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COVID19

CIOs reshape IT priorities in wake of COVID-19

Conn’s HomePlus CIO Todd Renaud spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s office shutdowns and store restrictions “just trying to get through the next day.” One month later, he’s setting his sights on what the next new normal might be, and what it will mean to the appliance retailer’s IT strategy over the next year.

“I’m going to assume that our remote workforce will be a larger percent than it is today,” he says. “How will that impact the company, assets and data? I’m thinking about the impact in our stores if we continue to have restrictions on the number of people” inside and other safety requirements. For example, Renaud is considering videoconferencing capabilities that could enable customers to virtually walk through the store with a sales rep serving as a guide to simulate an in-store sales experience.

 “The unspoken expectation is of me staying as far ahead of the curve from a technology and an impact perspective as I can,” Renaud says.

That same expectation has been heaped onto most CIOs as organizations look to technology to help them pivot quickly. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting IT leaders’ roles and priorities, and forcing them to consider its long-term impact on their IT organizations and on business as a whole.

An IDG survey of 414 IT leaders in April found that most budgets will either hold steady or increase in the next 12 months. They also expect a renewed emphasis on operational efficiency, expense management and cost controls. Meanwhile, business collaboration, hiring and training will take a back seat in the coming months. CIO.com compared these responses to its 2020 State of the CIO Survey, which posed similar questions to IT leaders in September 2019 about their organizations’ IT budgets and priorities for the coming year.



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How an iPhone can monitor COVID-19 infections

iPhone-based remote medical diagnosis systems for fractures and diseases including COVID-19 may only be a few testing cycles away, as a solution from Butterfly Network is seeing use during the pandemic.

Remote diagnostics take a big step forward

U.S-based Butterfly Network has created an iPhone accessory that turns your smartphone into the equivalent of an ultrasound machine, making this essential life-saving analysis tech much easier to deploy in new environments.

The system was demonstrated at WWDC 2019.

It consists of a handheld ultrasound scanner that is connected to an iPhone via the Lightning port to collect ultrasound images using the accompanying TeleGuidance app.  (The app works on recent iPhones, iPads and Macs. The scanner itself also works with Android.)

Under FDA rules, a trained medical professional needed to be with the patient in order to make the scan, but these rules have been temporarily relaxed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, it is possible for doctors to perform ultrasound scans using the device remotely, guiding the patient through the process. You can find a little more concerning how these solutions are being used in real-world medical situations during the pandemic here

In a statement revealing the news, Dr. John Martin, Butterfly’s Chief Medical Officer, explains:

“We will be able to bring the expertise of the physician to the patient instead of the other way around. This is critical in these times and extremely valuable for the future transformation of care.”

Atrium Health is already using these devices. Dr. Rasu Shrestha, executive vice president, and chief strategy and transformation officer at Atrium, sees the benefits of the system, “…going well beyond the current pandemic. Our teams are already using it to provide care for heart patients, and we anticipate this device ushering in a new era of frontline care.”

Better tools for frontline care

This introduction of more effective tools for frontline care is also a compelling illustration of how iPhones and other mobile devices are becoming integral components for healthcare provision.

We’re already accustomed to digital consultations and tools to track activity levels, but the Butterfly system also shows us how these devices will eventually drive collections of important diagnostic tools – just as your Apple Watch picks up extensive quantities of health and heart information.

Ultimately, this should democratize the diagnosis and provision of healthcare, enabling the kinds of tools you once needed to visit a hospital to access to become smaller and more portable. This should improve access in remote communities, for example.  

The company has improved its TeleGuidance software to enable remote monitoring, said Laurent Faracci, Butterfly’s CEO:

“To support the FDA’s new policies, we accelerated our efforts to build a breakthrough telemedicine solution for ultrasound at home under the prescription and supervision of a trained practitioner.”

TeleGuidance leverages an array of leading-edge and easy-to-use augmented reality guiding tools to allow trained practitioners to perform an ultrasound scan without being next to the patient.

Respecting social distancing guidelines, the scanning process can be handled by a trained assistant sent on-site with the equipment, or a close family member – all they need to do is follow the instructions. You’ll find out more here.

This isn’t the only illustration of how mobile devices may be of use. Apple and Google’s work to find a way to deliver actionable outbreak data while also protecting user privacy and Gauss Surgical’s solution that enables more effective and safer ways to improve the testing procedure are both good examples of this.

The future won’t entirely be defined by the pandemic, but it is showing us how the mobile tools and devices we use can be extended to provide solutions to this and other future problems. It seems likely that one day an iPhone will be as useful a tool in the doctor’s kit as a stethoscope.

