Category: Public notebook

Words, actions, privacy.

Ember

Image: My medieval public identity…

It used to be when users kicked up a fuss, social networks quaked and gave way to their demands.

Then Facebook began a kind of two-steps-forward / user outcry / one-step-back dance with privacy and user data.

These days, as the market has matured and the incumbents feel a little more settled, their networks seem a little too hard to opt out of for users.

In a recent New York Times article about Google+, Google’s Bradley Horowitz said: “We are attuned to both what people say and what people do.”

How I read that: sure, we hear a lot of complaining, but no one’s voting with their virtual feet.

Users complain about the forcing upon them of a Google+ identity, but they don’t do much about it. They don’t close down their Gmail, start using other search engines, give YouTube a swerve. Not many of them. Not enough of them to worry about.

To data driven Google, an outcry on Twitter and in opinion articles is largely noise. People stopping using their services would be a strong signal – and they just aren’t seeing that.

I can think of a couple of people who have opted out of Facebook (a couple out of the few hundred people I’m connected to there).

As for Google, I have only met one refusenik so far – and heard tell of others in the online activist community.

Two questions come to mind:

  1. Will governments and brands begin to follow this logic? Petitions and online slacktivism, as one-click protests are derisively labelled by some, aren’t always going to signal real behaviour changes – boycotts, votes, spending money elsewhere.
  2. Are people who are opting out of Google and Facebook the start of a movement toward “de-clouding”, rejecting handing their personal data over to large corporations? It’s too early to tell whether this will remain fringe dissent or whether it will begin to spread. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and, to some extent, Apple and Amazon (the “stacks“) will be aiming to make sure the massive utility value of their services outweighs fear and suspicion of their stewardship of our data.

Online security expert Bruce Schneier calls entrusting our data to the stacks “feudal security”, a theme picked up by Aral Balkan recently in his TEDxBrighton talk.

Feaudalism works, you could argue. It worked for thousands of years. Quite apart from inequality and fairness though, feudalism kills progress – it causes stagnation, homegeneity, stasis.

I guess what Schneier and Balkan are pointing out with the feudalism metaphor is that this is a kind of opt-in feudalism – it doesn’t have to be that way. Actually, as I sit here typing into a Chrome Browser, on an iMac, before turning to my Gmail etc. – you realise that it’s no opt-in, it’s something you have to put a great deal of effort and time into opting out of…

: : As an aside, I’d be a lot more likely to use Google+ more often if I didn’t have two identities there. Reflecting on the “forcing users to have a single Google+ identity” strand in this post as I edited it, I realise – I’d love a single identity. Can I have one, please?

My work and personal email are both on Gmail, so I have two lots of circles, etc. Reminds me of this tweet I favorited [sic] the other day:

 

 

 

My contemptible device

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As discussed in a recent post, I recently chaired a panel on – among other things – voyeurism, privacy and gender politics, following a screening of the short film SLR at Lighthouse, in Brighton.

During the discussion, the entertaining, insightful and consistently challenging Wendy Grossman referred to the iPad Mini in front of me – on which I had my notes – as “that contemptible device”, or words close to that…

She was referring, I think, to its closed ecosystem, the command-and-control its manufacturer still holds over it, giving a panopticon-like view over its users’ lives – and some other things she dislikes about Apple. She doubtless has a valid point or two, but we’ll get back to the trade-offs we’re willing to make for things that work well over control, privacy etc. in another post (after the other day’s cryptoparty shenanigans, there’s definitely one bubbling up).

So ever since, the iPad Mini has been “my contemptible device”.

The name has actually made me feel slightly more affectionate toward the thing. I like to affect contempt for it, although I can’t really bring myself to compare it to phones and computers that I have really hated. I remember a grey slab I was issued by the tech quartermasters when I started my last proper job, packed with software designed to process ideas and thoughts into grey, bullet-pointed entropy. Then I was given a “smart” phone to match. A phone so bad, it allegedly destroyed the electronics in one of my colleagues’ cars when he plugged it into to its USB port.

