UK employees working two extra hours daily during self-isolation

Data from NordVPN suggests UK employees are working an extra two hours per day, up to 11 hours, after ditching commutes during this period of self-isolation and social distancing.

While there might still be images circulating of cramped Underground trains in London, NordVPN data suggests there are a huge number of home workers. Analysing the data from VPN logins, the team believes the time being saved from the daily commute is being driven back into work.

“The analysis of our clients indicated that their 10,000s of corporate employees that have started working from home in the past week are typically working 11 hours a day, some of the longest hours in the world at this time,” said Daniel Marcusson, Digital Privacy Expert of NordVPN Teams.

“Typically people homeworking are starting work earlier – but finishing at their usual same time. The lack of a morning commute is currently being used as additional work time, which looks like a win-win for employees and businesses.”

Country VPN hours logged pre-March 11 VPN hours logged post-March 11
UK 9 11
US 8 11
France 8 10
Denmark 9 10
Italy 8 8

Whether this trend would continue beyond the coronavirus outbreak remains to be seen, though it might force a transformation in attitude towards mobility and remote working for some employers.

“In the face of Coronavirus pandemic, people seem to be focused and united more than ever,” said Marcusson. “Therefore, we expect the working hours to remain longer throughout the crisis. When the restrictions are lifted, I expect that many UK businesses will be much more receptive to greater homeworking.”

Although many corporations suggest they are reacting to industry trends and are open to more remote working, the reality is very different. The majority of more traditional organisations and those who have been trading for some time, are seemingly stuck in their ways. Remote working is still not that common, as the office culture persists, though this pandemic has forced a changed in attitude, which might persist.

For the telcos, this should be seen as a silver lining for the future, though the cloud companies will also be keeping an eye on these trends as there will be profits to be made.

As more people work from home, more processes, systems and workloads will have to be migrated to the cloud to ensure employees have all the tools and information available. There are numerous companies who are set to benefit from the pandemic, though cloud, collaboration and productivity companies will certainly be close to the top of that list.

US Supreme Court says no to Apple’s $440 Million patent appeal

The United States Supreme Court has denied Apple’s request to review a decision from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which found it liable for $439.8 million in damages, fees, and interest.

Dating back to 2010, case 2018-1197 concerned the commercial relationship between Apple and Internet security software and technology company VirnetX. VirnetX originally claimed Apple violated four patents for secure networks and secure communications links in its FaceTime and VPN on Demand features, and the judges agree with it.

“We are extremely pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Apple’s writ of certiorari,” said Kendall Larsen, VirnetX CEO. “It has taken us 10 long years, 4 successful jury trials, 2 successful Appellate Court rulings and a favourable Supreme Court decision to get here.

“We believe in the fairness of the American justice system and have respectfully played by its rules no matter how arduous. We trust Apple will honour the decisions rendered by our courts and their esteemed judges and honour an agreement to abide by the court’s decision.”

Apple will know have 20 days to make the payment to VirnetX thanks to an agreement signed between the two parties in 2017, though it appears VirnetX investors are certainly pleased with the outcome. Share price jumped 12% for the Texas-based firm in the hours following the decision.

The original case was brought to the Eastern District of Texas courtrooms in 2010, though it has taken a decade for the final conclusion. After that ruling went in favour of VirnetX, Apple successfully petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office, with a tribunal cancelling key elements of the patents in question. The Court of Appeals dismissed the findings from this tribunal, which led to the writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court.

In the writ, Apple argued the ruling from the Court of Appeals should be reviewed as the US Patent and Trademark Office decision effectively meant its FaceTime feature was not in violation of VirnetX patents. The Supreme Court has now refused Apple’s demands for a review.

What is worth noting is that this might not be an end to the drama. A Texas judge must now decide on the value of the damages, this could be done through a trial or without one. VirnetX maintains the $440 million figure is still valid as Apple sold more than 400 million devices which infringed on the patent, though Apple contests this. The ruling from the Texas judge might lead to another scrap between the pair.

Facebook can’t seem to keep itself out of trouble

Facebook has apparently been paying customers $20 each to trade away their privacy to install a VPN which analyses usage, sidestepping Apple’s App Store policies.

The research initiative is similar to Onavo Protect, which was effectively banned by Apple last year, rewarding teenagers and adults to download the app to give the social media giant root access to network traffic which most likely would have been decrypted otherwise. According to TechCrunch, this is a violation of the App Store policies.

While $20 per user might seem like a huge amount, the data which is collected is incredibly valuable. Not only will it be able to identify usage habits, it will also contribute to competitor research. In theory, Facebook would be able to build a much more detailed competitor landscape, identifying potential threats to its business. The UK government has already unveiled documents which confirm Facebook uses the platform to inhibit competitive threats, so this type of data collection simply adds another nefarious cog to the devious machine.

