Canva: Graphic Design For Beginners

Canva.com is a free, web-hosted graphic design tool that is used worldwide by beginners and experts alike. The beauty of the program is that it is extremely user-friendly, no design experience necessary!

Check out 3 of our favorite ways to use Canva for your business:

3 Ways To Use Canva For Your Business

  1. Canva for Brand Consistency

The key to strong brand identity and recognition is consistency.  By using the same color palettes, typography, and design elements across all visual areas of your business, you are projecting a clear, unified message.

Canva is perfect for this, as the program makes it easy to select the colors and fonts for your business. You can enter in your brand’s HTML color codes or select from curated color palettes.  You can also choose from Canva’s list of fonts or upload your own to match your website and marketing materials.

If you are using the Canva For Work premium subscription, you can save your desired colors, fonts, and logos in the customizable Brand Kit for easy access during the design process.

  1. Canva For Social Media

It seems like there is an ever-growing number of social media platforms that benefit from your brand’s presence; Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – the list goes on! While it is important to be on these sites, it is equally important to be posting the right way.

Each social media platform has different size requirements for images and graphics. For example, if you upload a photo to your Instagram account without resizing it to a perfect 1080 px by 1080 px square, you could be cropping portions of your image without meaning too.

Canva automatically lets you resize an image or graphic with their social media templates. You can quickly edit the same photo and upload it to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in a snap!

  1. Canva’s Free Design Elements

Canva features free layouts for all kinds of design projects, taking the stress out of starting a design from scratch.

Need to create the perfect flyer announcing your next company event? Or a digital asset like an infographic or case study? Canva has hundreds of templates built in, perfectly sized for whatever project you have in mind.

At Braver, we have used Canva to create some of our most popular guides, like our HIPAA Compliance Guide and our Winter Weather Preparation tips

Canva also includes free stock photos and vector graphics ready to use in all your projects. This makes finding the perfect image easy and free.

For more information on this or other recommended technology tools, please contact us.

 

Cyber Crime Insurance – Is this really necessary?

If you have not been approached by your insurance company to add on a Cyber Crime Policy, then you have been blocking their calls. Many insurance providers are pushing a Cyber Crime Policy which is a type of insurance for the internet.

Why would your insurance company be trying to sell you a policy just for using the internet? Isn’t that like trying to sell me insurance for walking down the street? Here is my view from a technology perspective. If you can’t wait to see my answer to the question above then just skip to the end. I won’t blame you. I do it too.

What are they covering?

What types of attacks are protected from cyber crime insurance? The primary one that I am concerned with is phishing and the various forms of phishing.

Phishing:

In general phishing is when you are solicited for information via email from a recipient. These are the emails you have seen many times from FedEx, Pay Pal, etc.. They ask for basic information to get into your account. These days they are easier to detect because people are more suspicious of general emails for information, at least I really hope people are more suspicious of them.

Spear Phishing:

This is the newer style of attack. These attacks are much more targeted on their victims. Instead of a general email there are two primary differences here.

1- The email comes from a name you recognize (not necessarily their email address just their name).

2- The email contains information that seems knowledgeable about your organization or clients.

Typically the attacker(s) will gather information via social engineering or some other aspect in order to draft an email that seems much more legitimate to the recipient.

Here is a made up scenario to help describe it better. Let’s say you are an office manager at a manufacturing company. Like many of our clients you work with China or some other overseas producer for your goods. Often times you may wire money to these companies for payment.

As the office manager you receive an email from one of your clients asking you to send the next payment to their secondary bank of XXX. The email may contain other details like your primary contact at the company, the date the product was shipped, etc.. Guess where that money was just wired to. I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t the client’s bank account.

How did they get that information for the email? I won’t go into Social Engineering in this article but if you want to read an entire book on it, find “Ghost in the Wires” by Kevin Mitnick. It’s an eye opening read to say the least.

Cyber vs Errors and Omissions Insurance

So why isn’t everything covered under errors and omissions or general liability insurance?

