jump to navigation

LinkedIn in the news (and its hidden resources) 29 Nov 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, Innovation, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Social issues, Tech Watch.
add a comment

Two media notes from LinkedIn this week: an enterprise which I always take an interest in because, as well as being a user, I visited them in Silicon Valley some years ago.

Through Outsell, which is a media analyst and (among other things) monitors analyst firms, I was connected to an article on VB which covers a LinkedIn tool called Gobblin. It’s been developed to gobble up, and improve LinkedIn’s use of, the wide range of sources which it uses. With many different inputs to reconcile (a task I’ve done bits of, on a much smaller scale, in the past), the development is clearly driven by necessity.

VB calls it “data ingestion software”. The interesting thing is that LinkedIn doesn’t treat these kinds of developments as proprietary. So the announcement explains that the software will be released, available to all kinds of other enterprises with similar needs, under an open-source licence.

Almost the same day, Outsell also flagged a report that LinkedIn is expanding its reach to embrace younger members (high-school students, in US terms) and will provide a specific capability for higher education institutions to promote themselves. This will, of course, increase the data ingestion requirement.

Interestingly, I had to use Google to find LinkedIn’s press release archive; there’s no link to corporate information on the regular user page so far as I can see. And there are no press releases showing at the moment related to either of these news items. However, via Twitter, I found a discussion of Gobblin from analyst GigaOM with, in turn, a link to another “hidden” section of the LinkedIn website: LinkedIn Engineering. That’s the primary source and it has diagrams and a useful discussion of the analysis and absorption of unstructured “big data”. Interesting to me, because I cut my database teeth on text databases when I moved from University computing to enterprise IT.

When I visited LinkedIn, on a Leading Edge Forum study tour, they were still a start-up and it wasn’t clear whether they had a viable business model or met a real need. It was their presentation then which decided me to sign up. Well, a good ten years on the company is still not in profit although revenue, in the last quarterly results, had increased by almost half year-on-year. The business model is still standing, at least.

MLinks:
• LinkedIn
• LinkedIn details Gobblin …, VB News, 25 Nov 2014
• LinkedIn expands for high school students, universities, Monterey Herald Business, 19 Nov 2014
• LinkedIn explains its complex Gobblin big data framework, GigaOM, 26 Nov 2014
• Gobblin’ Big Data With Ease, Lin Qiao (Engineering Manager), LinkedIn Engineering, 25 Nov 2014<
• LinkedIn Announces Third Quarter 2014 Results, LinkedIn press release, 20 Oct 2014
• Look for LinkedIn information here: Press Center; and Engineering

Crowdfunding: not just for geeks. Help Free Ruggiero 21 Nov 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Consumerization, Innovation, Social media, Tech Watch, Technorati.
add a comment

Just a short post. Teaching the Open University’s technology foundation course a couple of years ago introduced me to the idea of crowdfunding – I’m sure I’d have encountered it anyway, but seeing it as part of the wider picture of the social revolution added an extra dimension. Of course, crowdfunding isn’t entirely new; people have always subscribed readily to popular conventional share issues, not just in the privatisations of the last few decades but in the 19th century railway boom and earlier (look up the South Sea Bubble for one that historically went badly wrong). What’s different is that the reach is extended via the Web to people who might not otherwise think of being subscribers; and the range of rewards, while often creative and interesting, doesn’t extend to ongoing shareholder participation.

Shortly after learning about the idea, I joined one crowdfunding initiative as a result of which I now own a board game called Dreaming Spires which is about to have its official public launch. And now another, firmly in the realm of  the Arts.

We’re supporting members of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) which is a music festival with a difference. Not just early music concerts of a considerable excellence – and this year we were privileged to be part of two of them, built on choral and instrumental workshops we attended. But also projects which present the music in a new light, set in its historical context. This year, for example, we learned of the developments of “new” music as the style moved from Renaissance to early Baroque; feelings ran high, and “the old music” was held by some as a standard which the newer styles were pushing aside.

