10 tech stories you may have missed: Tax compliance vendors get busy

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Software helps fight sales fraud, a crypto-surge and eight other recent technology developments and how they’ll impact your clients and your firm.

1. Busy sales tax software vendors offer advice to retailers in wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing states to require many online retailers to charge sales tax even if they don’t have a physical presence, many tax compliance software applications saw a big uptick in interest. For example, the volume of registrations for TaxCloud tax compliance software almost tripled and the number of phone calls more than doubled … and has continued growing. (Source: Digital Commerce 360)

Why this is important for you and your clients: Yes, the Supreme Court ruling is going to create a headache for many small businesses that sell online. But there are good technologies to help. Besides TaxCloud, also check out Avalara and Vertex.

2. Microsoft unveils lighter $399 Surface Go tablet to take on iPads and Chromebooks. Microsoft recently unveiled its $399 Surface Go, a smaller tablet computer that competes with Apple’s iPad and Google’s Chromebooks. It’s a reasonably priced, 1.15-pound, solid tablet with a 10-inch display, making it a smaller, lighter, and cheaper version of Microsoft’s other tablet computer — the Surface Pro 3 — which has been discontinued. (Source: USA Today) (Full disclosure: My company, The Marks Group PC, is a Microsoft partner.)

Why this is important for you and your clients: It’s lighter, it’s cheaper, it’s smaller … and it may even be better than an iPad? Could be a winner for the business traveler or a mobile employee.

3. How technology is saving PetSmart millions by eliminating sales fraud. PetSmart says it saved $12 million in 2017 by catching criminals using high-tech methods — specifically, pinpointing fraudulent orders before they were shipped. Like many other retailers, it is using advanced machine learning technology from fraud prevention service Kount to take fraud prevention to the next level by not just stopping losses at the stores but also helping authorities prosecute criminals. By tracking online fraudsters in 2017, PetSmart was able to cancel nearly $4 million in fraudulent orders and is on track to do even better in 2018. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your clients: If your clients are selling products online, they’re exposed to fraudulent transactions when criminals use stolen credit card numbers to purchase products. That’s not fun. The good news is that there are a bunch of companies using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help them – like PetSmart and others – minimize this risk.

4. MeetFrank nets $1.1 million for its passive job matching chatbot. A “secret” recruitment app called MeetFrank, which uses machine learning plus a chatbot wrapper to simplify passive job hunting and talent-to-vacancy matching, has closed a $1.1 million seed funding round to expand in European markets. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for you and your clients: Founded in September 2017, the Estonian startup says it has about 125,000 active users in its first markets, such as Finland, Sweden, and Germany, and approximately 2,000 companies are currently using the app to try to attract talent. There are a growing number of companies using chatbots to improve their recruiting process too.

5. Facebook is reversing its ban on some cryptocurrency ads. In a reversal of its ban of all cryptocurrency ads back in January, Facebook now says it will allow some preapproved advertisers to promote crypto businesses and services, like exchanges. (Source: Recode)

Why this is important for you and your clients: For companies in the crypto business this is good news. The original ban was meant to prevent people from promoting “financial products and services frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.” Now, advertisers approved by Facebook through an application process can promote crypto products, though ads promoting binary options and initial coin offerings will still be banned.

6. Leading venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz raises its first dedicated crypto fund. Speaking of crypto, top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced this week that it has raised $300 million for its first-ever fund dedicated to crypto companies. The firm is doubling down on crypto, even though bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been struggling this year. (Source: CNBC)

Why this is important for you and your clients: Andreesen Horowitz says that, over two to three years, it plans to put the money into everything from early-stage coins and tokens to later-stage networks like bitcoin or ethereum and will hold those investments for up to 10 years. This vote of confidence will not only benefits start-ups in the field, but also gives credibility to an industry that has seen its ups and downs.

7. Gmail app developers have been reading your emails. Google keeps making the news – and sometimes not in a good way. The Wall Street Journal reported that third-party app developers can read the emails of millions of Gmail users. Not only that but Gmail’s access settings allow data companies and app developers to view private details, including recipient addresses, time stamps, and entire messages. While the apps need to receive user consent, the consent form isn’t clear that it would allow humans, not just computers, to read users’ emails. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for you and your clients: Google says it only gives data to vetted third-party developers and with users’ explicit consent. I’m not saying you should panic but if your company – like mine – uses Gmail for your corporate email then be aware that your information may not be as private as you think.

8. Google’s new voice technology is creeping people out. In the next few weeks, Google will begin testing Duplex — an artificial intelligence system designed to make human-sounding voice calls on your behalf — thus automating things like booking restaurant tables and hair appointments. In a recent demo, potential users saw what it would be like for a restaurant to receive a phone call for a reservation. Testing will be limited only to businesses that Google has partnered with. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for you and your clients: According to Android Authority writer Williams Pelegrin, Google Duplex “is still creepy, but it’s ready for the real world.” It’s also going to be a game changer for many businesses that are looking to cut overhead by replacing customer agents with computers that talk to customers as if they’re human.

9. Google Pay rolls out support for peer-to-peer payments and mobile ticketing. Google says its updates to Google Pay, its recently rebranded service for all its different payments tools, are now going live – and there are some changes that will benefit lots of businesses. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for you and your clients: One of the additions is peer-to-peer payments, which allow your clients to not only pay or request money from a friend through Google Pay Send, but also to do that into the main Google Pay app. This makes it easier to split the bill with their friends. If a customer buys something with Google Pay, they can tap on the purchase and then request payment from up to five people.

10. A German startup offers an easy-to-use design tool to help businesses create better looking content. German startup Xara has developed Xara Cloud, a design tool that resides in the cloud and attempts to bridge the gap between professional design and business content created by non-design professionals. It consists of a drag-and-drop browser-based editor that lets users create designs using text, shapes, icons, charts, and imported images. In addition, it has the ability to use off-the-shelf professionally created color schemes or have the software create a new color scheme based on an image, such as a company logo, that the user has uploaded. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for you and your clients: Judging by its features, Xara Cloud appears to be a useful tool to help the non-expert business owner (that’s me!) create attractive and professional content for our blogs and websites.

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

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Online sales tax Sales tax software Cryptocurrencies Fraud prevention Payment fraud Fraud detection Google Microsoft