Google spanks naughty app developers

If you have an app on the Google Play Store, and that app provides for in-app purchases, watch out, because the Big G is coming after you.

Currently, under Google’s rules, if you provide in-app purchases, you must use the Google Play Store’s billing services, which basically means that Google keeps around 30% of your revenue.

This is nothing new. It has always been the case. However, a number of developers have decided to ignore this rule and Google is not pleased. So, it plans to reinforce it. Apple is taking similar measures, so the news for developers is not good.

In response, a coalition of app publishers, such as Spotify, Epic Games and Basecamp, “have announced the creation of the “Coalition for App Fairness,” which hopes to more fair arrangements between app stores and publishers,” Johan Moreno reports. The new organization formalises efforts the companies already have underway that focus on either forcing app store providers to change their policies, or ultimately forcing the app stores into regulation. You can find out more on the coalition’s website, where the group details its key issues, including anti-competitive practices, such as the app stores’ 30% commission structure, and the inability to distribute software to billions of Apple devices through any other means but the App Store. The group sees this as an affront to personal freedom.

They just happen to be some of the developers that have been thwarting Google’s fee rule, according to Bloomberg. They have managed to do this, “by mandating that users sign up for services (and pay) through the app’s website, which avoids the need for in-app purchases.”

The problem for Google is Android’s open nature. It allows users to download third-party apps, whereas Apple has a closed app ecosystem. As Moreno says, “on some Android devices, there may be a third-party app store, operating completely without the guidance of Google.”

App developers may continue to circumvent Google by creating and popularising, “a third-party app marketplace that can be loaded onto Android that may provide more fair terms for developers.”

Don’t Sell Your Startup App Too Soon

Entrepreneurs love to sell an idea. Once they see that an idea has got some traction, they have a strong urge to pitch and sell it in the early stages. However, that is a mistake, as Abdo Riani explains. 

He suggests that rather than trying to sell, entrepreneurs should instead be “listening to your customers’ needs and developing deep insights that can shape your startup idea into a viable product.” He also suggests that once you can get customers asking about your value proposition, “then selling will not only be easy, it will be unnecessary.”

The steps to success

First, it is obvious that the early customers are likely to be a competitor’s customers. What they will want to know is how does your app compete on three things: cost versus value, strong brand, and or unique solution.

Riani says, “If you’re going to offer superior value at the same price, you need to figure out the problems your competitors’ customers face using those solutions.” In other words, look for the gap you can fill.

Second, discover your customers’ most urgent needs. Riani says, “A simple yet effective approach is to build a Customer Advisory Board comprised of your most engaged early buyers.” You’ll gather insights you wouldn’t get with a simple survey or interview.

He also points out: “As a rule of thumb, if customers can gain ten times more from your solution than it would cost them to cancel their existing contracts and memberships, your product becomes your most important, maybe only, sales tool.”

Third, your app solution must be irresistible to the consumer. Even though the first version of an app may not be the complete vision of what you want it to do, Riani suggests “you can focus on introducing high-impact features that delight and WOW the customer.”

You can do this even in a highly competitive market by focusing on a niche segment and tailoring the product to the needs of consumers in that sector. That alone can give your app the WOW factor.

Ultimately, the secret of success for startup app lies in “building a product customers cannot refuse to try, use, and recommend, even in the presence of solid competitors.”

If entrepreneurs follow this advice, they will have no need to sell their startup app at the beginning of its journey.

The everyday uses of AI

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI), many of the people I talk to think that it is either something that is coming in the future, or interest in it is limited to geeks. Some see it as a negative tool that will destroy employment for people. And they are surprised when I tell them that they are probably using AI in their everyday lives already — they just aren’t aware that something like a Google search is AI based. And those adverts you keep seeing on social media because one day last week you searched for ‘holidays in the Maldives’ — that’s all down to AI.

Here are some of the everyday uses of AI that you may not be aware of. They have been compiled by 12 experts from Forbes Technology Council.

1. Customer Service

Data analytics and AI help brands anticipate what their customers want and deliver more intelligent customer experiences — better than the old call centre one anyway.

2. Personalised Shopping

When you shop online and you visit a site and look at a product, you may find you suddenly get recommendations for similar products — that’s AI.

3. Protecting Finances

For credit card companies and banks, AI is indispensible, especially in detecting fraudulent activity on your account. It saves all of us from the pain.

4. Drive Safer

You don’t need a self-driving car to use AI. For example, lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking are all AI functions.

5. Improving Agriculture

Agriculture is an important element of our lives, because we all want and need to eat. AI is improving this important sector with the following examples: satellites scanning farm fields to monitor crop and soil health; machine learning models that track and predict environmental impacts, like droughts; and big data to differentiate between plants and weeds for pesticide control.

6. Our Trust in Information

Trust in information is one of the most critical issues of our current times. We are bombarded with images and articles that we just don’t know if they are telling the truth or not. Experts say that AI will change how we learn and the level of trust we place in information. AI will help us identify the deep fakes and all those methods of sharing ‘fake’ information, and that is very important.

The ways in which we use AI are growing all the time — and if you think you’re not using it, you almost certainly already are.

What’s up with Whatsapp?

Image result for whats app

You may have seen the numerous press articles this week advising you to update your Whatsapp. The advice came from Whatsapp, which has 1.5 billion users and is owned by Facebook.

The reason for asking people to update the app on their smartphones was the discovery that hackers had been able to remotely install surveillance software on phones via a “major vulnerability” in the app. According to the BBC, WhatsApp said the attack targeted a “select number” of users and was orchestrated by “an advanced cyber-actor”.

Facebook discovered the flaw in the technology earlier this month. It threatened to break Whatsapp’s promise to its users of being a secure” communications app with messages that are end-to-end encrypted. This means they should only be displayed in a legible form on the sender or recipient’s device. However, the surveillance software would have let an attacker read the messages on the target’s device.

The Whatsapp team found a fix for the problem last Friday, after which people could download the new app without the ‘bug’, although some users appeared to be disgruntled that Facebook hadn’t published any notes about the fix itself.

It is likely that those whose phones may have been targeted by the hackers are “Journalists, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders,” Ahmed Zidan of the Committee to Protect Journalists told the BBC.

How did hackers use the security flaw?

One thing they did was use Whatsapp’s voice call function to ring a target’s phone. Even if the target didn’t answer the call, the surveillance software was installed on their phone. Furthermore, the call was removed from the call log, so the person who didn’t answer it, wouldn’t even see that they had missed a call from an unknown number.

Facebook and Whatsapp told the press on Monday: “The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.”

It also issued a briefing to security specialists stating, “”A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP [voice over internet protocol] stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP [secure real-time transport protocol] packets sent to a target phone number.”

The attack was old-fashioned

As Professor Alan Woodward pointed out, this is a “pretty old-fashioned” method of attack. He explained what happened: “A buffer overflow is where a program runs into memory it should not have access to. It overflows the memory it should have and hence has access to memory in which malicious code can potentially be run. If you are able to pass some code through the app, you can run your own code in that area. In VOIP there is an initial process that dials up and establishes the call, and the flaw was in that bit. Consequently you did not need to answer the call for the attack to work.”

We don’t know how many people were targeted in this attack, and there are some questions that remain to be answered about whether updating the app on your phone effectively removes the spyware in its entirety. Furthermore, WhatsApp has not said whether the attack could extend beyond WhatsApp and reach other personal data on the phone.

But, even if you are not a journalist, a lawyer or a human rights activist, download the new version of the app, because as always it is better to be safe than sorry.