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Podcast: The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload – Episode 36

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, the team pick talk about General Election tech, HMRC's “war” on IT contractors, diversity in STEM and how organisations can fight back against fake online reviews

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload Podcast (CWDUP), Brian McKenna, Caroline Donnelly and Clare McDonald discuss politicians launching their own emojis, celebrate the achievements of women in tech, ponder on the problem of fake online reviews, and talk tax.

  • The conversation kicks off this week with Tech On the Stump, the CWDUP team’s weekly look at the tech side of the forthcoming General Election, with Caroline talking about senior Tory (and former magician’s assistant) Penny Mordaunt’s “good manners” emojis.
  • There are six emojis in total, which have been created with the admirable aim of helping combat what Mordaunt calls “rudeness on social media” by providing people with a set of characters they can use to respond to anyone peddling hate in their direction online.
  • The launch is timely, the group remark, given the talk on last week’s podcast about the problems (particularly women) MPs suffer with online abuse, but Mordaunt’s bid to have her characters added to the standard emoji keyboard have been widely ridiculed online.
  • Caroline then asks the team what they think of the fact that, as our society becomes increasingly digitised, the UK still relies on ballot papers and pencils to conduct our elections, while countries such as Estonia are embracing internet voting. If the UK followed suit, the group ponders, would voter turnout numbers improve, and what about the cyber security side of things?
  • Clare runs us through her night out at the WISE Awards, which are held each year to showcase the male and female role models within the fields of science, engineering and technology to encourage and inspire others to follow the trail they have blazed.
  • This year saw the organisation’s chair, Trudy Norris-Grey, hail the progress being made in science and engineering to achieve gender balance, while singling out the tech sector as having a lot more work to do in this area.
  • Then the conversation moves on to a discussion about HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) ongoing clampdown on (what it terms) “disguised employment” within the IT contractor community through the enforcement of its IR35 tax avoidance regulations.
  • The regulations are often described as “complex and confusing” by contractors and the organisations that engage them, and the outcome of a recent IR35 tribunal suggests HMRC might be feeling the same way.
  • The case saw an ex-Department for Work and Pensions IT contractor, who had also done stints at Accenture, win his appeal against HMRC’s demand for £240,000 in tax it claimed he owed after being caught by the IR35 regulations.
  • Rounding out the discussion this week, Brian talks about a feature he recently commissioned by SA Mathieson looking at how technology can help organisations fight back against the problem of fake online reviews without discouraging genuine customers from sharing their feedback.

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