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Google discriminates against small businesses

Google discriminates against small businesses

Google discriminates against small businesses 1
Does google live up to it’s own motto “Don’t be Evil”

Part of getting your business seen online is SEO, and an important part of this is getting your business registered with Google my business and Google maps.

Not only have I had to do this for my own business and my wife’s business but it is a service I provide to clients. When it works, this is a simple process, which involves Google sending a postcard to the business address with a code on it, which you then use to verify the business address.

However, sometimes the postcard doesn’t turn up, or some miscreant might report your listing and claim it is fraudulent or misleading and gets it suspended for review, at which point you have to contact Google my business support and request manual verification, which is where things get ridiculous.

You would be quite right to think, why on earth would Google discriminate against small businesses, this makes no sense and completely contradicts the whole purpose of Google my business.

Yet I have had this issue myself a few times now, and most recently when I changed my own listing to add my virtual office address.

According to Harisha at Google my business support, in order to pass the manual verification, every business must provide photos of their premises, must have their own dedicated entrance which is not shared with other businesses and must show signage with the company name in front of the building, WTF?

Google discriminates against small businesses 2

These requirements are clearly unfair, unethical and discriminate against every small to medium businesses in the world that uses shared/managed office spaces, people who work from home (including disabled people) or have virtual offices.

There are 125 million formal micro, small and midsize businesses in the world, including 89 million in emerging markets. How many of those do Google think have their own building, with their own entrance and signage?

What makes this even more illogical is how disparate this is from the automated postcard method. As long as you can receive that postcard with the verification code on it, then no other evidence is required, your office could literally be in your garden shed.

This means that most of the businesses already listed on Google (using the postcard method) do not meet these supposed requirements either, which I couldn’t actually find any mention of on the Google my business eligibility guidelines by the way.

Quite ironically, as I pointed out to Harisha, this also includes all the other business that reside at the same managed offices as myself.

So what’s the solution?

In the case of the postcard not turning up, I suggest trying a few more times before giving up. In my most recent attempt, I had to request the card 5 times before it finally arrived (thankfully bypassing this issue).

If you just cannot get that card or have your listing suspended for some other reason, and really have no other choice other than to comply with Google’s unfair demands, then Photoshop is your friend (nudge nudge, wink wink).

If you do not have the skills to manipulate images yourself, just pop along to fiverr.com and you will find someone willing to do some image manipulation for $20 or less 🙂

Adobe Business Catalyst Migration

Adobe Business Catalyst Migration

Adobe Business Catalyst Migration 3
If you’re a customer of Adobe Business Catalyst, you may be surprised and concerned at their recent announcement that the all-in-one CMS will be discontinued on 26th March 2020, along with Adobe Muse. While Adobe revised the closure date to 26th March 2021 after feedback from businesses to allow more time for the changeover, the fact remains that those using the platform need to start making plans soon to ensure a smooth transition without disruption to their online businesses.

Whilst Adobe has given a 3 year migration period, I know from many years experience, no matter how much advance warning is given and how many reminders are sent, that most people tend to leave these things until the last minute, and then struggle to get it completed by the deadline. With companies like Adobe, you will get no sympathy or support if this happens.

So I strongly recommend that if you are currently using business catalyst, that you plan your migration sooner rather than later. Feel free to contact me if you need assistance.

Which CMS to use

The Adobe Business Catalyst end-of-life decision exemplifies the risks of using a ‘closed source’ solution, especially one hosted by the provider. This leaves you with neither ownership nor control over your sites, should the provider make the decision to terminate the platform.

There are many different CMS systems available, which range from very simple to very complex, depending on the features you need.  Below are some of the most popular CMS’s, although there are hundreds more, many of which may be more suitable for your needs than the popular ones.

Adobe Business Catalyst Migration 4Data from: BuiltWith.com, W3tech.com, SimilarTech, Google Trends.

While I have only tried a small number of all the available CMS’s, my personal preference is WordPress. I find it simple and intuitive to use, easier to maintain than the likes of Drupal or Joomla and caters for the majority of website requirements.

If you are interested in getting your Business Catalyst site migrated to WordPress, then please get in touch for a quote.

The Advantages of WordPress

WordPress is the most widely used and fastest growing CMS in the world, accounting for almost 30% of the entire internet. It’s free, easy to use, and offers a host of free and paid plugins so you can customise the site to your exact requirements. It also offers excellent integration with a host of digital marketing tools. Plus, with WooCommerce, your site can be easily transformed into a full e-commerce business.

What’s more, with the rise of excellent value Managed WordPress hosting companies such as GetFlyWheel, it’s a lot easier to keep on top of maintenance and security updates yourself if you are technically minded. And should the hosting company let you down or go out of business, it’s quick and simple to move WordPress to another host.

Companies house is a playground for criminals

Companies house is a playground for criminals

Companies house is a playground for criminals 6

A businessman registered a company to former business secretary Vince Cable to highlight how easy it is for criminals to lodge false details with Companies House has been fined for deliberately falsifying information.

Company director Kevin Brewer, instead of being praised for highlighting the obvious flaws in the companies house website, was ordered to pay over £12,000 after pleading guilty to filing false information on the UK’s company register.

However, critics have labelled it a “pyrrhic victory”, as Brewer claims to have taken the action to highlight a loophole in the UK’s corporate registry. Instead, he became the first person to be prosecuted in the UK for falsifying filings.

Accountants have previously expressed concern at the ambiguity in anti-money laundering regulations that allows criminals to incorporate directly with Companies House.

Two’s company

Brewer, the owner of Birmingham-based consultancy National Business Register, concocted the stunt to prove that anyone could form a fake company in the UK, giving any name or address they wished, which could then clearly be used for illegal or illicit purposes. Using the Companies House online service he paid £12 each to register two fake companies.

First, in 2013 he registered John Vincent Cable Services Ltd on Companies House, making former Business Secretary Vince Cable a director and shareholder without his knowledge.

Brewer then claims to have written to Cable to inform him of the loophole and the company was dissolved and taken off the company register. Brewer also publicised this via an article in the Mirror.

After perceiving no action being taken to resolve the issue he formed another company in 2016, Cleverly Clogs Ltd, making Baroness Neville-Rolfe – the Minister with responsibility for Companies House – James Cleverly MP and an imaginary Israeli national, Ibrahim Aman, all directors and shareholders without their knowledge.

Again, Brewer claims to have informed the government of his actions and the reasons behind them. This time Companies House dissolved the company, took it off the company register and instead of taking steps to fix the problem, prosecuted him under section 1112 of the Companies Act 2006, which sets out the criminal offence of providing false information on the company register.

Brewer pleaded guilty at a hearing at Redditch Magistrates’ Court and was fined £1,602, ordered to pay costs of £10,462.50 and charged a victim surcharge of £160.

‘Right to take action’

Vince Cable, now Liberal Democrat leader, told the Financial Times the punishment seemed “heavy-handed”, but added that Companies House was right to take action against the fraudulent use of names, which is a “growing concern”.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe told the FT the first she heard of the matter was when she received a letter at her private address informing her of her new directorship, and she felt it was a “pretty serious” matter. “It’s not a very pleasant thing to happen to you,” said Neville-Rolfe, “and I felt it was fair enough to assist in the prosecution.”

A Companies House spokesperson claimed that its records were under “constant scrutiny” by law enforcement agencies, and were a “powerful tool for identifying inaccurate or fraudulent information”.  If this were true, then one has to ask how it could be possible then, to so easily register a fake company with fraudulent information.

The spokesperson also said that Brewer had been warned not to proceed with the registrations and reminded of the law, presumably because they did not want this massive flaw in their system being brought to public attention.

Prosecution ‘beyond comprehension’

However, the prosecution has been labelled by one commentator as a “pyrrhic victory”.  For Richard Osborne, managing director of eFiling (and founder of UK Business Forums), the case exposed the sheer incompetence of the system, which makes Companies House, and the UK, a playground for real criminals.

“The government’s excuse was that he [Brewer] founded those companies with the intention of making a profit off the back of the ministers’ names. Why makes no sense, as why would he do that and then write to the ministers involved telling them what he had done and asking for a meeting to highlight the problems? This is clearly a very lame attempt at coverup and is beyond comprehension.

“The government’s press release basically vindicates their line on not changing the legislation and keeping the system open for criminal activities.  Out of all the 4,000 beneficial owners of companies who are under the age of two, and the thousands of registered companies that Transparency International has linked to fraud, they chose only to prosecute and silence the one person who made his actions public and wrote to them in an effort to fix the broken system”.

The fact that Mr Brewer is the only person ever prosecuted for falsifying information, and that no action has ever been taken against any actual criminals,  certainly makes you wonder what ulterior motives are at play here and who exactly may be profiting from it.

Almost 700,000 companies are created each year in the UK. A recent report from Transparency International flagged that Companies House currently has only six members of staff responsible for policing the 4m UK companies current registered, while Global Witness claims that almost a tenth of registered companies had broken UK rules by failing to name their controlling shareholders.

This is a stark warning to anyone that uses Companies house data to verify the validity of a registered company.

Little Known UK Web Host and Broadband ISP Hotchilli to Close

Little Known UK Web Host and Broadband ISP Hotchilli to Close

Little Known UK Web Host and Broadband ISP Hotchilli to Close 8

Hotchilli Migration

If you are a customer of Hotchilli and need help in migrating your website, email or domain name, then feel free to contact me about my migration service.

Little known UK ISP Hotchilli, which offered a mix of website hosting and some very out-of-date ‘up to’ 8Mbps ADSLMax based copper broadband packages, has finally kicked the bucket and will be shutting down the services it provides on 30th March 2018.

The ISP hasn’t really done anything noticeable in the broadband market since they launched their ADSL packages some years ago and since then they’ve failed to keep pace with modern changes, which means that most of you probably won’t have any idea who they are (despite them having been around since the early years). The following statement has been posted on their website (as spotted by The Register).

Service Statement

Dear Customer,

At Hotchilli, we have always strived to bring our customers the best range of product and service offerings whilst endeavouring to provide value and the quality of service customers expect to receive. Part of ensuring we are able to provide this value involves comparing our service offerings and pricing against other service providers.

Following our most recent review, the results have unfortunately shown we have fallen behind our competitors. This has resulted in an in-depth look at our costs, service pricing and the investment required to maintain and indeed enhance the high level of customer service and range of offerings we believe our customers are looking for.

It is only following this most recent review that we have arrived at the very difficult decision to inform our customers of our intention to discontinue the services we provide.

We are therefore sorry to notify you that we will discontinue the services we provide you on 30/03/18.

We will of course be happy to assist you migrate any services you take from us to another service provider where possible. We deeply regret notifying you of these intentions and would like to thank you sincerely for your custom.

Yours faithfully

Stephen Rees
Services Director

Major CPU security flaws affecting ALL computer systems

Major CPU security flaws affecting ALL computer systems

Major CPU security flaws affecting ALL computer systems 10

Meltdown and Spectre are the names of two serious security flaws that have been found within computer processors. They could allow hackers to steal sensitive data without users knowing, one of them affecting chips made as far back as 1995.

What are Meltdown and Spectre?

Meltdown is a security flaw that could allow hackers to bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer’s core memory, which is normally highly protected.

Spectre is slightly different. It potentially allows hackers to trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information.

Is it serious?

Yes. Meltdown is “probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found” according to Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who discovered the flaw. It is very serious in the short term and needs immediate attention.

The problem with Meltdown is that anything that runs as an application could in theory steal your data, including simple things such as javascript from a web page viewed in a browser.

Spectre, on the other hand, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but is also more difficult to fix and is expected to be a bigger problem in the long term.

What kinds of devices are affected?

Practically every computing device affected by Spectre, including laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones and even cloud computing systems. A few lower power devices, such as certain Internet of Things gadgets, are unaffected.

What is a processor?

The processor, or central processing unit (CPU), is the primary chip in a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program – in essence, the brain of the computer.

When you command a program to do something, it is the processor that carries out that command, co-operating with the rest of the system to perform whatever task is needed.

There are other types of processors, including graphics processing units (GPU) or graphics cards, co-processors such as sensor chips that detect motion or similar physical conditions, but the term “processor” without a caveat is generally exclusively used to describe the CPU.

Does it only affect Intel processors?

Spectre affects all modern processors, including those designed by Intel, AMD and ARM, but Meltdown is currently thought only to affect Intel chips manufactured since 1995, with the exception of the Itanium and Atom chips made before 2013.

What can be stolen?

Credit cards could be at risk due to Meltdown.
 Credit cards could be at risk due to Meltdown. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The core system, known as the kernel, stores all types of sensitive information in memory. This means banking records, credit cards, financial data, communications, logins, passwords and secret information could which is all be at risk due to Meltdown.

Spectre can be used to trick normal applications into giving up sensitive data, which potentially means anything processed by an application can be stolen, including passwords and other data.

Is it already being used to steal data?

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said that there is no evidence that Meltdown and Spectre are actively being used to steal data at the moment, but the nature of the attacks make them difficult to detect.

Experts expect that hackers will quickly develop programs to launch attacks now that the information is available. Dan Guido, chief executive of cybersecurity consulting firm Trail of Bits, said: “Exploits for these bugs will be added to hackers’ standard toolkits.”

What can I do about it?

Users can do little to avoid the security flaws apart from update their computers with the latest security fixes as soon as possible. Fixes for Linux and Windows are already available. Chromebooks updated to Chrome OS 63, which started rolling out in mid-December, are already protected.

Android devices running the latest security update, including Google’s Nexus and Pixel smartphones, are already protected. Updates are expected to be delivered soon. Users of other devices will have to wait for the updates to be pushed out by third-party manufacturers, including Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus.

On Thursday night, Apple advised customers in a blog post to update their devices’ operating systems and only download software from “trusted sources such as the App Store”. The company also said that “there are no known exploits impacting customers at this time”.

If you are running old and unsupported operating systems or old phones which are no longer receiving updates, then there is no fix and your devices will remain vulnerable unless you upgrade your operating system.
I do offer Windows 10 upgrades for anyone that is not able to do this themselves.

Will the fixes slow my computer?

While the fixes for Spectre are not expected to have much immediate impact on the performance of computers, the nature of the fixes needed to protect against Meltdown could have a significant impact.

That’s due to the separation of the application and kernel memory required by the various operating systems to prevent the flaw being used to access protected data. Separating the two memory systems like this means that tasks that constantly require the kernel do to things, such as writing files to disk or sending data over a network, could be significantly slower due to the increased time it will take for the processor to switch between the application memory and the kernel memory.

Some early estimates predict up to 30% slower performance in some tasks. Whether users will notice a difference on their computers will depend on the task they are trying to do. Gaming, browsing and general computing activities are unlikely to be affected, but those that involve lots of writing files may become slower.

Some technologies, such as Intel’s Process-Context Identifiers (PCID) that was included with the company’s processors since 2013, can lessen the impact of the fixes if taken advantage of in the operating system.

Who found it?

Meltdown was independently discovered and reported by three teams, including Jann Horn from Google’s Project Zero, Werner Haas and Thomas Prescher from Cyberus Technology and Daniel Gruss, Moritz Lipp, Stefan Mangard and Michael Schwarz from Graz University of Technology in Austria.

Spectre was independently discovered by two people, including Horn and Paul Kocher, who worked in collaboration with Daniel Genkin, from University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland, Mike Hamburg from tech firm Rambus, Lipp, and Yuval Yarom from the University of Adelaide and Data61.

What about cloud services?

The problem is magnified for cloud services such as Amazon’s Web Services and Google’s Cloud Platform, due to the scale of their computing resources and the potential impact on performance of the fixes.

Amazon said it was in the process of patching systems with all but a “small single-digit percentage” of its Amazon Web Services EC2 systems already protected, but that “customers must also patch their instance operating systems” to be fully protected.

Google also said that the majority of its systems were updated, but that some additional customer action may be needed for its Compute Engine and other Cloud Platform systems.

Microsoft said it was in the process of deploying fixes to its cloud systems.


BT customers targeted by Indian call centre scammers

BT customers targeted by Indian call centre scammers

BT customers targeted by Indian call centre scammers 12

BT customers in the UK have been targeted by call centre scammers in India – with one person reporting they were defrauded for thousands of pounds this week.

The issue appears to have been going on for more than a year. Some customers said the fraudsters knew their personal details.

One victim reported he had he got a call from someone this week asking for him by name, talking about his existing broadband problems which he had reported to BT previously. This individual claimed he had malware on his computer and said he need to access his machine via a third-party client.

“Within the hour he had over £1,000 in two payments from his bank account. Fortunately, Lloyds stepped in on the second larger payment and stopped it progressing,” said his son-in-law, who asked not to be named.

A BT customer forum thread entitled Possible Scam has hundreds of comments dating back from last year.

Another recently wrote they had already been in touch with BT about their broadband prior to receiving a call from an Indian man stating that he was calling from BT.

“He asked me to confirm the postcode and address which he gave to me over the phone and then my date of birth. At that point, I said no and he hung up. Clearly a scam call and weirdly never had to call BT until the last few weeks and all of a sudden a call.”

Another said the same thing happened to him, adding that the caller was very plausible until they wanted remote access to his PC hard drive.

“She even knew my address, phone number and both mine and my husbands name… so had access to some of our details.”

Fraud appears to be a growing problem across the sector. Last month TalkTalk was hit with a £100,000 fine after the data of the records of 21,000 people were exposed to fraudsters in an Indian call centre.

A BT spokesman gave the usual spiel: “BT takes the security of its customers’ accounts very seriously. We proactively warn our customers to be on their guard against scams. Fraudsters use various methods to ‘glean’ your personal or financial details with the ultimate aim of stealing from you. This can include trying to use your BT bill and account number.”

He advised customers should never share their BT account number with anyone and always shred bills. “Be wary of calls or emails you’re not expecting. Even if someone quotes your BT account number, you shouldn’t trust them with your personal information.”

He said: “We’ll never ask customers for personal information out of the blue and we’ll never call from an ‘unknown’ number. If we’re getting in touch about your bill, it will usually be from either 0800 328 9393 or 0800 028 5085.” ®