Employee #1 is a series of interviews focused on sharing the often untold stories of early employees at tech companies.
Shel Kaphan was the first employee at Amazon. He is currently pursuing personal interests and still living in Seattle.
Discussed: Getting Online, Prior Startups, Vetting Jeff Bezos, Moving to Seattle, Early Versions of Amazon, Finding Traction Through Netscape, Building the Company, Changing Roles, Life After Amazon.
Craig : What were you doing before Amazon?
Shel : I worked as a programmer starting in 1975. My first real programming job was with an MIT spinoff called Information International, Inc. (also known as Triple-I) that was in Los Angeles, Culver City actually. I went there for a summer job in 1975. I was in college at the time, for the second time around, having dropped out once already, but stayed at Triple-I for three years. In 1978 I decided I should finish my undergraduate degree so I went back to school at UC Santa Cruz for a while and stayed in Northern California until I moved up to Seattle.
Craig : Ok, and how did you end up going to Seattle?
Shel : In early 1994, I had been working at a company called Kaleida Labs, which was a joint venture of Apple and IBM. I left there in the spring of 1994. One of the younger guys who had recently come out of university showed me Mosaic, which was brand new back then. The first time I got onto the the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet as we know it, was 1969 or 70. I always had the feeling that there was something incredibly cool about it, but for some reason very few people seemed to think it was all that exciting. I couldn’t really imagine where it was all going to go eventually.
When I saw Mosaic, something clicked and I knew the Internet was finally going to open up to a much wider audience. Having missed a couple of earlier waves of technology that didn’t seem that interesting to me at the time, I thought this wave was one that was really going to be interesting and I wanted to do something with it. I didn’t know exactly what, but I knew I wanted to be involved. There were already a few new web-related businesses hiring some of the hotshots that I knew at the time. Netscape had been founded and some people I knew were already working there. It didn’t seem like a good fit for me, if I even could have gotten a job there. I wanted to do a startup and be more involved in the early phases of a business.
I was kicking around ideas with a friend of mine in Santa Cruz, who I had worked with at Frox and then Xerox, Herb Jellinek, trying to figure out some business idea that would be attractive to us that we could work on together–one that we thought might possibly work. We started talking to various people in our networks. Herb had gone to grad school at Stanford and one of his friends from there had gone to work at a hedge fund in New York, which happened to be the same one where Jeff Bezos worked at the time. He connected us with Jeff because he knew that Jeff was going to leave to start a web-related business that he had analyzed for this hedge fund. For whatever reason, that company didn’t want to pursue it but Jeff did.
Herb talked to Jeff, and then Jeff flew out to meet us in Santa Cruz. We had breakfast together and Jeff told us about his idea to start an online bookstore. We were even talking about possibly locating it in Santa Cruz. This was in spring of ‘94. Jeff went back home to New York and started thinking about where he wanted to locate. We were looking at office space in Santa Cruz but as he learned more about mail-order business he eventually decided it made more sense to be in a smaller population state or one that didn’t charge sales tax. He narrowed it down to someplace in Nevada or Seattle. I pretty much knew that I wasn’t going to be moving to Nevada. When he finally decided on Seattle, it took him all summer to convince me to move because I had lived in Santa Cruz for nearly 20 years and I liked it there.
Eventually, I decided that there was enough that I wanted to do on the project that it made sense to move. Herb, who had only recently moved to Santa Cruz, decided to stay. At first I was a little bit tentative about it–I kept my house in Santa Cruz and I only moved the minimum amount of stuff I needed to live.
At the time I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be building this website to run a bookstore and I haven’t done that before but it doesn’t sound so hard. When I’m done with that I’m not sure what I’ll do.” At that point there was no idea of doing anything but a bookstore. I thought maybe I would be able to go back to Santa Cruz and monitor it from there. I was pretty wrong about how the business would develop and how ambitious Jeff was. I didn’t know him at the time. We had just met.
Craig : How did you vet each other? Was he technical? Had you worked with many entrepreneurs before?
Shel : I’d worked in a few different startups. We both gave each other references to check out. But I think my choice was mostly based on the sense I had that he was fairly likely to make something work. I had been in a number of startups where there was an absence of people with sufficient business intelligence who understood how to fundraise, market something, and make business plans that weren’t based on hopelessly complicated technology that was super interesting but that nobody was ever going to pay for. I liked the idea that it was a very straightforward sounding business. I liked that I could explain to people who the customers were likely to be, what they were going to be paying for, and how the company could pay its own way.
I liked the guy when I met him. He has a very engaging personality. I was excited about the project so there were other reasons too besides the people involved. At the time there was this confluence of networking, hypertext, graphics and all this stuff that was coming into play with the web for the first time.