Updated in line with guidance: The system is used to monitor the progress/condition of COVID-19. 

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Thanks to Covid-19, Website Accessibility Has Never Been More Important

The first global pandemic of the digital era is upon us. We’re living in unprecedented and uncomfortable times.

For our senior citizens, these past several weeks have been particularly discomforting. According to the CDC, men and women over the age of 65 are significantly more likely to develop complications from COVID-19. As we seek to restrict the spread of coronavirus, it’s critical that we protect one another, especially our elders, and adhere to current directives to practice and enforce social distancing. Isolating ourselves in a bid to stop the spread of disease is incredibly important as we aim to protect seniors, in particular.

As more of us stay home under quarantine (can’t say I would have ever imagined writing those words), it’s only natural that we will become even more reliant on our connection to the digital world.

In one form or another, just about all of us have come to rely on countless digital services. Consider, for instance, the many services that seniors typically rely on. There’s email. There’s medical resources — information as well as online appointments with a doctor. There are shopping websites, particularly for food. Certainly, we are all trying to keep pace with the unceasing wealth of information pouring in day after day surrounding this rapidly evolving global event. So there’s also this basic need for news, which is more heightened than ever. The list goes on and on. From paying our bills to ordering our groceries and staying on top of 24/7 news cycles, unimpeded access to web has never felt so urgent.

But the fact is, for many of the individuals who are most at risk, fully engaging with your website and applications can be difficult or, even, impossible. The prevalence of disabilities and impairments impacting one’s use of a computer or mobile device increases with age, so our seniors are more likely to face obstacles when websites are not coded with website accessibility in mind. This is a demographic that represents 16-percent of the United States population, including seniors.

The needs of our aging population overlap, in many ways, with the needs of our population with disabilities. Seniors often have impairments that make using online and web-based technology difficult. These are just a few of the digital access barriers that are impacting tens of millions of people around the world:

  • Vision: Contrast sensitivity can be reduced, color perception can be difficult, and focus can be hard, making web pages particularly difficult to read when text is not crisp, clear and large. Someone with cataracts, macular degeneration or any other impairment causing low vision may not be able to fully engage and interact with a website if it isn’t created to support zooming or provide options to enlarge text.
  • Motor control and dexterity: Using a mouse can be difficult, painful or even simply impossible for some users. Clicking that mouse or pressing that button, especially on small call-to-action buttons, can be similarly challenging. If you have developed severe tremors that have made it impossible to use a mouse to navigate, a website will only be usable if measures have been taken to support visual focus and keyboard navigation.
  • Cognitive function: The modern web is dynamic, interactive and ever-changing. For example, fast moving carousels that rapidly transition from one block of information to the next can be too overwhelming for those requiring more time to read and process information. Controls are needed to pause highly interactive features and functions.
  • Hearing: As we get older, our hearing gets weaker. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that, for seniors, multimedia content such as videos, podcasts, and other formats can present barriers if captioning and transcripts aren’t provided.

In this moment and for all the reasons mentioned above, it has never been more crucial that our websites and online shopping experiences be accessible. Designing for accessibility means making sure that all users, including those who are ageing and those with disabilities, can access your site and move across it with ease. Looking beyond COVID-19, this is an ever-growing demographic. The number of seniors will drastically increase in the coming decades. If your website isn’t accessible, the time to take action is now.

Luckily, if you’re ready to design your website with the accessibility of an ageing population in mind, you’re not on your own. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) take into account this wide overlap between users with disabilities and older adults. This informative guidance lays out a clear checklist that web designers should follow and website administrators should keep in mind to ensure that everyone, regardless of their year of birth, can navigate your website across every tab and every corner.

As we look to accommodate senior citizens and also build a web that is equipped for our future selves, here are some key steps you can take to ensure an optimal and accessible user experience for all your users:

 

Readability

  • Use relative font-sizes and ensure text containers resize.
  • Use legible fonts. When in doubt, use sans serif fonts such as Arial, Open Sans, Helvetica or similar.
  • Consider color blindness and consistently use a high level of contrast between text foreground colors and background color. Ensure a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
  • Make sure links are clearly marked. Using color, alone, is insufficient, whereas underlining helps identify links.
  • Avoid overuse of symbols, acronyms, and iconography. Use text instead.

