Saturday, 12 January 2013


Occasionally technology can be really useful. Yes, I know it can be fun, it can be entertaining and it can even be slightly sexy but it can be useful as well.

A few weeks ago, a friend’s son had been shopping and he left the family Apple iPad in the shopping trolley when he left the store. Unfortunately, even though he quickly realised what had happened, by the time he got back to the store the iPad had already gone. A disaster.

Or was it?

Luckily, months before the iPad had gone missing, his Mum had taken the time to switch on the “Find My iPhone” facility that comes with all Apple iPhones, iPads and computers. This facility allows the device to be tracked to within a few metres, so long as it’s connected to a wireless network, or in the case of this iPad, a cellphone network.

As soon as she heard that the device had gone missing she got on the web, visited and she could see on an online map that it was still in the parking lot of the shopping center. She immediately called the Police and arranged to meet in parking lot. In fact she was met by a combination of the Police and the BDF, presumably looking tough and keen for some action. The son was now at home looking at the tracking information on the internet, talking on the phone to his Mum and the forces of law and order, directing them to where the device appeared to be. As they closed in, he used another secret weapon. From the iCloud web page he could instruct the iPad to emit a loud beeping noise, loud enough to reveal it’s precise location. Seconds later they found their misplaced iPad underneath the base plate of a lamp post.

They couldn’t be sure but the guy walking away in the distance, looking over his shoulder, was probably the thief who presumably thought something supernatural had just occurred. Unfortunately he got away.

This was a very good example of how useful technology can be. Tools like Find My iPhone give you a little hope that lost and stolen valuables can be traced and recovered. Even if you can’t recover your stolen device there are still other tricks you can use. You can remotely set it to “Lost mode” so it can’t be used. You can even remotely wipe the device so your personal data can’t ever be seen. You might not get your iPad back but you can make sure the thief has a worthless piece of equipment he can’t dispose of. It’s a great example of how technology can help consumers like you and me.

Unfortunately technology isn’t always that useful. You’ve only got to read your water or power bill to see how the technology used by those providers doesn’t seem to be helpful or easy to understand.

But I’m feeling optimistic. Find My iPhone isn’t the only useful bit of technology you and I can use.

My other favourite bit of incredibly useful technology is the SMS alert system used by many banks. If you haven’t signed up for this service from your bank then do so immediately. You’ll get a free SMS every time something happens in your account. Until you’ve seen this you can’t imagine how much confidence this gives you. You see instantly where your money is going. If your bank doesn’t offer this service ask them today when they plan to. If they say anything other than “tomorrow” then tell them you’re changing banks.

Internet banking is another good example. Almost all banks now allow you to control almost every aspect of your bank accounts over the internet. You can check your balances and transactions, you can make transfers and payments, schedule regular payments and adjust your daily transaction limits. Almost everything you can do if you go to the branch. Why anyone with Internet access doesn’t use it to do their banking is bizarre.

Perhaps best of all is the way certain organisations are using technology to help us to help ourselves. The Attorney General’s Chambers put the laws of Botswana on the web some while ago and I still think it’s a remarkable thing. Our laws are written in language that is easy to understand and they’re a great resource for all of us. Knowing the interesting parts of the Penal Code, the Consumer Protection Regulations and the Public Health and Food Hygiene Regulations is an essential body of knowledge we should all possess.

It’s strange that a branch of our Government, not exactly the most responsive of organisations, is the one taking the lead in these areas. When can we expect to see banks, insurance and investment companies and utility companies like power and water suppliers educating us in the same way?

Maybe 2013 will be the year that the companies to which we give our money will start trying to advise us properly. Maybe certain banks will start selling us bank accounts that are the best for us, their customers, rather than the ones loaded with charges that impoverish us. Maybe they’ll use some technology to tighten up their security and reduce the level of card-cloning and skimming we experience. In the week before writing this I heard of three separate stories of people having their bank accounts raided by criminals hundreds of kilometres away. Yes, of course it’s possible the customers had accidentally revealed their PIN numbers but I suspect there’s more to it than that in some cases. Clearly the crooks were sometimes using cloned cards in devices they know only require a signature, not a PIN. We need the banks to insist that stores use the latest technology to protect us.

With a little luck 2013 will be a year of technology really being used for our benefit, rather than just for exploiting us?

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