1. A hacker group donates ransoms to charities
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Darkside — a ransomware group — has been donating portions of ransoms received from companies they’ve hacked to various charities. The group — which has been operating since August of this year — typically attacks big corporations, encrypts and steals their data, then demands a large ransom costing companies millions. The group released a statement that they only focus on big, for-profit organizations, and have taken pride in giving a portion of the paid ransom to charities such as Children International to help children in poverty, among several other nonprofits. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Ransomware is a billion-dollar industry and is so profitable that hacker groups like this one can literally pay it forward with money stolen from companies that paid ransom. Unbelievable. All you can do is to step up your own security — update your operating systems, get backups, implement multi-factor authentication — so that you can choose what charities receive your money and not some hacking organization.
2. Customer service chats coming to Instagram DMs
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Businesses will now be able to provide live customer service agents to assist users posing frequently asked questions through Instagram. With the ability to field questions through Stories and Shops on Instagram, businesses will also be able to merge the social media platform with their CRMs, providing the ability to keep track of order and message history from customers. The most recent version of messenger is currently being tested by big brands such as Adidas, H&M, and Michael Kors, to name a few, and is not yet widely available. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Instagram is owned by Facebook and part of Facebook’s strategy — as told to me in this interview by Rich Rao, Facebook’s vice president of small business — is to expand its e-commerce capabilities. Over the next few years, small businesses who sell their products on both platforms will be seeing more tools like the ones mentioned above to sell their products and provide customer service. Could Facebook, with its billions of users, be a better platform to generate revenues for your clients’ businesses than Amazon?
3. PC demand fuels strongest U.S. market in a decade
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A new study is revealing that during the last few months of COVID-19, PC sales have surged to the highest they’ve been in the last 10 years. During the third quarter, Chromebooks proved to be popular, with an approximately 90 percent growth during the third quarter thanks to schools moving to remote learning. In addition to Chromebooks, data also indicated that mobile workstations, notebooks, and PCs have gone up in shipments and sales, while desktops saw a 26 percent decline from the start of the pandemic. (Source: WSJ)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: No Virginia, the PC industry is not dead. Far from it.
4. Small biz shifts to e-commerce and social media
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A recent survey conducted by Chase Ink asked small businesses to share the changes they have had to make in order to handle the obstacles brought on by COVID-19. Sixty-four percent of participants said that the changes made in 2020 will continue into next year. The majority of changes made centered around businesses moving to digital processes, and 35 percent of small businesses believe that the obstacles brought on by the coronavirus would have resulted in permanent closures had they not moved business online. Forty-eight percent of participants said that their use of social media has become vital in their surviving the pandemic. (Source: WWD)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Another way the pandemic has accelerated an already increasing trend. Ecommerce sales are through the roof this year and many small businesses are finding that, with the right investment, social media platforms can provide a very profitable way to engage and sell to new customers. Do not ignore these trends as you make your marketing plans for 2021.
5. Facebook’s new AI can directly translate languages
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Facebook has announced that their new-and-improved AI will be able to more efficiently and accurately translate languages. Traditionally, their AI would translate using English as the middle step, often translating from one language to English, and then to another. This process would often diminish how accurately wording was being translated. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: The newly developed AI now has the capability to translate directly from one language into the other, negating the need to use English at all. What a great tool if you’re employing people around the world who need to communicate to each other.
6. Digital advertising keeps growing during the pandemic
A report released recently shared data showing that — despite the impacts the coronavirus is having on businesses — digital advertising has managed to recover from the initial hit back in March when lockdowns began. While the report did not disclose any specific prediction regarding money being spent on digital ads by businesses, the analysts conducting the report did predict that digital ad spending will continue to rise, with more retailers going online for the holiday season and utilizing email, social media, content marketing, and search engine ads. (Source: Digital Commerce 360)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Not sure why this is so surprising. E-commerce sales are up more than 30 percent from last year and, with so many working from home, internet traffic has skyrocketed. Where there’s eyeballs, there’s ads. For your business marketing in 2021, digital advertising continues to be something you should be seriously considering, even expanding.
7. Gusto launches salary-early service for small biz clients
Gusto — a fintech company geared toward helping small businesses navigate their benefits for workers — recently introduced a free product that will allow employees to have access to their money in between pay days. (Source: Business Insider)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Gusto’s newest feature will be integrated with their digital wallet, which already lets workers put wages aside to save. Those who are currently using Gusto will be able to start taking advantage of the new feature with no extra downloads. Gusto’s new feature aims to provide businesses a better option for having quick access to cash. HR apps like Gusto’s are growing in popularity and are a great way to increase productivity, particularly for a remote workforce.
8. Amazon’s Alexa drives IT managers crazy
An attendee operates the new Amazon.com Inc. Echo device on display during the company's product reveal launch event in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Amazon unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of its popular Alexa-powered Echo speaker that the e-commerce giant said has better sound. Photographer: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg
A recent study revealed that professionals in the security and IT space are struggling with the idea that they are in the dark when it comes to identifying devices that are able to connect to their company networks and coming up with ways to protect networks from them. Devices such as smart watches, Alexas, or other smart devices used for convenience are not innately secure, which can create an opportunity for attackers to enter company networks and have access to things such as personal employee information and intellectual property. "This study seems to reveal that IT people are being driven demented by the fact that they have no idea what sort of Internet of Things devices are being connected to their corporate networks," says ZDNet's Chris Matyszczyk. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Be careful if you’re employing voice-enabled devices either in your office or at remote workers’ homes that are using applications that access your corporate networks. The technology is still relatively unsecure, according to many IT managers, and could pose problems.
9. Augmented Reality tech is growing fast, thanks to the pandemic
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Augmented reality is becoming a key factor in helping companies make sales during the coronavirus pandemic. Brides and bridesmaids can now shop virtually through the David’s Bridal website and their augmented reality feature. Shoppers are able to load mannequins in 3-D on their website and select a dress, allowing them a 360-degree view and a chance to inspect the dress closely, getting a good look at the fabric and details of the dress. Similarly, Avataar.me — which is an advertising platform driven by AI — is helping companies by transforming 2D pictures into 3D in order to help shoppers get a closer look at things like cars, houses, and furniture. (Source: Retail Wire and Your Story)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Thanks to COVID-19, businesses big and small are looking for new and innovative ways to show their products in a safe and virtual way, and because of that, augmented reality applications and uses are expanding at a greater rate. This is a trend that will continue to accelerate in the next few years and if your clients are in a business that could benefit — retail, field service, real estate — these technologies are important to consider.
10. Google’s haircut-booking feature could help short-handed businesses
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Google Duplex — the tech giant’s AI chat platform — makes it possible for users to have their Google Assistant make calls to salons in order to make appointments, and focus is now turning to how this technology can pivot in order to help out other industries and businesses that may be short-staffed due to the coronavirus. Developers have shifted their focus in order to create ways that Duplex could expand to other languages and functions such as inventory check-ins and more. (Source: Venture Beat)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Per the report: “After tapping on the ‘Request an Appointment’ button from Search or Maps, users have the option of three treatments: a men’s haircut, a women’s haircut, or a general haircut. After selecting one and entering a preferred appointment date, time, and time range (e.g., 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.), users have to indicate whether they’ve been to the business before and optionally enter the name of a stylist, as well as provide contact information like a name, phone number, and email address.” Think of how powerful that can be if applied to your business, or your clients’.

Note: Some of these stories also appeared on Forbes.com.
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