I am enjoying the idea of an almost ubiquitous, well designed, well built piece of gadgetry being notorious and despicable. This is partly recreational contrarianism, but I also want to properly understand the arguments as to why anyone should reject tech owned and run by large corporations (there’s a thing called “de-clouding” where you remove your data from the cloud, which I want to find out more about). I’m not sure whether I object to the idea completely, or just don’t agree with it yet. I’m sincerely, deeply curious.

It may not be the supposed contemptibility of Apple that does for the iPad, though, if Zal Bilimoria of Andreessen Horowitz’s comments in an article on re/code are on the money. He joined the VCs recently from Netflix, where he said the company’s data seemed to show that tablets were being neglected in favour of large phones or “phablets”.

The tablet couldn’t possibly shoulder all the expectations people had for it. Not a replacement for your laptop or phone — but kinda. Something you kick back with in the living room, fire up at work and also carry with you everywhere — sort of. Yes, tablets have sold in large numbers, but rather than being a constant companion, like we envisioned, most tablets today sit idle on coffee tables and nightstands. Simply put, our love for them is dying….

What I realize now is that it has been the phone all along. What we are witnessing today is a merger of phones and tablets, not just at Netflix but everywhere, which is why this decade’s attempt at tablets is nearing its death — just four years after Jobs launched the original iPad.

After a couple of months of determined attempts to use the iPad Mini as a writing machine, I’ve returned to my first love – a 15″ MacBook Pro for writing. It’s had a really positive effect so far on my blogging. It’s the form factor, the power and the speed with which you can write, edit and flit about the internet. I realise now how much I have unknowingly missed this bulkier form of mobile computing for years. We’ll see if effect this continues or not – I cycle through fads and obsessions with different devices and workflows all the time – but I feel pretty strongly in favour of it right now.

Despite the honeymoon with my Mini being over, I still love it for reading, for notes and for trips to London when I don’t want to haul a couple of extra kilos of laptop around. I still love my contemptible device, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be playing with whatever Nokia, Android and Firefox OS devices of all shapes and sizes, as soon as I can get my hands on them. Despite having been accused of tech-partisanship in the past, I’ve little brand loyalty:  my obsession is with what lets me think fastest, work fastest, what software gets out of the way and doesn’t break down the most.

Other than that, I’m not fussy.

Image: Lighthouse Arts

Work is the signal

I like this Tweet:

Reminds me of Caroline Webb’s saying that “email is procrastination in disguise”.

Sure, email is a vital tool. Yes, it is a powerful communication platform and sometime the  most  important thing to do is send an email.

You know what he’s getting at though, don’t you.

Via Impossible.

SLR screening and a debate on the web, voyeurism and selfies

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Last week I attended the screening at Lighthouse of a BFI short film, SLR – a dark, troubling thriller about voyeurism, social media, selfies and hypocrisy. A heady mix.

Afterwards I chaired a panel with Wendy Grossman, Georgina VossChris Pinchen and the director, Stephen Fingleton.

SLR is a really interesting film – the director described the experience he was trying to create for the viewer as  like “being Cybil Shepherd on a date with Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver”. If he meant uncomfortable, tense and gripping, he got a direct hit on my amygdala.

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Image: Stephen Fingleton at the panel. 

I was surprised to learn that few short film directors agree to put their films online, preferring the slower, more rarefied audience that distribution via film festivals allows. Stephen Fingleton, the director had gone for reach, he said, wanting to get SLR seen by as many people as possible.

With 218,000 views and rising when I wrote this, he’s definitely getting a bigger audience for SLR than most short films.

Stephen Fingleton, is an engaging, impressive, talented chap. Speaking with him beforehand and during the panel he was first and foremost impressive as a deep thinker. He’d made a difficult and provocative film about this subject, but was continuing to consider the issues around it.

One of his scripts featured on the Hollywood Blacklist last year – a list of the best screenplays not yet in production. He’s now working on his first feature film – I’ll look forward to that.

The twenty minute film is available to watch online (and is embedded below).

SLR from Stephen Fingleton on Vimeo.

And, if you’re interested in seeing the panel discussion that followed – here’s the video.

Image credits: Still – Driver Films; Photo of Stephen Fingleton, Lighthouse Arts

More new and old media pairing

ZZ03FF51C3More from Writing on the Wall, by Tom Standage, on how old media is often – for a while – enhanced by the new,  rather than being replaced. 