I wanted to take Books In Print or something like it and make a hypertext version. I’d been thinking about that before I even met Jeff. I wasn’t thinking about it in the context of selling books, but I was thinking, “Man, I hate going to the library and ruffling through those card catalogues and trying to find that thing that I’m looking for.” Nobody alive probably remembers that anymore. You actually had to go through drawers full of index cards to find books you were interested in. Then you’d walk around the library and browse the shelves to see if maybe the thing you’re interested in would be nearby.
I thought solving that problem was a perfect application for hypertext. There were a couple other online bookstores popping up around that time, too. Nobody seemed to grasp that issue particularly well. So, I thought, “Okay, well, I really want to build this and this project is a chance for me to do it.” Plus, I had worked just after high school in a mail order operation that sold books and other things, so I felt like I was going back to my roots, and that also felt good.
Craig : What was the first thing you guys had to build to get started?
Shel : Well, there was basically nothing except for a little library from NCSA of primitive things that you could use to build slightly interactive websites. I started by building up machines and getting a database system and putting together a little development environment. There weren’t any cloud services or anything like that at the time. It was all build your own and run it yourself. There was precious little in the way of tools or development environments for web stuff or libraries to build things out of. It was all cobbled together. At that point the web was a very static thing–mostly just a collection of pages.
There were hooks in the HTTP servers for running scripts, which is what we were depending on because all of our pages had to be dynamically generated. There was really nothing that existed to build a stateful application. In other words, where you are serving different things to different people and you have to keep track of that person’s progress, as they’re adding things to a shopping basket and going through an ordering process and all that. We pretty much had to figure that out and learn how to do it.
Craig : How did you troubleshoot? Today I use Stack Overflow constantly. What would you do when you ran into a bug that you couldn’t figure out?
Shel : Stay up late.
Craig : [Laughter] Fair enough.
Shel : I don’t recall that we had a lot of help from outside parties. At one point we decided to switch from Sun Microsystems to Digital servers. I was more familiar with Sun’s machines at that time so when we got the Digital machines and had some performance issues at first, Jeff found a professor at UW who could help with kernel tuning, which I was not terribly familiar with.
Everything else was debugging as usual. Technically speaking, Amazon was really pretty straightforward to build in the beginning. Although believe me, we had our share of bugs. But they were mostly relatively straightforward.
Craig : Were you also doing the software for inventory management?
Shel : A month after I got there we hired a guy named Paul Davis who had been in the Computer Science staff at UW, and who was a really great hacker. He and I worked together quite well. I was mostly focused on the website and customer-facing stuff. He was primarily focusing on shipping, receiving, inventory, charging credit cards and all that kind of thing. But we both had our hands on all of the code. He only stayed for a year and a quarter or so. When he left, it was just me for several months before I could hire anybody else. I was doing all of it at that point in time. I remember I worked seven days a week for 3 months straight, and they weren’t 8-hour days. Then we started hiring a few people who could take over specific aspects of the code.
Craig : Do you remember how many orders you were getting per month at the time?
Shel : I don’t remember numbers but it was minuscule by today’s standards. That said, our business was doubling quarterly for about six quarters or more in a row. In the beginning before we got the Digital servers, we ran the whole business on a couple of small Sun desktop machines. That was everything. We didn’t have much of a budget for hardware. We were trying to get absolutely everything we could out of a small number of tiny machines. We were always a little bit behind the curve on adding more hardware as we needed it.
Craig : Did that ever come around to bite you guys?
Shel : Yeah, for sure. We were always up against the limit of what the hardware could do. For one reason or another, sorting out architectural issues to scale more gracefully was something I could never convince Jeff to allocate resources to do. There were always too many customer-facing features that needed to be developed.
There were times when some piece of hardware would crap out and corrupt a database and, of course, some of the backups hadn’t been working. But somehow we survived.
Craig : Were you guys running any kind of analytics at that point?
Shel : No. Not in the beginning. I think it was maybe spring or summer of 1997 when the first people came in that were starting to work on that. In the beginning we were saving our server logs thinking they’d be really interesting to analyze, but not right now.
Craig : When we have a ton of extra money and time.
Shel : Yeah, maybe when we have a thousand extra programmers or something.
Craig : Exactly. So had you been working with Jeff on the product? How was the ship being steered?
Shel : During that time we were just a bookstore, so it didn’t seem to me there was a lot of steering to be done. That said, I don’t know all the things that Jeff might have been doing that I wasn’t aware of at the time. If I think back, I can’t even clearly picture what it was that he was actually doing. He wasn’t working on any of the technical stuff. We never even had a written business plan that I know of.
Craig : [Laughter] Was he sourcing the books?
Shel : He wasn’t doing that. Well, maybe he was at the very, very beginning before we hired people to interact with publishers. At the very beginning we were mostly just working with distributors. But we wanted to have a large catalogue, so we also had to work directly with publishers who weren’t represented by the distributors. That was what allowed us to claim a million titles, which was a big deal back then.
