Wednesday, 22 February 2017

How to Prevent Lacklustre Air Quality in Commercial Spaces

The biggest mistakes most people make when it comes to air pollution is thinking their business is immune to air quality problems.

As a business owner, you will have to do all you can to ensure your customers and employees stay safe. Air pollution is something you probably don’t think about on a regular basis. Neglecting to consider the quality of the air in your commercial building can cause serious health issues for anyone who breathes in this air. There are a variety of things that can lead to the air in a commercial space being polluted. It is your job to work with professionals in the air purification industry to figure out what can be done to keep the quality of the oxygen in your building at peak condition.

If your business works with chemicals in confined quarters, then the quality of the air in your workspace can be compromised. Even something as simple as not changing out the air filter for your commercial HVAC system can lead to pollen and other allergens making their way into your air supply.  Read below to find out about air pollution, what causes it and what you can do to reduce the amount of harmful allergens and chemicals in the air supply at your place of business.

Symptoms You May Notice When Dealing with Air Pollution:

The main thing you need to be concerned with when trying to combat air pollution is the warning signs indicating there is a problem. By learning these warning signs, you will be able to take action when a problem is discovered. Below are some of the symptoms you may notice when an air pollution problem is brewing in your commercial building.

·       Constant wheezing
·       Repeated sneezing
·       Frequents congestion issues
·       Extreme fatigue
·       Watery or dry eyes
·       Itching skin

The fact is that the human body needs quality oxygen to operate as intended. Rather than ignoring these types of warning signs, you will need to figure out what needs to happen to rid the air supply in your commercial business of pollutants.

Air Pollutants Are a Lot More Common Than You Think

Among the biggest mistakes most people make when it comes to air pollution is thinking their business is immune to air quality problems. Most people have this idea that air pollution is reserved for large cities covered in smog. The fact of the matter is many of the products used by a small business on a regular day contain a variety of pollutants. There are a number of common products and substances that can cause air pollution like:

·       Chemicals used to clean a commercial building
·       Various types of mould
·       Air fresheners
·       Perfumes and deodorants
·       Pest control chemicals
·       Asbestos and formaldehyde
·       Bacteria and viruses
As you can see, the substances that can cause air pollution are a lot more common than you think. Reducing or eliminating these products or substances from your workplace is the first step in reducing the chance of air pollution.
How to Keep the Air in Your Building Clean
Now that you know the hazards that exist in regards to air pollution, you are ready to learn about how to combat these air quality problems. The first line of defence you have when trying to fight air pollution are the various air filters you have in place. As the professionals at Camfil say, “Air filters are physically simple but technically complex devices.” Here is some information about a few of the different types of air filters and the benefits they can offer.
HEPA Filters - Among the most common and effective type of air filter out there is the High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. These types of filters are designed remove more than 99% of the pollen, mould and bacteria that make their way into a building’s air supply. There are also ULPA (Ultra Low Penetration Air) filters on the market designed to remove 99.9995% of the pollutants that make their way into the air supply in a building.
HVAC Filters - These are filters that have particle removal efficiencies consistent with guidelines as published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). They can be very effective at removing common dusts, moulds, bacteria, allergens and other contaminants that present health hazards to building occupants.
Carbon Filters - If your company deals with a lot of harmful gases and aerosol pollutants, then a carbon filter is what you need. Generally, these types of filters are added in with the HVAC filters to enhance the effectiveness they have. Trying to use these types of filters to remove particle type pollutants will be ineffective, which is why using them in conjunction with other types of filters is wise.
Guest blog by Lynne Laake, Camfil USA Air Filters

For further advice on the benefits of the new standard and on filter selection according to the new standard, please visit www.camfil.co.uk or contact Mark Taylor in the UK on +44 (0) 7721 605 378 /  mark.taylor@camfil.co.uk

Friday, 17 February 2017

Court Ruling Jeopardises Google Customer Email

Microsoft won an important court case in 2017 in which it was cleared of having to turn over user data stored on servers in Ireland. It was believed that one more similar ruling would, once and for all, answer the question of whether US government officials could access private data stored on foreign servers. Many thought a Google case in the pipeline would provide that decision. Unfortunately, just the opposite occurred.

