You are being watched (Does it matter?)

We are being watched. This isn’t paranoia—in the past year we’ve seen dozens of headlines warning us that our personal data is being collected, even as the CEOs of Big Tech argue that our interests and preferences are safe on their platforms. “We don’t sell people’s data, even though it’s often reported that we do,” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “We’ve stayed focused on the products and features that make privacy a reality—for everyone,” Google’s Sundar Pichai later penned in the New York Times.

 

But can data privacy even exist in a world where the data we produce is being constantly monitored? Most people understand and accept that if you search Google for a new hairbrush, you may start seeing hairbrush ads. But what about Google marketing to you by scanning your FitBit data (which Google now owns) or accessing your medical records (as they did with their controversial Project Nightingale)? And what happens when medical professionals need to access your records and are told you don’t own that information anymore?

How Americans view surveillance

If you feel like you’re under surveillance, you’re not alone. A study of 4,272 Americans by Pew Research shows that most people don’t like their data being collected but don’t know how to stop it:

  • 6-in-10 people think that both businesses and the government are collecting their personal data on a daily basis
  • 8-in-10 feel like the data collection is out of their control
  • A majority don’t understand what is being done with their data
  • Social media and smart speaker data collection had the lowest approval rates
  • Conversely, data sharing that was done for a specific purpose—such as sharing student data to improves schools, or collecting data to avert terrorist threats—garnered positive approval ratings

While these numbers aren’t surprising, they also show how big tech companies haven’t assuaged our worries about trading off our personal information for online conveniences, such as Amazon logins on third-party sites. In fact, a majority consider data collection very risky:

  • 81% think the risk of companies collecting their data outweighs the benefit
  • 66% feel the same way about government-collected data

Behavioral biometrics and ethical issues

How about companies that monitor your behavioral biometrics, such as how long you pause on a web page, or your typing patterns, or how happy (or mad, or frustrated) you sound when you ask your voice assistant a question? (Last summer Jeff Bezos admitted to congress that Amazon holds on to your voice data even after you delete it.) With the behavioral biometrics field growing at a 23.7% a year, your every move is valuable and can be sold to the highest bidder.

 

But just like your other personal data, do the companies who monitor you own it, or do you? What if you don’t even know you’re being monitored? Here are a couple of the surprising ways your data is being collected.

 

• Modern connected cars have the power of 20 personal computers, according to a McKinsey survey. The data it gathers isn’t only about vehicle performance, either—it can monitor things like how fast you drive or how hard you hit the brakes. Some can even ID you via sensors in your seat (and yes, they’ll notice if you’ve gained weight).

• Walmart has patented a shopping cart that can monitor your heart rate, grip force, palm temperature, and walking speed as you wheel it around the store. The sensors in the cart connect to a server which then notifies employees to check on customers that hit certain thresholds.

Why privacy should matter to businesses

The GDPR has affected large US businesses with international reach, and state-level laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) exempts businesses under a $25 million threshold—which means small- and mid-sized businesses haven’t been hugely affected yet. But with the possible implementation of a federal privacy law in the near future, you should have a plan in place for the way you gather and safeguard your customers’ and employees’ information. Here are a few reasons why:

 

  • It’s important to your current customers. As the Pew Research survey showed, it’s a high priority for the majority of Americans. If you make it clear to your users that they own their own data, it can also serve as a good retention tool for your current userbase.
  • It separates you from the competition. If you are transparent about your data gathering, usage, and customer ownership—and your competitors are not—it can attract new customers and business partners.
  • It looks good for employee recruitment. In a competitive recruiting landscape for tech employees, demonstrating that you are an honest company that uses consumer data ethically makes you stand out.

 

Working from Home with Kids

 

For those of us who are working parents, the office closures that have forced us to work from home since March have had an added wrinkle: Our children’s schools and daycares closed their doors as well. We’ve been thrown into a crazy mix where we are expected to be good employees, good caregivers, and good substitute teachers every day…during the same hours of the day.

 

Have you been late to your 9 am stand-up meeting every day because you’re logging your kindergartener into their 9 am Zoom with their class? Is your toddler video-bombing your one-on-one meetings with your boss? Have you been able to get even half your normal workload done while working far more hours in the day?

 

You’re not alone. And you’re not just working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work and parent your kids at the same time. So if you’ve gotten this far, you deserve all the socially-distanced pats on the back we can give you. Here are a few tips and techniques that we hope will restore a little sanity to your life (and help you get a bit of work done, too).

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Reopening and Recovery in Tompkins County

As of today the Southern Tier of New York State that includes Tompkins County is in Phase 4 of Reopening and Recovery after many businesses needed to be shutdown in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. For all of us in business, the shutdowns were incredibly disruptive, even for those essential businesses that needed to remain open.  Essential companies and organzations literally had to figure out new ways of doing business, interacting with customers, all the while keeping their employees safe and healthy on the fly. 

