Friday Five: NHS Covid app gets ‘fix’ for false alerts

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

1. NHS Covid app updated to ‘fix’ false alert

The NHS Covid-19 app has been updated to ‘fix’ an issue with a confusing alert that pops up suggesting exposure to the virus, but then disappears when the user clicks on it. I put fix in inverted commas because the alert will still appear, but now users will get a follow-up message telling them to ignore it (so not really fixed at all).

The messages are a default privacy notification from Apple or Google, which provide the contact-tracing technology. The team behind the app, downloaded 16 million times, is working on another update that could stop the notifications altogether and improve the way the app uses Bluetooth to measure distance between phones.

2. Facebook bans anti-vaccination advertising

Facebook has announced it is banning adverts that explicitly discourage people from getting vaccinated. The platform, which has 2.7 billion monthly active users, has been under pressure to crack down on anti-vaccine content and misinformation, which has become even more prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook’s previous rule prohibited ads containing vaccine misinformation or hoaxes but did allow ads opposing vaccines if they did not contain false claims. This new rule will curtail those ads, but will still allow ones that advocate for or against legislation or government policies around vaccines, including a Covid-19 vaccine.

3. Universities using surveillance software

Students have had a pretty rough start to their university lives — first there was the A-level algorithm debacle, then they excitedly turned up for freshers’ week, only to be promptly locked down in their accommodation, confined to remote learning. Now it transpires that their universities are using surveillance software to spy on them.

Analysis of three popular learning analytics tools shows that at least 27 unis are using them to keep tabs on what lectures they attend, what reading materials they download and what books they take out of the library. While this may seem innocuous, this Wired article looks at the potential for the misuse of all this data.

4. Google’s robot buggy is literal bean counter

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has unveiled prototype robots that can inspect individual plants in a field. The robot buggies roll through fields on upright pillars so they can travel over plants without disturbing them, while collecting huge amounts of data about them in an effort to help farmers improve crop yields.

Called Project Mineral, it is part of Alphabet X, which aims to create world-changing tech from radical ‘moonshot’ ideas. As well as being an actual bean counter, the buggy can record information such as plant height and fruit size. That data goes into a machine-learning system to try to spot patterns and insights useful to farmers.

5. Inflatable e-scooter pumps up your journey

Given that we’re trying to avoid using public transport, there’s been a focus this year on other ways of getting around town, with bikes, folding bikes and electronic scooters the obvious choices. But how about an inflatable e-scooter? It sounds ridiculous (because it is), but it has been created at Tokyo University.

The scooter has seven inflatable sections including the wheels. You simply blow it up, add the rigid components like the motor and off you go. Then you can just deflate the scooter and pack it away in your backpack. Vehicles can even be customised to fit the specifications of the rider. It’s the future, people…

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