Google’s numerous safeguards designed to prevent malicious apps from reaching Android users led to the removal of over 700,000 apps from the Google Play Store in 2017, the company said today. That’s a 70% increase over the total removals in 2016.

“Not only did we remove more bad apps, we were able to identify and action against them earlier,” Google Play product manager Andrew Ahn wrote in a blog post.

“99 percent of apps with abusive contents were identified and rejected before anyone could install them.”

Google attributes this success to its improved ability to detect abuse “through new machine learning models and techniques.”

Copycat apps are still a significant problem

Copycat apps designed to resemble popular mainstays remain a popular method of trying to deceive users, according to Ahn. Google removed over a quarter of a million of these impersonating apps last year. The company also says it kept “tens of thousands” of apps with inappropriate content (pornography, extreme violence, hate, and illegal activities) out of the Play Store. Machine learning plays a key role here in helping human reviewers keep an eye out for bad apps and malicious developers.

“Potentially harmful applications” (PHAs) are apps that attempt to phish users’ personal information, act as a trojan horse for malware, or commit SMS fraud by firing off texts without a user’s knowledge. “While small in volume, PHAs pose a threat to Android users and we invest heavily in keeping them out of the Play Store,” Ahn said.

Google Play Protect scans installed apps to monitor for malicious activity. Google
Last year, Google put all of its malware scanning and detection technologies under the umbrella of Google Play Protect. The Android operating system automatically performs scans on installed applications to hunt for anything that’s out of place, and users can also manually trigger scans of their Android smartphones right in the updates section. (I’ve finally managed to stop hitting this button when checking for new versions of apps, but it took some time.)

Still, bad apps do occasionally slip through Google’s defenses. In August, Google discovered and kicked out 30 apps that were secretly using the devices they were installed on to perform DDoS attacks. Just earlier this month, the company removed 60 games from the Play Store — some of them meant for children — that were found to display pornographic ads. Google says it will continue to upgrade its methods and machine learning models against bad actors trying to trick consumers with apps that violate its policies. Those efforts indeed seem to be paying off in helping Android’s security turn a corner.

By Chris Welch for The Verge

Facebook launches Marketplace in SA

Social network Facebook will roll out Marketplace in South Africa in the following weeks as it hopes to disrupt the local classifieds industry.

The feature within the Facebook app has launched in 47 countries, with more than 550-million people from around the world visiting the platform to buy and sell goods each month.

Marketplace makes use of the Facebook interface in an attempt to offer users an easier platform to use, and will likely go head-to-head with already existing platforms like Gumtree and OLX.

In an interview with Fin24, Facebook Platform’s head of product Karandeep Anand said the South African market was identified as a key region to roll out Marketplace.

“Marketplace was initially built to supplement the Facebook groups which focus on buying and selling items on the platform,” Anand says.

He added that within the next two weeks Facebook app users in the country will notice a new Marketplace icon, which will appear at the bottom of the app page in the centre.

The feature in the Facebook app was designed to ensure safe trading for users, according to Anand. The company has implemented safety precautions for traders, including privacy controls and reporting tools.

Marketplace also allows users to communicate with one another on a platform based off the Facebook Messenger app, which works with or without the independent communication app.

“Across the world we have seen Marketplace being used by people for various items. Popular items include accessories, clothing and apparel. We are very interest to see how South African Facebook users make use of the feature,” Anand said.

How to use Marketplace

  • To use Marketplace, tap on the Marketplace icon.
  • To find what you’re looking for, search at the top and filter your results by location, category or price.
  • To sell something, take a photo, describe your item, set your price and you are done.
  • Buyers and sellers can communicate with each other using Facebook Messenger.

Safety tips for using Marketplace

Items, products or services sold on Facebook must comply with Facebook community standards and commerce policies.

When buying an item, examine it carefully for quality, condition and authenticity before paying. For high-value items (watches, luxury bags), consider requesting a certificate of authenticity or proof of purchase.