Next year’s BREMF will look at women composers, and the festival wants to stage what we’re calling Free Ruggiero (it has a long Italian name) which is the first complete opera known to have been composed by a woman: La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina written in 1625 by Francesca Caccini. If you apply for Arts Council funding you need to show you already have backing from other sources, and BREMF are raising this by crowdfunding through the Zequs platform.

Visit the Zequs page to find out more, if early music which challenged the norms and set ideas appeals to you. As I write, you only have nine days left to subscribe!

Links:
• Free Ruggiero on Zequs
• Brighton Early Music Festival (not just in the season)
• Dreaming Spires on Kickstarter

Benefits realisation: analyst insight 15 Sep 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, Insight services, IT is business, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

I’m facilitating an event tomorrow on “Optimising the benefits life cycle”. So as always I undertook my own prior research to see what the mainstream analysts have to offer.

Forrester was a disappointment. “Benefits Realization” (with a z) turns up quite a lot, but the research is primarily labelled “Lead to Revenue Management” – that is, it’s about sales. There is some material on the wider topic, but it dates back several years or longer. Though it’s always relevant to remember Forrester’s elevator project pitch from Chuck Gliedman: We are doing A to make B better, as measured by C, which is worth X dollars (pounds, euros …) to the organisation.

There is a lot of material from both academic researchers and organisations like PMI (Project Management Institute). But in the IT insight market, there seems to be remarkably little (do correct me …) except that the Corporate IT Forum, where I’ll be tomorrow, has returned to the issue regularly. Tomorrow’s event is the latest in the series. The Forum members clearly see this as important.

But so far as external material is concerned, this blog turns into a plug for a recent Gartner webinar by Richard Hunter, who (a fair number of years ago) added considerable value to an internal IT presentation I delivered on emerging technologies for our enterprise. I’m not going to review the whole presentation because it’s on open access from Gartner’s On Demand webinars. But to someone who experienced the measurement-oriented focus of a Six-Sigma driven IT team, it’s not a real surprise that Richard’s key theme is to identify and express the benefits before you start: in business terms, not technology-oriented language, and with an expectation that you will know how to measure and harvest the benefits. It’s not about on-time-on-budget; it’s about the business outcome. Shortening a process cycle from days to hours; reducing the provision for returns; and so on.

If this is your topic, spend an hour reviewing Richard’s presentation (complete with family dog in the background). It will be time well spent.

Links:
• Getting to Benefits Realization: What to Do and When to Do It, Richard Hunter, Gartner, 7 Aug 2014 (go to Gartner Webinars and search for Benefits Realization)
• Corporate IT Forum: Optimising the Benefits Lifecycle (workshop, 16 Sep 2014)

Dark Web: good, bad, or amoral? 4 Sep 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, IT is business, ITasITis, Social issues, Social media, Tech Watch, Technorati.
add a comment

Last night I watched BBC’s Horizon programme reviewing the history and impact of what’s become known as the Dark Web. Here seems to be the scenario.

In the beginning, was the Internet. In the early days of the Web I wrote a strategic report for my company which triggered the adoption of web technology and internet email. One of the things I pointed out was that, in the precursors such as newsgroups, no-one was anonymous. Traffic has identifiers or, at least, IP addresses attached to it. People know who you are, and your company’s reputation hinges on your behaviour online. As the Internet of Things expands, the amount of information about individuals that can be analysed out of internet traffic expands exponentially with it.

Governments, particularly the US, recognised the potential for compromising security and the response was TOR (The Onion Router network) which passed traffic through a number of nodes to disguise its origin. The project moved to Open Source and has become widely used in response to the growing levels of surveillance of internet traffic, revealed most notably of course by Edward Snowden. Wikileaks uses TOR to facilitate anonymous contributions: it wasn’t tracking which identified Snowden, or Manning. It has been used extensively in recent events in the Middle East.

So at this point, governments are trying to put the genie back in the bottle: they invented TOR, but they don’t like it being used to hide information from them. Moreover, it is being used for criminal transactions on a substantial scale: and at this point Bitcoin becomes part of the picture, because (unlike conventionally banked money) it too is not inherently traceable.