Craig : How were people discovering you guys?
Shel : Well, Google wasn’t around at the time. There are probably other opinions about this but, first off, there weren’t that many websites that were interesting back then. Second, as it turned out, there was a couple who worked at Netscape at the time–Eric and Susan Benson. I had worked with Eric in three different places by then. We had a “friends and family” soft launch in the spring of ‘95. They were among the people that were trying it out. We later hired both of them at Amazon. Susan was working on Netscape’s website in an editorial capacity. I only learned this last year, but when we opened up to the public it was she who put Amazon on their “What’s New” and “What’s Cool” pages. She put us on those lists. Then because the name started with an A, it was above the fold so lots of people saw it. That was, in my opinion, a super important connection for us. It might have happened without the personal connection, but who knows, maybe not.
Craig : That’s wild. Were you shipping to all 50 states in the beginning?
Shel : Yeah, and several foreign countries as well. We had a lot of international orders from fairly early on.
Craig : At what point did you realize, “Maybe I shouldn’t keep my place in Santa Cruz. I might be at Amazon for a while.”
Shel : I think that happened two years in or so. It started to be annoying to have to manage the house remotely, even though it was a friend of mine who was renting it. I was still responsible for it. At that point I also thought, if I do move back there, I’m probably not going to live in that house. It was not a particularly great house. I decided it would make my life a little simpler to get rid of it.
At that time we started extending into different product areas, too. We started having sites in a couple of other countries. Germany and England were the first two. And we started to make acquisitions. I think the acquisitions were probably post-IPO, which was spring of ‘97.
Craig : Whoa. I didn’t realize it was that fast. Three years?
Shel : Yeah, about two and a half.
Craig : What was your role around the time of the IPO?
Shel : My role was always primarily technical with some technical management. At that time I was VP of Development and was responsible for writing the software and keeping the systems up and running. One of the people who were hired to replace me in my original role came in only a month or maybe two before the IPO. The next guy came in September of that year. Early on, the small team of technical folks had been working for me, and I was mainly doing a lot of programming myself, but also system administration, network configuration, and so forth. I was putting disk drives in enclosures and running Ethernet cabling around the building and that kind of thing.
Craig : Not quite the glamorous startup life some people imagine.
Shel : Well, yeah. Those days were still before everything that’s happened with glorifying startups. If you were going to do a startup business, there wasn’t a huge expectation that it was going to be glamorous in any particular kind of way. You were going to work really hard and maybe it was going to work, though probably not.
Craig : Are there any vestiges of your work at Amazon?
Shel : Up until recently, maybe a few years ago, I could have said yes. But I don’t really see anything that looks like it now. It seems highly unlikely that anything I did actually still exists over there anymore.
Craig : What about even design patterns? Like, this is how a shopping cart works.
Shel : I don’t remember learning that from some other website. Though it seems like, as soon as you start thinking about that problem, it’s self-evident what it has to be like. You don’t want to make people go through a transaction every time they pick something. You have to let people go through the site and pick things that they’re interested in, put them somewhere so they can come back and get it all shipped at some point. I remember doing a lot of framing of that process on the website. Putting in text that said you could always take this out of your shopping basket later if you change your mind. So people wouldn’t feel they were overly committed.
Back in those days nobody was used to being a customer of online businesses. You had to be careful to make people feel comfortable and let them know their actions were reversible. Even though I was mainly doing technical things, the appearance of the website and a lot of the text on it were my doing in the early days. I was careful about making things acceptable to what I understood the culture of internet users to be in those days.
Craig : That’s so wild. You were designing for a completely different level of knowledge. You can assume so much more today.
Shel : Yes. Absolutely. Back in those days, it was the very beginning of doing commerce on the internet. There was a whole debate around allowing commercial activity on the internet. At least that’s how I recall it. Many people online were like, “We’re not so sure about commerce on this thing. You better not overdo it. You better be tasteful.”
There were these cases where people doing overtly commercial things were chastised by the community at large. There were some lawyers advertising their services for getting Green Cards and they were doing it by massive spamming activities. It created a huge fuss back then. It’s laughable now because so much stuff like that happens all the time.
And when cookies started being a feature in web browsers a lot of people were really concerned about their privacy, so they would turn them off. So we had to figure out how to make things work without that. Some people were running text-only browsers back then. Plus they were on dial-up. Sending pictures was not a good thing for those people.
Craig : Wait, you could use the early Amazon as a text-only site?
Shel : Yeah, we tested it. It always seemed important for us to make things continue to work, even for people that didn’t have a high bandwidth connection or the latest and greatest computers and all that.
Craig : How long did you end up staying in Amazon?
