#TechTop3 – Our top three tech stories of the week

By August 22, 2014EU

By the London technology team

The e-borders programme – the latest public sector IT disaster

Public sector IT projects have had a turbulent history over the years. Indeed, the mere mention of the term “Government IT project” usually brings a reaction of horror from anyone who believes that taxpayers’ money should be spent cautiously. So perhaps in this environment, Monday’s news that the Home Office will have to pay back £224m to a Raytheon (an American defence contractor) following the termination of the contract shortly after the last general election is not a surprise.

Introduced by the Labour Government in 2007 the programme was an attempt to reform border controls but Raytheon had its contract torn up just three years into the nine year agreement and was replaced by IBM. The arbitration tribunal highlighted failings of civil servants in the management of the termination and Keith Vaz MP (Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee) has described the fine imposed by the arbitration tribunal as “catastrophic” and stated that “we’ve got to learn the lessons for future procurement”.

However, the mass grave of public sector IT projects would suggest that there is no sign of any lessons being learnt. From the BBC’s abandonment of its £100m digital archive project, to the more than £10bn spent on the scrapped NHS National Programme for IT, worries persist that the stream of IT failures will continue. Attention is now being turned to the Department for Work and Pension’s Universal Credit Scheme, which is already being plagued by claims of expensive IT failings.

This story has received a great deal of press attention, including the BBC, Guardian and Daily Mail. 

An advert free internet would cost £140 a year

Advertising can be thought of as the cog that keeps the internet’s wheel turning – so what would happen if the ads disappeared and we had to pay for the free online services we take for granted? In a new report from online advertising agency Ebuzzing, they calculated the total annual cost per person to use an ad free internet would be £140. They arrived at this figure by dividing total digital advertising spend last year (£6.4 billion) by the number of British internet users (45 million).

The accompanying survey makes interesting reading too, with 98% of those surveyed saying they’d be unwilling to pay £140 for an ad-free internet (disregarding the obvious problems in setting up such a scheme). Most people see it as a necessary annoyance, with the majority instantly getting rid of pop ups and skipping ads. They also show a rise in ad-blocker use, with 16% having some form of blocker in place.

Of course there are issues with the methodology (not everyone uses the internet in the same way), but advertisers, politicians and regulators should take note. To be attractive as an ad-platform, websites need to know a lot about the individual user to serve ads that have a good chance of engagement, and not be too annoying about it. The survey shows people are happy to be served ads, but have little interest in engaging with them, something that advertisers are acutely aware of, as they try to develop the  adverts people actually like. Politicians (especially at EU level) have been concerned for years about the use and collection of user data for advertising, focusing on issues such as how informed the user is, and how it is shared.  This report should make good reading in Brussels as they finish off the Data Protection Directive that will regulate how websites use and store data.

The story got good coverage, featuring in the Daily Telegraph, International Business Times and the Guardian.

In other news, the inventor of the ‘pop up’ advert issued an apology for his invention.

The youth, porn and what to do about it

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson has called for greater efforts from parents, teachers and society at large to boost young people’s resilience to today’s online pressures. Discussions about children’s online activities, particularly involving the so called ‘dark side’ of the internet, often evoke emotive responses and loud calls for widespread blocking or blunt filtering procedures. However, not calling for these, Dr Atkinson stressed that the focus on tackling this should be “adults taking responsibility for growing a resilient generation that is critical of what it is looking at”. Dr Atkinson made particular reference to the growing number of children watching online pornography and sharing explicit images of themselves, two behaviours believed to be influencing factors of the rise of ‘revenge porn’.

The Commissioner made her comments in the same week as the IPPR think tank released new polling data highlighting the way online pornography is shaping the attitudes and behaviour of young people. The poll revealed that 80% of British 18 year olds agree that it is too easy for young people to accidentally see pornography online and that 46% consider sending sexual or naked photos or videos to be part of everyday life for teenagers nowadays. The poll revealed that young people would like to see relationship education in schools alongside an improved sex education programme taught by external experts rather than poorly prepared, embarrassed teachers.

Considered as a digital representation of human society, it should not be surprising to find that the internet’s many benefits are equalled by its dangers. This reality should not be combatted through an ever expanding programme of internet blocking or censorship but as the Children’s Commissioner argues, society must recognise its duty to ensure children do not “fall prey to its darker side” and equip the youth of today with the understanding and digital resilience required in the internet age.