There’s no firm conclusion drawn in the programme, and surely that’s right. Technology of this kind isn’t inherently good or bad: it is, in the strict sense of the word, amoral. But the uses people make of it, as with almost any technology, are not amoral. And the programme raises strong issues about the balance of privacy and security, both in their widest senses. The sources used are strong and reputable: Oxford University’s Internet Institute; Julia Angwin, an established technology researcher and writer, key individuals in the development of these technologies, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and not least Tim Berners-Lee who admits to having been perhaps naive in his early assessment of these issues.

While it’s still on iPlayer, it’s worth a watch.

Links:
• Inside the Dark Web, BBC Horizon, 3 Sep 2014 (available on iPlayer in the UK until 15 Sep)
• Tor Project online, and Wikipedia article
• Oxford Internet Institute
• Julia Angwin

Twitter business information: railways lead the way 21 Aug 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Consumerization, Innovation, ITasITis, Social media, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

A little while ago I facilitated an event looking at social media in business. Part of the discussion, of course, focussed on in-enterprise social interactions: tools like Yammer, which sit within the enterprise and facilitate social interaction without risking compromise of business information.

But, inescapably, there was equal emphasis on the business use of external social media. Not just to put out messages on behalf of the enterprise: but to notice and respond to what the community is saying about you. As one delegate outlined: you can pick up on Twitter or Facebook a comment from a client who’s had a poor experience, and interact directly with them to explain. And quite often, they will then post a follow-up message offering appreciation along the lines of “now I understand”. What could be negative can be turned positive.

As a minor railway buff, I was interested also to hear the number of delegates referring to their commuting experience and the way that Twitter, particularly, has developed. First, of course, as an information tool for passengers: the twittosphere carries information about delays and problems, often much faster (and perhaps more reliably!) than official information arrives from the train operator. Particularly to passengers stuck somewhere after a points failure or, heaven forbid, a suicide. But the first development from that has been the way that train operating companies (TOCs) respond: keeping a feed going, and responding to tweets about problems. The best avoid anonymity: this morning’s first feed from First Capital Connect, for example, says “Morning folks, Jay, Tina and Greg here to take you through the morning. Hope you have a super day ^Jay“. There was strong favourable comment in the room about this. Another example of Euan Semple’s mantra: Organisations don’t tweet. People do.

Then Modern Railways magazine carried a couple of articles in successive months about Twitter data on the rail network.

In July, Roger Ford’s Informed Sources column covered a website which aggregates Twitter information for passengers. The commute.london site, from Delta Rail in Derby (which used to be British Rail’s research facility), produces something like a tag cloud through which you can see tweets about incidents on your commuter route. Because it’s commute oriented, the main page is an index by TOC not by location. Though it doesn’t seem to pick up tweets from the TOCs themselves.

You can also see the overall rating your TOC is currently getting, though since the tweets are mostly adverse (more people are likely to tweet for a problem than to praise) it’s not clear how this is achieved. It’s not the only such idea; the  Twitraffic app on my mobile aggregates information about road delays and incidents, which I contribute to when on the road and (of course) not driving.

There doesn’t seem to be an app for commute.london, which is a shame. The website is mobile friendly, with big blowsy panels and large text, but all you can get to by way of detail is the entire twitter feed for the TOC. It would be nice to be able to click through words in the tag cloud.

Back in the June issue, Informed Sources reported on another business-oriented development from Delta Rail. Sophisticated visualisation shows, for example, the level of Twitter activity compared to the norm; analyses positive versus negative messages (the example is to distinguish “Thankyou very much” from “Thanks a bunch!”); and, in real time, can show the build up of an incident from the volume of feeds relating to a particular location. This may well provide information to the operators faster than their own sources: after all, passengers are on the spot! Reviewing the data, both in real time and retrospectively, against other sources such as the National Passenger Survey can produce a wider overall picture than (say) the Survey on its own.

Nice to be able to highlight an IT success!