Shel : I was there for five years.
Craig : At the time you left, was it still a bookstore? What was it like?
Shel : Well, they had branched out into several other product areas. There weren’t any digital products yet. Ebooks hadn’t happened yet. They hadn’t developed any hardware products yet. Their computing services were not public yet. It was still pretty much a retail business. Although it was definitely branching out into other product areas and other countries.
Also around the time of an IPO and afterwards, the kind of people that are attracted to go to a company changes a lot. There were boatloads of MBAs and people like that coming. It was already a big company from my perspective.
Craig : So you’ve observed all these technological shifts. Do you have thoughts about how people should evaluate technologies when they’re about to start building something?
Shel : At this point, I don’t know. It’s a huge subject. For myself, when I look at technology these days, I see that it’s either doing something to connect people or it’s doing something that isolates people. I tend to make value judgments based on that kind of consideration about what is worth working on.
You walk down the streets, you have to weave around people standing there in random orientations in the middle of the sidewalk looking at their cellphones. Then you see people speaking robotically so that their speech recognizer can understand them. Now they are running around in mobs in parks with their phones in front of them trying to catch imaginary animals. I don’t necessarily see all that as a positive development.
I think technology has a role to play but I don’t see it being exploited very carefully in that way. But this is the kind of economy that we live in. And it’s very, very addictive. Even people who complain about it are still subject to it.
Craig : For sure. Where do you see Amazon falling on that spectrum now?
Shel : I think that a lot of what they do is more on the isolating people side. Everything caters to convenience so much that you don’t even have to get out of bed to take care of your day-to-day business. To me, that’s a step too far. Of all the major online businesses, I don’t really think that they extend in that way much beyond what we did very early on by allowing for customer reviews.
Craig : Had you and Jeff stayed close?
Shel : Not really. When he replaced me in my original job and I was moved into the CTO slot, I was nominally in charge of architecture, but in fact that just meant rubber stamping projects that were 95% complete by the time I saw them. That was all after having told me that my job was mine as long as I wanted it. And I didn’t have resources other than myself to work on anything I was interested in either. So I would say we were not really on particularly friendly terms at that point.
Craig : In retrospect, how do you feel about how things unfolded with Jeff and Amazon?
Shel : He’s obviously a super brilliant businessman. If I had any inkling about what kind of a company Amazon would turn into, both in terms of how successful they are and some of their business practices, I probably would have been a little bit more careful about my own relationship to it at the beginning. I also might have decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
One thing that the Amazon experience taught me is try to imagine what a project or company would be like if it was more successful than you could ever possibly imagine. It’s very unlikely but it’s possible. You have to think about what the environment will be like if that happens, and how the people involved in it might change. When I was joining Jeff to form Amazon in the beginning, I didn’t even allow myself to go there. I’d worked for a lot of startups so it almost felt like a jinx to think too much about what might happen if it really succeeded in a big way. That was my mentality. I was like, I hope this makes it and is a moderate success. Maybe it even generates enough cash to let us retire at some point. You don’t really want to think about massive success beyond what you can imagine. Then, if it is successful, you have to start thinking, what’s my role in enabling this? Is that something I really want to be doing?
I would say, of all the jobs I had, and I had quite a few between when I started programming and when I left Amazon, the first couple of years at Amazon really were a high point for me. I really, really liked that. A lot of that wasn’t so much because of the technical side of it, it was because of having worked in lots of small businesses that didn’t go anywhere or were the wrong thing at the wrong time or something like that. Being a part of something from the very beginning that engages people and has an astonishing growth curve–being part of making that actually work–was hugely satisfying, and I still look back on those first couple of years as a really exciting and great time in my life.
The firm said it had identified a battery issue but did not elaborate.
But if a lithium-ion battery cell charges too quickly or a tiny manufacturing error slips through the net it can result in a short circuit - which can lead to fire.
One expert urged the industry to find safer alternatives to lithium.
"I think one should be concerned and push towards safer battery tech," said energy storage expert Professor Clare Grey from Cambridge University.
"That should be an important focus on research and industry development.
"While most manufacturing flaws will be picked up during initial testing, it's not an infallible process."
However Prof Grey also said that people should not panic.
"I'm standing at an airport - every single person would have to stop what they are doing if we took their batteries away from them," she said.
"We all take risks in our lives - we drive cars sitting on top of flammable organic liquids. Other tech is coming along that is safer."
There have only been 35 cases of the Galaxy Note 7 catching fire reported worldwide following 2.5 million sales, Samsung says.
The lithium ion batteries used by Samsung are common across the tech industry - so what makes them hazardous?
Image copyrightARIEL GONZALEZ
Image captionA Galaxy Note 7 reportedly caught fire shortly after its charger was unplugged
It's important to understand a little about how they work. Simply they contain a cathode, an anode and lithium.
