Education

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December 17, 2014

How SMS is Helping Small Businesses in Latin America

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The second annual Latin American Bitcoin Conference took place in Rio earlier this month. More than 200 attendees saw seminars and panels featuring 37 guest speakers from around the world. 

Among the keynote speakers were a number of bitcoin representatives. The crypto currency is making a big impact across the region. A new partnership between Coinapult and 37 Coins seeks to expand bitcoin access to segments of the population without smartphones or traditional banking methods at their disposal. Their weapon? SMS messaging.

The service allows bitcoin users the world over to send and receive payments using only a feature phone with SMS capability. For entrepreneurs in South America, it holds the promise of allowing them to operate from remote areas, lessening the burden on over-populated urban centers.

This is a crucial development, not just for SMB owners, but for the public purse as well. Millions of small businesses across Latin America are currently restricted to cash-only transactions. This raises the question: how sure can local governments be that rural entrepreneurs are doing due diligence when it comes to paying taxes? It hardly takes a cynic to assume millions of pesos, bolivianos, reals and dollars are slipping through the net.

Of course, there will always be a black market. For some, operating outside the system is a point of principal. But for most small businesses, removing the temptation is all that’s needed to reduce corruption. Give them the tools to accept trackable, taxable payments and they’ll play ball, safe in the knowledge that the added security will help their business in the long run. Legitimacy is so much more attractive when it’s easily achieved.

A similar scheme – albeit with no SMS element – has been implemented in East African countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. M-Pesain allows its 16 million users to send and receive money, pay bills and withdraw cash from local ATMs. 

SMS-based money transfer systems are providing the way forward in Latin America. Paraguay has Giros Tigo, which incurs a 5% commission fee. Brazil and Argentina have similar systems in place.

Bitcoin and text messaging seem to be a winning doubles team. The key beneficiaries are often people who face discrimination from financial institutions, which view them as risky prospect for credit. Entrepreneurs trying to make headway in these conditions find it difficult to send money, pay with credit cards or open a bank account – no matter how promising their ideas are. Nothing can match text message in terms of potential: four billion people worldwide are living without smartphones (perish the thought!) and the remittances market has found it’s most promising tool yet in SMS-enabled bitcoin transfers.

December 04, 2014

How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Scammers

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A new scam operating out of Tallahassee has been asking Bank of America customers to divulge their account information. The text message asks Floridians to provide personal information – including debit card numbers – in response to ‘fraudulent activity’ being detected. In truth, the only fraud being perpetrated is by the authors of the SMS; no legitimate financial institution will ever ask for details via text message. One 21-year-old victim learned of the scam after being charged a few hundred dollars for a dress costing just $50.

She’s not alone. With the majority of the populace surfing the web for gifts every holiday season, it’s little wonder that so many are affected by scammers. Last year, a staggering number of Americans fell prey to a data breach at Target stores. It operated for less than three weeks, but managed to harvest bank details from more than 70 million citizens. 

This year won’t be any different – unless shoppers change their habits and become more alert to the warning signs of fraudsters. The rise of online scams correlates with the increase in web shopping. Bottom line is, more people shopping on the internet = more potential victims. So how can you protect yourself?

Cyber Scams and How to Spot Them

Annually, more than 16 million people report identity theft. During the holiday season, the number of victims increases. Cyber fraudsters view online shoppers as easy marks.

 

It’s not just the increase in the number of consumers that attracts criminals. From mid-November to mid-January, retailers start slashing prices, often with aggressive time-limitations. Shoppers act hastily in the face of perceived competition, with scant regard for the possibility that they’re being conned.

Protect yourself by learning the fraud indicators that should set alarm bells ringing:

 

  • No padlock icon. When visiting a site purporting to be a bank, check the far left side of your browser for the green padlock icon. As a security measure it’s far from failsafe – the padlock just means the site is encrypted – but clicking on it should bring up the true site address. If what you see doesn’t match the URL in the address bar, the site may well be a fake. Look for the lock. It’s something all legitimate websites will have.
  • Non-secure protocol. Never give your financial information to a non-secure website. Check the URL: if it begins with https it’s secure; http means it’s not. Again, neither protocol guarantees safety or scam, but no legitimate banking institution would use http, so its presence should put you on high alert for other fraud warning signs.
  • Being asked to pay by money transfer. Private sellers who ask you to pay using a prepaid card or via money transfer are highly suspicious and may be operating a scam. Always use a secure payment platform like PayPal.
  • Public wi-fi. Incredibly useful for using in-store apps or comparing deals on retail goods, access to free wi-fi is understandably tempting for shoppers - just don’t use it to input any personal data. That includes logging into your email account. Public networks are gifts for hackers, especially in busy malls where it would be extremely hard to identify who the perpetrator of a fraud is. Not that you would know you’d been hacked until much later.