Links:
• Tweets put passengers ahead of the game, Roger Ford, Modern Railways, June 2014, p 36
• Social Media: more than just Tweets, Roger Ford, Modern Railways, May 2014, pp 36-37 (there are no online links to the articles themselves)
• Twitter: First Capital Connect (@FirstCC)
• commute.london
• Twitraffic online or as app
• Delta Rail “Innovative Software and Technology for the Transport Industry”

Formula 1 spreads innovation 8 Aug 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Innovation, Innovation, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags:
add a comment

Travelling home yesterday evening, I was unusually listening to the BBC’s Radio 4. Unusually because we usually drive to classical music, but the Prom wasn’t to my taste and we did need the radio on a BBC station to ensure we collected the traffic reports as we travelled.

So we heard a report on the In Business programme about McLaren’s Formula 1 racing team, and a new venture called Maclaren Applied Technologies (MAT) which is creating a spin-off business by applying the F1 team’s approaches to help other businesses innovate. It’s grown rapidly from a handful of individuals to around 250 people. It’s worth a look (or in this case a listen).

F1 lives by innovation. Racing cars develop significantly between races, to short timescales of one to two weeks. Not only that, but there is significant process expertise too. A pit stop will lift a car, change all four wheels on a car, put it back on the road and have it accelerate away in less time than it takes to read this: perhaps two seconds. All down to well practised team work: each person ready, in place with the right equipment, and knowing exactly what to do.

Now MAT is helping other businesses. They offer their experience in areas like advanced sensor technology, and large scale real time data handling. Not Big Data for the sake of Big Data, but identifying what’s needed to resolve a problem or monitor and improve a process: and then having the technology and the expertise to gather the data, and to analyse and report on the necessary timeline. Not forgetting the teamwork, process-based innovation which gets their cars through their pit stop.

Examples cited included other sports, of course: GB Cycling, and rugby, working on the performance of athletes and their equipment. It’s perhaps a natural development of that to equip individuals tackling their weight problems, so that they can be made aware of their “energy burn” during different physical activities from walking to house cleaning: this in partnership with a doctor’s practice (about 11 minutes into the broadcast).

And (at about 14 minutes) the conversation moves to my old company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). GSK have had an established partnership with McLaren for around three years now.

Clinical trials are a large scale and, of course, critical element of drug development. GSK is moving this data gathering from retrospective (trial participants’ records being mediated by a clinical partner and reported perhaps monthly) to real-time, using MAT sensor technology. Not only does this provide more complete and more robust data; it can of course speed the process of getting a valuable treatment to market. Crucially, too, it helps failures to be spotted sooner – hence reducing overall costs to the company, costs which can only be recouped through successful products.

And then, still in GSK but in consumer-health manufacturing, McLaren’s pit stop expertise (remember?) comes back. GSK makes several toothpaste brands. No, they’re not all the same inside the tube and the line has to be changed over for a different batch. For McLaren, the speed of the pit stop changeover wins races. Applying this to manufacturing changeover has, it seems, created operator pride in the speed with which it can be achieved – and saving time, quite simply, gets more toothpaste to market.

Of course, conventional management consultants might tackle some of the same problems. McLaren see their differentiator as this: theirs is engineering-led innovation rather than analysis-led innovation. They come at things from a doing angle, not a thinking-about angle.

The broadcast is available as a podcast or download, not the usual time-expiring iPlayer replay. It’s worth half an hour of your time.

Now, how about applying pit stop thinking to the process of software release and upgrade?

Links:
• Fast and Furious, BBC podcast from Peter Day’s World of Business, 7 Aug 2014 from BBC Podcasts and Downloads
• Maclaren Applied Technologies
• MAT In the News features some of the examples cited in the BBC programme, including obesity monitoring and toothpaste manufacturing
GSK McLaren partnership, from GSK.com

SAPphire and Supernova: two reasons for a visit to Constellation 18 Jun 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, Insight services, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

R “Ray” Wang’s Constellation group is worth watching anyway. But just now there are a couple of good reasons.

First, if you’re a SAP user, they have coverage of the recent SAPphire conference. Remember that Ray’s primary expertise, from his days at Forrester, is in ERP. Just go to Constellation and search for “Sapphire 2014″ for pre- and post-event analysis. There are of course also replays and other notes on the SAP website, if you want to go back to the originals.

