Covid-19: Life as we know it goes online


In the United States, teachers like Lauryn Morley have been using Zoom to give lessons to students remotely, as schools were closed during the Covid-19 outbreak. But the Zoom service continues to be plagued with many security issues. — AFP

To keep the spread of Covid-19 in check, countries around the world announced lockdowns and measures to limit the movement of people.

The city of Wuhan in China was the first to announce a lockdown on Jan 23, which ended on April 8, and New Zealand introduced it on March 25 and started easing measures on April 27, according to reports.

Malaysia announced the movement control order (MCO) starting from March 18 and entered conditional MCO on May 4, removing most restrictions such as not allowing people to travel more than 10km.

During this period, people have been turning to tech to work remotely, stay in touch with others and keep themselves occupied while remaining indoors.

Here we take a look at the tools that have become part of the new normal for users due to the coronavirus.

You had me at hello

In the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, the new normal for face-to-face conversation with friends and family is a group meeting via video calls.

One service that skyrocketed to fame, and later to infamy, was the video conferencing platform Zoom.

The service resonated with most users because they didn’t have to pay anything to make unlimited one-to-one video calls and host a group meeting with up to 100 participants though each session was limited to 40 minutes.

Its popularity was also due to the ease of use – once a host initiates a video call, he or she just has to share a link to invite others and they don’t even need a Zoom account to join in.

Even the term “Zoom wedding” was being bandied about as people started to use it for marriage ceremonies, as well as other significant life events.

India’s US$70bil (RM300bil) wedding industry unceremoniously came to a halt, according to a Bloomberg report, which said that couples stopped spending money on pricey hotel bookings and caterers, as digital ceremonies became the norm.

“The virus has helped achieve what the government has been trying to do for years: limit unbridled wedding-time extravagance,” the article stated.

In Malaysia, Siti Jaslin Johari told mStar how she held a solemnisation ceremony to marry Muhammad Ameer through Skype last month. The video call involved three parties: Siti Jaslin and her family in Seri Kembangan, the groom’s side in Bangi and an officer from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais).

When Siti Jaslin shared her Skype wedding video on social media, it received lots of positive feedback from others.

“Even though our ceremony didn’t involve a lot of people, the video went viral and it felt like the whole of Malaysia was praying for us,” she was quoted in the report.

A viewer watching the first ever live streaming of an appeal by the Court of Appeal via teleconference on April 23. The session involved (from left) Nurul Dalilah Darmawi, Azizi Shaghir, Justice Kamardin Hashim, K.F. Ee, Norsalihah Sulaiman and Justice Lee Swee Seng. — FAIHAN GHANI/The StarA viewer watching the first ever live streaming of an appeal by the Court of Appeal via teleconference on April 23. The session involved (from left) Nurul Dalilah Darmawi, Azizi Shaghir, Justice Kamardin Hashim, K.F. Ee, Norsalihah Sulaiman and Justice Lee Swee Seng. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Video conferencing was also used for legal proceedings. On April 23, the Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur made history when it successfully conducted the first online proceedings through Skype involving a bus crash.

One of the lawyers for the respondent, Azizi Shaghir, said in a report that “there is no prejudice on rights to submit since both parties’ submissions were equally heard”.

Before the hearing started, both parties had to verbally agree on the mode of hearing.Azizi and his team took part in the proceedings from his office while a three-man bench, led by Court of Appeal judge Justice Kamardin Hashim, presided over the appeal along with Justices Lee Swee Seng and Azizah Nawawi, from home.

The hearing was also live streamed to members of the public via the official judiciary website.

However, Zoom’s rise to popularity was accompanied by security issues, which led it to being targeted by hackers and even unsavoury characters.

One of the issues that plagued the service was Zoombombing where an uninvited party would crash a meeting, often displaying offensive images and saying hateful things.

Last month, Cybersecurity firm Cyble claimed it was able to purchase about 530,000 Zoom accounts from a hacker on the dark web. — AFPLast month, Cybersecurity firm Cyble claimed it was able to purchase about 530,000 Zoom accounts from a hacker on the dark web. — AFP

Last month, Cybersecurity firm Cyble claimed it was able to purchase about 530,000 Zoom accounts from a hacker on the dark web.

Each account, costing less than a sen each, came with an email address, password, meeting web address and host key, which is a six-digit PIN assigned to a user hosting a Zoom meeting.

The host key allows a person to control a zoom meeting, including starting a live stream and ending it for all participants.