 

Function

  • Create enough space between clickable elements such as buttons and links.
  • Test your site as a keyboard user; make sure focusable elements receive focus and that focus is clearly identified; provide skip navigation links to enable greater keyboard navigation efficiency.
  • Make sure link or button purpose is properly conveyed. Users shouldn’t have to guess where they will be taken to next.
  • Provide controls to pause auto-rotating carousels or animated content. Users may need more time to read, understand, and interact.
  • Make sure forms are properly labelled; avoid using placeholder text that disappears on focus.
  • Ensure proper error handling and make sure any alert notifications and modal interfaces are keyboard accessible.

 

Organization

  • Make sure navigation is consistent, easy to follow, and predictable across the site.
  • Take the time to integrate breadcrumbs, so users can better track their location within the context of your navigation hierarchy.
  • Avoid distracting content, excessive amounts of information and use plain-spoken language.

 

Multimedia

  • Older viewers may experience a decline in both auditory and visual perception. Be sure to make your videos accessible with captions.
  • Provide transcripts for audio-only content.

This challenging time we are all living through is particularly – and unjustly – amplified for our senior citizens and the millions of individuals with disabilities relying on an equal digital playing field. Equal access online still isn’t a guarantee. Together, we can work to eradicate every barrier to digital access.

 

Featured image via Pexels.



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Apple publishes Maps mobility data to aid COVID-19 struggle

Apple has published deeply interesting mobility data that shows how people’s walking, driving and public transit use has changed across the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re travelling a lot less

The information shows huge reductions in travel taken across most countries and larger cities globally.

In London, UK, people are using public transit 89% less frequently than they were before, the data shows; while in San Francisco people transit travel has fallen 84%.

Apple has published this information to provide government and health authorities with information that may help them make informed decisions during the pandemic, the company states.

How did it get this data?

Apple says it has generated this data from Apple Maps requests.

This information is aggregated and analysed in order to provide a fairly accurate representation into how people’s habits have changed.

“The information is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions. The data sets are then compared to reflect a change in volume of people driving, walking or taking public transit around the world. Data availability in a particular city, country, or region is subject to a number of factors, including minimum thresholds for direction requests made per day,” it says in a press release.

Is the information private?

In line with the company’s usual commitment to privacy, Apple claims this information is anonymized. It does not associate mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, and does not keep a history of where a user has been.

Data collected by Maps, like search terms, navigation routing, and traffic information, is associated with random, rotating identifiers that continually reset, “So Apple doesn’t have a profile of your movements and searches,” it says.

The idea is that you as a user get the information you need while your privacy remains protected.

What else is Apple doing?

The company has also confirmed some of the many other steps it is taking and continues to take in response to the pandemic:

  • It has sourced and donated over 20 million face masks for medics.
  • Apple is shipping over 1 million face masks each week.
  • It helped Stanford Medicine build a new symptoms checking app for first responders.
  • Siri Audio Briefs for COVID-19 provide the latest news and information about the pandemic through short podcasts from trusted news providers.
  • Siri can guide you through a symptoms checker.
  • Apple Maps now prioritizes grocery, food delivery and medical services.
  • Apple has put together a collection of telehealth apps on the App Store.
  • It has also provided a heap of content and services to help adapt to remote working and virtual learning.
  • The company has made available COVID-19 resources to keep people informed and help them take care of themselves.
  • And has, of course, teamed-up with Google for a new form of contact tracing.
  • It is also supporting an online benefit gig with Lady Gaga.
  • We know the company has taken a multitude of additional steps in addition to these.

You can explore Apple’s newly published Mobility Trends tools here.

Additional resources

I’ve written a selection of what I hope are useful stories to help you through current events. You can read them here:

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Everything we know about the Google/Apple COVID-19 contact tracing tech

Creeping erosion of privacy? Desperately needed technology-based solution to a global life or death problem? A little of both? Here is what we think we know now about the Apple/Google contact tracing technology.

What has happened?

Apple and Google are working together to develop COVID-19 contact tracing technology for both Android and iOS devices.

“All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” the companies said in a press release announcing the move.

The two giant corporations have published draft technical documentation including Bluetooth and cryptography specifications and framework documentation.

Here is what they have to say:

“Across the world, governments and health authorities are working together to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect people and get society back up and running. Software developers are contributing by crafting technical tools to help combat the virus and save lives. In this spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.”

What Apple CEO Tim Cook said

In a Tweet, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and can be done without compromising user privacy. We’re working with [Google] to help health officials harness Bluetooth technology in a way that also respects transparency and consent.”

Why is this technology required?

Public health officials worldwide believe contact tracing can be used to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Mobile telecoms, other companies and governments are using contact tracing in an attempt to mitigate its spread.