Google was simply ordered by a federal court in Pennsylvania to comply with FBI demands to relocate customer e-mails from servers in Ireland to the company's central server in California. The judge who issued the ruling, Thomas J Reuter of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that the FBI transfer order did not violate privacy laws because no private information will be disclosed in the transfer. Furthermore, Reuter stated that Google regularly transfers data between international servers without customers knowing it.

Here lies the problem: once the e-mails are transferred to US-based servers, the FBI will be within its legal authority to subpoena those e-mails on any number of grounds. Google's position is that the transfer order, though not a direct breach of privacy, is simply a precursor to what the FBI really intends to do – subpoena the data

Courts Traditionally in Favour of Privacy

Courts have typically been in favour of protecting consumer privacy against the prying eyes of government law enforcement agencies. Protecting individual privacy is one of the motivations behind so many European governments demanding that data belonging to nationals be stored on European servers. This most recent ruling jeopardises that strategy.

If US courts can successfully order American technology companies to transfer data stored elsewhere back into the United States, any pretence of privacy and security is just an illusion. Once data is back in the US, the FBI, NSA and local and state law enforcement agencies can access it with the mere formality of a subpoena.

This latest decision will undoubtedly be appealed even as dozens of other court cases are still pending. The question over data security and foreign countries is far from being decided, so affected consumers will have to wait to see how it all plays out.

The issue before us right now is whether the recent court decision should be concerning. In a word: yes. The US has been progressively asserting itself and its belief that it has the right to any and all data produced by companies who do business on American soil. Where will it end?

World leaders are expressing a tremendous amount of angst over the populism emerging in the West. This latest court decision is a perfect example of why populism is growing. The ruling is a direct result of the notion of globalism. If we want to be a single global community, we cannot expect courts to recognise international boundaries. Perhaps we should be careful about what we wish for?

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Payment Crackdown Intended to Help Small Business

What happens when a small wholesaler doesn't get paid on time by the grocery chains it supplies? Or how about the small data centre and collocation provider whose enterprise clients don't pay their monthly bills on time? Small businesses suffer disproportionately when their customers subject them to late payments because they don't have the same level of cash flow. Tens of thousands of businesses fail every year as a result, according to government estimates. BUT… that's about to change.

The UK government is finally taking action by way of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Beginning in April (2017), large companies will be required to publish pertinent data on the BEIS website explaining how they deal with their vendors. A big part of the disclosure will be the payments they have made to those vendors for services or products rendered. Affected companies will have to report twice annually.

The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that as many as 50,000 small business failures are directly related to larger corporations not paying them on time. They hope the new reporting requirements will drastically reduce that number. How well it will work is anyone's guess.

A History of Problems

The idea of large companies not paying their smaller suppliers on time is nothing new. There is a history of such patterned behaviour here in the UK. But what prompted the government action was the discovery last year that grocery giant Tesco was holding back up to £326 million from vendors by way of payments and rebates. The Groceries Code Adjudicator determined Tesco officials purposely withheld payments in order to improve their own finances. Not only was Tesco forced to pay up immediately but they were also ordered by the government to change the way they do business.

At this point, it seems almost foolish to say the government action is a long time coming. It shouldn't have been necessary. The same large companies withholding payment from their suppliers would never tolerate their own customers being excessively late with payments. You could rest assured that they would put their legal teams on standby if problems with accounts receivable started threatening cash flow. For them to treat vendors differently because they are small businesses without the same kind of accounting and legal resources is not only morally wrong but damaging too.

A Better Position to Succeed

Your average grocery wholesaler or data centre and collocation provider need every opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Forcing larger companies to prove that they are paying their vendors on time is a step in the right direction. It puts the smaller companies in a better position to succeed without constantly having to worry about issues with cash flow.

It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out moving forward. If the Federation of Small Businesses is correct in their assessment and 50,000 companies could be saved every year, the new rules will certainly have an impact on the business landscape. Let's hope the Federation turns out to be correct.



Tuesday, 31 January 2017

ICO: Data Security Includes Transport of Records to New Jobs

We typically think of data security as pertaining only to online data that might be accessed through hacked networks. But it turns out there's more to it, as evidenced by the recent prosecution of a woman who was charged with e-mailing herself contact information on more than 100 clients as she moved to another job.

According to ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley, it is against the law to take "personal information when you change jobs for your own benefit or [the] benefit of the [new] company." This includes contact information that would enable a worker to stay in touch with clients.

