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One is on Facebook October 29, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Software.
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The British Monarchy recently set up a stall on Facebook. It allows users of the social media service to ‘like’ the royals and subsequently receive updates on engagements, along with additional media such as photographs and video. But the Facebook page has been beset with problems as virtual vandals have filled the page with hatred and abuse, most often directed at the Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The British royal family is no stranger to complaining subjects. The Queen recently received the bad news that the government was suspending payments to her family for a year and then reducing royal funding by 14%. But clearly by using tools such as Facebook, the royals are trying to reach out and connect to subjects, to show that they retain some relevance in a modern world that usually values democratic rights over hereditary rights. The endless online abuse demonstrates that for leaders of any format, it is not quite so easy to open the door to the public and to ask for an exchange of ideas using the Internet.

Most people posting abuse on Facebook are doing it in their real name. This differs from anonymous blog comments, where only an IP address can possibly reveal the identity of the comments posted, and if posted from the free wifi connection in a pub or café then they are almost impossible (at least very difficult) to trace.

How different is this world in which people are prepared to make scandalous statements about leaders, royals, and celebrities using their true identity and does it open up a new chapter in the possibilities for libel in future? If I were being sued for posting libellous statements on Facebook about a celebrity then could I use account hacking as a viable defence, given that automated ‘bots’ often end up hijacking live accounts and posting out unwanted spam messages. With spam being so common, could I use this as a defence?

I’d be interested to hear what the legal experts think because we are entering a new era of online debate, one with more accountability in some ways, but with more get-out clauses than ever before…

Taking Bribes October 18, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Anyone doing business around the world will know about bribes. I myself have been offered several and – thankfully for my own conscience – I have always turned them down. But I’ve had to give bribes here and there to get myself out of various scrapes, such as my driver in Morocco paying off a policeman to avoid a speeding ticket, or the taxi driver in India who decided I was not going to be allowed out of my taxi until I paid a ridiculous fare.

But these are just travel experiences, small beer compared to genuine corporate bribes.

The serious fraud office in the UK is about to crack down on multinational firms offering bribes, the greasing of the wheels that used to be accepted just as how you had to “do” business in places where it is just accepted.The new Bribery Act replaces the patchwork of British laws that previously cover bribes. It will cover the corporate offence of making or receiving a bribe and though it has been delayed, it looks like it will be law by April 2011. That means companies all over the UK will need to look again at anti-corruption measures – if they have any measures documented in the first place.

But the question I would ask is, what is a bribe? I know that when I meet people from the BBC, they always pay for their own coffee or lunch. They won’t accept any free trips overseas for any reason. This helps them to retain a high degree of impartiality.But each summer, I’m offered tickets to the cricket and other big sporting events by people from the IT industry. Recently the trend has turned more to rock concerts as well – which suits me. And there is a natural tendency to look more favourably on a company that has bought you a nice box for a test match, but I personally look on it as improving the relationship – giving time to building ideas together – but not buying access.

I’d never write an article in the press about a firm or recommend them just because they bought me some sports tickets.Is the SFO going to explore this kind of entertainment, which is commonly used by people in IT, or is it just higher-level fraud that will keep them active?

Will technology offer a market for skills in retirement? October 11, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Outsourcing.
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The idea of retirement is changing forever. The government in Britain – and other EU nations – is increasing the age at which state retirement benefits will commence. Many see it as unfair because they will have to continue working for longer than the past generation – probably for less generous benefits from the state. But this idea of a third age where you sit back on a pot of retirement savings and state benefits has really only been a reality for half a century or so.

Perhaps we are reverting back to a different age, though not one where we all die before retirement! Is there a smarter way?

There is an issue in living longer; we can’t realistically expect to just play golf for the last 30 years of life, unless the funds to do that are from our own endeavour – the state won’t bear that kind of support. But technology is now changing the way that we all work, offering many home-based opportunities. Not just call centre agents based from home, but allowing anyone to use their skills and to sell those skills over the Internet to a global market.

Websites like freelancer.com and odesk.com have tapped into this market for individuals who want to sell their skills, but have they considered how it might work to market those in their senior years? And should that even matter? An editor selling his expertise online on a freelance basis would probably benefit from having more, rather than less, experience. As would an accountant, as would a consultant.

So are we missing a trick by not exploring a national way to tap into this resource pool of expertise?