If the seller offers to ship the item rather than exchanging it in person, you may not have the opportunity to verify the item before completing your purchase. You can use a service such as Standard Bank’s Shepherd to arrange safe payment and shipment. Shepherd keeps the money for a transaction in a trust account and releases it to the seller once the buyer verifies he or she has received the correct item in good condition.

Don’t invite buyers or sellers to your home. Meet in a public place like a coffee shop or the mall. Before going, tell a family member or a friend where you will be, bring your cellphone, and consider asking another adult to come with you.

Buyers and sellers may offer or accept cash or person-to-person payments. If you choose to pay electronically using EFT, avoid payment links and log in directly through the payment method’s website. If the value of the item you intend to buy or sell requires a significant amount of cash, you might consider using a person-to-person payment method, such as PayPal or FNB eWallet.

Don’t share your financial account information (example: payment login and password, bank account info) with buyers or sellers. Additionally, make sure your Facebook privacy settings are up to date. These settings help limit what other people can see (example: status updates, location, photos) on your profile page and what you share on Facebook.

If you’re having a problem with someone in Marketplace, you can report them.

By Kyle Venktess for Fin24 

Will your job be taken over by robots?

A new report published by the World Economic Forum casts a grim light on the future of jobs across the world, with 1.4 million US jobs alone expected to disrupted by technology and other factors between now and 2026.

The report is an analysis of nearly 1,000 job types across the US economy, encompassing 96% of employment in the country. Its aim is to assess the scale of the re-skilling task required to protect workforces from an expected wave of automation brought on by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Drawing on this data for the US economy, the report found that 57% of jobs expected to be disrupted belong to women. In addition, the report found that if called on today to move to another job with skills that match their own, 16% of workers would have no opportunities to transition and another 25% would have only between one and three matches.

At the other end of the spectrum, 2% of workers have more than 50 options. This group makes up a very small, fortunate minority, as on average all workers would have 10 transition options today.

The positive finding of the report is the huge opportunity identified for re-skilling to lift wages and increase social mobility.

With re-skilling, for example, the average worker in the US economy would have 48 viable job transitions – nearly as much as the 2% with the most options today. Among those transitions, 24 jobs would lead to higher wages.

South Africa

Re-skilling may also ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether the South African economy survives the fourth industrial revolution.

According to a report released by global consultancy Accenture in January 2018, 35% of all jobs in South Africa are currently at risk of total automation, meaning machines can perform 75% of the activities that make up these jobs.

Accenture said that both blue and white-collar jobs are at risk.

“The jobs of clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction-, mining- and maintenance workers all fall into this category,” it said.

Hard-to-automate jobs (those with a lower risk of automation) include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers, Accenture said.

Similar to the WEF’s findings, Accenture found that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 20% (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14%(2.5 million).

“Digital is a growth multiplier. Digital technologies are ushering in a new economic era by overcoming the physical limitations of capital and labour, exposing new sources of value and growth, increasing efficiency and driving competitiveness, said Dr Roze Phillips, MD for Accenture Consulting in Africa.

“However, for countries like South Africa that are less prepared for human-machine collaboration, digital technologies may bring more job losses than gains.”

“South Africa cannot hesitate – it must start now. To succeed, leaders must act swiftly to re-imagine work, pivot the workforce and scale up ‘new skilling’,” said Phillips.

Source: Business Tech 

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has launched a new stand-alone app, called WhatsApp Business, designed to help small businesses easily connect with their customers, the company announced on Thursday.

WhatsApp Business can be downloaded on the Google Play Store in select markets including the US, UK, Indonesia, Italy, and Mexico, and will roll out worldwide in the coming weeks. Facebook has not yet stated when the app will be available on iOS.

The app adds several new features including verified business profiles, smart messaging tools like quick replies, greeting messages and away messages, and messaging metrics. As of now, WhatsApp Business is aimed at smaller companies, but it plans to add an enterprise solution geared toward larger businesses, like airlines and banks, with a global customer base. The move to launch an app dedicated to businesses represents the fruition of several months of work by Facebook to monetize WhatsApp.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) communication via messaging apps is a budding trend, and Facebook wants to be at the center of it.Having a presence on chat apps is more important than ever for businesses.