Seriously, I can’t defend the insurance companies, I’m not their biggest fan. I can say that this is a “new” type of attack but honestly it’s also an old type of attack.

Social engineering has been around for a while. My guess is the number of claims have increased so the insurance companies are trying to increase revenues to offset the money being paid out. Just a guess though. Probably a little too cynical but who really likes paying insurance?

Why isn’t this detected?

You pay for spam and virus filtering and you pay for other types of protection. Why wouldn’t this just be prevented in the first place?

Often the messages are blocked. You just don’t see them so you don’t realize it. When a message is sent from a known offending server they will be blocked. Interestingly this same technique also blocks good messages sent from the same source. We call this collateral damage in our office.

However, if the message is sent from a location that has the majority of its’ messages from credible sources (like GMAIL) they will get through. Keep in mind there is nothing in the email message itself other than just text. There are typically no links or attachments that look suspicious. So from the filtering software it really does not see anything other than a normal message. Much like the office manager in the example above.

So do you really need Cyber Crime Insurance?

I don’t know if this insurance is needed for everyone. Think about your business and how it works with its’ own accounts and the client accounts.

Do you have the potential to give out information about yourself or a client that may be compromising? Do you send money to or on behalf of others on a regular basis?

Do you transfer money via wire on a regular basis?

Do you deal with large sums of money as part of normal transactions?

Do you deal regularly with oversea companies or suppliers?

How educated is your staff on potential social engineering and information gathering?

You should talk to your insurance agent and have them describe the types of insurance available and what it covers and whether it is right for you. We decided to opt in for the coverage even though I think our exposure is limited. If you need to talk to an agent we can put you in touch with a couple that we have already spoken to ourselves.

 

Kenny Rounds

Braver Technology Solutions, LLC

 

 

 

Is Your Data Really Safe?

Backups are more than important. And if you are just storing the data on external USB hard drives and other devices you are missing an important aspect of your backup strategy. Yes, this type of backup is certainly necessary and can protect your data in case your computer ceases to function, but they will fail to help you if your office or home catches fire, is flooded, or experiences any other type of natural or manmade catastrophe. Or, maybe someone breaks in the property and damages or steals your external drive, computer, or other similar backups.

What you should be doing instead is storing your data offsite. An offsite backup is a kind of backup that is stored “in a separate location”- from where your main files are stored. So instead of placing your replicated files in two different hardware devices, you should store them in two physical locations that are far apart. This makes data recovery way easier in case things get messed up the original data storage site.

Business or work-related files obviously need to be backed up efficiently. Since data could be extremely critical, an ordinary backup system may not be sufficient to promise complete security. Hackers, spies, criminals, and delinquent employees may easily get their hands on the data and the company’s security will be compromised. Because traditional systems of backup can be easily stolen or copied, they are significantly vulnerable to threats.

A majority of IT companies make copies of their backups to removable media and then physically transfer that media to a far-away location or a third-party site, such as the Iron Mountain, etc. However, transporting physical media copies can prove to be a time-consuming, costly, and a risky process.

Fortunately, there is a much better solution. Data replication technology is widely used today by many business organizations to more safely and easily copy backup offsite. The solution encourages you to run backups and then safely replicate that data over the WAN to any far-off location, which includes public or private cloud networks.

Once every month (or couple of weeks), you can take that flash drive, bring it back home, and back it up prior to taking it back and storing it in a completely separate physical location. For really important data files – particularly ones that do not change too frequently, you may even think about storing an external hard drive or USB in a bank’s safety deposit.

When you choose to replicate your data offsite, you can expect the following benefits.

  1. Reliability – As discussed above, in case of data theft from your traditional backup method, you can easily access the important information online.
  2. Business continuity – Losing critical business data can be devastating as it wastes time and valuable resources trying to recover that data. Offsite replications decrease downtime. This is because if there happens to be an onsite disaster where the local hardware gets destroyed, then your clients will not drain business cycles in an attempt to compensate for it. You will quickly be able to restore their data back to its production-ready state. Additionally, those businesses that support offsite cloud storage, their customers will have easy access to their data, regardless of the device as long as it has an internet connection.
  3. An added storage layer that is more cost – Efficient and scalable client data is ever-increasing, which means it is not scalable to keep buying more local storage so frequently. Instead, your clients can benefit from your cloud’s unlimited storage capacity and transfer their data there.