Secondly, they are launching the call for this year’s Supernova innovation awards. Again, worth watching if your focus includes the what, how and who of innovation in business. As I’ve commented before, I’m not clear on the relationship between this Supernova event and the one formerly hosted by Kevin Wehrbach of the Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania) but Wehrbach’s Supernova hasn’t happened since 2010 and was described by him in 2012 as “on hold”.

Note, by the way, that their URL has changed from constellationrg.com to just constellationr.com.

Links:
• Constellation: search for Sapphire 2014
• Call for Applications: SuperNova Awards for leaders in disruptive technology, Courtney Sato, Constellation, 17 Jun 2014
• SAPPHIRE NOW 2014 (SAP Events)

It’s so easy to get drawn in … 17 Jun 2014

Posted by Tony Law in ITasITis, Social issues, Social media, Tech Watch.
Tags: ,
add a comment

A friend recently posted on Facebook an observation that several friends had “Liked” a posting relating to the case of the war veteran who went missing from his Hove care home in order to attend the D-Day celebrations. What concerned my friend wasn’t the underlying story; it was that that the posting in question had been placed by an organisation which is an offshoot of the BNP. No, I’m not going to add to their publicity by naming it, but you can find some discussion by following the Costa Connected link below.

My friend has a strong antipathy to the message of spurious British-ness, not least because of having a marriage partner whose family were recent immigrants – from what used to be referred to with pride as a Commonwealth country. Having lived in east London for over twenty years, and enjoyed the variety and splendour of a multi-cultural society, so do I. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is one I’ve made before: when one assesses a piece of content, especially online, be careful. Especially especially [read that carefully, it’s not a mistake] if one proposes to share or Like it. It’s important in serious or academic reporting, which is why ITasITis postings always look behind the news reports. Media often do little more than repeat the press release, or they contain unintentional inaccuracies. Go back to the original source, look for other independent reports of the work.

But this highlights that it’s equally important in the easy world of social media.

It’s so easy to Like a Facebook posting, especially now that FB drops a lot of things into your stream that have nothing to do with your friends. It’s easy to re-tweet something without really looking. But the organisation that made the initial post, in this case, gets to count those Likes and give itself an air of unwanted respectability.

Oh and incidentally: the media reports were way over hyped. It was made out that Bernard Jordan had had to “escape” from his care home. Yes, there are people who are diagnosed as EMI (Elderly and Mentally Incompetent) who have to be protected by not being told the code for the door to the outside world. But not in this case. What actually went on was that Mr Jordan was too late to join any of the organised travel parties. So he decided to make his own way. He simply forgot to tell the home he was going and, quite rightly, they got worried when they realised he’d disappeared. Thanks to media (social and conventional) he was quickly located, but there was no suggestion that he wasn’t then safe. BBC reporting, especially locally here, was more balanced: see the links. Escapade, yes: escape, no. Another case of going behind the high-profile headlines.

But to return to the main theme: Look carefully at what you’re Liking, and equally carefully at who.

Links:
• What It Really Means When You Like or Share Content from [name deleted], Costa Connected, 7 Jun 2014 (thanks to my Facebook friend for this link)
• Disappeared D-Day veteran back in UK, BBC News, 7 Jun 2014, featuring an interview with the Chief Exec of the care home
• Bernard Jordan: City honour for veteran’s ‘heroic escapade’, BBC News Sussex, 10 Jun 2014

Growth, Innovation and Leadership: Frost & Sullivan 11 Jun 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, IT is business, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

I’m on a Frost and Sullivan webinar: Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL: a major Frost theme). It’s a half-hour panel to discuss successful types of innovation and examples of future innovative technologies with Roberta Gamble, Partner, Energy & Environmental Markets, and Jeff Cotrupe, Director, Stratecast. David Frigstad, Frost’s Chairman, is leading. The event recording will be available in due course.