The cathode and anode are separated by an organic liquid called an electrolyte and a porous material called the separator.
The lithium travels through the separator, within the liquid, between the two.
If the battery charges too fast, generating heat, lithium plates form around the anode which can create a short circuit.
"Normally you would have a battery management system that controls the rate at which you charge," said Prof Grey.
"Batteries are optimised so that you don't charge too fast - if you do that you will plate the lithium."
This is also why battery charging can be a frustratingly slow experience, she added.
Other faults that can cause a short circuit include contamination by tiny fragments of metal during the production process or minute holes in the sealing, which might not become apparent until the battery has been charged a few times as the materials expand and contract.
"The manufacturing has got a lot more standardised than it was 10 to 15 years ago," said Prof Grey.
However battery packs - combining battery cells to generate more power - can be problematic and this is increasingly common. Batteries containing 12 cells, for example, are readily available for laptops.
"The more you put together, the higher the likelihood that some will fail," she added.
"There are still flaws emerging but it's getting better. It is a challenge - with so many being produced, you just need one error."
Signs to watch out for
There can be symptoms indicating that a battery is about to fail, said support and repairs provider Geek Squad.
"Sometimes, a battery will start to swell and bulge before it fails completely, as the internal cells rupture and break," it says on its website.
"But the bulge doesn't always happen. If not, you might notice that your device is a little warmer than usual - but let's be honest, our phones get fairly warm during standard usage anyway."
The firm suggests disposing of any batteries displaying these signs.
Cybercriminals don't just send fraudulent email messages and set up fake websites. They might also call you on the telephone and claim to be from Microsoft. They might offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Once they have access to your computer, they can do the following:
Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.
Convince you to visit legitimate websites (like www.ammyy.com) to download software that will allow them to take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.
Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.
Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.
Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.
Telephone tech support scams: What you need to know
Cybercriminals often use publicly available phone directories, so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you. They might even guess what operating system you're using.
Once they've gained your trust, they might ask for your user name and password or ask you to go to a legitimate website (such as www.ammyy.com) to install software that will let them access your computer to fix it. Once you do this, your computer and your personal information are vulnerable.
Do not trust unsolicited calls. Do not provide any personal information.
Here are some of the organizations that cybercriminals claim to be from:
Windows Service Center
Microsoft Tech Support
Windows Technical Department Support Group
Microsoft Research and Development Team (Microsoft R & D Team)
Whenever you receive a phone call or see a pop-up window on your PC and feel uncertain whether it is from someone at Microsoft, don’t take the risk. Reach out directly to one of our technical support experts dedicated to helping you at theMicrosoft Answer Desk. Or you can simply call us at 1-800-426-9400 or one of our customer service phone numbers for people located around the world.
How to protect yourself from telephone tech support scams
If someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support calls you:
Do not purchase any software or services.
Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up.
Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
Take the caller's information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.
What to do if you already gave information to a tech support person
If you think that you might have downloaded malware from a phone tech support scam website or allowed a cybercriminal to access your computer, take these steps:
Change your computer's password, change the password on your main email account, and change the password for any financial accounts, especially your bank and credit card.
Install Microsoft Security Essentials. (Microsoft Security Essentials is a free program. If someone calls you to install this product and then charge you for it, this is also a scam.)
Note: In Windows 8, Windows Defender replaces Microsoft Security Essentials. Windows Defender runs in the background and notifies you when you need to take specific action. However, you can use it anytime to scan for malware if your computer isn’t working properly or you clicked a suspicious link online or in an email message.
There are some cases where Microsoft will work with your Internet service provider and call you to fix a malware-infected computer—such as during the recent cleanup effort begun in our botnet takedown actions. These calls will be made by someone with whom you can verify you already are a customer. You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes.
Distractions, lots of them. And it doesn't look like the new iPhone is going to deflect much of that attention away.
While we're used to saying "evolution, not revolution" in the smartphone market, this upgrade is not expected to turn many heads nor send customers running to the phone shop to upgrade.
If, as we expect, the headphone jack is removed from the device, expect a lot of anger from those who don't want to be ushered into buying wireless headphones.
Then again, Apple faced the same kind of anger when it rolled out the smaller "lightning" charging port, but everyone's just about got over that. Take a look at the "old" Apple charger and tell me it doesn't look almost comically massive. In hindsight, the right call.
A better camera would go down extremely well - more photographs are taken with iPhones than any other device. But some reported leaks suggest only the larger, less popular iPhone size will get the new camera technology.
Looking a bit further ahead, some are speculating that Apple is holding back this time around, instead saving new features for 2017 and what will be the iPhone's 10th anniversary.
Other expected change include increased storage and better speakers.