So, what are you waiting for? With so many offsite data replication options to choose from, there is no reason why you should leave your data unprotected.

We offer our clients ReadyVault Offsite as option. If you would like more information on this please contact us.

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

Fun Technology for the Beach

Summer is here, and it is time to switch off your phone, shut out the world and get ready for some fun-in-the-sun adventures. Taking a vacation and having a little fun does wonders for stress levels, maintains vigor and allows us to recharge. Chances are, you have already decided on your summer destination, and if you have, it might be the right time to think about what to bring along.

And no, we are not talking about the basic beach gear, such as a cool swimsuit, a beach towel, and a good-quality sunscreen.We are talking about fun technology in the form of gadgets that can make your trip much better, and provide you some additional activities to participate in.

1.     Video Camera Scuba Mask

Swimming alongside the fish, in the depths of water, is an indescribable experience, literally. You may talk for hours and still may not be able to really explain the thrill you felt. Fortunately, a video camera scuba mask can help you do that.

2.     eBook Reader

With aneBook reader, you can now bring your entire library to the beach. Generally, it can be a little difficult to select a book that you would thoroughly enjoy reading while soaking some sun at the beach. With Kindle, however, you don’t have to think too much since it allows you to stack up on your favorite books without taking up too much space or causing any inconvenience.

3.     RC Metal Detector

Digging for lost treasures in the sand is a fun and great way to pass time along with getting a tan. An RC dune buggy makes the whole experience even more fun as it combines the convenience of a remote control with the thrill of a treasure hunt, and you never know what you may find!

 

4.     Water-Resistant Speakers

There’s no better way to relax than by sitting in the water while listening to your favorite beats. Thanks to water-resistant speakers, you can relax to your jam without having to worry about it getting  damaged.

5.     BeachSheetz Microfiber Sheet

Get ready for an awesome beach adventure with this Microfiber Outdoor Sheet. Measuring 7 x 7 feet, this sheet tackles all the inconveniences of being in the sun.It is heat, sand, and water-resistant. Additionally, it features weightedbeanbag corners that will ensure the sheets never blow away. The material is ripstop polyester, which is super durable and quite lightweight. The sheets also have an inbuilt drawstring, making them relatively easy to transport. You can also store your phone, wallet, keys, and more in the hidden pocket.

6.     Zayak Underwater View Sea Sled

When at the beach, don’t just restrict yourself to exploring the land. With the Zayak Underwater View Sea Sled, you can get a breathtaking front row seat to the sea. This unique device is made from a long-lasting material with a dry mask on the top for added comfort and a wide panoramic window on the bottom to allow for a stunning underwater view. With this amazing product, you can relax on the water surface as you enjoy the flora and fauna below.

7.     Cellphone Signal Enhancer

Not all beaches offercellphone coverage, but you easily get over this problem by bringing your own signal amplifier. Let’s be real, some of us can’t really avoid business obligations even when we are supposed to be having fun, and this cellphone signal enhancing technology can be extremely useful as it allows you to tend to emergency calls.

8.     A Deck of Water-Resistant Cards

Card games will never go out of fashion and are a great group activity when you are feeling too lazy to play volleyball or go for a dive. Unfortunately, cards are fragile and can be easily destroyed with wet hands and water drenched players. However, with water-resistant cards, you can completely avoid this problem and make the most out of your time at the beach.

9.     Watershot SPLASH Housing Kit

Turn your smartphone into a serious underwater camera and video recorder with this case. Special lenses, such as wide angle and flat port, help you capture the best photographs from your underwater adventure.

 

10.   Water-Proof GoPro Camera

Don’t make the mistake of bringing a camera to the beach unless it is shockproof and water resistant, like the GoPro Hero5 that is compact, lightweight, and comes with a touch display.

