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Gold standard cyber security in the ‘gig economy’

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David Higgins, EMEA Technical Director, CyberArk.

David Higgins, EMEA Technical Director, CyberArk.

The ‘gig economy’ is described as many things. On the one extreme, it is depicted as symptomatic of the decline in the traditional nine-to-five day job with a stable income, while on the other, it is viewed as the jet fuel powering the new world economy. 

This new economy is driven by the increasing trend whereby companies hire independent contractors and freelancers, instead of full-time employees, paying them for each individual ‘gig’ they do.

It certainly holds a lot of promise for this continent, and has in fact been dubbed ‘the future of work in Africa’ by the Centre for Global Development, mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of the continent’s workforce are self-employed and freelancers.

As with elsewhere on the continent, this approach also holds true for South Africa, as despite an unemployment rate that remains in the doldrums, analysts suggest the gig economy can play a big role in alleviating the problem of joblessness in the country.

While the typical gig economy worker is usually, as an example, described as a part-time Uber or Deliveroo driver, the fact is that IT contracting is a very common gig economy role. In fact, even traditional retail and corporate powerhouses now comprise a mix of full-time, part-time and short-term workers. This ensures they can remain nimble, cost-effective, and able to adapt to changing market conditions in a fast-paced, technology-led environment.

It is unsurprising that a large portion of the gig economy is dedicated to IT, since it is in line with how modern enterprises approach IT in general. Being able to deploy more or less IT expertise as the situation demands is akin to usage of cloud services. It’s quick, it’s flexible, and it meets the changing needs of the business.

One thing that it is not, though, is inherently secure. The risk model has shifted from a model built around controlled environments; ie, corporate networks.The perimeter – the first line of defence – was a known quantity and yes, it had holes, but generally IT departments were aware of where the weak points were. Now, the perimeter is at best distributed, and at worst non-existent. Put bluntly, the risk is that companies can no longer enforce security on the end device, as they may have no jurisdiction or control over it.

The challenge arises because IT workers perform some of the more crucial roles in 21st century organisations, since every business relies on information and technology in order to function. It’s assumed that large quantities of critical data, and at least a few critical assets, will need to be stored and managed in order for the business to serve customers, meet manufacturing deadlines and more. Therefore, it is common that IT employees are subject to strict security oversight.

However, when these roles are performed by remote third-parties, short-term contractors or otherwise not by permanent, trusted staff that are office-based, security simply has to adapt to this new way of working. After all, as flexible workers plug into an organisation’s network and access sensitive company systems from outside the physical perimeter of the office, these organisations need to ensure they have strict security protocols in place to mitigate the elevated risk that this entails.

They also need to ensure that remote gig workers are only accessing what they need to, instead of trusting them with sweeping access to everything. Risk factors include accessing networks from personal devices that lack enterprise-grade security, or from home networks that could be easily compromised. In this scenario we are far away from a world where security teams are able to enforce policy on devices within the traditional network. Now, often they will have no control at all over the device being used by the external party to connect in and, similarly, not being able to ensure the security of the location where the device is connecting from; for instance, a home WiFi network.

According to CyberArk global research, 90% of enterprises allow third-party vendors access to their critical systems and 72% put third-party access in their top 10 security risks. This indicates the problem is widespread and the risk is understood.

The real issue, then, is whether it is acted upon. If not, gig economy workers put themselves and their employers at risk of data breaches, leaks of confidential information and more. However, recent advances in technology mean the shortcomings of older ones – like virtual private networks (VPNs) – in securing remote workers can now be overcome.

Some of the ways to do this include using biometrics, Zero Trust and just-in-time provisioning, all of which can and should be employed to reliably authenticate remote vendor access to the most sensitive parts of the corporate network. In the gig economy environment, where endpoint devices have disparate levels of security and the office environment can be a café, car or home office, it is clear that cyber security needs to match the flexibility of modern working. The place where organisations can reliably enforce policy is at the point of connection and the access that they require into systems. This needs to be recognised and implemented.

