Friday Five: Bar staff urged to delete NHS Covid app

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Bar staff urged to delete NHS Covid app

Bar staff are being told to delete the NHS Covid-19 app after staff shortages have forced pubs, restaurants and hotels to temporarily close. More than 600,000 people using the app in England and Wales were sent self-isolation alerts in the week between 8 and 15 July, and about one in five hospitality workers are isolating.

There is no legal obligation to have the app and also no legal obligation for those pinged to self-isolate (in contrast to the NHS Test and Trace system), although the government has urged people to follow the guidelines. And with many hospitality workers receiving no sick pay, they are losing all of their income by self-isolating.

2. Instagram makes under-16 accounts private

Instagram is introducing changes designed to make the app safer for young people. Anyone signing up to the service who’s under the age of 16 will have their account set to private by default, though the option to switch to public will still be available. Under-16s with a public account now will be encouraged to switch to private.

The company says it’s also doing more to limit how problematic users interact with users under 16 years old, as it is able to identify “potentially suspicious behaviour” from accounts. These problematic users will be virtually separated from users under 16: they won’t be able to see their accounts, nor be able to see their comments.

3. Google app charges targeted by legal claim

A legal action seeking damages of up to £920m from Google on behalf of 19.5 million UK Android phone users has been launched. It claims the 30% cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is excessive and unfair. The case follows a similar one launched on behalf of iPhone users in May.

Google recently cut its service charge to 15% for developers earning less than £1m, with only a tiny fraction of the most profitable app developers paying 30%. But both Apple and Google’s charges have come under intense public scrutiny, following a massive row with Epic Games (the makers of Fortnite) and subsequent legal action.

4. Rip-off locator forms top of Google search

Rip-off websites which charge people for free Covid-19 passenger locator formsfeature at the top of Google search results, according to an investigation by the BBC. The passenger locator form is designed to help airlines contact people in the event of a coronavirus outbreak and is available for free via the gov.uk website.

Google’s policy is to ban ads for unofficial websites selling government documents. It said it had removed 3.1bn ads last year for violating its policies. But in May, the BBC reported that rip-off ads for travel visas, driving licences and other documents topped Google search results every time it checked during a 12-month investigation.

5. Deepfake artist uses the force to get new job

A YouTube artist so impressed the company behind the Star Wars franchise with their “deepfake” alterations of their work that they gave them a job. The artist, known online as Shamook (their real name and gender is not public knowledge), was hired by ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), LucasFilm’s effects division, earlier this year.

One of Shamook’s videos changed how Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker appeared in The Mandalorian’s season two finale — many fans felt the work was an improvement on ILM’s. Shamook revealed they’d joined ILM as a Senior Facial Capture Artist and ILM confirmed the news, saying it was “always on the lookout for talented artists”.

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