The ICO reports that Rebecca Gray pleaded guilty on 18 January (2017) to a violation of section 55 of the Data Protection Act. Her penalty included a £200 fine, £214 in prosecution costs, and a £30 victim surcharge. She maintained that her intent was never to cause harm, but Ms Gray still lost her job as a result of her actions.

Why This Is an Offence

The Data Protection Act of 1998 is very specific about what kinds of data must be protected by employers and others. While it may seem a bit severe that Ms Gray was prosecuted for her decision to keep the customer contact information, there is a very good reason why her actions constitute an offence under the law.

Contact information consisting of just a name and physical address is enough for a creative hacker to steal a person's identity. It doesn't take much in a day and age when so much information about so many of us is stored online. The most successful identity thieves need but a crack to get in the door. Therefore, all personal data must be protected at all costs.

The idea of privacy needs to be considered here as well. Ms Gray was part of the recruiting industry before losing her job. It is possible that clients she worked with via her former employer don't want to be contacted by her on behalf of a new agency. Some might even be surprised to receive contacts from Gray through her new employer, leading to concerns about their own privacy and security.

In the end, the advice offered by Eckersley is sound. In an official ICO news release Eckersley said:

"We're asking people to stop and think about the consequences before taking information. Most people know it's wrong, but they don't seem to realise it's a criminal offence and that they could end up in court and also lose their job. What people think is a minor mistake can lead to job loss, a day in court and a fine."

We are confident that Ms Gray has learned her lesson and will not repeat her previous actions. In the meantime, we urge our readers to remind their employees of their legal responsibilities under the Data Protection Act. Data collected for your business purposes must remain with your business when employees leave.



Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Is Microsoft's Brexit Warning More Than Just a Warning?

In the months leading up to last June's Brexit vote, numerous companies began letting their opinions be known in the hope of influencing the vote. Much to the dismay of many corporate giants, voters chose to leave the EU for a long list of reasons. Those corporations in favour of our remaining in the EU are now trying to figure out what they will do in the future. Some are making comments that could be construed as warnings.

One of the latest is a warning by Microsoft that they may pull out of building a new UK data centre if our government places restrictive tariffs on the hardware that the software giant needs to build the facility. As Tech Republic recently reported, Microsoft relies on server racks and other hardware imported from China and Eastern Europe. If they believe bringing that hardware into the UK is too expensive, they may scrap their plans, moving the data centre to another location elsewhere in Europe.

"If all of a sudden there are huge import [tariffs] on server racks from China or from Eastern Europe, where a lot of them are actually assembled, that might change our investment decisions and perhaps we will build our data centres across other European countries," said Microsoft's Owen Larter.

Some could construe Larter's comments to be more than just a warning. For example, is Microsoft trying to influence Brexit negotiations? If so, it would not be the first time, nor would Microsoft be the first foreign corporation attempting to insert itself into the Brexit issue.

Much Ado about Nothing?

A bigger question at hand is whether Microsoft's concerns are much ado about nothing. Remember what the corporate giants were saying this time last year: a successful 'leave' vote would lead to an economic collapse and another recession. It would lead to lost jobs and fewer opportunities for foreign workers. It would lead to the bottoming out of the Pound.

Though most of the dire predictions did not come true, the Pound did take a beating directly after the vote. But, as Tech Republic points out, corporations like Apple and Microsoft directly contributed to the Pound's decline by sharply increasing their prices last year. Apple raised the price of many of its retail products by hundreds of pounds while Microsoft raised its cloud computing prices for UK businesses more than 20%.

It is entirely possible that a “hard Brexit” could mean excessively high tariffs and restrictions on bringing in foreign workers. But it's hard to imagine that the Theresa May government would seek to impose restrictions severe enough to hamper business opportunities. The EU might though…

The UK has long been a leader in digital technology due to our widespread support of the sector and our willingness to invest in it. Even if we don't get what we want from the EU, is it not reasonable to assume that the government will still go out of its way to make sure companies like Microsoft and Apple still flourish here?

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Google Goes 100% Solar in Chile

Late last year (2016), Google made a daring announcement that set the tech world abuzz: it will be disconnecting from all non-renewable energy sources in 2017.  The implication of that announcement is that Google plans to power all its facilities using wind, solar and other green initiatives. They recently took a big step toward accomplishing that goal by reaching a deal with a solar power producer in Chile.

