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Privacy on the rocks: students rally against the use of proctoring apps

Yehia El Amine

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The Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions of people around the world to drastically change every aspect of their lives; from day-to-day activities to business practices and education – all within the safe confines of our homes.

While many suffered during the global shutdown, tech companies thrived and excelled due to the monumental demand of their services being put to use while being shut off from the outside world.

The greatest example of this transformation is the sudden skyrocket of the Edtech industry, specifically the surveillance technology sector that has carried the entire exam process for schools and universities all around the world.

Educational institutions placed their trust in proctoring apps and software, offering schools the ability to keep relying on high-stake testing, by controlling their students’ environment throughout the distance learning process.

However, this raises the alarm about an issue considered more controversial than test results: privacy.

It has been reported by students from universities far and wide, as well as privacy groups, and cybersecurity experts about the high levels of danger proctoring apps bring along with them by constantly violating student privacy.

The software runs via a series of privacy-invasive monitoring techniques in its effort to foil any type of cheating. The most common are done through recorded patterns of keystrokes, facial recognition, and gaze-monitoring (also known as eye-tracking) as well as giving them the right to control a computer’s camera and microphone and broadcasting them to a proctor.

“Much of this technology is effectively indistinguishable from spyware, which is malware that is commonly used to track unsuspecting users’ actions on their devices and across the Internet,” says an article written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that defends liberties in the digital world.

Since their deployment within the educational sphere, proctoring apps have racked up a high number of petitions against their use from schools around the globe.

Students from different educational institutions such as the University of Texas at Dallas and Washington State University have both launched numerous petitions demanding their administrations to immediately halt the use of apps such as Honorlock and ProctorU respectively.

The petitions have cited that these apps collect data from students such as their face, driver’s license, and network information, while handing complete control of your computer to someone they don’t trust, which could prove to be catastrophic.

Some proctoring apps have the ability to gain information about every single thing on the computer such as the operating system, make and model of the device, IP addresses, browser types, language setting, ISP, records of URLs visited, and how long students remain on a particular website.

It is important to note that according to Honorlock’s terms and conditions, the company is allowed to keep the information for up to a year, or in some cases, 2 years.

ProctorU, for example, has no time limit for the information it gathers, allowing for the free reign usage of this data to third parties. In addition, students have no control over the data collected, since the company is provided this data via the school, thus stripping students away from its ownership.

These rallying cries are a cause for concern, especially after ProctorU’s security breach back in July 2020 which suffered a leak of almost 440,000 users’ data.

Other students have asked to stop the use of Respondus, in which they say it “creates massive security vulnerabilities and attack vectors, and thus cannot be tolerated on personal devices under any circumstances.”

While the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the growth of remote learning and Edtech as a whole, proctoring apps seem to fall on the dark side of that spectrum. There needs to be a re-examination of how educational institutions run their distance learning programs to remain on the lighter side of the moral compass.

Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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Will startups lead the line of 5G rollout?

Yehia El Amine

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Timing has always been the catalyst to many inventions, ideas, businesses and the like; and more often that not, timing is underestimated as a key factor for the success of a startup.

In fact, Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab, was stunned by his own research when he found that timing accounts for 42 percent of the difference between the success and failure of a company, during his Ted Talk back in 2015.

And there is a wide array of examples to back it up.

Take for example companies like Airbnb and Uber, they both were pushed into the limelight at the height of the American recession.

Who would have thought that letting a stranger sleep in your own house, or riding with a stranger would disrupt and rock the industry.  

Their timing, however, was the catalyst that changed everything; the recession created a need for people to seek extra income far and wide, and apps such as these were the driving force that incentivized people to enroll.

Thus, with the emergence of 5G, the world’s eyes look toward startups to lead the line of disruption and innovation at this turning point of technological history.

While startup companies may be small compared to the established firms, they nonetheless have the chance to significantly impact the 5G landscape. This can be seen through the increased number of 5G-powered startups being taken under the wing of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Firstly, there will be a whole new generation of hardware and devices to take advantage of with 5G.

One startup that focused on 5G communications is PHAZR, which has developed a solution known as Quadplex. This technology utilizes millimeter-wave frequencies for the downlink while using sub-6-GHz frequencies for the uplink. The company believes its technology can enable “high-performance, cost-effective, and power-efficient 5G systems.”

Another startup company fixated on 5G is Movandi. The company works extensively with millimeter-wave frequencies—its BeamX front end integrates RF, antenna, beamforming, and control algorithms into a modular, 5G millimeter-wave solution. Movandi’s goal is to help accelerate 5G deployments and grow the market faster.

Startup GenXComm has also thrown its hat into the 5G ring. With its simultaneous self-interference cancellation (S-SIX) technology, the company is targeting the 5G market, among others.

Startups will thus have a considerable impact on wireless internet services; an example of these kinds of opportunities was seen earlier back in 2019 when Google Fiber had to enhance its Webpass service in the U.S. due to increased competition from startups NetBlazr and Starry.

Essentially, startups could offer more competitive 5G broadband rates, since they have low operations costs and can provide faster service.

This is just a fraction of what 5G-based startups are attempting to do.

In parallel, 5G will unlock the ability to send and receive information in real time, which would open an unprecedented level of opportunities far and wide.

While 4G paved the way for social media influencers, 5G would open up the opportunity for a whole new generation of artists and engineers to leverage new modes of consumption for AR/VR content as well as immersive media in general.