 

As long as you remain vigilant to the possibility of being defrauded, and are aware of the methods they use, you stand a very good chance of surviving the holiday season without falling afoul of cyber criminals.

November 11, 2014

Shun the Bait: How to Spot a Smishing Scam

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According to a Pew report from 2011, mobile users aged 18-24 share an average of 109.5 SMS messages per day. With such high levels of activity, it’s hardly surprising that there is room for opportunistic scammers to slip through the net. With mobile phones generally carrying fewer security measures than desktop computers, the best protection against scammers is your own vigilance.

The most common SMS scams are variations on two themes: getting users to install malicious spyware with the aim of stealing their identity, or persuading them to use a premium-rate SMS app (usually concealed within legitimate – or legit-looking – apps). 

In the case of the latter scam, few users notice the premium charges applied to their account until they received a bill. It’s notoriously difficult to pursue refunds from network providers because opt-in laws surrounding SMS communications mean that victims have actively agreed to use the software at the premium rate. If ever there was an argument for reading those boring terms and conditions…

Collectively, these practices are known as ‘smishing’ – or ‘SMS fishing.’ The good news is, there are lots of tell-tale signs to help you spot smishing scams, and a few other measures you can take to protect yourself. Cast your eye over our tips for avoiding getting scammed by smishermen:

If it looks too good to be true it probably is

If free food looks too delicious to be free, it’s most likely bait. Even major brands tend to offer relatively small incentives for engaging with them, so if you’re getting text messages purporting to be from Starbucks and offering you thousands of dollars for texting a number, it’s well worth checking their website before doing anything. Maybe it’s legit, maybe it isn’t – just don’t rely on the information in the text message alone. If this unbelievably generous special offer is real, the marketing department will make sure it’s all over the internet.

If they’re in a hurry, you should worry

It’s true that time-sensitive offers are just part of the marketer’s arsenal, so not all text messages that generate a sense of urgency are suspicious. But if they’re trying to get you to respond within a couple of minutes rather than a few hours, it’s because they don’t want you to root around for corroboration. Of course, that’s precisely what you should do. Just as overly-generous promotions require some further research, so do overly-urgent ones.

Treat mobile security as seriously as desktop security

For some reason, cellphone users lower their guard when it comes to protecting their device. There are a number of steps you can take to minimize risk. Don’t use third party websites to download apps – stick with the official marketplace for your device. Carefully examine any links you receive – whether via email or SMS – and if you have any doubts, research the url in Google before clicking the link. Also, you might want to lock your device down by tightening the security settings or installing security software.

 

 

November 04, 2014

How Spamming is Helping Fight Ebola

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Spamming is aiding the fight against Ebola.

Operators of text messaging system Tera, which provides advice and help to people fighting Ebola in the Sierra Leone region, are looking to extend the service to seven other African nations—Mali, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Burkina Faso. Ebola kills victims via dehydration and multiple organ failure, and more than 4,000 West Africans have perished from the disease.

The network allows Red Cross and Red Crescent charities to “send SMS messages to every switched-on handset in a specific area by drawing its shape on a computer-generated map.” Automatic, appropriate replies to incoming texts are also featured. Both charities aim for expansion completion over the next nine months, but cooperation of local mobile authorities and networks is needed.

"It's been doing an excellent job in Sierra Leone, sending out in the region of 2 million messages per month, helping the communities there to prepare themselves, try to avoid getting infected, and then if they do, to know what to do about it," notes Robin Burton from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Unlike TV and radio, if we send them a text message it's retained on the phone."

The trick is quelling each nation’s concerns or fears about joining the network.