Already, more than half of consumers would rather message a business than call customer service, according to a Facebook-commissioned study by Nielson. Here’s why WhatsApp is poised to lead the evolution of B2C interactions:

WhatsApp has a massive global reach. WhatsApp’s global user base of 1.3 billion monthly active users makes the chat app an ideal ground for Facebook to establish a footprint in the B2C space.

WhatsApp is also the second most used messaging app globally, and the leading messaging app in a majority of emerging markets like India, Indonesia, and Russia as well as in developed markets like the UK, Spain, and Germany. In India, for instance, consumers spent over 36 billion hours on WhatsApp in 2017.

Already, consumers worldwide use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses.Over 80% of small businesses in India and Brazil have said WhatsApp helps to facilitate B2C communication and, as a result, grow their businesses’ reach.

WhatsApp is entering an increasingly competitive space. Facebook Messenger, Apple, WeChat, and Skype are all striving to be the go-to interface for B2C interaction.

For instance, Apple is introducing an update to iMessage that includes iOS Business Chat, a “powerful new way for businesses to connect with customers directly from within Messages,” according to Apple. Meanwhile, WhatsApp will go up against WeChat, which already hosts 10 million official business accounts for WeChat’s 980 million monthly active users to interact with.

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By Rayna Hollander for Business Insider

Entities involved in South Africa’s national payments system, including BankservAfrica and the Payments Association of South Africa (Pasa), have begun work on a major architectural and technical overhaul of the system to facilitate speedier settlements and to add new features to encourage fintech innovation.

BankservAfrica CEO Chris Hamilton said at a press conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday that the existing payments system was developed in the 1980s, and that a major upgrade is required. This, however, will take time as inputs have to be considered from a wide range of industry role players.

“The basic architecture of the South African payments system was laid down in the 1980s, and it was at one time among the best in the world,” said Hamilton. “But our social priorities have changed; our economy is rapidly digitising and going mobile, so we need to rethink our payments plumbing, including much greater focus on the key issue of our time: how to bring underbanked communities into the mainstream economy.”

Bankserv, which was founded in 1972, is owned by the major banks, with FirstRand Group, Absa, Standard Bank and Nedbank each holding about 23.1% of its equity. The organisation, which is heavily regulated, facilitates interbank settlements on behalf of its 23 members, most of them licensed banks.

In the 2017 financial year, Bankserv processed 452.6m ATM transactions worth R188.2bn. It handled R52.5bn worth of point-of-sale transactions and R290.9bn worth of credit card authorisations. It handled electronic funds transfers of R9.4 trillion.

Hamilton said it is engaging with its partners in the financial services ecosystem to modernise South Africa’s payments infrastructure in a “phased approach”.

“This involves developing a quantifiable view of what modernisation looks like — and the design thereof — and engaging with stakeholders and the related industry in this process to facilitate collaboration.”

He said the less friction that exists in the payments system, the more efficient South Africa’s economy can be. “Having a really good payments system doesn’t necessarily give you a great economy, but you can’t have a great economy without a great payments system.”

Fintech challengers
As more and more fintech players challenge the incumbent banks, however, there’s a need for a new, more efficient system that allows for innovation while at the same time continuing to protect consumers.

Hamilton emphasised that South Africa “has among the best payments infrastructure in the world” but that it can’t afford to stand still.

For one thing, the system hasn’t served the entire economy, and there’s a pressing need to address demands for “financial inclusion”.

“In a way, South Africa has two economies side by side. One of the challenges for the guys in charge of the payments infrastructure … is to start to find ways to bridge that gap,” he said.

The second challenge is that the economy is “changing in fundamental ways”, he added. “The economies of the world’s nations … are on a very broad trajectory of digitisation. This will take financial services in increasingly different ways.”

He said it is imperative that the national payments system doesn’t hinder innovation, particularly around mobile money. “Luckily, we have a number of examples to draw on from around the world on how the payment system should start to change to deal with that challenge.”

He said BankservAfrica has been working to renovate its existing infrastructure “to ensure it’s in the best state it can be”, while at the same time collaborating with the the Payments Association of South Africa (Pasa), the Reserve Bank and industry players to define what a future payments architecture should look like.