News reports say Google has purchased some 80 MW of power from a Chilean company by the name of Acciona Energy. Acciona operates a massive solar power facility north of Santiago, in the Atacama Desert. The 1.5 million m² facility can produce up to 493 GWh annually.

The Atacama Desert offers an ideal location for a solar power facility thanks to it being the driest non-polar desert in the world. It is extremely arid, with very little annual rainfall and consistent sunshine almost year-round. The Atacama is situated between the Pacific Coast and the west side of the Andes mountains.

A Big Win for Google

Google certainly turned heads when they announced their intentions to be completely green for power needs by the end of this year. As such, the deal with Acciona represents a big win for them. Google will use 100% solar power for all their Chilean data centres, along with office space in Quilicura.

It should be noted that in some locales it's not easy to directly purchase green energy due to the way energy grids are set up. Google does not see that as an obstacle, but as a challenge. In their announcement last year, they committed to buying 100% of their energy directly from green producers. They appear to be putting their words into action with the deal in Chile.

Google has already worked out 20 different renewable energy deals with providers around the world. They have put their money where their mouths are too as, already, the company has invested some £3 billion in green energy efforts. Google officials claim the company is the world's largest corporate buyer of green energy, with total commitments thus far reaching in excess of 2.6 GW annually.

Data Centre Energy Consumption

Whether Google actually attains its 100% green energy goal this year or not, the deal they've reached in Chile is still both important and historic. The world's data centres are now among the largest consumers of energy in nearly every market. That is not going to change. As the digital age brings more technologies for sharing information around the world, the energy needs of the entire data centre industry are only going to keep growing.

Google's goal for green energy now sets the standard for the rest of the tech industry to follow. Google has made a very impressive move in Chile, just as they have elsewhere. Now how long will it be before other tech giants do the same? There's no way to know, but it will be fun to watch.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Fighting Back against 'Marketing Technology'

If you're planning on shopping in a brick-and-mortar Amazon outlet - slated to appear on UK high streets in the near future - you're likely to encounter the retail giant's checkout-free model that utilises face recognition and other technologies to eliminate the need for the cash register. But be aware that computers and sophisticated software are examining your physical appearance and using it, not only to eliminate having to checkout, but also to market to you.

Meanwhile, social media site Facebook uses facial recognition software to add tags of users to uploaded photographs. What seems like a very creative and helpful feature is gradually becoming more annoying to users with serious security concerns. But people are fighting back. Take Berlin artist and avid technology fan Adam Harvey. Concern over security and privacy has led Harvey to work on two projects designed to thwart facial recognition software.

Harvey’s first project, known as CV Dazzle, came up with ways people could change their physical appearance through hairstyles and makeup in order to foil facial recognition. Though the concept was indeed workable, there were inherent limitations that made it unworkable on a large-scale. So Harvey's second project aims to make up for what his first project lacked. His new offering is a line of fabrics with printed patterns designed specifically to overwhelm facial recognition systems.

"As I’ve looked at in an earlier project, you can change the way you appear but, in camouflage, you can think of the figure in the ground relationship," Harvey recently said in an address to the Chaos Communications Congress. "There's also an opportunity to modify the 'ground', the things that appear next to you, around you, and that can also modify the computer vision confidence score."

A Kind of DDoS Acid Attack

Data centre operators are familiar with DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks that can bring down a website simply by overwhelming servers with a constant barrage of crushing login attempts. What Harvey is trying to do with his fabric designs is very similar. The designs include carefully implemented marks that replicate different facial features meant to overwork and confuse facial recognition software. The patterns don't look like much to the human eye, but they are exactly what facial recognition software is designed to analyse.

Harvey maintains that his project is absolutely necessary in the digital age. Like many others, he's not convinced that a technology being portrayed as an innocuous marketing initiative will remain innocuous permanently. These kinds of technologies often find themselves hijacked by people or organisations that use them to invade the privacy of citizens and compromise their security. If Harvey has anything to do with it, facial recognition software is not going to be as successful as its creators want it to be.

Will software developers find a way around Harvey's camouflage? Perhaps, but that will just perpetuate the continuation of the cat and mouse game now being played. The game is just what technology has led us to.

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