"The thing operators might have a problem with is that they are basically being asked to spam millions of their customers, and people often object to that," says Ken Banks, an SMS expert who advises the UK's Department for International Development. "When people in Haiti received messages asking them to donate blood [after the 2010 earthquake] that were blasted out willy-nilly some were not in a position to do so, and they found it annoying.”

However, Banks notes operators can’t really argue this one, as no one wants to be accused of blocking potentially life-saving messages during an epidemic. He adds that the significance of the Red Cross as an organization will also fuel the proverbial fire. The IFRC also wants Tera to appear as "network friendly" as possible, and allow individual subscribers to opt out and operators to apply exclusion lists.

The network is specifically designed to send texts to powered-up handsets. This avoids build-up of millions of undelivered messages, and therefore potential network strain. Staggered texts are yet another way the network is preventing overload, and the system is location-sensitive, so messages are sent to affected areas only.

An inexpensive system to operate, Tera may be utilized during natural disasters and for relief effort feedback, potentially emerging as one of the key factors in helping to limit the damage from both natural and human-spread calamities.

October 20, 2014

Baltimore Maps Addiction with Text Messaging

SMS Messaging has had a major impact on healthcare processes. Everything from appointment reminders to internal communications in hospitals are being achieved more effectively than ever, and it’s all down to the humble text message.

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In recent years, one of the most powerful applications of this technology has taken place in Baltimore, where it’s being used to help addicts in recovery. A National Institutes of Health lab located in East Baltimore provides methadone and testing to the addicts who attend. Unlike many other rehab programs, addicts don’t get thrown out if they relapse. Why? Because the data they can provide is far too valuable to researchers investigating the causes of relapses.

This data is being gathered via smartphones specifically programmed to help struggling drug users track their cravings and relapse episodes. The phones beep randomly throughout the course of the day with a text message asking questions like: Where are you? How are you feeling? What are you doing? Who are you with?

The scheme aims to identify the events and situations surrounding relapses. What are the events, places and people that trigger drug use? What happens in the precise moment an addict decides to use? 

In addition to cell phones, addicts carry GPS loggers to track their movements. Researchers can see the whereabouts of participants, identifying particular blocks or parts of town that precipitate a relapse. Knowing the location of an addict when they use – or think about reusing – is helping the team better understand the patterns of behavior that lead to a relapse.

The scheme is not the first SMS-based solution to treating addiction. Problem drinkers have been helped by a text message program that monitors their alcohol intake. Participants took weekly surveys and, depending on their responses, received automated text messages containing words of encouragement or recommendations for limiting alcohol consumption. The results showed that, on average, heavy drinkers can cut their intake by up to half by using such a scheme.

The nature of the platform is well-suited to self-monitoring and the setting of short term goals. People generally carry their phones everywhere, making them the perfect tool for reminding people to stay aware of unhealthy behaviors. Even just being told to ‘hang in there’ can work wonders for problem drinkers who are trying to keep on top of their alcohol intake. Mobile technology gives addicts a pocket clinician-cum-counselor that won’t let them down.

October 15, 2014

Mobile Marketing Mushroom in Ireland

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Mobile marketing campaign managers in Ireland are flush with success right now. The country is undergoing a mobile device boom, as consumers increasingly turn their attentions away from desktop and towards smartphones and tablets.

A study compiled by marketing company ZinMobi looked at some of the country’s leading retail, restaurant and fast food brands and found mobile marketing tactics were the most effective way of delivering the biggest ROI. ZinMobi’s boss, Brian Stephenson, said the results were indicative of a growing awareness of mobile marketing tactics, and a concurrent drop off in use of conventional methods. Says Stephenson:

“What excites me about these results is the way that brands have recognised mobile as the instant marketing channel with campaigns quicker to deploy, and delivering instant results.

“We believe that every business knows enough about its customers... to deliver highly-targeted and trackable campaigns,” he added.

The study also found that mobile marketing tactics were regarded as the quickest to set-up, and 61% of respondents said they delivered the fastest results. The research found only 10% of companies did not plan to be using some form of mobile marketing campaign by this time next year; right now, 26% of Irish companies do not use some kind of mobile marketing strategy. These figures clearly show a growing awareness of mobile marketing among firms who are late to the party.