The firm explained that the Zoom accounts were likely obtained by using account details leaked from other data breaches, also known as “credential stuffing attacks”.

You can check if your details have been leaked online due to a data breach at Have I Been Pwned or Cyble’s AmIBreached.

Other companies were quick to capitalise on Zoom’s mishaps – WhatsApp expanded the number of people allowed in a video call to eight and Google started offering its video conferencing tool Meet for free to everyone, which was previously part of its G Suite meant for businesses.

Staying entertained

Life was but a stream for most people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As cinemas were forced to close and live events to be postponed or cancelled, people turned their attention online for entertainment, homing in on streaming services.

In April, streaming service dimsum entertainment (www.dimsum.asia) reported that it saw a spike within a few days after the MCO started, with its new daily subscribers increasing by 3,264%.

The number of viewers checking out its content catalogue jumped by 1,001%, while video views increased by 206%.

Mone Kamishiraishi (left) and Takeru Satoh star in An Incurable Case Of Love – the romantic drama is one of the most popular titles on dimsum entertainment now. — dimsum entertainmentMone Kamishiraishi (left) and Takeru Satoh star in An Incurable Case Of Love – the romantic drama is one of the most popular titles on dimsum entertainment now. — dimsum entertainment

dimsum entertainment chief marketing officer Lam Swee Kim said users were glued to their devices and smart TVs for longer stretches, spending over 90 minutes in a single viewing session, with more watching throughout the day, rather than just in the evenings after work.

And on April 8, dimsum entertainment launched its Advertising Video On Demand (AVOD) feature, which saw registered subscribers go up by 77%. The feature allows subscribers to watch certain content that’s ad-supported for free.

“The key content titles for users during CMCO are An Incurable Case Of Love from Japan, Love Of Thousand Years, Ancient Detectives and South Korean drama The World Of The Married,” said Kim.

The service’s eTuition content, ranging from preschool to primary and secondary schools, also proved to be popular.

Kim said eTuition is becoming the norm, adding that compared to live classes using video conferencing solutions, eTuition content prepared by qualified educators provides a safer environment with less chance of tampering.

She said the visually-rich, animated format of the lessons made it easier for students to follow and gives them a chance to think beyond the confines of a typical classroom.

dimsum entertainment is a Malaysian subscription video-on-demand service operated by SMG Entertainment Sdn Bhd, which is part of The Star Media Group.

dimsum entertainment reported an increase in viewers during MCO with most tuning in to popular titles like South Korean drama The World of the Married. — dimsum entertainmentdimsum entertainment reported an increase in viewers during MCO with most tuning in to popular titles like South Korean drama The World of the Married. — dimsum entertainment

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that Netflix gained 15.77 million new subscribers globally during the first three months of 2020, almost double the signups in the final months of last year.

“Like other home entertainment services, we’re seeing temporarily higher viewing and increased membership growth,” the company said in a statement, adding that shows such as Spenser Confidential and Tiger King were popular with its users during this period.

However, the increase in online viewership also caused a spike in Internet traffic, making Netflix take steps to reduce the burden on Internet service providers.

On March 31, Netflix announced that the video quality for users in Malaysia will be reduced to decrease overall network traffic by 25%.

A spokesperson said that customers paying to stream content in high definition (HD) or ultra high definition (UHD) will still be able to view videos in these resolutions, but they may experience a slight decrease in picture quality.

“We have many different streams for each single title within each resolution. If you are particularly tuned into video quality, you may notice a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution,” the spokesperson said.

Netflix also implemented similar measures in Europe, while YouTube announced it will be defaulting to standard quality for videos streamed from its platform for a month starting from March 24.

Entertainers around the world also “banded together” to hold online concerts and performances for those stuck at home.

The One World: Together At Home concert, featuring the talents of Lady Gaga, Celine Dion and Billie Eilish, was streamed on April 18 across various platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

According to Variety, the digital concert attracted 20.7 million viewers and raised US$127.9mil (RM555mil) for a Covid-19 relief fund.

Locally, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry launched the #MuzikDariRumah initiative to offer consumers more content to consume while staying at home.

Users can view performances from various artistes recording from their homes such as Faizal Tahir, Hujan and Kugiran Masdo on YouTube or through the muzik.my website.

Games people play

Though video game stores were closed during the MCO, some were busier than ever fulfilling online orders, as the demand for games shot up.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a big hit among Nintendo Switch gamers – the title sold 13.5 million units in the first six weeks of its release on March 20, becoming the console’s fastest-selling title, according to Reuters.