According to a report done by Vodafone, with 5G, startup companies would be able to compete with industry leaders in terms of speed and quality of business processes, market awareness and intelligence, along with ensuring better productivity.

The study also found that 56 percent of leaders in the startup space in the U.K. are convinced that 5G will transform the way they operate their businesses.

Entrepreneurs are greatly recognizing the effect 5G may have on their business models, their strategy going forward, the potential impact it will have on society and how it might change society.

All of the elements that 5G is presenting can give SMEs a glimpse into the future and what they can do to prepare for it. The next Ubers and Airbnbs of the world will attempt to crucially center 5G as a metric for their upcoming success.

Especially since those who can adopt the next generation mobile network early while hitting all the right notes will be earmarked to a have significant advantages over their competition – no matter their size.

The rollout of 5G will ultimately change the way governments, organizations, and startups communicate, work, engage with their customers and partners. Thus, with a “sky is the limit” approach clinching to 5G, now is the time to consider how your business can unlock, benefit and thrive from its potential.

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Future mobility services: SK Telecom and Uber team up for new venture

Inside Telecom Staff

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South Korea’s largest mobile carrier, SK Telecom, has partnered up with U.S. ride-hailing app, Uber, to spin off its mobility services, while the latter aims to crack the tough SK market.

According to the mobile carrier’s regulatory filing, the mobility business, called T Map Mobility Co., will be entirely owned by SK Telecom to become its own independent company as of December 29, 2020.

The partnership brings forth a joint venture that will see Uber Technologies directly invest more than $50 million within the new entity that offers mobility services such as satellite navigation and taxi-hailing, while the remaining $100 million will be done via joint venture structure.

“The new joint venture would create opportunities in the taxi-hailing market in Korea and explore new areas, including future mobility services,” Uber and SK Telecom said in a joint statement.

The move is Uber’s latest attempt to expand in a market where it has previously faced tough competition as well as opposition from taxi drivers and regulations which forced it to stop using private cars for its ride-hailing service in 2015.

According to the joint statement, the mobility services venture combines T Map Mobility’s “network of drivers and mapping technology with Uber’s ride-hailing technology and global operations expertise.”

The platform will look to launch in a co-branded manner, where riders and drivers of T Map Taxi will be encouraged to join after launch. T Map Taxi is SK Telecom’s taxi-hailing platform, the second largest in Korea after Kakao.

Under the plan, Uber will own a 51 percent majority stake within the joint venture, while the remaining 49 percent will be held by SK Telecom. “We expect T Map Mobility, which is valued at 1 trillion won ($873.3 million), to grow into a company worth 4.5 trillion won by 2025,” the statement read.

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Embedded finance: the next phase of growth in Fintech

Yehia El Amine

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Financial services have always been the nervous system of the global economy, a critical system that must always provide effective and equitable services for social cohesion and enhanced development.

While advancements in the Fintech industry have grown tenfold, the legacy 20th century business models in finance have grown out-of-date, with many not even adapting to the fundamental paradigm shift – technological, institutional, and societal – ushered in by the monumental transition from an Industrial to an Information Age.

As such, these business models need to be reshaped to better serve the needs of the market and keep up with the ever-changing technological tides.

The current buzz around Fintech right now is embedded finance, which, according to UK-based venture investment firm Anthemis, is predicting a market-wide revenue of almost $7 trillion in the next decade.

What is embedded finance?

Embedded finance is the integration of financial services within a non-financial app, website or platform. The biggest and easiest example of this is done via ride-hailing apps; when a customer pays for a ride at the end of the journey directly on the ride-share company’s app, they are using embedded banking.

They do not need to fumble with cash or hand their payment card to the driver. In fact, they don’t even need to say a word to the driver at all. They can simply exit the vehicle and finish up the transaction on their phone.

The same can be applied to Amazon loans, Apple Cards, booking a parking space directly from the Google Maps app, and Shopify merchant accounts.

How it works

Embedded finance can take on many shapes and forms, but traditionally fall into three categories:

  • The transfer of value in space:  This category includes payment processing and traditional bank products such as savings and checking accounts.
  • The transfer of value in time: This category includes investments as well as loans and other forms of financing.
  • Managing risk: This category includes insurance and other products that provide some layer of protection against risks.

All of these can be integrated into non-financial services and platforms delivered on the Internet. The difference between embedded finance and different forms of integration is that it paves the way for cross-industry integration.

This can be seen via the popular rise of digital wallets, in which a person stores their payment card information on the app. The credit or debit cards are issued by a traditional bank.

From there, customers can use the app to pay for purchases in brick-and-mortar stores, online payments, as well as the ability to transfer money to other users of the app without having to type in their bank account or credit card information each time.

Thus, the versatility of embedded finance can be a widely impactful tool for businesses to open various revenue streams, as it allows all sectors to become more Internet-enabled ultimately leading to be “finance-enabled.”

What’s on the horizon?

Previously, organizations who wanted to integrate financial services within their business models had to deal with massive heaps of operational coordination and technological plumbing in the background.

As Banking-as-as-Service (BaaS) is on the rise, technology-driven suppliers that underpin the infrastructure of banking is also meeting it upwards in parallel for both financial services and non-financial companies.

“While embedded finance is still a nascent field, we expect many more use cases to come. It’s a great opportunity for selected start-ups, SMEs and large corporates to create more client value, while capturing new revenue lines,” the report by Anthemis said.

This gives embedded finance companies an edge due to their ability to streamline operational capabilities through distribution, data, and resources, which in turn, provides a major boost to the worldwide startup ecosystem.

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