What this means in practise is that mobile networks are sharing the data they hold around people’s movements with governments, which alarms privacy advocates who see it as a potential move to surveillance state.

An ACLU paper pertaining to this is available here.

Taiwan, Singapore, China, South Korea, UK and Israel are all using this kind of information. OneZero explains some of the ways in which these technologies are being deployed.

Apple and Google hope that by making useful information available in a highly anonymized form they will be able to both boost public health response, while also protecting end user privacy.

How it works

  • When in place, smartphones running the technology will broadcast randomly created, unique identifiers using Bluetooth Low Energy that change every 15-minutes.
  • Any device within two meters distance will record that signal ID, which is designed to protect end user anonymity.
  • This data doesn’t get used unless other conditions are met.
  • The identifier contains no other personal information.
  • The list of identifiers you have interacted with doesn’t leave your device unless you choose to share it.
  • If you test positive with the virus you will not be identified to other users, Apple or Google.
  • All matching takes place on the device, and uses relay servers which forward information to your device. That way you can see if you have been in proximity of someone suffering COVID-19 in the last 14-days.

It’s an opt-in system

To be effective, the system would require millions of people to opt into the system and trust the technology giants’ safeguards.

What does the technology consist of?

Apple and Google’s comprehensive solution will include application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology.

How will this be introduced?

Given the urgent need, the solution will be implemented in two steps, which Apple and Google both hope will maintain user privacy.

  • In May, the companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. Official apps will be made available.
  • In “the coming months”, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.

How is privacy protected?

Individuals will be able to opt-in to participate in the system. It is also designed to enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities.

“Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze,” the companies said.

What about the data?

The system keeps data on devices that have been near each other.

Apps from officially sanctioned public health authorities will get access to this data on your device, and users who download those apps can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The system also alerts people by periodically checking broadcast keys to see if anyone has tested positive.

If you have been close to someone who has been infected you’ll receive an alert, but won’t be given the identity of the person you were near.

This is how the system works in a more personal sense

In practise, the system might work like this:

  • Two or more people spend 10 minutes of so in close proximity (within two meters) of one another.
  • When they do, their smartphones exchange anonymous identifiers.
  • Should one of them subsequently be diagnosed with COVID-19 the system will be updated with this news via a health authority app that uses the Google/Apple API.
  • If the diagnosed user consents to it, their most recent identifiers will be shared to the system which uses public health data.
  • This information is then broadcast via the app to all users, and anyone whose device identifies your anonymised identifier as a contact it has been in touch with will be alerted that they have been exposed to the virus.
  • They will then be advised of the next step they should take according to their government health advisors: Self-isolation, medical contact or testing, for example.

The process for the most part takes place on your device. Location information is not shared and data that is shared is anonymized and remains subject to your consent.

Isn’t this system ripe for abuse?

There are two obvious forms of potential abuse:

Surveillance-hungry states may use the system as a thin wedge toward deeper oversight over communities. The use of frequently changed anonymous identifiers and the need for user consent is part of the protection against this.

Attention-seeking users may attempt to game the system, claiming illness to cause panic among others. This is what integration with authorised public health apps is meant to protect against, as it implies some protection against the potential for deliberate or mistaken self-identification to generate such panic (but see ‘In the UK’, below).

In the UK

The UK government isn’t doing enough testing, its many critics say. As a result of its failure to prepare, deployment of the technology in that country will allow people to self-diagnose, reports 9to5Mac.

This will reduce the accuracy of the app (which depends on verified health testing) and also make it possible to create unwarranted panic among others based on an individual’s flawed self-diagnosis. It will also nurture both over- and under-reporting, as people with mild symptoms don’t report and those with possible symptoms do report.

Criticisms of the solution

There are several emerging criticisms of the solution. University of Cambridge professor Ross Anderson points to several problems, one of which being that in built-up areas the Bluetooth-based contact tracing feature may pick up false positives, such as identifying neighbors on either side of dividing walls as having been in contact.

Critics also warn that the same technology could be used to monitor other forms of social contact. A government may demand its use for other scenarios, such as murder investigations or even to silence dissent.

Where can I get more information?

Both Apple and Google have published extensive draft API’s explaining use of this technology and how developers may be able to implement it within their apps.

Apple has published the following:

Google’s Android Contact Tracing API is available here. You can find specifications for contact tracing with Bluetooth and its cryptography here and here. Google’s explanatory document explaining privacy safe contact tracing using Bluetooth LE is here.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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