Companies with a well-established mobile marketing strategy are expanding their current campaigns in order to better engage with consumers. Mobile coupons and special offers are proving highly effective methods of retaining and nurturing existing customers.

These trends reflect an overall swing towards mobile in Ireland. Mobile web access is up 59% on last year according to a report from StatCounter. The more consumers move towards mobile devices, the more we’re likely to see marketers follow suit and creating mobile-specific campaigns. Ireland, like the rest of the world, knows which way the wind is blowing.

 

September 29, 2014

Record Growth for India's Mobile Marketing Industry

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Mobile marketing tactics such as SMS coupons and geo-targeted ads are being used in practically every global economy, but one part of the world has taken to it more rapidly than any other. In India, the mobile marketing industry has grown by 260% in the past year. Compare that to the 70% growth in the Asia Pacific region and you start to get a clear picture of just how big the strides taken in India are.

The cause for such rapid growth is undoubtedly the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices, which in some parts of the world are becoming the primary point of access for web users.

The expansion of the mobile advertising marketplace in India was studied in detail by Opera Mediaworks, a San Mateo ad platform. The analysis was published in a report called “State of Mobile Advertising.”

In addition to the overall growth figures, the report compared various mobile devices and their success in India. Android has the largest share of the market, with 41.7%. Apple devices, meanwhile, are trailing significantly, with less than a 1% share. 

The face of mobile marketing in India bears some striking differences to its American and European counterparts. This is largely because people living in remote regions often don’t have smartphones, and can’t experience the kind of rich content we’ve become used to seeing on handheld devices in the West. 

According to a Business Week article from earlier in the year, Unilever is issuing 15-minute recorded programs that can be listened to on old-fashioned cell phones. The shows include popular Bollywood songs, comedy routines and product commercials. The free service has proved popular, gaining 2 million subscribers when it first rolled out.

Original, bespoke mobile marketing tactics like this are the only way for businesses to get a foothold in new territories. As of the beginning of the year, there were 364 million rural mobile phone users in India. In January 2014, the pace of mobile adoption in villages was faster than in cities for four consecutive months. In 2013, Indian businesses spent 3 billion rupees ($49.9 million) on mobile ads, and the market is expected grow by nearly 45% by the end of the year (according to the Mobile Marketing Association).

The key, as Unilever has discovered, is to develop a mobile marketing strategy targeted at basic-feature phones. That means voice-based and SMS messaging services. Understand this, and your mobile marketing campaign in India will reach more people.

September 22, 2014

Gauging Morality via Text Message

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Psychologists have long argued that moral behaviour is a zero sum game. Commit an act of kindness today and you’re more likely to be rude tomorrow, goes the theory. In other words, do-gooders and do-badders are the same people – it’s simply a matter of timing. 

Researchers have now attempted to test that theory in the real world by tracking moral judgments via text message. The study – published in Science earlier this month – measured the frequency of moral and immoral behaviours during a typical day. Thus far peer reviews advise caution but broadly accept the findings of the research.

A team of scientists from the University of Cologne recruited 1,252 people to respond to text messages asking about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ incidents that happened to them or were witnessed by them. An SMS message was send to each participant five times a day for three days. The text asked recipients to gauge the morality of an event that just occurred in their lives. The results were striking.

On average, participants reported one moral incident a day, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ judgments being attributed in roughly equal measure. Categories included: 

  • Care/harm. Eg, opening a door for somebody versus letting it slam in their face.
  • Fairness/unfairness. Eg, tipping generously or not.
  • Loyalty/disloyalty. Eg, having dinner with your wife versus your mistress.

According to one researcher, the responses provided ‘a sense of the moral baseline of a typical day… and the slice of the moral pie occupied by each of these categories. 

The findings apparently corroborate the long-held moral credit theory, where no good deed goes unpunished. It also supports other historical lab experiments that suggest good deeds are contagious. But while those on the receiving end of an act of kindness were around 10% more likely than the average person to do something nice later in the day, the person granting that kindness was around 3% more likely than average to be rude or dismissive later that today.

It appears that committing an act of kindness really does imbue us with a sense of moral license to behave less well in future. This modest SMS experiment is the first tentative step towards a greater understanding of our moral makeup, and though we may not like what we see, it’s undeniably fascinating.

