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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 21 February 2020, 4:00 pm

Here's this week's update from TechBlog editor Paul Brislen.

Generating warm feelings about your brand

I'm familiar with the issues around reputation management and the need to protect one's brand. It's a tricky business at times, especially for companies that may or may not have dropped the ball and upset customers. Usually my advice is simple - confess your sins, apologise, explain how you'll you'll fix the problem and discuss compensation with those affected.

Kiwi saver provider Generate has taken a somewhat different tack. 

Generate's security was breached through a shonky website sign-up process and 26,000 customers had their personally identifiable information (PII) stolen.

Passport details, driver's licences, IRD numbers, names and addresses were all compromised in a period running from December 29 to January 27. The company didn't inform customers until February 12.

Having notified the affected customers, Generate seems to have declared victory and wiped its hands of the whole matter and so when some customers started making upsetting noises about perhaps Generate paying to replace driver's licences and passports, the company sought advice on the matter.

"[W]hile we are under no obligation to do so, we have reviewed the situation and decided we will reimburse members for the cost of replacement photo ID (NZ Passport or NZ Drivers Licence) if the photo ID they supplied to us was affected in the data breach and was still valid on 29 December 2019," says the website and oh yes, customers who have had their financial lives ripped away from them have until the end of March to apply.

Oh, if you're under the age of 18 you don't need to bother applying - you're excluded because the breach won't affect you much. Seriously.

This is clearly not acceptable. Companies have a duty of care to their customers with regard to materials they take from customers. If I leave my car at the mechanic's shop and it's stolen well, over to the mechanic to sort it all out. If my PII is stolen from a provider well, over to them to sort it out and to make sure I'm not affected as a result.

New Zealand has a very easy to follow Privacy Act which is based on everyone doing the right thing and doesn't include any punitive measures. If this had happened in the EU the company would be up for fines of up to €50 million or 4% of annual turnover, which is number is higher. Instead, under existing New Zealand law there are no penalties. Under the new, yet-to-be-launched Privacy Bill the company would only be up for penalties if it failed to inform its users. That penalty - a maximum fine of $10,000.

Generate's website today proudly invites readers to "Find out why people trust us with their savings."

NZ Herald - Hackers steal photo ID and tax codes from 26,000 Generate KiwiSaver customers

RNZ - Generate KiwiSaver fund hack victims freeze credit reports

Stuff - Generate to replace IDs, waive fees for hacked KiwiSaver members

Generate - Privacy-related Data Security Incident


Covid 19

Now it's got a name, and has claimed over 2,000 lives as well as infecting 75,000 others. The coronavirus known as Covid 19 is wreaking havoc on the tech sector's supply lines.

It seems somewhat churlish to be discussing component pipe lines when people are actually dying, however the impact on the tech sector is going to create ripple effects for months to come and not just for conference goers. Some companies will miss their targets for the quarter and for many, getting staff to turn up for work is proving to be a big ask.

Locally it's starting to affect universities (all those students who normally would be here studying are potentially here but in self-certified quarantine for a while, denting tertiary education export levels), bringing in trained staff from offshore, particularly from South East Asia, and of course if you've ordered anything from Alibaba lately it's not showing up any time soon.

More seriously it does expose the weakness of the "just in time" delivery model. If there's a problem in the supply chain, it flows all the way down from distributor to end user. And that's no fun for anyone.

The authorities have all responded far more eagerly to this outbreak than you'd expect from years of zombie movies, and I'm really pleased about that. But we might need to address a few of the ramifications that have reared their ugly heads before something larger and nastier hits.

Techblog - Outbreak starts to impact on supply chains

NZ Herald - Tech sector caught out by coronavirus (PAID)

NZ Herald - China and the coronavirus: Tech battles chain reaction after 'world's factory' grinds to a halt

Forbes - COVID-19 Coronavirus And Complex Supply Chains 

NZTE - Coronavirus (Covid-19) - Information for Exporters


IoT - the Internet of Things that shouldn't be on the internet

I love the gig economy. It's given me a career path, and a mixed bag of clients and roles that keeps me happy and busy and bouncing from place to place.

It also provides me with much entertainment. Not only has Uber disrupted taxis but now it's thinking about opening a call centre so people can ring and have a car sent to them. Next you'll be able to stand on a street corner and whistle or wave your arm for a car and they might even consider having a special parking bay or rank of some kind for the taxis, I mean Ubers, to park in.

What will they think of next and will it be quite as funny?

Well, I have good news on that front.

Picture if you will a couple taking a journey to a remote location for a long weekend. They've booked a bed and breakfast (known, these days, as an AirBNB) and because they're young and live in the city they don't own a car so they've used an online char sharing service to hire a car for the journey.

This new online system (amusingly known as Gig) provides a slick interface and allows users to hire cars (which they can pick up just like you would a scooter - follow the app's guide map to the nearest car.

No filling in forms at the local car rental counter, no aggressive up-selling of insurance, no "alternative model" car, just walk up, activate through the app and drive away.

This couple then heads off into the wilds for a relaxing weekend, stopping along the way to browse quaint shops (I'm guessing here) and after stopping to admire the view for a while, discovers there's a software glitch that renders the car immobile.

"We had stopped the car for a quick hike down to the beach and when we returned found we could no longer use my phone to start the car. A customer service representative told us by phone the car's software could not be remotely reset as it was out of cellular service range. It needed to be towed."

That's right, the car couldn't phone home (although the poor user in question had enough signal to call head office and also to tweet about her plight) and the only solution was to spend the night in the car and wait for rescue the next day.

The user declined to do so and called a tow truck. She is now negotiating costs with the company.

Some things are well served through apps and some things are not. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. 

The Guardian - My smart car rental was a breeze - until I got trapped in the woods


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