Most payments systems today were designed in the 1980s, when the benchmark was cheques, which would clear after three to five days
“These things take a long time because there are a lot of organisations involved. I’m delighted that it has gained some traction and the banks are putting their senior strategic people on it,” Hamilton said.

“We have our own ideas of what that architecture should be, but we don’t get to make those decision by ourselves. The central bank needs to ensure what we are doing in the public interest.”

One of the key elements of a new national payments architecture is ensuring it is speedy, with real-time settlement. “Most payments systems today were designed in the 1980s, when the benchmark was cheques, which would clear after three to five days. These systems are not designed to give you instant value, but rather to give you next-day value.”

Although South African banks have had real-time payment systems for several years, Hamilton admits it “hasn’t taken off as expected”, in part because of cost. This needs to be addressed in the new architecture.

But there are also other features that need to form part of a new payments system. These include “data richness” and “data flexibility”.

Netflix era
“The systems designed in the 1980s tried to minimise the amount of data being moved around. In an era where our kids are streaming Netflix, large volumes of data aren’t an issue any more.”

When significantly more data is added to the payments system, banks and fintech innovators will be able to offer more applications and new ways of supporting the economy, he said.

A new system must offer greater flexibility and adaptability, to allow people to try new things and innovate. “You want to make a system that is open and secure and yet allows innovators to have a go more easily and cheaply.”

BankservAfrica and Pasa last year released a joint research report, which provided insight into the current state of low-value, high-volume payments infrastructures across the globe. The research showed that a modernised payments system is critical.

“We are delighted at the response and engagement from the banks on the research and we are looking forward to the industry design phase starting in 2018,” Hamilton said. Bankserv hopes to be able to start considering technology choices for the new system by later this year.

The research report found that current payments systems are no longer as effective in a digital world. The research identified that South Africa is not alone in its desire to modernise payments, but that this is a global challenge which is being addressed by global players at varying levels.

“Modernisation can only be achieved through industry collaboration, which includes both private and public partnerships, as the success of implementing industry change should be as open, inclusive and transparent as is practical,” said Martin Grunewald, acting chief payments officer at BankservAfrica.

“The approaching digital economy brings the need to future-proof the design of South Africa’s existing national payments system infrastructure to accommodate the demand for efficiency and cost reduction to facilitate economic growth and competitiveness, while serving unbanked communities for financial inclusion.”

By Duncan Mcleod for TechCentral 

Suburbs with highest broadband speeds in SA

The Q4 2017 MyBroadband Speed Test app results show that Midstream Estate, Cornwall Hill Country Estate, and Country Lane Estate have the highest broadband speeds in South Africa.

To calculate the average speed in an area, results from speed tests performed by MyBroadband Speed Test app users were compiled.

MyBroadband’s Speed Test app for Android and iOS gives smartphone users the ability to test their Wi-Fi and mobile data connections.

In Q4 2017, over 200,000 Wi-Fi tests were performed by iOS and Android users.

The average download speed over Wi-Fi in South Africa was 11.59Mbps, while the average upload speed was 6.99Mbps.

These speeds are closely linked to the average broadband speeds in the country, as most Wi-Fi connections are linked to a fixed broadband connection.

Highest speeds
The results show that Midstream Estate was the suburb with the highest average download speed, at 42.57Mbps.

Cornwall Hill Country Estate and Country Lane Estate were second on 36.42Mbps, and Durbanville and Bellville third on 34.70Mbps.

The table below shows the suburb results. Only suburbs where a large number of tests from multiple devices were performed are listed.

Broadband Speeds in South Africa

Source: MyBroadband

An app-based bank is coming

Bank Zero appears set to accelerate the evolution of the South African banking industry by offering a fresh take on banking and highly competitive fees.

The bank — the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs and banking innovators Michael Jordaan and Yatin Narsai — has received a provisional licence from the South African Reserve Bank. It is due to launch a smartphone app, through which transactional and savings accounts can be opened and managed, in the fourth quarter.