So, as you can see, there is plenty of tech available for you to take to the beach!

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

Microsoft Excel Tips and Tricks for Everyday Use

Want to learn even more about Microsoft Excel? Register for our live webinar on April 4, 2019!

MS Excel is one of the most used spreadsheet applications and the industry standard. It is useful for amateurs and professionals alike. It provides you a wealth of tools that can assist you immensely with manipulation, analysis, organization, and formatting of data in a spreadsheet. Although heavily used in corporate organizations, financial and research institutions, it is equally powerful for everyday users.

Whether you are a business owner managing inventories, a home user taking care of the household budget or a teacher taking attendance, this spreadsheet will make tasks less tedious and solve many of your problems.

Locking Cells with F4

Sometimes, when you copy formulas in Excel, you need your input cell to adjust or change with the formula, but at times, you don’t. Locking one of your input cells requires you place a dollar sign before the row number and column letter. Punching the dollar sign each time is tedious and a big waste of time. So, here’s the trick, after selecting the relevant cell, press F4 and the dollar sign will be inserted and the cell will be locked.

Random Value Generation

Here is another awesome feature you can use if you want to generate random numbers for any reason. Typing in RAND () function generates random values, ranging from 0 to 1. You don’t have to punch any input, leave the parentheses blank. Moreover, more random numbers will be regenerated when the spreadsheet recalculates and you can trigger the recalculation by pressing F9.

Resize Rows and Columns

The default width and height of a cell in Excel is different from one size fits all. It is highly likely that you will have to modify the row height and column width in order to accommodate all your data. All you have to do is click on the relevant row or column, using the Home tab press the Format button, which is located in the Cells group. Then choose what you want to adjust, the width or height. Next, type in the number and click OK, the relevant row or column will be adjusted to the new measurement.

Use SumIF and CountIF to Summarize Data

CountIF will help you in counting the frequency with which a value appears within a relevant range. Your initial input is the range of value you need to count in. The next input is your criteria, or the value you are seeking. On the other hand, SumIF adds up values or numbers in a given range provided the number in the corresponding range satisfies your addition criteria.

Select All Using a Single Click

Many Excel users are familiar with the Select All command, which is triggered by the Ctrl + A shortcut, but here’s a secret: you can achieve the same results by clicking the corner button just once. You will find it extremely useful in many situations.

Adding Multiples Rows and Columns

Most of us are familiar with adding one new column or row, but adding more than one row or column can become a time wasting exercise if you do this by repeating the process of adding one row or column at a time. Here is the solution you need. You can achieve the same result by dragging and selecting the desired number of columns or rows. Then, by right clicking the relevant rows or columns, choose the Insert command using the dropdown menu. You will see new rows or columns inserted above the row or on the left side of the column that you selected initially, saving you loads of time.

 

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

How safe is your healthcare company’s data?

 

Maybe not as safe as we’d all like to think it is. 

A recent study found that over 68% of healthcare organizations had employees with compromised email credentials, which were being sold on the Dark Web. The Dark Web is a subset of the Deep Web, which is a vast part of the World Wide Web that can’t be accessed using regular search engines, like Google and Bing. On the Dark Web, criminal activity — such as the sale of illegally obtained data — is shielded by anonymity.

By exploiting stolen and vulnerable credentials, cybercriminals can gain access to healthcare networks and sensitive information.

Did you know? Compromised email credentials account for almost ⅔ of data breaches in the US. 

With the help of ID Agent’s Dark Web ID analysis technology, the study looked at 1,000 HIPAA covered organizations and business associates in the healthcare industry (including healthcare providers, hospitals, IT/software providers, medical billing/collections agencies, and regional health plans). Here’s what they found:

  • 68% of organizations had one or more compromised employee email accounts.
  • 76% of compromised account information included passwords. Of these, 23% of passwords were fully visible and the rest were “hashed” (meaning the text characters were converted into a string of symbols).
  • Even though certain healthcare industry segments performed better than others, every segment analyzed included compromises in over half of its organizations. Medical billing/collections had the lowest percentage, with 55.6% of organizations having at least one compromised account. Regional health plans performed the worst, with 80.4% of those organizations having compromised accounts.