Our community did incredibly well: 

  • We have one of the lowest infection rates in New York State and the northeast.
  • Cayuga Medical Center devised and executed a drive-thru Covid-19 testing center that has successfully and safely tested tens of thousands of people.
  • Thousands of masks were made and distributed throughout the community
  • Rheonix, a local biotechnology company, pivoted its business and developed an approved Covid-19 test in weeks that's now being successfully used locally and throughout Upstate NY.
  • Dozens of volunteers made sure that our neighbors were safe, fed, and healthy.

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Computing Center is fully operational - We never closed!

About two to three times per week, we get a phone call, email or text asking if The Computing Center is open. The simple answer is: YES, WE ARE! WE NEVER CLOSED! Early on in the Covid-19 Pandemic, computer technology companies like ours were deemed essential businesses in New York State. As we said in our March 20th Blog post and email to our clients:

As of this writing 100% of non-essential employees can no longer report to work.  Because of what The Computing Center does in supporting essential businesses in our community, we are allowed to maintain in-house operations. Some of the essential local organizations we directly are supporting include:

  • Healthcare organizations, hospitals, and physicians’ offices
  • Financial institutions including banks, credit unions, and insurance companies
  • Accountants offices
  • Animal shelters
  • Human Services organizations
  • County and other government offices
  • Ithaca-Tompkins International Airport
  • Logistics companies

Although it seems forever ago, our world had changed. So, with relatively little guidance, we needed to figure out how to stay open and how to do it while keeping ourselves and our staff healthy and safe. What did we do it?  Looking back, we took what was published at the time, contacted some of our health care clients for advice and made what seemed like good choices to us. Primarily that included:

  • Washing hands frequently and using hand sanitzer when hand washing wasn't possible.
  • Disinfecting all surfaces along with equipment coming in the door.
  • Wearing disposable gloves when handing computers and other equipment.
  • Having our engineers and others who could work remotely.
  • Sending anyone who wasn't feeling well home.
  • Restricting access to anyone from the outside.

Remember, Covid-19 PCR testing wasn't generally available till the latter part of March. And much of the guidance we now take for granted didn't exist:

  • Wearing masks
  • Social Distancing
  • Outdoor vs indoor exposure differences
  • The effects of crowds - % of employees in the workplace.
  • How long the virus lasts on various surfaces
  • Any kind of consistency between businesses 
  • Daily employee screenings
  • Taking employee and visitor temperatures

How did we do? We're happy to say - we pulled it off.  No one at Computing Center or any of our families became infected. We did have a couple of concerning situations where employees early on were exposed to some client employees who ultimately tested positive, but our people were fine. 

Today, we are all still healthy, the rules and recommendations are more consistent across all businesses, and we're helping many local businesses that were shuttered reopen and recover. Our technical staff still can and does work remotely, but we also go onsite.

Our logistics group does free local pickup and delivery of computers printers and printer consumables. With so many people working from home, our consumables businesses (inks and toners) has greatly increased. We have most of the major brands of printer inks and toners used in our area in-stock.

When you come to our offices, (we recommend setting up an appointment) you'll find:

  • "X" spots all over the office floor marking off 6' increments to help people socially distance.
  • If you're not already wearing a mask, you'll be asked to wear one - we have extras if you forget yours. (Ours are logoed!)
  • We'll take your temperature (and if it's above 100.4 degrees, you'll be gently asked to leave). We'll also ask you if you've been exposed to anyone that has been ill over the past two weeks.
  • If you haven't made an appointment, we'll ask you to sign-in.
  • If you bring in a PC, laptop, or printer with you, it will be wiped down with a disinfectent cloth before we work on it.
  • If you're just dropping off a machine, we have a work area just to the right of our interior lobby door where you can fill-out all the paperwork without having to come into the office.
  • The place is spotless - it gets cleaned and disinfected daily.

This is The Computing Center's version of the "new normal".  Please remember - Shop with locally owned businesses and organizations. That's how we will all get through this, survive and thrive.

Dealing with Computer Vision Eye Strain

With many of our clients working from home and remotely, participating in video conferencing, live streams and webinars, there is an increase in those who are experiencing eye strain and eye fatigue. For most, it's just annoying and many of us who spend a lot of time have found coping mechanisms, but this may be a new issue to some.

There are a number of "solutions" involving special glasses, screen coverings, etc.  However, what we've learned is that the basics as sugggested by the American Optimetric Association work quite well.  

Attached is a link to the AOA site with an excellent discussion on this topic. www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome

We've also reprinted their specific recommendations specifically for viewing computer screens. If you have questions on how best to avoid eye strain, we can provide additional resources.  Contacting your opthomologist or optomistrist can be helpful as well.

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