September 12, 2014

Facebook is Converting 100m Africans Per Month

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The African continent is signing up to Facebook in droves, with 100 million users joining the social network every month. Most exciting for mobile marketing campaign managers is the fact that 80% of those users are joining via smartphones. This is indicative of a rapidly expanding mobile marketplace in emerging economies, as smartphone adoption in many African nations outstrips desktop adoption.

In part, this explosion has been driven by a deal inked between Facebook and cellular networks which ‘zero rates’ the service. This means data used by accessing Facebook does not count towards bills or data limits. Despite drawing some criticism from net neutrality advocates, the move has undoubtedly helped emerging economies in countries like Nigeria and Kenya compete; companies across Africa are reaching new, global audiences that were hitherto tough to crack.

This is just the beginning of what looks set to be a connectivity revolution in a continent historically beset with infrastructural problems. Some researchers are predicting mobile web use will increase 20-fold over the next five years. That’s double the predicted rate of growth in the rest of the world.

The relative affordability of, say, an iPhone compared to an Apple desktop computer is allowing citizens of developing countries to engage with the online world, and businesses to grow more quickly as their local audience builds. The declining cost of data, alongside faster transmission speeds, is improving communication in some of the remotest parts of the world, with sub-Saharan Africa undergoing a mobile digital revolution. 

It’s not just the low cost of recent generations of smartphone that suits these markets. Smartphones don’t need to be physically connected - either to network or electricity cables – to the same degree as desktop computers. This convenience and portability is allowing a whole new kind of mobile consumer to take advantage of internet access. 

Recent research from mobile tech firm Ericsson predicts voice call traffic in the region will double over the next five years. By the end of this year, there are expected to be more than 635 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa. The report also says that 70% of users in the countries studies browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 6% who use desktop computers.

Analysts say the Ericsson research confirms mobile’s dominance. In a recent TED talk on technology in Africa, the editor of South Africa’s Stuff magazine said:

"Africa is a mobile-only continent. There never was a landline infrastructure to begin with, apart from urban areas. Mobile has allowed anyone to have a phone in places that were previously impassable and uncontactable. It has also been enabled, from a business perspective, by prepaid payments that handily remove the equally widespread legacy problem in that very few people have banks accounts. It really is that technology leapfrog the industry likes to talk about."

 

July 31, 2014

Beyond Marketing: 4 Unexpected Uses for SMS

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SMS messaging has become a key component of any mobile marketing strategy. It’s use as an advertising tool has been well documented – not least on this very organ – but there are all sorts of weird, wonderful ways to leverage the power of text. Schools, community groups, churches and even emergency services have begun incorporating SMS into their processes. We’ve cherry picked our favorite unusual uses of SMS messaging outside of the mobile marketing realm…

Finding Lost Pets

Companies like MobiPet are helping pet owners locate lost furry friends. When notified of a lost animal, they send photo alerts by text message to registered vets, animal shelters and pet owners within a 30 mile radius. Animal lovers have rallied round the idea which, unlike microchip implants, is non-invasive and requires no equipment apart from a camera-enabled mobile phone with text message capability.

Donating to Good Causes

Text-to-donate has proven highly effective at engaging people who don’t donate to charity by other methods. In 2007, a Super Bowl commercial raised $10,000 within seconds for the victims of the recent tsunami in Asia. The Haiti earthquake relief effort also benefitted from a text campaign, with the Red Cross eventually pulling in $32 million for victims. The success of text-to-donate is owed to the simplicity of the process. People too busy to go through the hassle of visiting a website and uploading credit card information can simply reply to a text message and have their donation applied to their phone bill.

Emergency Alerts

Closer to home, Hurricane Sandy – the second costliest hurricane in the US since records began – had a devastating impact on local businesses, but SMS proved to be a true survivor in the face of infrastructural collapse. Businesses and emergency services used SMS to keep residents up to date on the weather and how the damage it caused would affect them. 

Talking to Home Appliances

‘Smart appliances’ allow their owners to control them remotely via text message. Appliances are programmed to respond to a series of commands, so if you have an unexpected guest coming to your house, and you don’t have time to go home and clean, you can send a text to your robotic vacuum cleaner or mop. Intelligent SMS systems are also being used in fridges to tell owners what they need to pick up from the store, and even suggest recipe ideas!