Many of the passwords were old and no longer in use, but be warned that even those could make companies and individuals vulnerable. Hackers can use outdated passwords to understand user behavior and more easily predict future passwords, either through meticulous guesswork or automated algorithms. Though it might seem like those whose stolen account information included hashed — instead of fully visible — passwords dodged the danger, clever hackers can still crack hashed passwords in multiple ways. And, because more than 3 in 4 Internet users choose a similar, or even the same, password for all their online accounts, the threat isn’t limited to the single compromised account or environment.

In more than half the cases studied, emails were compromised in known breaches, where large numbers of account logins were stolen and sold. But, in 6% of cases — which still added up to 450 accounts — the data was obtained through phishing scams. This is especially troubling, given the FBI’s recent warning that business email compromise (BEC) scams are becoming more frequent and more often resulting in financial losses.

The reality is that no company or organization’s cybersecurity strategy is complete without addressing the risk of compromised email. The following “best practice” measures are recommended:

Proactive threat intelligence – Staying updated on the latest potential threats, and building defenses against them.

Continuous security management – Constantly monitoring infrastructure and analyzing security (and vulnerabilities) in real-time.

Rapid incident response and recovery – Establishing and maintaining processes and policies that enable fast action in case a breach does happen. Since no security measure is ever 100% guaranteed, it’s important to be prepared to immediately mitigate the potential losses if an email account or other login is compromised.

If all this sounds daunting, overwhelming, or even downright scary, we have you covered. We’ll help your business get on the right security track; just take the first step by reaching out!

 

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

Can Your Desk Keep You Healthy ?

 

Think about the desktop of your favorite personal computer. It came from the factory one way – popular icons splayed atop the menu bar, vivid images of far-off landmarks shuffling across as your screensaver, Microsoft’s Everybody Loves Blue as the stock color for every application and window you open.

If there’s one thing the 21st century office worker needs to be, it’s flexible. The traditional 9-to-5 is a dying breed in corporate America, replaced by employees working non-traditional hours, working remotely, working via mobile devices, and bringing their own devices (commonly known as BYOD) to enhance their efficiency.

To complement the modern worker, many firms have switched the traditional cubicle approach into an open format complete with a work space that is as flexible as the person occupying it. Convertible desks allow employees to transition seamlessly between sitting and standing, and come with a host of different features and designs to allow each employee to customize the organization and layout of their work space to their own specifications.

Convertible desks come in all shapes and sizes. Some are designed to allow use of two computers – normally a desktop and a laptop – at the same time while others foster space for a pair of monitors to sit side-by-side. With more and more workers concerned with their health, particularly the poor circulation that can occur from sitting in one spot for several hours a day, desks that can be adjusted to becoming a standing work station are a hot commodity.

So, what are the main benefits of using a convertible desk in your work environment? Here’s a breakdown of some of the most surefire ways that a convertible desk can improve your quality of life while also improving your quality of work.

1. Use more energy, build more strength: The average worker has virtually no time to themselves during the workweek between the actual job, the commute to and from the office, and family requirements. This leaves little time for exercising of any sort, but that deficit can be somewhat filled by standing rather than sitting. According to the Mayo Clinic, just two hours of standing a day burns 340 calories. Standing also reduces pressure on your lower intervertebral discs, which lessens the risk of injuring them.

2. Increased productivity: How many among us have ever had 10 different browser windows open at the same time in order to input data from one column into another? Or printed out a long table of data, then been forced to hold it up close to our face in order to transcribe the numbers into a spreadsheet? Those days are over thanks to a convertible desk’s ability to support two monitors at the same time. Compare, contrast, copy, and correlate data seamlessly using nothing more than the back-and-forth movement of your eyes.