Technology is ultimately the glue that holds the gig economy together, building platforms that enable the agile and flexible matching of supply and demand, and the analytics to optimise it all. It connects freelancers with their clients and businesses with the skills they need. It is obvious that remote working is only going to continue to grow – possibly spurred to new heights by the COVID-19 lockdown – which means it is imperative that organisations considering making use of the gig economy tighten up and improve their security sooner, rather than later.

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Oxygen chooss CPI for gig economy debit cards

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CPI Card Group Inc. (OTCQX: PMTS, TSX: PMTS) (“CPI” or the “Company”), a payment technology company and leading provider of credit, debit and prepaid solutions, today announced a collaboration with Oxygen, the first digital banking platform tailored to meet the unique needs of the freelance economy.

Oxygen selected CPI to develop its first personal and business debit cards – tapping the Company’s card manufacturing experience and advanced print design services to create a payment product that embodies Oxygen’s unique financial market positioning.

Oxygen provides flexible banking to the millions of U.S. professionals who thrive on multiple income streams, contract work and freelance gigs. The company’s solutions are available through a mobile app that enables a fast, frictionless user experience. Oxygen takes a holistic approach to meeting the financial services needs of independent professionals. In CPI, Oxygen found a card manufacturer that could create a payment solution from end to end. CPI and Oxygen collaborated to develop two packages with clean and crisply-designed vertical cards that arrive nested in interactive packaging. Back-of-card personalization completes the high-end look and feel.

“At Oxygen, we understand that the physical brand experience, – including everything from the card design to the packaging appearance – matters for our creative, tech-savvy clientele. With CPI’s cost-effective scale and design strengths, we were able to deliver a sleek card to customers in a unique, memorable fashion,” said Hussein Ahmed, founder and CEO at Oxygen. “We are pleased to have such a reliable secure card provider and are thrilled to offer customers an eye-catching debit card that echoes their drive, ambition and lifestyle.”

Through CPI’s advanced personalization capabilities and packaging options, financial institutions can develop differentiated card programs that deliver a premium cardholder experience. The Company provides end-to-end support and customizability that allow businesses to create tailored products that bridge the digital and physical worlds for their brands. Additionally, CPI’s innovative manufacturing approach empowers companies to introduce exciting card designs and technology features, which can offer a competitive edge in the pursuit of top-of-wallet status.

“CPI and Oxygen share in being deeply customer-centric in everything we do. We are excited to leverage our manufacturing strengths and high-quality print and design services to achieve debit cards that match the modern, sophisticated aesthetic of Oxygen’s brand and its clients,” said Guy DiMaggio, SVP and General Manager, Secure Card Solutions, CPI Card Group. “We look forward to supporting more fintech innovators and pioneers in creating payment cards that expand the physical aspect of their brands.”  

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How Covid-19 has affected the gig economy in South Africa

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/ MEDIA STATEMENT / This content is not written by Creamer Media, but is a supplied media statement.

A report by The Fairwork Project – a collaboration between various South African and foreign university research units – has found that the non-standard employment status of gig workers during Covid-19 has made them particularly vulnerable during an economic shutdown. However, some gig networking platforms have stepped up to ease the pain.

Fairwork, which draws on the expertise of staff from the universities of Oxford, Cape Town, Western Cape, Manchester, Institute of Information Technology Bangalore in India and the Technical University of Berlin, wrote a report titled Gig Workers, Platforms and Government During Covid-19, which was released in May 2020.

The report looked at gig economy platforms active in South Africa, government responses  regarding informal, freelance or gig economy workers, and actual worker experience surveys. While most platforms regarded workers as independent contracts rather than employees, to their detriment, the report found that gig technology company, M4Jam and SweepSouth actively worked to offset looses of income for contracted giggers.

