it has to take into account the data and systems it is backing up. If your staff is actively adding data to backed up databases, you will want to enlist the use of incremental backup solutions that can be updated as they work, rather than backing up the whole system once per day. The benefit of this is obvious. With solid data redundancy, you won’t have to worry about extremely expensive operational redundancy.

Most modern businesses have a lot of data that they should protect. To effectively do that, we recommend that businesses use the 3-2-1 rule. This states that any organization that wants to ensure data redundancy keep three separate copies of their data, with two being kept onsite for fast recovery and one being kept off site, preferably in a cloud-hosted data center. This ensures that any data is protected and ready to restore regardless of the circumstances surrounding your data loss. Your data is effectively protected against malware attacks, true disasters like fire or flood, or corruption or loss from human error, which unfortunately happens more than anyone would like. By having multiple copies of data, especially copies that are set to automatically backup incrementally, you are ensured that if you need to recover data, that you have as much of your data as possible.

How It Affects Disaster Recovery

Your disaster recovery strategy is likely more than just restoring data from backup, but make no mistake about it, it is an integral part of the process. When your business is hit with a data loss situation, the speed in which you are able to recover from that event is one of the most important metrics, as sustained downtime can hurt any business. So, with getting data restored quickly being a top priority, the 3-2-1 rule becomes important. By having a backup on hand to restore from, your recovery time will be reduced as compared to restoring from the cloud. However, if your business is dealing with a disaster scenario, and you lose the ability to restore from onsite backup, your cloud backup can be used as a server until you can get onsite hardware up and running again.

At AE Technology Group, we offer a backup and disaster recovery (BDR) service that works for any business. Not only do we adhere to the 3-2-1 rule, we have a team of trained IT technicians at the ready to help get your business’ data back, and get your operations running quickly. If you would like more information about the BDR service and how it is a complete solution for your business’ needs, contact us today at (516) 536-5006.