The digital-only play, built using free open-source technology, is expected to lower banking fees thanks — in part — due to a lack of legacy systems and absence of traditional bricks and mortar branches, which will enable it to keep costs down.

“We certainly hope to come up with a very competitive structure. We do realise that we have certain disadvantages — we won’t have branches and we won’t have lending products — so we’re going to have to make an impact in the areas where we’ll play, being deposits and fee structures.

“It’s a bit too early to disclose exactly what we’re going to do because that would give competitors an advantage but we really hope to delight you and other potential South African customers when we launch toward the end of this year,” said Jordaan, co-founder and chairman of Bank Zero, when asked whether his offering would be cheaper than that of Capitec. Of the listed banks, Capitec’s offering, which includes a base fee, pay-as-you-transact charges and interest on positive account balances, is considered the most competitive.

In an attempt to nurture a savings culture, the bank is to offer attractive interest rates on deposits and has chosen upfront not to engage in lending.

Its target market includes individuals and businesses, which it feels are under-served by the traditional banks.

New normal
In a statement, Jordaan said the bank’s offerings would be in line with modern day realities, where the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram represent a new normal. “Why shouldn’t banks also innovate in this era of wider connectedness whilst still ensuring a robust banking value proposition? Bank Zero is addressing these realities, while employing cutting-edge technologies, minimising typical admin-intensive processes and delivering state-of-the-art security.”

Bank Zero is to operate under a mutual licence, like that of Finbond, GBS and VBS. This will allow the bank to create financial communities and give customers the opportunity to become shareholders in the bank. Bank Zero will, after breaking even, be able to issue shares along with voting rights to deposit holders.

Jordaan would not disclose the value of the capital invested in Bank Zero nor its breakeven point, saying only that it is more than adequate in relation to the the Reserve Bank’s minimum requirements. The bank is being funded by seven individuals, all of whom are seasoned banking or IT and software development professionals, and is 45% black owned.

“We are fortunate in that we didn’t have go to any institution to raise the capital. And that does allow us to take a slightly different approach to the market. It means that we can focus on the long term so we’re not just focused on chasing short-term profitability; nor are we chasing maximum profitability in the short term. We really think that there is an opportunity here to cast many of the benefits of the business model and of the technology back into the target market in South Africa.”

Although no institutions are financial backers of the bank, it will have to select one of the big four banks as a mentor bank to help it fully integrate into the payment system. Jordaan said Bank Zero has not yet selected a mentor bank but that it will do so with guidance from the Reserve Bank.

It is likely to become the fourth new bank to enter the market in 2018 alongside Discovery’s bank, Tyme Digital by Commonwealth Bank and Post Bank.

By Prinesha Naidoo for Tech Central 

Facebook kills off its own creation

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced a major revamp of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm to prioritise content shared by friends and family, and demote branded posts from publishers and businesses.

It seems that after pushing Facebook as a source of trending news, Dr. Zuckenstein is horrified by his own creation. And, after a year of trying unsuccessfully to police false and click-baity news, he’s given up on trying to control his monster — now, he’s killing it off.

Here’s how it affects the the major parties involved: publishers, Facebook, and its 2B+ users.

FB-based publishers are screwed
Publishers like Elite Daily, LAD Bible, and the approximately one jillion meme pages that rely on promoted Facebook posts to drive site traffic, will likely see a huge decrease in audience reach.

That said, most established, “premium” publishers are more balanced in their sources of Web traffic, and have been quick to highlight that Facebook doesn’t owe anything to publishers who chose to hinge their entire business on a third party platform.

In the words of Axios CEO Jim VandeHei, “Facebook is a public company that controls its own decisions… Publishers should do the same d*mn thing.”

Facebook’s market cap took a $25bn hit
In their decision to commit to “bringing people closer together,” Facebook is effectively choosing to slow their own growth for the sake of society (and their brand reputation).

Theoretically, the change means they’ll make less money off publishers and advertisers (their stock dropped 5% following the news).

In Zuck’s own words, it could also mean that people may spend less time on Facebook.

