Out and about: Blade Runner 2049

*** No plot spoilers*** Where do you start when talking about the most hyped film of the year?

Blade Runner 2049 starts up some 20 years after the original film. It captures the visuals of the original film, moving it onwards.  The plot has a series of recursive sweeps that tightly knit both films together which at times feels a little forced, a bit like the devices used to join Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy to the Matt Damon canon.

Blade Runner 2049

The 1982 film took the neon, rain and high density living of Hong Kong in the late summer and packaged it up for a western audience.  Ever since I first saw  it represented a darker, but more colourful future. I felt inspired, ready to embrace the future warts and all after seeing it for the first time.

The new film is a darker greyer vision largely devoid of hope. You still see the Pan Am and Atari buildings of the first film, now joined with brands like Diageo. The police cars are now made by Peugeot. It also captures the visual language of the book, something that Scott hadn’t done in the original to the same extent. In the book, Dick (and the Dekkard character) obsess on how the depopulated world’s crumbling ephemera is rapidly becoming dust.

Visually the film dials down its influences from Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore and instead borrows from the crumbling industrial relics of the west and third world scrap driven scavenging from e-waste in China and Ghana to the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. The filthy smog and snow is like a lurid tabloid exposé of northern China’s choking pollution during the winter. It paints a vision more in tune with today. Automation and technology have disrupted society, but orphans are still exploited for unskilled labour and vice is rampant.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford do very capable performances. And they are supported by a great ensemble of cast members of great character actors at the top of their game. Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi (Eye in The Sky) and David Dastmalchian (MacGyver, Antman, and The Dark Knight). The one let down is Jared Leto – who now seems to play the same character in every film since his career high point of Dallas Buyer’s Club – I suspect that this is as much a problem with casting as performance. I think he needs to be cast against type more.

For a three-hour film it still manages to hold your attention and draw you in to its universe without feeling tired. It’s also a film that forces you to think, so if you are looking for visual wallpaper for the mind a la Marvel’s Avengers series of films it won’t be for you.

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Apple Special Event and Security

@ WWDC

Apple’s facial recognition has spurred a number of discussions about the privacy trade-offs in the iPhone X.

Experts Weigh Pros, Cons of FaceID Authentication in iPhone X | Dark ReadingOne concern about FaceID is in its current implementation, only one face can be used per device, says Pepijn Bruienne, senior R&D engineer at Duo Security. TouchID lets users register up to five fingerprints. If a third party obtains a user’s fingerprint and reproduces it, and the user is aware, they could register a different unique fingerprint.

Can Cops Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Face? | The Atlantic – Even if Face ID is advanced enough to keep pranksters out, many wondered Tuesday if it would actually make it easier for police to get in. Could officers force someone they’ve arrested to look into their phone to unlock it?

How Secure Is The iPhone X’s FaceID? Here’s What We Know | Wired – Marc Rogers, a security researcher at Cloudflare who was one of the first to demonstrate spoofing a fake fingerprint to defeat TouchID. Rogers says he has no doubt that he—or at least someone—will crack FaceID. In an interview ahead of Apple’s FaceID announcement, Rogers suggested that 3-D printing a target victim’s head and showing it to their phone might be all it takes. “The moment someone can reproduce your face in a way that can be played back to the computer, you’ve got a problem,” Roger says. “I’d love to start by 3-D-printing my own head and seeing if I can use that to unlock it.” 

Now lets talk about the Apple Watch, which I consider to present more serious issues.
 
The Apple Watch 3 is interesting from a legislative point-of-view. The software SIM in the Apple Watch clones the number of your iPhone. The security services of the major powers generally don’t broadcast their capabilities. Politicians are generally untroubled by knowledge of what is possible. Giving politicians an inkling is likely to result in broad sweeping authoritarian power. 
Imagine what will happen when Amber Rudd goes into parliament looking for real-time access to everyone’s phones. She now can point to the Apple Watch 3 as evidence that LTE and 3G connections can be cloned. What kind of legislation will her special advisers start cooking up then?