The report compiled a scorecard which covered principles of fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. The scorecard specifically highlighted pay-related policies, given their importance to gig workers.

The scorecard found that three of the top-ranking platforms – M4Jam, SweepSouth and getTOD – had come up with innovative solutions to the problems their workers faced during Covid-19 and lockdown. M4Jam and SweepSouth were the only platforms to attempt to compensate for gig worker pay loss during lockdown.

“Our survey suggests the majority of gig workers have lost their jobs entirely, while those able to work during lockdown have, on average, lost four-fifths of their income. As a result, many reported that just getting food to eat was their top priority,” the researchers note.

“While [gig economy] platforms have long marketed themselves as facilitators of supplementary income streams, all of this exposes the complete dependency of most workers on their platforms as the basis for their livelihood,” they wrote.

The report stated that gig economy platforms, which operate by connecting jobbers with potential temporary work at corporate entities, should and could do more to help, by such measures as reducing commissions, deferring loans, offering healthcare assistance and sick pay, improving communication and engaging with workers and their representatives more effectively.

Georgie Midgley, CEO of M4Jam, said the report’s finding that inaction on behalf of gig platforms was the norm gave credence to common criticism of the gig economy. “Unfortunately most gig economy platforms live up to negative perceptions about jobber vulnerability. In a country like South Africa where the gig economy can play a vital role in supplementing income and providing much-needed temporary employment, the down side is potential exploitation of workers who do not have the safety net permanent employees have.”

Gig workers have tended to fall between the cracks of government financial relief measures, according to the report, principally because they fall outside the UIF net. “Gig workers have fallen between two stools: able to access neither the [government] support offered to formal employees, nor the support offered to those registered as small businesses. If gig workers are to avoid destitution, government must take further action,” the researchers said.

At the same time, the report said, the value of gig workers to the economy has been underlined by Covid-19 and lockdown. “Delivery services, for example, have been essential to society during lockdown. In the longer term, a legal resolution must be found to rescue gig workers from the employment-status limbo that the pandemic has brought into sharp relief.”

The report found, for example, that both Uber and Bolt ride-hailing services had closed down their local contact centres, “making it harder for drivers to interact with the platforms”. A constant criticism of gig economy platforms is that they simply cannot provide protection of workers’ rights in the same way that the formal economy’s employers do.

With lockdown preventing physical movement of jobbers completing micro-tasks for corporate employers, the report commended M4Jam’s approach of collaborating with one of its clients, Cell C, in rolling out a three-week training initiative that provided payment to workers for completing up to 48 short lessons undertaking via their mobile phones.

This provided further upskilling of contracted jobbers during the down time, and provided an average of R310 per week for those undergoing the training. M4Jam works with corporate clients such as Morecorp, i-People, Twizza, Sereti and more.

The research found that the trends in South Africa broadly reflected gig economy trends around the world, with roughly half of gig workers losing their “jobs” during lockdown. 

“We agree with the report’s findings that if gig economy platforms direct and exercise control over the work given to contracted jobbers, they should go to greater lengths to be responsible for assisting workers in dealing with the effects of Covid-19. This will not only maintain goodwill with contracted workers and ensure livelihoods are not lost – it will also show that the gig economy is a viable long-term alternative for job seekers who cannot get a foothold in the formal economy,” said Midgley.

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Gig economy battle spans unemployment benefits (NYSE:UBER)

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The $2.2T coronavirus relief law enacted in March extended unemployment benefits to previously ineligible groups, like the self-employed and independent contractors.

However, some Uber (NYSE:UBER) and Lyft (NASDAQ:LYFT) drivers are nervous about tapping the program out of fear it would certify them as independent contractors, and undermine their fight to be classified as employees.

While some labor attorneys believe their concern is valid, others think the threat is overblown.

California passed a law last year requiring gig companies to treat independent contractors as employees, and other states, like New York, are attempting to follow suit. California’s AB5 law took effect in January, but is being challenged in court.



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