According to the TechCrunch investigation, if Facebook makes full use of the freedoms granted through this app it would be able to access private messages from social media and other messaging apps, photos and videos, emails, web browsing activity and location information. What is worth noting is that is has not been confirmed whether this is the case, though Facebook could be heading for another privacy debacle.

This is of course not the first time Facebook has ventured into the murky world of surveillance. Back in 2014, the increasingly suspect social media giant acquired Onavo for $120 million. This VPN allowed users to minimize data leakage and improve the effectiveness of tariffs, but it also allowed Facebook to access deep analytics about what other apps they were using. This insight reportedly gave Facebook the confidence to make such a significant bet on WhatsApp.

The app came under pressure when it was revealed Facebook was stepping across the line, collecting information when the screen was off for example. Apple changed the App Store policies to ensure apps could only collect information which was critical to functionality, though by this point Facebook had a huge amount of competitive intelligence, and seemingly lit the fires of ambition.

One question which you really have to ask is how many lives Facebook has left. The last 12 months have been a carousel of scandal, saga and suspicion. Whether it is Cambridge Analytica, Friendly Fraud, fake news, influencing elections, violating privacy or snooping on customers, Facebook has poked and prodded the confidence and trust of the digital society. How much longer can this go on for?

Every time a new headline emerges about some nefarious or suspect activity from Facebook, the world much be getting closer to taking disruptive action. More and more people distrust the brand, but due to its influence in and penetration through digital society, usage of its applications have not been damaged much. You have to wonder how many more of these headlines the business can take; maybe it won’t be long before the Facebook empire is broken up.

Investigation claims most mobile VPN apps are run by dodgy companies

An investigation by Top10VPN.com has concluded more than half of the most popular VPN apps are run by ‘secretive companies with Chinese ownership’.

The whole point of VPN apps is to protect your mobile online behaviour from third party snooping. Chinese companies, however, are regularly accused of collaborating with the Chinese state in order to facilitate espionage activities. While there is limited concrete proof of this kind of activity, VPN users are entitled to know who it is that’s claiming to protect their privacy, and this investigation alleges that is being deliberately concealed.

“What consumers tend to forget is that in order for VPNs to protect their online privacy, all their internet traffic must pass through their VPN provider’s servers and can be potentially logged and shared with third parties,” said Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.com

“Leading VPN providers have detailed privacy policies that preclude them from monitoring this traffic. Yet many of the most popular free VPN apps for smartphones have nothing of the sort in their policies – meaning that there’s a really disconcerting ambiguity about what is happening to this data.

“To add to this is the fact that so many of these VPNs have Chinese ownership – and some are even based in the country’s flagship technology parks. It’s been widely reported that China has really clamped down on local VPN providers in recent months which raises questions about why these companies – which have such large international user bases – have been allowed to continue operating.”

Migliano is especially appalled at the lack gatekeeping and quality control from Google and Apple in this case. We were genuinely shocked that listings for these apps contained false information and links to such substandard resources that it’s clear there can be but minimal oversight of these apps,” he said. “This is a dereliction of duty from Apple and Google, whose lax controls are potentially leaving their customers open to wholesale data harvesting.”

Top10VPN.com presumably make money by people using its service to switch VPN apps, so it has a clear vested interest in urging people to do just that, but that doesn’t mean it’s findings aren’t significant. At the same time just because an app is Chinese that doesn’t mean it’s dodgy and the substantive issue here is about transparency and quality control in general. It makes you wonder how many other mobile apps are something other than they appear to be.

Virgin Media launches easy mobile VPN service

Virgin Media Business reckons it can tap into the growing remote working trend by enabling people to access their work VPNs from their mobile devices.

The new service is called Business Anywhere and is set to launch in the UK in January 2018. The company reckons this is a first, but people have been able to access corporate VPNs remotely for some time so it looks like this is more of an initiative to make it easier.

‘This new system does away with time-consuming and awkward verification processes, replacing user-authentication with automatic SIM card authentication,’ says the press release.  ‘Once activated, the SIM creates a direct link into a company’s IPVPN using part of the existing wired line. Mobile data is routed automatically into this private network, removing the need to log-on or for the user to manually verify the device.’

“We know that businesses want simple, secure IT solutions that just work,” reiterated Rob Orr, Executive Director – Sales, for Virgin Media Business. “Business Anywhere allows remote workers to access everything they need to collaborate while away from the office. It sets a new standard for remote working by allowing people to carry their corporate network with them wherever they go. Our customers will no longer be constrained by the physical footprint of their office, staff will spend less time travelling, improving productivity whilst cutting costs.”

This new service uses the EE network for the VPN connection. It does seem quite handy but it remains to be seen whether the relatively straightforward process of logging into a VPN the old-fashioned way is a sufficient pain-point for companies to go to the extra expense of subscribing to an extra service. Demand for this sort of thing may be restricted to workers that spend pretty much all their time in the field.