Secondly, it will only be a matter of time before criminals either work out how to do it themselves, or co-opt mobile carrier staff. Two factor authentication that depends on SMS is already compromised. This allows it to be compromised and undetectable.

The Apple Watch 3 may have royally screwed us all.

The Bell Pottinger Post

PR firm Bell Pottinger has got entangled in a mess of the South African government and the Gupta family.  More people have written about this in depth, so I will just link to them at the bottom of the post.

Here’s some thoughts on it all

There but for the grace of God go I – must have reverberated through the minds of at least some corporate communications and public affairs professionals. There is a tension between finding clients that have needs and are willing to pay for high-powered counsel versus the risk that the world may come down on you.

That’s the risk you take when you work with businesses that are involved in sensitive areas or at the edge of the law:

  • Businesses looking down the barrel of antitrust regulation like Google or Qualcomm
  • Businesses involved in the ‘carbon economy’ – Edelman had previously worked for coal producers and fracking projects until they came under sustained attack
  • Big food and big agri: McDonalds, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola are all targets. Monsanto has been of concern due to GM crops
  • Mining
  • Multinationals doing business in sensitive countries like Myanmar
  • Defence
  • Questionable regimes: Ketchum’s work with Russia is the stand out example or H+K Strategies arrangement of the deceptive ‘Nayirah’ testimony which played a big part in getting the US government behind the first Gulf War

Your business is at the mercy of pressure groups and the wider media agenda.

But that’s also the reason why I think that Bell Pottinger can survive IF they can hunker down and weather the storm. There will always be a demand for organisations and individuals who want to launder their reputation or argue the unpopular side of an argument.

Even if PR agencies aren’t doing it, organisations that sit at the nexus of business and security will likely step into the breach bringing the necessary PR skills on board.

As a PR person, is it the kind of work I would like to do? No, but then I am a brand marketer; corporate communications was something I could do, but didn’t particularly enjoy doing.  I could see the attraction of the work as it would be financially very lucrative and there would be the opportunity for business travel and ‘war stories’ from the office to talk about at dinner parties.

It’s magical thinking if you expect ‘unethical’ clients to suddenly be denied representation. This will be even more the case as the US multilateral world view is challenged by China’s more transactional approach. We’re currently living in a golden age for NGOs and NFPs – it would be unrealistic to think that it will continue this way.

In the grand scheme of things, the PRCA censure won’t mean that much, its a bigger move for the UK PR industry; showing that it can muck out its own stables. From Bell Pottinger’s longer term perspective it won’t mean much because of the divided nature of PR industry representation. As individuals PRs can sign up to be members of the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations).  The PRCA primarily represents agencies (although it has started to offer individual consultant accreditation). The key benefit is an ISO-9000 type accreditation for agency management systems. It wouldn’t be that hard for a member agency to set-up and get ISO-9000 accreditation and maintain it.  If there are enough practitioners working at Bell Pottinger, they can highlight their staffs professional status as members of the CIPR.

That Tim Bell interview: if you haven’t seen it, have a good watch. I can see this being used in broadcast media training for a good while. It’s the first time I’d ever seen Sir Tim in anything more casual than formal business wear.

His mannerisms are odd in places, particularly at the beginning.  His answers are odd. For example, when asked what went wrong he quoted Sir Walter Scott, which made him look literate but arrogant. Given that he went on there for a reason, presumably to put as much distance between himself and the mess – it was an ideal opportunity to land his side of the story in a précis.

His phone rings, he declines the call and then shows the interviewer his phone screen. Why din’t he mute his phone or shut it down at this point and why did he want the journalist to see who had called? He then gets a message on his phone and a second call. Only on the second ring does he finally silences the phone.

Chris Geoghegan is the non-executive director of a number of prominent UK companies, an ex-BAE Systems executive and the father of Victoria Geoghegan. Whilst he wouldn’t be best pleased with the current situation, Bell doxes him on the UK’s most prominent news programme. Geoghegan had been mentioned in an op-ed of a South African publication, but had been largely ignored in most of the press coverage surrounding the Bell Pottinger scandal. Whilst it won’t be anything new to a board doing their due diligence it might drive sniggering down the country club. Bell didn’t need to volunteer the information, he chose to do so.