The new phone is also said to be water resistant, handling submersion for up to 30 minutes - a feature already offered by several of Apple's Android competitors from the likes of Samsung or Sony.
Apple is thought to be sticking with its two sizes, meaning there would be an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 7 Plus.
Neither is the design thought to be changing much, giving it the same overall look as the current models.
Rumour has it there will be more colours available, for instance reintroducing black as an option.
While the new models will be revealed to the world at the launch, consumers will have to wait a few weeks before they are shipped. Pre-orders are expected to open on Friday.
The timing still is crucial. Samsung beat Apple by releasing its Galaxy Note 7 last month. The device was well received by users and critics alike and started selling well.
Image copyrightARIEL GONZALEZ
Image captionA Galaxy Note 7 reportedly caught fire shortly after its charger was unplugged
But then reports about batteries heating up and sparking some fires prompted Samsung to launch an embarrassing recall last week - just days before the new iPhone makes its debut.
While Samsung's battery problems might tilt some prospective buyers toward the iPhone 7, Apple depends on the ongoing success of its smartphones as they have become its biggest source of revenue.
And after recent bad publicity ranging from issues around security flaws to tax problems, the world's most valuable listed company hopes the iPhone will be a hit.
When people talk about the benefits of digital information, it’s speed and efficiency they tend to focus on – and rightly so. It’s the ability to instantly share digital data which is helping to transform just about every aspect of our lives – including the way we work.
Leaders need to be able to stay on top of their company's digital data
For any SME, efficiency savings are all that’s required to justify switching over to digital processes. It’s the basic ability to get tasks done quicker and for a lower cost that makes the move away from old paper-based work methods something of a no-brainer.
But there’s a more profound benefit offered by digital data, and it’s something that’s not so immediately obvious. This is the power it provides to start seeing the internal workings of a business in ways never previously possible.
It’s the equivalent of switching on a light within an organisation to reveal a whole new business environment – an untapped resource of digital information, allowing SMEs much better ways to monitor performance, track financial metrics and identify future dangers.
It gives business leaders the accurate and up-to-date information they need to make informed decisions – to improve their ability to identify those aspects of a company which are helping or hindering its growth
A real-world example is the way digital expenses management systems are replacing the traditional manual and paper-based methods of handling employee costs. These systems automatically track and store data on every aspect of an expenses claim.
It’s not just who, when and what – it also creates a digital data stamp showing the exact time and location of each claim. If it’s a mileage expense, the information collected will include details of the precise route and distance of the journey.
The systems are also continually monitoring for claims that breach set levels or fall outside of company policy. When these are identified an alert is automatically triggered, letting an account manager know to investigate further.
With finance teams no longer having to manually process bundles of paper claims, all of this information is instantly accessible and combined with user-friendly reporting tools, lets companies view, analyse and manipulate this data in any ways they want.
It gives business leaders the ability to set accurate metrics with quantifiable goals that can be easily tracked and monitored. It also provides a valuable insight into the health of the organisation – to identify any weaknesses and spot potential problems.
In a pre-digital world, it could take weeks or months for any kind of "up-to-date" report to be manually compiled. It meant that early warning signs were liable to remain unnoticed, small issues were allowed to grow into more serious problems.
Without a digital system to enforce a policy in real-time, finance teams faced the onerous task of trying to retrospectively spot where breaches had occurred. It’s within this organisational blindspot that expenses fraud was allowed to become endemic within UK businesses.
With companies not having the tools required to properly tackle fraud, each grudgingly tolerated it. The National Fraud Authority estimates that in excess of £100m continues to be lost each year by UK companies to exaggerated and falsified expenses claims.
It’s this power of digital data to shine a light on exactly what’s happening within a business which is helping to transform the role of our finance teams, moving the focus away from processing data and more towards the management and visualisation of information.
The challenge facing today’s SMEs is being able to harness digital information, rather than being overwhelmed by it. It’s finding digital friendly systems and teams that enable your business to maximise these new ways of working.
While any organisation which moves to a digital system can reap the basic benefits of a speedier and more efficient processes, there is a real competitive advantage available to those SMEs who fully harness the potential of digital data.
Not only can it improve the present health and performance of a company but it’s also providing business leaders with the insights they need to better guide the future path of their organisations.
Image captionEvery sausage stand pays more tax than Starbucks in Austria, Mr Kern told Der Standard.
Amazon and Starbucks pay less tax in Austria than a local sausage stall, the country's Chancellor Christian Kern has said in a newspaper interview.
"Every Viennese cafe, every sausage stand pays more tax in Austria than a multinational corporation," Mr Kern told Der Standard.
"That goes for Starbucks, Amazon and other companies," he said.
He added that EU countries with low corporate taxes were undermining the structure of the union itself.
"What Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg or Malta are doing here lacks solidarity towards the rest of the European economy," he said.