Most users have no problems staying home to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons. — AFP RelaxnewsMost users have no problems staying home to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons. — AFP Relaxnews

The New York Times declared New Horizons as “the game for the coronavirus moment” because it offered a sense of escapism for users feeling jaded as their social activity and physical connection with the outside world was limited due to Covid-19. In the game, users can set up shops or decorate houses on an island, and visit and interact with players on other locations.

Rishi Chadha, the global head of gaming partnerships at Twitter told the newspaper that social media was buzzing with conversations about New Horizons.

“It’s now the No. 1 most talked-about game in the world, dethroning the likes of Fate/Grand Order – which held the title for nearly two years – and Fortnite,” Rishi said, adding that the growth in conversation was “astronomical”.

“Conversation volume since the launch has grown over 1,000% and the number of people tweeting about the game has grown over 400%,” he said.

More than 38 million tweets were posted about the game with most users opening up about how the title has provided “comfort and social connection in a time of isolation and struggle”.

Another title that was popular with users during the Covid-19 outbreak was, not surprisingly, Plague Inc.

BBC reported that Plague Inc made it to the top of the app sales chart in China in January, eight years after it was first released.

Developer Ndemic Creations released a statement addressing the game’s popularity and its link to Covid-19: “Plague Inc has been out for eight years now and whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks.”

Ndemic reminded users that Plague Inc is, after all, just a game and not “a scientific model”.

“The current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities,” it said.

In February, the game was removed from the app store in China as it was deemed “illegal”, making Ndemic Creations respond by saying the “situation is completely out of our control”.

Meanwhile, rapper Travis Scott offered a glimpse of how “live” music events could take place in a post-lockdown world. On April 23, Scott performed a 10-minute set as part of a virtual concert event Astronomical on video game Fortnite.

Rapper Scott teamed up with Fortnite to produce Astronomical, an in-game concert that lasted 10 minutes. — AFPRapper Scott teamed up with Fortnite to produce Astronomical, an in-game concert that lasted 10 minutes. — AFP

Scott appeared in the game as a giant digital version of himself while the visuals in the concert changed from underwater to space-like throughout the event.

In the end, 12 million concurrent users attended the first concert which is a new record for the already popular game, according to TechCrunch.

Shopping never stopped

When MCO was announced, non-essential businesses like clothing stores, electrical shops and restaurants quickly moved their businesses online.

Consumers had no issues adapting to the new trend – according to a report, Pos Laju received up to 770,000 packages for delivery daily during the MCO period, up from the usual 350,000.

During MCO in Malaysia, most users relied on delivery services to get items like electrical appliances and food. Pos Laju received up to 770,000 packages for delivery daily. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The StarDuring MCO in Malaysia, most users relied on delivery services to get items like electrical appliances and food. Pos Laju received up to 770,000 packages for delivery daily. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

As to online searches, under the category appliances, there was an increase of 7,587% for searches on “bread makers”, 3,048% for “stand mixer”, 2,029% for “air fryer” and 1,058% for “oven”, according to online shopping aggregator iPrice, which analysed about one million searches by Malaysians.

In terms of health and beauty products, Malaysians who couldn’t get haircuts during MCO were most likely thinking of doing it on their own, as there was a 17,652% increase in searches for products such as trimmers and clippers.

However, a surge in online shopping also saw an increase in complaints – from the start of MCO until April 28, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP) received 1,731 consumer complaints related to online purchases.

Nearly 70% of the complaints were related to not receiving the item or service, while others felt the price or description of an item was misleading.

The ministry advised the public to be more aware about their rights as consumers and avoid panic buying.

“Consumers must know their rights to avoid being taken in by dishonest merchants,” an official from the enforcement division was quoted in a report.

“Consumers do not have to worry as the supply of essential items is enough, and it is able to meet the needs of the country consistently and in an accessible manner.”

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!
   

Next In Tech News

Carlyle raises more than $3 billion to invest in European tech
Analysis-Australian buy-now, pay-later sector faces fresh hurdle: regulation
Tesla recalls thousands of cars in China on software, seat belts
Netflix nights still come wrapped in red-and-white envelopes
Journalists have much to lose if Twitter dies
Combating a global rise in cyber fraud
Wildlife conservation with AI
The myth of the tech god is crumbling
UK to fine tech companies that fail to remove self-harm material
Twitter CEO Musk says user signups at all-time high, touts features of "everything app"

Others Also Read