3. Increased confidence: Your cold-calling a new client. What feels better? Hunched over your computer in a decades-old office chair or standing tall and having the ability to walk around and express your ideas with body language? The second choice is the no-brainer. We put less pressure on our diaphragm when we stand, allowing our words to come across clearer. And if the person on the other end can’t understand you, how likely are they to buy from you? Plug in your hands-free device and you’re suddenly a standing, walking sales force rather than a sedentary, sluggish drone on the phone.

Convertible desks may become the new standard of the modern workplace. They offer multiple solutions to multiple problems by being flexible and adaptable solutions.

 

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

Easy steps to the right Notebook

Picking the right Notebooks can seem very overwhelming with all the options out there. There are a few things to consider when purchasing a new notebook. Size, Use of Notebooks, features, budget, and Specs are some of the main ones that come to mind.

Specifications

Don’t get overwhelmed but there is a lot to cover here. The operating system, Processor, RAM, weight, and touchscreen are just some of the items to consider when searching for a new Notebooks. Let’s run through them one at a time.

Size
I suggest this is the place to start when thinking about purchasing a new notebook. Size can mean many things from Screen Size to the actual overall weight of the notebooks. The first question to ask yourself in regards to size is “How much will I be traveling will I be doing with this notebooks?”. With screen sizes from 10 inch to 17 inches, there can be a lot to choose from. The screen size can impact the overall system size and weight. I personally find a 13-inch – 14-inch screen to be perfect for the user on the go. Now overall size and weight are the next to think about. If you commute with your notebooks often I would suggest an Ultrabook so you don’t have to carry around a larger notebook but one thing to keep in mind is most Ultrabook’s do not come with a CD/DVD drive.

Weight
Typically, standard notebooks weigh roughly 4.5 to 7 pounds where Ultrabook’s normally are in the 2 to 3.5 LBS range. Typically, a lighter notebook will have a higher price than one of similar specifications. If you travel or fly often you may want a notebook that is under 3 LBS.

Operating System
Windows 10 is now the most common operating system available when searching for a new notebook unless you are interested in a MacBook in which you are looking at macOS. For home use and most business use, Windows 10 will work fine. You should first contact any vendors of the software programs you will be used to determine their compatibility with Windows 10. If you plan on using touchscreen you should consider Windows 10 for its greater flexibility with a touchscreen.

From now until January 14, 2020, Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7 users that require support will be charged a premium from Microsoft for issues and support tickets. Once Extended Support ends, Microsoft will no longer support any issues or tickets for Windows Server 2008 or Windows 7. For more information, please read on.

CPU / Processor
In regards to processors, I will discuss the 3 most common processor available today (i3, i5, & i7). To make it easy to understand and to the point, we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up. The i3 would be considered entry-level, i5 is mid-range and the i7 is performance. Knowing exactly what you plan on doing with your new notebook will help determine exactly which processor would be best for you. We suggest a minimum of i5 processor for all notebooks. If the notebook does not list one of these options (i3, i5 or i7) then it may either not be an Intel chip or it may be an Atom processor. I would suggest staying away from these models.

Memory / Ram
Next, we will move onto RAM. I could get overly complicated here but I would suggest a minimum of 8GB of Ram which is sufficient for most everyday tasks. The good thing here is most notebooks (not all) have the ability to upgrade the Ram if needed at a later time. Once again RAM will entirely depend on exactly what you plan on using your notebook for. The rule of thumb is more ram will produce faster results.

Convertible / Tablet
Today’s notebooks have many cool features. One optional feature is the ability to turn from a notebook into a tablet. This feature can offer some impressive benefits for presentation or reading. However, this feature can sometimes be “cooler” than practical. In surveying our clients who have used or purchased convertible tablets they state that they rarely use the tablet feature.

SATA or SSD
You may see the notes on a notebook for either SATA or SSD drive. SATA drives are the old tried and true method of data storage. They consist of platters that rotate around as data is written or read from them. In general, SATA drives are a cheaper and slower option. Most notebooks (especially lower cost) have SATA drives. SSD drives are more like a memory than a hard drive. Think of the memory card that you may use for your phone or camera. These are smaller, slower and cheaper versions of SSD. Data is stored on memory chips instead of spinning platters. SSD drives have a couple of benefits over SATA. The first benefit is Speed, SSD can retrieve data at a much faster rate. The second benefit which is not often spoken about is reliability. Since an SSD Drive has no moving parts it is less likely to be damaged while moving or used.