Frigstad asserts that most industries are undergoing a cycle of disrupt, collapse, transform (or die: Disrupt or Die is an old theme of mine). We start with a concept called the Serendipity Innovation Engine. It’s based on tracking nine technology clusters; major trends; industry sectors; and the “application labs” undertaking development (which includes real labs and also standards bodies and others). And all of this is in the context of seven global challenges: education, security, environment,  economic development, healthcare, infrastructure, and human rights.

Handover to Gamble. This is a thread on industry convergence in energy and environment, seen as a single sector. Urbanisation, and the growth of upcoming economies, are major influences here in demand growth.

We do move to an IT element: innovation in smart homes and smart cities, with integration between sensor/actuator technology and social/cloud media: emphasising this, Google has just bought a smart home company (Nest Labs). City CIOs and City Managers are mentioned as key people – a very US-centric view when most urbanisation is not occurring in the developed world … we do return to implications for developing economies, where the message is that foundations for Smart (which includes effective, clean energy use) should be laid now while there is a relatively uncluttered base to start from.

Frigstad poses a question based on the idea that Big Data is one of the most disruptive trends in this market. Gamble suggests that parking is an example. Apps to find a parking spot, based on data from road sensors or connected parking meters, are not though only being piloted in San Francisco. Similar developments in the UK were mentioned at a Corporate IT Forum event I supported earlier this year.

It’s a segue into the next section: an introduction for Cotrupe, whose field is Big Data and Analytics. Examples of disruption around here include the Google car: who would have thought Google would be an automotive manufacturer? Is your competitor someone you wouldn’t expect? An old question, of course. The UK’s canal companies competed with each other and perhaps with the turnpike roads; they mainly didn’t foresee the railways.

Cotrupe’s main question is: What is Big Data really? He posits it as an element of data management, together with Analytics and BI. I’d want to think about that equation; it’s not intuitively the right way round. But high volume, rapidly moving data does have to be managed effectively for its benefit to be realised – delivering the data users need, when they need it, but not in to overwhelm them. And this means near real-time. It’s IT plus Data Science.

Frost suggest they are more conservative than some, because they see growth of the BD market held back by the sheer cost of large scale facilities.

We’re on the promised half hour for the primary conversations, but still going strong, basically talking with Cotrupe about various industry sectors where Big Data has potential: to support, for example, a move from branch based banking to personal service in an online environment. There’s some discussion of Big Data in government: how will this affect the style of government in perhaps the next 20 years? Cotrupe mentions a transformation in the speed of US immigration in recent years, where data is pre-fetched and the process takes minutes instead of hours. He’s advocating opening up, sharing of information: in other industries too, for example not being frozen by HIPAA requirements in (US) healthcare or, perhaps, EU data protection requirements. I have personal experience of obstructive customer service people trying to hide behind those, and in fact parading their lack of actual knowledge.

Cotrupe talks about privacy, not least in the wake of Snowden and what’s been learned about sharing between NSA and the UK agencies. Cotrupe would like to see theis ease of sharing brought to bear in other areas: but asks how we manage privacy here? There are companies which are leading the way in data collection in consumer-sensitive ways, and this needs to become standard practice. In any case, not collecting data you don’t need will reduce your data centre (should that be Data Center?) footprint.

As we come to a close, with a commercial for the September event in Silicon Valley, I have to say I’m not convinced this webinar was wholly coherent.

If you call something a Serendipity Innovation Engine I want to know how it relates to serendipity: that is, the chance identification of novel discoveries.

If you present a layered model, I expect the layers to relate (probably hierarchically) to one another. It would be more valuable to talk about the four elements of this model separately and be clearer about what each represents. For example, “Health and Wellness” occurs as a Technology Cluster (why?). It’s also a Mega Trend in a layer where Social Trends also sits; surely people’s concern about Health and Wellness is a social trend? Each layer seems to mix social, technical and other concerns.

I learned a  more useful framework when teaching the OU’s Personal Development course. This really is layered. The two internal layers (this is for personal development) are one’s immediate environment, and other elements of your working organisation. Then Zone 3 (near external) encompasses competitors, customers/clients, suppliers and local influences. Zone 4 (far external) includes national and international influences: social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP). On this framework you can chart all the changes discussed in today’s webinar and, I think, more easily draw conclusions!

