The top news in tech: the September digest
As journalists returned from their summer holidays, the September headlines were dominated by supply-chain predicaments and semi-conductor shortages, alongside the much-anticipated launch of Apple’s new iPhone 13. The hybrid London Tech Week event, held towards the end of the month, was a great success, showcasing the diversity and innovation of tech in the capital. The event coincided with the release of Startup Genome’s annual report on the global tech landscape, which revealed that London is the place to be for tech businesses. Check out Babel’s Instagram page for our highlights of the report. Amongst negative stories on ransomware attacks and cryptocurrency crises around the world, it was great to see so many positive stories coming out of London Tech Week. The future certainly looks bright for the UK tech sector!
Here are the top stories that caught my attention last month:
The tech sector is on track for another record-high year of investment, as statistics from H1 reveal a staggering influx of £13.5 billion of venture capital funding. Data shows that the UK has 105 unicorns, that is, tech companies that have been valued by investors at more than one billion dollars.
What does this mean for our clients and for UK tech as a whole? Firstly, innovation at a greater scale. With more funding, start-ups have a greater chance of becoming seen and being heard, improving diversity in the industry. Secondly, greater investment raises the potential for the UK to compete on a global stage among the likes of the US and China. Currently, the UK has the world’s third-largest global tech ecosystem, and with more financial backing, the country has the potential to become a leader in the tech field. And of course, more funding means that tech companies have a greater budget to spend on essential PR, to ensure that their message gets across and they reach their audience.
No industry has come away unscathed from the rising number of cyber-attacks we have seen in recent times. The most recent target? Digital currency. While cryptocurrency has been hailed for its security, blockchain sites are still vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are attractive targets for hackers because of their anonymity. As such, hackers can demand payments in cryptocurrencies, leaving very little trace. This has sparked debate over how to protect this industry against criminal actors without inhibiting its growth.
The Biden administration has announced plans to take a tougher line on hackers who target the digital currency sector, including sanctions that will make it harder for hackers to profit from these attacks. Will other governments follow suit? How will cybersecurity companies respond to this new avenue that hackers can exploit? It is critical that cybersecurity is valued as a strategic business concern by all firms, no matter the sector in which they operate. For more on the cybersecurity conversation, watch our #BabelTalks panel discussion on the impact of covid-19 on the cybersecurity landscape here.
The reach of big tech companies evidently has no limits. Facebook has partnered with sunglasses company RayBan to launch RayBan Stories, its first pair of ‘smart glasses’. These smart glasses feature a pair of cameras to take photos and video, a microphone and speaker, and a voice assistant, all in the shape of RayBan’s classic wayfarer design.
Alex Hern explores the mounting criticism surrounding Facebook’s latest product. Aside from Facebook’s copy-catting (the glasses bear a remarkable resemblance to Snapchat’s smart glasses, Snapchat Spectacles), it is the security concerns that have gained the most attention. Considering Facebook’s poor reputation for user privacy, the possibility that one might be able to take pictures or videos subtly raises privacy concerns. There is another problem, too. While it is exciting to see the tech industry continue to innovate, it is concerning that every aspect of our being is becoming more and more digitised, from the devices in our pocket to the glasses we wear. Furthermore, the dominance of big tech companies, including the likes of Facebook, has negative implications for the diversity of the tech industry. The iron grip of big tech is stifling the ability of innovative new start-ups to make a dent in the industry.
Samuel Webb reports that the carbon footprint of computers is actually more than we might have originally thought. New research reveals that the global IT industry may emit more carbon emissions than the air travel industry. Previous research estimated that the computing industry’s share of global greenhouse emissions was around 1.8-2.8%, yet this was a vast underestimation. Its share is now predicted to be around 2.1-3.9%, and it is set to continue rising. With the aviation industry accounting for 2% of global emissions, this positions IT as worse for the environment than plane travel.
Computers, and digitisation more widely, have certainly made the global economy more efficient, and helped to streamline manual processes that were environmentally-harmful. However, Webb cautions that despite these benefits, many aspects of a computer’s lifecycle are incredibly damaging to the environment. Much more needs to be done within the IT sector to mitigate its footprint, and I hope to see this issue on the agenda at COP26 in November. For more on the role of technology in mitigating climate change, and how greentech companies can grow their brands, read our whitepaper here.
The supply chain crisis and the global chip shortage are two ongoing stories that have attracted mass media attention this month. In response to the chip crisis, Biden met with tech companies and semiconductor manufacturers to develop a plan of action. Biden is calling for Congressional support to provide funding for bipartisan legislation, in the Chips for America Act, which seeks to encourage domestic semiconductor investment.
So, what does this mean for the wider tech industry? The supply has evidently not met the increased global demand for chips, resulting in delays and subsequent price rises across all industries, including manufacturing and automotive. However, it is the tech industry that can meet the challenge of reducing these pressures. In a statement, the White House said that the goal is to ‘understand and quantify where bottlenecks may exist’. Technology is crucial here. Technologies such as AI, IoT, and machine learning can provide the data necessary to understand more about where these bottlenecks are coming from and respond accordingly to mitigate their impact.
Rupert Jones and Kalyeena Makortoff warn that that the new unregulated lending involved in buy now, pay later (BNPL) shopping options is encouraging ‘unsustainable spending and reliance on debt’. BNPL is a trend that has been dominating the quickly-evolving fintech landscape over the last couple of years. Fintech start-ups, such as Klarna, Afterpay, and Clearpay, have led the way, offering consumers interest-free payment plans as they shop online. The financial flexibility that these payments offer has become incredibly popular with millennials and Gen-Z customers that might otherwise struggle to pay for things outright. The popularity of this option is evident in the myriad of fintech start-ups and online banks offering BNPL such as Monzo and Revolut, which are closely following suit. While some deem it as the future of finance, others raise serious concerns with this unregulated lending. Critics pose the question: is this method sustainable?
There we have it: my pick of September’s news stories. Stay tuned for what catches my eye in the world of tech in October. If you would like to find out how we can help you leverage the news agenda to drive visibility and coverage, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!