He praised the European Commission's recent order that Apple should pay 13bn euros (£11bn) more in tax to Ireland.
On Tuesday, the European Commission decided after a long investigation that Apple should pay the 13bn euros in extra tax, plus interest, to the Irish government because a long-standing tax deal with the US tech giant amounted to illegal state aid.
Apple and the Irish government have criticised the decision and the US firm has said it is confident it will be overturned on appeal.
Mr Kern, who heads Austria's Social Democrats and the country's coalition government, also said Facebook and Google had sales of more than 100m euros each in Austria.
"They massively suck up the advertising volume that comes out of the economy but pay neither corporation tax nor advertising duty in Austria," he added.
As well as Apple, the European Commission has launched past or current investigations into the tax arrangements of Fiat, McDonald's, Starbucks and Amazon.
It is an undeniable fact that in today's digital world, we are all pretty much reliant on information technology and the Internet to run our businesses. It is also a fact that it is not "if" but "when" will our IT Infrastructure and business applications be under attack.
Once you’ve addressed the insider threats within your organisation, you can turn your attention to external cyber threats
Before you even begin to address the dark world of cybercrime or sponsored attacks, plotting to compromise your IT systems; you should first remember that cyber security begins at home. By home, I mean the business owners, their senior managers, their staff and their third party contractors.
It is a salient point that security breaches by staff or third party contractors – whether malicious or accidental – are one of the largest sources of cyber-attacks on an organisation's systems. And cyber criminals will seek out the weak points in your organisation as these present the easiest opportunities for attack.
How can I ensure my systems are safe from within?
Before we look at solutions, we must understand the various ways in which employees and contractors can be responsible for security breaches.
Careless employees – Obvious examples of careless behaviour include: staff who use weak passwords, staff who surf unauthorised websites and staff who click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails. Then there are staff who don't take proper care of their personal or company devices.
Vengeful ex-employees – This happens more than you might think as ex-employees believe they won't be caught. This is especially so if they had access to systems, networks and databases with privileged passwords.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) – The fact that a firm's information is shared to or copied onto personal devices creates an inherent risk of theft. Passwords on personal devices are often weaker than those used at the workplace, making them vulnerable to hacking.
Unauthorised devices to the network – Many don’t think twice about connecting their own devices to the company IT infrastructure. This can facilitate the introduction of malware into the organisation’s systems, or provide an entry point for a hacker.
Third party service providers – Service providers are often an important part of your extended team but can pose a risk if their security practices are not as rigid as your own. It is not unusual for contractors to use a single or shared password for all their employees – and often the password used is weak to facilitate new staff.
This makes the potential theft of login details relatively simple – often simply by guessing.
Here's what you can do to minimise this threat.
(1) Employee vetting – All staff must be thoroughly vetted for honesty. For sensitive positions, police criminal checks should be undertaken. You must also ensure that your third party contractors have similarly vetted their own staff.
(2) Training and education – Have well-documented procedures that provides training for all staff. Educate them on the need for strong security and the implications of careless or bad password management. Awareness and training exercises should include education about scams such as phishing and key logger scams. Consider introducing a password management system and deploy validated encryption as part of your strategy. In highly sensitive situations you might consider the introduction of two-step authorisation.
(3) Introduce a strict password cancellation policy for ex-staff – Ensure that proper procedures are in place so that all passwords are immediately cancelled for any employee leaving the company.
(4) Have a clear BYOD policy – This should be a carefully written document that spells out exactly what employees can and can't do with their devices. This will include such FAQ's as: Can they download company documents, emails or business data? Can they download personal applications onto company networks? Implement systems to monitor mobile devices. This will reduce risks if a device is lost or stolen. Encryption and containerisation of data on devices can also form part of an overall solution.
(5) Introduce a "no tinkering" policy – No unauthorised tinkering with the company's systems should be allowed and specifically no devices, USBs etc. should be connected without first being checked by your IT security team.
(6) Insist that all third party contractors have acceptable security procedures – All service providers must implement "best practice" as far as password security is concerned. Monitor the contractor's security procedures and immediately cancel all access passwords as soon as a provider has ceased working for you.
(7) Monitor and report – Violations of the policies can be monitored and actions taken to identify and stop real damage from occurring. While tools and techniques can be quite complex, to manage out the numerous false-positives (security events that are benign) much can be done by simply monitoring for internal threat scenarios that could be most damaging to your business. Ensure that a well-defined incident management procedure is in place to back up the management of a security violation and that there is a disciplinary procedure in place to deal with employees and contractors who would compromise the security of your organisation.
Once you’ve addressed the insider threats within your organisation, you can turn your attention to external cyber threats.
Image captionHP said its new screens can darken the picture by up to 95% when viewed from wide angles
Computer firm HP has developed two new laptops that feature an optional privacy mode, which obscures the screen unless viewed face-on.