Links:
• Frost & Sullivan Growth Innovation & Leadership
• Google buys Nest Labs for $3.2bn …, The Guardian, 13 Jan 2014
• STEEP framework: Sheila Tyler, The Manager’s Good Study Guide (third edition, 2007). The Open University. Pages 198-202

Privacy is a three-way relationship … or is it four+? 30 May 2014

Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, ITasITis, Social issues, Social media, Tech Watch, Technorati.
Tags:
add a comment

I’ve been reading, and I recommend, Eben Moglen’s two-part essay in The Guardian about Edward Snowden. Not the first comment but probably one of the most extensive and authoritative. Moglen is professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and is the founder and leader of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). He’s entitled to say “I told you so” since his Guardian bio lists an earlier article for the paper some three years ago. The SFLC itself is approaching its tenth birthday; it was founded by Moglen and others in February 2005.

This extended essay covers three full pages in each of two days’ papers so it’s not short reading. The consensus among those who broadly support Snowden’s action is that he has revealed a security industry operating beyond democratic control and subverting the very nature of democratic government. It exposes a supposed elite group who believe that the population at large is, or shelters, “the enemy” (terrorists is the current hate-word) and therefore, in a world where universal surveillance and analysis is possible, such surveillance is to be fully deployed. It’s a bit like The Section in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, but at a much higher level and operating with the full power of the subverted state.

And it’s not just the American NSA, though that’s Snowden’s origin. It’s not even just the major western allies of the US. China takes the same attitude: and though politically on the opposite side to the US, on this issue it lines up behind the same attitudes.

Moglen makes a powerful point which ought to be obvious but isn’t. Privacy is not a two-way relationship (between me and Facebook, or me and Gmail, or me and Twitter, or whoever).

If I send or receive email via Google (as an example only, but they are probably the biggest) then the person to whom I send, or from whom I receive mail also falls within Google’s all-encompassing range. They have not signed an agreement with Google, but Google knows about them. Facebook knows who I post to, whose postings I read, which non-friends I look up from time to time. Twitter knows … and so on. What does WordPress know about this blog and you, my readers?

Which is ok so far as these and other providers are trustable. But Snowden avers that, with or without their consent, they are not.

There is much more analysis in the article, but let’s stick just to this one point. The privacy relationship inherent in email is at least three way: myself, my service provider and my correspondent. But there is no relationship of explicit trust or consent between my correspondent and my provider.

Moglen asserts that we have been diverted into believing that privacy is a two way relationship. It’s not.

And of course where governments step in, either by court order or by extra-legal surveillance, this relationship becomes at least four way with the fourth partner, in all probability, unrecognised and unknown.

As a lawyer, Moglen analyses two broad threads to bring the situation under control.

First: user action. This does include community development of encryption software, for example, to which governments have not either sub-poena’d or stolen the keys, or built-in back doors. But it also include major commercial interests: the security (privacy) of their online commercial transactions is a fig-leaf. They must have people who realise this; it’s been pointed out often enough in the press. But it will probably take a disaster to galvanise enough pressure to force action.

Second: legal action. The US, in particular, is prone to expensive litigation and extensive damages settlements. Let’s open up one or two of these based on breach of trust. I hope I’m not misrepresenting Moglen’s argument here, but certainly he – as a lawyer – sees scope for lawyerly involvement.

I’ve scratched the surface. If these are issues that concern you, read Moglen’s essay in the Guardian online. Then go, as I myself have not yet done, to Moglen’s own SFLC archive where the longer version is held: four presentations given last autumn at Columbia and given their own URL. Read and think and, if you’re in a position to do so, act.

And yes, this blog post will be flagged on both Facebook and Twitter …

Links:
• Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy, Guardian, 27 May 2014
• Eben Moglen: Guardian contributor bio, with links to the 2011 article<
• Snowden and the Future, Eben Moglen, Columbia, Oct-Dec 2013
• Software Freedom Law Center
• Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (Wikipedia)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers