Although unfortunate and unexpected, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us where our technology is failing and where it’s doing its job. Just a few months back, no one would have guessed that so many people would work from home. Or that we’d have to deal with the outdated COBOL unemployment systems. Spending weeks and even months indoors is another unexpected consequence of the coronavirus which had a huge impact on the tech industry.
In the current circumstances, we can safely say that tech is awesome. It helps us keep track of the virus. But that being said, it might be pretty difficult to undo the surveillance measures that were, justifiably, put into place by the authorities during the crisis. Our lives will surely get back to normal sooner or later, but we will be dealing with a new kind of normal. In the meantime, we can say that we have some idea of what technologies could do and what they couldn’t during a real-world disaster.
Tech Winners / What Worked
The Internet – The idea that the Internet would collapse under the huge load of people who started to work from home was extremely popular at the beginning of the pandemic. And in a way, it made sense. Stuck in their homes, millions of people were now streaming HD videos 24/7. Luckily for all of us, the pessimists were wrong.
A few weeks after the lockdown, the internet proved to us that the tens of millions of American employees who were working from home were not an issue. For instance, a study conducted by Fastly, a computer company that focuses on edge cloud technology, has found that in the hardest-hit region (New York/New Jersey) the internet traffic increased by 44.6 percent in March. Fortunately, the download speeds were only slightly affected as they decreased by just 5.5 percent. That’s amazing news because God knows what we’d do without the Internet in times like these. Without the internet, we wouldn’t be able to buy useless stuff for our home, more clothes, or binge-watch our favorite TV shows on Netflix.
The cloud – Just like they were worried about the Internet, a lot of people also thought that the cloud was in danger. The only cloud service that had trouble with the recent traffic increase was Microsoft Azure, but the other major public clouds like Google Cloud, AWS, and IBM Cloud held up perfectly. Microsoft is, of course, working to solve their issues in several ways.
Despite the major traffic increase brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, the cloud service providers are looking safe and steady. A study conducted by an Instinet analyst revealed that Chief Information Officers are looking to the cloud more than ever for their future investments. This is owed to the fact that CIO’s aim to reduce their on-premises workload with an additional 35% in 2021. Another important reason why things are slowly but surely moving to the cloud is the fact that 74% of businesses are planning on encouraging their employees to work from home permanently after the pandemics.
Tech losers / What Didn’t Work
Online travel and hospitality-related eCommerce websites – Even during the pandemic, giants such as Amazon stunned the market with its growth and expansion. On the other hand, booking platforms and some websites operating in the foodservice industry are having a hard time surviving the lockdown. While Booking.com warns employees to expect lay-offs. According to RestaurantFurniture.net, smaller eCommerce websites that focus on B2Bs such as those selling restaurant furniture and supplies might face shutting down, as people are not allowed to travel or sit in restaurants anymore.
According to Airbnb’s chief executive Brian Chesky, Airbnb reservations are being canceled all over the world, costing the company 50% of its revenue. Furthermore, it is estimated that the largest 7 online travel agencies will lose more than $11.5 billion in revenue by the end of 2020. Many booking platforms are forced to cancel their reservations due to travel restrictions and refund their customers. That being said, things will not change very soon, as nobody wants to travel or eat in crowded restaurants during these difficult times.
Video Conferencing platforms – When we say video conferencing platforms, we mean Zoom. This app has gone from being an all-time favorite to being constantly picked at for different privacy and security issues. This poor app even has a security problem named after it – Zoom bombing.
Although Zoom was on everyone’s lips this past couple of months, many other video conferencing programs turned out to be a disappointment. A funny but unfortunate incident took place in Norway where a naked man barged into a virtual classroom video conference that was held on WhereBy.
The problem these apps were facing wasn’t a lack of funding. This situation proved that most of them simply didn’t invest enough time and effort into their security protocols. And the Zoom CEO, Eric Yuan admits that his team underestimated the threats of videoconferencing harassment.
The main issue with Zoom was that the app was created for IT departments. In which case, the people that were using the app would be the ones taking care of all the security protocols and password settings. We should give Zoom’s developers a break because they had no idea of what was coming. No one knew that they would soon be dealing with millions of clueless users who didn’t have the smallest idea of how to set up meetings with passwords.
That being said, everyone in the videoconferencing industry is now working on improving their security protocols as quickly and as effectively as possible.
To get a grip on what is happening with the coronavirus, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci admits that the government is now ready to mobilize, test, identify, and isolate. That sounds pretty normal in the current circumstances, but there are two problematic parts – contact tracing and identification.
For instance, South Koreans who were infected with the coronavirus were tracked by the authorities through their cell phones without being asked for permission. A similar situation happened in Lombardy, the Italian province that was severely affected by the COVID-19, where the authorities track people’s location data to see whether they were staying in their homes or not.
Contact tracing is another issue that became more pressing during the pandemic. This type of technology is used for tracking the people that have been close to each other and that might have caught the virus. Contact tracing was used in Singapore and South Korea and it’s being brought by Google and Apple to the United States.
While there’s no doubt that these technologies could be of great use during a critical situation, we need to remember that when implemented, these things tend to stick. So it’s no surprise that people are cautious and unhappy when they are monitored by surveillance technologies, be it for good or shady purposes.
It’s safe to say that 2020 is something! So far, tech has proved to be a mixed bag. There was some good and there was some bad. But, except for some security issues, things are going pretty well in this sector. The Internet and the Cloud didn’t let us down and the brains behind the most popular video conferencing apps are doing what they can to improve their security protocols. Something is coming in terms of mass-surveillance, but we’ll have to wait and see.