The smoking gun emails – after Henderson had resigned as CEO of Bell Pottinger, the BBC interviewer questions Bell about two (presumably new) emails that seems to be at odds with his own claim that he recommended they not take the work as Bell Pottinger had a client conflict.  You can see this after 1:15.

For a piece of business that’s a conflict of interest,  the January correspondence is a very odd email. I can understand him saying that the meeting was successful. But then he goes on to talk about the revenue opportunity and how he will personally oversee the project.

By April why would Lord Bell be still offering advice on the account if he believed it to be a conflict of interest? His excuse for this was getting back into business after having a stroke.

Bell puts the blame squarely at the door of James Henderson. UK media coverage implied that the schism between Bell and Henderson went beyond the Gupta business. So Bell might have a bigger axe to grind and Guptagate is just a handy vehicle.

Lord Bell then talks down the future prospects of Bell Pottinger, it might be an overly pessimistic view. Bell has a new rival business, its in his interest to make Bell Pottinger’s problems even worse.

Whilst Bell Pottinger have problems in their London office, they have successful branches in Hong Kong and Singapore where this won’t matter as much IF (and its a big IF) they can hunker down and weather the current storm. The business could retrench, rebrand and survive.

The Guptas needed to be introduced to a good PR agency, after this every dictator, unpopular mega corporation and shady mogul will know where to go. If Bell Pottinger is no longer about, then there are any number of large corporate agencies or boutiques who will take their business.

More information
Ketchum (Sort of, Not Really) Ends Its Relationship with Vladimir Putin | AdWeek
Deception on Capitol Hill – New York Times
Edelman and Media Zoo PR targeted by anti-fracking protestors | PR Week
Guptagate: Who Are The Family At The Center Of South Africa’s Political Storm? | Newsweek
Op-Ed: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers – a weekend edition | Daily Maverick
Christopher Vincent Geoghegan BA (Hons), FRAES | Bloomberg Research.
How China Aims to Limit the West’s Global Influence – NYTimes.com
PR industry reads last rites for scandal-hit Bell Pottinger | FT
Battle of the spin doctors: Bell Pottinger PR titan quits over race hate dirty tricks campaign despite saying it wasn’t his fault | Mail Online

Silicon Valley on what they think are the largest trends

A panel from the VC firms based on Sandhill Road debates what they think is the biggest technology trends at the moment

It all kicks off at the 5:40 mark.

Thinking about Marcel

Publicis Groupe announced two things in the past week that caught the attention of the industry:

  • Withdrawing for 12 months from all promotional activity spend including the Cannes Lions awards
  • A Groupe-wide 12-month digital transformation fronted by a personal assistant app

You can’t look at either in  isolation, they are both linked together.

Why the withdrawal from promotional activities?

There are various speculative takes on this:

  • Other groups doing better at Cannes Lions this year had caused them to ‘take their toys to go home and sulk’. I hadn’t looked at the Lion awards scores, but I wouldn’t think that this is the reason. Clients would react negatively to it. Clients have egos too
  • Cannes Lions have gotten too expensive. Running events on the Côte d’Azur has never been cheap. The hotels can charge premium rates, due to demand being greater than supply. The GSMA World Congress moved to Barcelona in 2006 for this reason. Cannes can still run a good event and the infrastructure is ideal for advertisers. Other groups like WPP have pared back their spend but not cut it completely
  • It’s designed to focus spend on the things that matter for the next 12 months. This was one reason articulated by Publicis. The spend involved isn’t going to make a significant difference. At least, not on a project of the scale outlined by Publicis
  • It’s designed to focus staff on the things that matter over the next 12 months. I think that this is a key factor. Marcel is a software layer for a wider culture change the ‘Power of One’. Forcing the agencies to work together to provide a full deep offering for the client. This creates an internal market for services, skills and knowledge. There is no use having a development team if you can tap into Sapient. This also leads to a de-duplication of capability, increase in efficiency (% billable time).  It also reduces duplication of knowledge creation – tap into it wherever it is. You would need to balance this against client confidentiality
  • It’s a PR stunt. If handled well Publicis could gain a lot of positive coverage from this. It’s a classic example of what Sun Tzu called ‘The Void’. It’s also a bloody expensive PR stunt – so one would have to presume this is a collateral benefit. What happens if Sapient doesn’t match what’s in the concept video 12 months from now? If it does succeed then Publicis ends up with a solution would help market their business – business eating its own dog food, as advertisement