You’re gonna see a lot more of Aunt Sally’s DIY craft posts
Remember the simpler days of Facebook? You know, back when people posted innocent statuses about things they were doing like, “going to see How To Train Your Dragon! I love movie popcorn!”

Well, we can’t turn back the clock, but we will start seeing more posts from friends in our feed. With a caveat: highly shared and liked articles will still rise to the top. So the “tag a friend who needs this!” articles could still prosper.

Source: The Hustle

Is SARS coming for your Bitcoin?

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has said that it will soon provide some much-needed clarity on the tax implications for transferring and purchasing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. They have advised that traders should declare in the meantime if they need to.

eNCA spoke to SARS about the ever-growing use of cryptocurrencies in the country. While SARS is treating cryptocurrencies as part of Capital Gains Tax, head of SARS tax research Randall Carolissen said they are still exploring it further.

“Because by the very nature it lends itself to money laundering and anonymised trading, so yes we have to put in and place additional regulations. And to that end, we are going to release an interpretation note from our legal department to guide taxpayers as to their implications with respect to this Bitcoin technology,” Carolissen told eNCA

SARS revealed that it is also working with top global technology companies that are doing similar work regarding crypto and tax. With block chains being incredibly difficult to monitor, the deductions will depend on what coin is used.

“Since it’s not legal tender it is treated as an asset in your hands. And depending on your intent with this asset, it can trigger different tax instruments. It can either be a revenue nature or it could be an asset, capital gains tax in nature,” Carolissen said.”

“People need to come forward and regualise their tax affairs with us. And the guideline will also assist them with that. But as and when you submit your tax returns you must declare that as either additional income or additional asset revenue realisation that you’ve had. So it’s very important that you don’t discard that or ignore that part. Especially those people who took advantage of Bitcoin in the early stages.”

By Nic Andersen for The South African

Twitter is now finished with a several week process updating rules to curb abuse on the platform — but now the platform is refuting several undercover videos by Project Veritas trying to point fingers at the network.

On January 16, Twitter shared a statement on the latest video that suggests Twitter engineers access private direct messages, calling the project “deceptive”.

The video in question appears to be an undercover project where Project Veritas members recorded Twitter engineers — without their knowledge — while in a bar. In the video, the Twitter employees mention a machine learning system that goes through both Tweets and direct messages, while according to the video, some staff members go through the messages flagged by the machines.

The video was the third recent dig from the organization directed at Twitter, and the platform called the videos “deceptive” and “selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative.” In a statement on the direct message video, Twitter said, “We do not proactively review DMs. Period. A limited number of employees have access to such information, for legitimate work purposes, and we enforce strict access protocols for those employees.”

Twitter says the employees in the video were not speaking on behalf of Twitter at the time. Twitter’s Privacy Policy says that for direct messages, “we will store and process your communications, and information related to them.”

The video comes after another report on Twitter’s shadow-banning, and another undercover video where a Twitter engineer says they’d happily hand over President Donald Trump’s data for an investigation. Twitter also refuted both earlier videos.

While a number of individuals are using the recent videos against the platform, others are looking deeper into Project Veritas — an organization run by conservative James O’Keefe that also tried to get the Washington Post to publish fake news against a political candidate. As Twitter’s new rules result in more users getting banned from the platform, some groups aren’t happy with the switch from a platform that was previously more open, saying the changes create more bias.

Twitter, however, isn’t the only one calling the organization’s tactics deceptive. Wired suggests that the videos are part of the inevitable backlash from the new rules designed to combat abuse and eliminate hate groups and hate speech from the platform, suggesting the rules have the “alt-right” groups mad over the removal of some accounts. The video also comes after a handful of lawsuits filed against Twitter, including a complaint from one user that lost Twitter access after a post threatening to “take out” a civil rights activist. While the lawsuit is recent, the account ban happened three years ago.

The videos factor into a larger discussion as Twitter strengthens policies against abuse, and multiple social media networks struggle against fake news and now removing extremist content. No matter what side of the conversation you fall on, the “legitimate work purposes” access is a nice reminder that the internet isn’t the best place for the most private conversations.

By Hillary Grigonis for Digital Trends

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