Touchscreen
Last but not least Touchscreen capability. Touchscreens have become very popular and helpful with many users but not everyone has adapted to them yet. Do you need a Touchscreen? I am not sure if you do but I think it is a great feature to have if it’s within your budget. The best part is this option can be turned on and off on most touchscreen notebooks. Once you start using touchscreen you may be surprised how easy it is to become familiar and comfortable with it. I find myself barely using a mouse or touchpad when I have a touchscreen.

As always we are here to help with any questions you may have in selection or purchasing notebooks or any other computer related device.

Shaun Burgess
Braver Technology Solutions LLC

What will become of Yahoo Mail?

I should start this article out by stating that I use Yahoo mail for my personal information. I actually signed up for the mail service back in 1997 when it first launched. However, with that said I would be lying if I didn’t say the recent activities and disclosures do not have me concerned. I certainly would suggest any company have their email on professional grade system such as Exchange or CleanMail Online

“Yahoo is a company that changed the world. Before Yahoo, the internet was a government research project. Yahoo humanized and popularized the web, email, search, real-time media, and more,” – Merissa Mayer, CEO Yahoo!

Following a hack that compromised over half a billion user accounts, disappointing financial results almost every quarter, and a waning advertising business, Yahoo has fallen far from the lofty heights it once occupied. While it is still perceived as a company that revolutionized Internet usage, and is often mentioned alongside Microsoft, Google and Apple as a technological pioneer, Yahoo has been unable to keep up with the increasingly fast pace at which the world has been changing, in contrast to these other game-changers. As a result, the company is now being sold off as scraps: the operating side of the business has gone to Verizon, while Yahoo’s cash, shares in Alibaba Group Holdings, shares in Yahoo Japan and non-core patents will be retained under their new trading name, Altaba.

Verizon has agreed to pay just under $4.5 billion for the flailing company. This news has come after a $350 million discount that was announced earlier this year, in light of what constituted the largest ever security breach of an American company. The huge deal is set to close in the second quarter of this year.

To some, it’s a mystery as to why Verizon is still willing to pay such a hefty price for a company that is bleeding users, has a reputation for being incapable of safeguarding customer data, and has been the subject of a prolonged battering by the media.

However, Verizon has deemed the acquisition “strategic sense”: the more information that they can amass about people’s online behavior and activities, the more they can compete with Google and Facebook in leveraging that information with marketers. As Yahoo has over one billion active users and is the second biggest email client in America and the largest in Europe, the acquisition does indeed seem to coincide with Verizon’s emerging strategy: to pivot from a data providing company to a media behemoth.

As noted by David Gelles of the New York Times, “[i]f Verizon has its way, it will cast off its reputation as a big, boring telephone company battling a unionized work force and emerge as a digital media player mentioned in the same breath as Snapchat and Pokémon… It’s quite the pivot. At first glance, the acquisitions have almost nothing to do with Verizon’s main moneymaking activity; selling data plans to its roughly 110 million cell-phone customers.”

While this is good news for Verizon and its broader strategy, hundreds of millions of Yahoo users now have something new to worry about: Verizon’s aggressive use of customer data. For users who already believe that Yahoo mishandled private information, colluded with the NSA and suffered data breach after data breach, Verizon’s takeover plans will be a hard pill to swallow. According to Marc Rotenberg of the EPIC, “It’s pretty much the fox taking over the henhouse… Verizon has always been sneaky about its privacy practices, and Yahoo is the poster child for security breaches.” For its users, this seems to be Yahoo’s polite way of saying, thank you for your business, and we look forward to selling you out.