In England in the 1600s, newsletters were distributed about parliamentary and Royal news by mansucript subscription “news letters”. They literally began as letters, which were copied by teams of scribes and sent out – often to be shared in groups, read aloud or copied and passed on again.

Printed newsletters (called “Corantos“)  were largely, at first, about foreign news – partly as a consequence of strict censorship laws. However, some bright sparks in the manuscript trade started included the printed foregin news – the first newspaper supplements, apparently:

But rather than competing, the two forms proved complementary. Corantos could be enclosed within manuscript news letters as they circulated, providing printed foreign news alongside the handwritten domestic sort. Letters from this period contain abundant references to printed material [...] entire transcribed copies of them and, on several occasions, the printed corantos themselves. Coratnos were printed versions of what were originally manuscript documents, and the information they contained was in turn recycled into manuscript news networks.

There have always been news networks – and there have always been social networks bound up in them.

Image credit: (cc) Wikipedia 

Who can see what you are doing on the internet right now?

Yesterday’s cryptoparty was fascinating in so many ways. A two hour-ish session took us through online privacy issues, behaviours and tools.

Particularly useful was an interactive diagram from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns for internet freedom, showing who can see what you are doing with your web browser – from a hacker sitting in the same coffee shop, to your ISP, the hosts of the website you are using and government agencies tapping into the internet backbone (as the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been doing) or contacting the ISP or website for their records. 

Click on the image below to try it for yourself.

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I knew some of this previously, but this diagram is really helpful in clarifying the situation. You can see who see how of your online activity is blocked by using a secure plug in (the HTTPS Everywhere extension for Chrome and Firefox browsers will do this) or a super-secure browser like TOR (which encrypts and hides users’ location, identity and web use). Fro the most part, the former blocks people seeing who you are and your data, the latter almost everything except your location and the fact that you are using TOR.

On the last point, using TOR presents what my colleague Jason Ryan calls “the cryptographer’s dilemma”. While it means you have a huge amount of privacy online, it also holds up a metaphorical sign saying “I am doing secret things! Over here, mass surveillance agency – me! Me!”.

Recommendations for using TOR for people like activists or journalists who need to keep their online activity away from prying eyes include:

  • Don’t use it too often
  • Don’t use it at home
  • Don’t upload files on it
  • Don’t log in to your email

There are more in an exhaustive – and, frankly, exhausting – list called Want TOR to really work?.

Online privacy and mass surveillance are very complex issues, as are the solutions. I’m very grateful to Chris Pinchen and his cryptoparty friends for helping me to begin to think these issues and ideas through.

Against mass surveillance – what will you do today?

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Today is a day of action and protest against mass surveillance by our governments: The Day We Fight Back.

Aptly, the first thing in my Twitter stream when I opened my laptop this morning  was the inventor of the Web re-tweeting the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s message…

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Things move quickly, our lives are busy. Today, though, take the opportunity of The Day We Fight Back to stop and ask – what kind of a world do you want to live in? What future do we want to choose? What kind of Web do we want to live with around us?

Then do one thing – or a few things – to mark your intent, to take small steps toward the future you want.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Adding my voice to the chorus of dissent –  by signing the EFF petition and adding their banner to my website.
  • Supporting those who are fighting for our online freedom every day – by  re-joining the Open Rights Group in the UK, that campaigns for internet freedom and making a donation.
  • Learning more about how to take control of my data and security personally – by attending a Cryptoparty this evening where people will be learning how to lock down their devices and manage their online data. I’m hoping to help hold more of these for friends, colleagues and clients in the future.

Spread the word. Tell others what today means and what you are doing to support it…

One of Microsoft’s new CEO’s strengths? He doesn’t finish business books…

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When Microsoft’s new CEO was announced last week, there was a great deal of commentary about his  - doubtless very carefully crafted – introductory email to the company.

Part of Satya Nadella‘s description of himself made me immediately empathetic:

Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.

There are two things that make me like Mr Nadella a bit from reading that quote. First: I do that too. Last night I flicked through the books on my Kindle – there are  so many interesting ones there that I’ve barely started or not started at all. It’s a teetering, digital monument to curiosity and to having an appetite for learning that is beyond my current means (in terms of time, mainly) to support. 