The technology, called Sure View, darkens the picture by "up to 95%" when observed from wide angles.
HP said the laptop can ensure privacy when used in public spaces.
One analyst said it could appeal to security-conscious enterprise customers.
Numerous peripherals companies already manufacture attachable glue-on screen filters that achieve the same effect, but HP claims its Sure View technology is the world's first "integrated" privacy screen.
It will launch with two new 14-inch laptops.
Pressing the F2 key enables the privacy mode, which HP said can reduce "up to 95% of visible light when viewed at an angle".
HP said the technology is becoming more of a necessity because of "visual hacking", a term it uses for infiltrating accounts by spying on people using their laptops and smartphones.
Chris Green, a technology analyst for communications agency Lewis, played down the impact of HP's technology.
"Angled screen view protectors are nothing new, they have been around 30 years," he said.
He added that while over-the-shoulder hacking is a security issue "it's not something that the industry is measuring with any research".
But Patrick Moorhead, a principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, said that integrating the filter made the tech more dependable for enterprise customers.
"With the glue-on filters, IT departments don't actually know if you are using them. They may think they are managing security but they don't know for sure if that filter is on.
"So to me this lowers the risk, because IT departments can program the laptops so that the filter is always on."
Moorhead said the tech would be particularly useful "in environments of high security and high privacy such as healthcare, government, and even consultancy firms".
He added that, while there is little research to measure the prevalence of visual hacking "anecdotally I think it happens a lot".
Research conducted by the Ponemon Institute in Michigan claimed that nine out of 10 attempts to acquire sensitive business information using only visual means were successful.
Privacy firm 3M, which developed the Sure View technology for HP, funded Ponemon Institute's research
Video games are a surprisingly rare sight on primetime TV. Not since GamesMaster in the 1990s have we had a show that celebrates gaming in quite the same way. We hadVideogame Nation for a bit, but even that was axed.
But Dave is about to launch the latest attempt at making video games work on TV - Dara O Briain's Go 8 Bit. The comedy series challenges celebs to a host of classic and current games, ranging from Space Invaders to Tekken to FIFA.
Speaking to Digital Spy about the series - which launches tonight - Dara told us that he's amazed how video games have been treated by TV over the years, and how it's a lot simpler than coming up with strange new gameshows.
"People are genuinely competitive," he said. "Nobody cares if they win a round of Mock the Week, when really it's just a plot device to get people talking. But this one is genuinely competitive.
"But also TV companies always try and come up with [complicated] games - 'you get the orange ball, and then you have three orange balls, and then you get a red ball and answer a question' - these ridiculous rules.
"We have a gameshow where we just play the same games as people in their houses play with their mates. It turns out that these games are pretty well-tested!
"TV has always treated them as this weird runt cousin, when they're the biggest entertainment industry in the world. For some reason it was considered as this really minority or niche interest."
He also pointed out that TV viewers can easily get behind bizarre sports at the Olympics, so why not games?
"It's a thing that's enormously popular. This shouldn't be counter-intuitive, considering we're all up until 3 in the morning watching sports that we don't understand the rules of or that we don't watch for four years, and are amazingly gripped by them. They're much more obscure than Pac-Man or Sensible Soccer."
Image captionThe box to opt out of data sharing is tucked away in the app's terms and conditions
When prompted to accept the updated terms and conditions, tap Read to expand the full text
WhatsApp states Facebook will still receive data in some situations
"When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook it was able to reassure users that it would remain independent," said Pamela Clark-Dickson, principal analyst at Ovum.
"Now it's giving Facebook phone numbers - some might say that's a betrayal of trust. In a small way, it has gone back on what it said it wouldn't do."
The company suggested messages typically sent via SMS text message - such as airline flight alerts or bank balance updates - could be sent via WhatsApp instead.
It said that in addition to appointment information and delivery notifications, it would also allow "marketing" messages.
"Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you," the company said.
Ms Clark-Dickson said users may not mind the service "if they can opt in and the messages are useful".
"It will help them generate revenue if they charge businesses a fee to send messages," she told the BBC.
"But WhatsApp needs to be careful, a lot of people use it because they don't get advertising there."
The company said it would test such messaging features in the coming months, but promised to avoid a "spammy experience" where people are inundated with ads, and said it would not display so-called banner ads in its app.
Other messaging apps such as China's WeChat have already enabled business-to-consumer communication to great success, but Ms Clark-Dickson suggested WhatsApp would take a different approach.
"WeChat is a content-driven platform," she told the BBC.
"It opened up its platform to third parties, letting people make payments, book taxis. That seems to be the direction Facebook is taking Messenger.
"WhatsApp has the potential to be a great communication facility, if it concentrates on a solid user experience as its differential."