Verizon is expected to follow-up their purchase with the same strategy applied in their acquisition of AOL. In terms of what will become of the Yahoo brand and email client, the consensus seems to be that no real changes will take place, at least not for the next six to twelve months. In the United States, Yahoo ranks only behind Gmail as the most used email provider, and in Latin America and Europe, the platform remains the most popular choice. Losing this brand affinity amongst the 225 million users worldwide would be a rash misstep.

The future of Yahoo Mail looks especially bright under Verizon. With their broad reach and distribution capabilities, Yahoo Mail may begin to come pre-loaded on devices sold by Verizon. As a result, the e-mail platform will start to compete with apps such as Gmail and Apple Mail, both of which already come pre-installed with most Android and Apple devices.

Braver Technology Solutions LLC

Let the self-driving car battle begin

The year in debate seems to be 2020. At least that has been announced as the finish line for many companies working on self-driving cars. Most have listed 2020 as the target date to have fully functional and deliverable self-driving cars.

Some of the major players are the ones you would expect, auto manufacturers. Volvo, Ford, Audi, BMW, Tesla are just a few car manufacturers joining the self-driving car race. On the surface they may seem like the most logical companies that should be in this market, but they may not really be the ones to benefit most.

From a sales sense, car manufacturers have a reason to get into the foray lest they be left behind by their competitors, but will making self-driving cars really increase their sales? If someone is not in the market to buy a new car, chances are they are not going to go buy one just because it is self-driving. Most likely that person will wait until it is time for a new car and buy one then.

So the net new number of cars sold is probably close to zero. The difference will be which car they buy and that will be based on features and costs which it always has been.

So who really benefits from self-driving technology? My money is on the service industry.

I will start with our own company as an example. We provide incredibly awesome IT service and as part of that service we occasionally need to go to a location to deliver equipment. The real expense in this is the engineer who is behind the wheel.

If we had a self-driving vehicle we could just program in the destination, have the client load the equipment in and send it back to us. That is a huge time and money savings for us. We would most likely have to put some kind of giant stuffed gorilla wearing a Braver shirt behind the wheel just so the clients knew it was us. But stuffed gorillas are a significant cost savings over our incredibly good looking staff.

Of course our benefits of this technology are minor compared to some industries. Picture tractor trailers going cross country filled with merchandise and nothing else.

Volvo has not only imagined it they have already begun development. Volvo has already fitted semi-tractor trailers with self-driving technology and also hopes to have this ready by 2020.

Another beneficiary is the taxi and ride sharing service companies. Uber has already made huge investments in its’ automated driving and has tested it in two cities. Unfortunately, one of those cities, San Francisco was not enthusiastic when Uber openly refused to pay the $150 autonomous vehicle permit required by the city even after the DMV’s general counsel wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Uber threatening legal action.

 

There were other problems for Uber as well. Several accidents were reportedly caused by their self-driving vehicles one listed the car as running a red light. Uber is disputing and / or reviewing these claims depending on the article your read.

Another big player in self-driving cars for quite some time has been Google. Google has yet to deliver anything noteworthy but they have a reputation of either dropping or chasing a product. Once they decide to chase it, they are relentless in pursuit of dominance.

 

One proof of this pursuit is their recent court battles with Uber over the technology in self-driving cars. Google claims that Uber snatched one of its chief architects and in addition its proprietary technology. It’s an odd move considering Google was an early investor in Uber and served on its board.

The last major note to mention is Tesla who is investing very heavily in the technology of self-driving cars. There was sadly a major accident reported by someone whose self-driving car was involved in a crash because the sensors could not see through the solar glare.

So when everything is settled where will this leave the industry? Here’s my ultimate guess. I think driverless cars will one day be as common as the automatic transmission. Gradually cars will become standard with the technology until all that is left are people who still like the feel of a steering wheel in their hands and a sense of control, or someone who owns a car (soon to be referred to as “antiques” ) which predates the technology. I love to drive a standard and have the thrill of shifting gears manually but being able to eat my egg McMuffin while driving doesn’t suck ether.

 

Kenny Rounds

Braver Technology Solutions LLC