The second thing that warms me to his statement is its echo of what I was talking about in my post last week, Finishedness - realising that you can’t, and often shouldn’t, finish everything that you start. This ability is strength, contrary to the puritan work ethic/completer-finisher fallacy.

Mr Nadella’s email  was a positioning exercise – mainly in distancing himself from the style of his predecessor, the bombastic Steve Ballmer. The latter didn’t talk much about his reading habits – and would be more likely to reel off the number of books completed – a PB roll-call of reading velocity.

In the age of digital superabundance of information, leaders must be curious and hungry to learn, but also mindful that they cannot hope to read everything, to learn everything that they would like to. It’s the larger scale version of FOMO (fear of missing out) - applied to thinking and knowledge rather than social network updates, but the same in essence.

Mr Nadella’s statement shows self-awareness, acceptance of his limitations and a desire for continual learning. Whatever he does with Microsoft in the next few years, in this aspect he has the right stuff to be a digital leader.

Image credit: (cc) Official Le Web photos

New technology boosts the old

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As cheerleaders for incumbent media often point out, the old is rarely replaced by the new. Newspapers weren’t killed by radio, radio wasn’t killed by TV, TV wasn’t killed by online video – etc., etc.

Sometimes new technology boosts the old.

Dipping in again to the excellent Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years, I read:

Printing pushed up demand for paper throughout Europe, encouraging production and making it cheaper (its price fell by 40 percent during the fifteenth century) and more widely available. Printed books promoted literacy and writing manuals could be produced in quantity.

We can see a similar effect today with writing and books. Earlier in Writing on the Wall, Tom Standage notes that book writing was a serious undertaking in Roman times. You had to be literate, rich enough to have a dedicated cohort of slaves for scribing and couriering purposes during the research, notable enough to throw a top-notch launch party and – by some advice of the time – spend about nine years perfecting your manuscript before releasing it into the network of copyists (all reproduction was by hand, of course).

Now writing – and publishing – books is within the grasp of anyone. A cynic would say that you don’t even need that high a degree of literacy.

In the US, 391,000 books were self-published, only about a third of these were e-book only titles. In fact, an article in the Guardian notes, this figure is conservative:

The exclusion of hundreds of thousands of titles published without an ISBN, including many titles on Amazon’s Kindle store, means that the increase of 422% since 2007 this represents is likely to be an underestimate of the size of the self-publishing sector.

Rather than reach for the pessimist’s fall-back of the monkey-typewriter paradigm, recognise this for what it is – a golden age of reading and – even more – writing. New forms of media are making old forms easier for everyone to access and work with, once again.

The market with no name (yet)

ZZ649F5EFBThere’s a gap in the market for agencies and management consultancies. Or rather, there’s a gap between their two markets which is growing.

Last year I talked about the need for marketing agencies to “become McKinsey faster than McKinsey can become us”. Since then we’ve seen both industries begin to encroach on one another’s territories.

Witness the big management consultancies efforts to win in digital:

Is there any action in  the other direction? Well, we’ve not seen WPP or Omnicom buying management consultancies just yet, but there are plenty of people who would have been seen as belonging to the marketing-advertising complex taking up positions in management consultancy-land:

  • Econsultancy offers training and consultancy on digital transformation.
  • Fluxx’s positioning as a “product and innovation agency” is also interesting. Formed of people from a digital agency background, and EMC’s consulting wing, it appears to be a management consultancy that works with a tech-savvy, agile method.
  • Brilliant new ideas like Adaptive Lab’s positioning as “start-up as a service” or a “skunworks-for-hire”. This can be used to develop apps and experiences for marketing – but products are about more than shiny-thing to grab the consumer’s attention – they can be businesses in their own right.

And, of course, Brilliant Noise, my own agency, with our “Customer First, Earn Advocacy, Transformative Digital” mantra – a year ago we saw ourselves as marketing spilling out into the rest of the organisation, an outcome of the need for marketing to be more connected to succeed, and of the disruption of ideas about how organisations work that the web is causing.

Digital transformation

Let’s take a closer look at this phrase – arguably a re-badging of the clumsy “social business” tag, following on from whatever it was before. A bit clue-trainy, very tech-savvy.