Let’s move on to Marcel itself

It’s hard to deconstruct a corporate video to get a firm idea what the underlying form might be. The truth is that the underlying form may not even exist yet as a product brief. It takes time to coalesce an offering from high concepts to prototyping these concepts with a sampling of users. From then on you go to mapping out the functional requirements of the product and build it in a series of short sprints. Once you have a minimum viable product and tested it, you may want to tweak your project direction further.

However, when you dig into it, Marcel isn’t only about an app, but re-engineering most of the IT infrastructure as well in order to support the machine learning capability. Marcel will find it harder to learn if the data is fragmented in drives with different permissions, online services or even offline.

Carla Serrano describes Marcel as:

A professional assistant that uses AI machine learning technology across our 80,000 people in 130 countries to connect, co-create and share in new and different ways.

This won’t be like Alexa Home managing your calendar and your Spotify playlist.

AI is put in there for audience members who wouldn’t know what machine learning is. A nice succinct definition below via TechTarget:

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. … The process of machine learning is similar to that of data mining.

Let’s tease out the functions

  • Connect – could be anything from an intranet directory to a social network a la Facebook Work. The key element for success would be to get people to complete their profile and for the content to be validated. From personal experience, it is best if you get people to do this right at the point that you are on-boarding them. Getting a mass-push on employees doing this would be a campaign of attrition since there is always a client call to do, pitch to write or creative concept to develop. The information could be pulled across from HR systems, business planning, time-tracking / accounting systems and scraping LinkedIn profiles but all the data will be sub-optimal. How do you ensure consistent quality data on staff expertise? The key benefit of machine learning would be pulling information capacity and personnel career ambitions alongside mining the profiles.  What I’ve talked about in this paragraph is a major undertaking of data integration in itself

I’ve ignored messaging as a function as most agencies use multiple channels for messaging including Slack, email, Skype/Lync or SMS. A messaging service might be built in, some of the interfaces could be ‘call-and-response’ chat bot style interactions.

  • Co-create – Co-creation could just be building a virtual team through the connection functionality, if its a platform in its own right what would that mean? Google co-creation platforms and you get 14,900,000 results. There are lots of options, opinions and descriptions of how to implement a platform to do it. Publicis could use some of these commercial off-the-self platforms. Decisions would have to be made if the co-creation would facilitate synchronous or asynchronous co-creation. Where do you want to have it involved in the process? Discovery, strategy, creative briefing, ideation, concept development? Is bolting Box.net accounts, Basecamp or Jira co-creation and where would the co-creation process benefit from machine learning?
  • Sharing – Back in the mid to lated 1990s knowledge management was a thing for technology marketers selling into enterprises. The idea was that a mix of data mining software (Autonomy or SAS Institute) would allow you to tap into the written knowledge across your company. Of course, it didn’t work out that well. Google tried a similar thing with its own Search Appliance hardware sold to enterprises. For a business like Publicis whose product is data, insights and ideas, the potential implications are huge

Based on Google’s Return on Information: Improving your ROI with Google Enterprise Search white paper here are some rough numbers that I came up with.

1706 - Marcel

The notional productivity gain is worth well over $400,000,000 in additional billable time, or like having almost 1,600 additional staff at little additional cost. The key word in all this is ‘notional’.

So what’s the downside to the factors outlined in the top-level view of Marcel?

  • Client confidentiality – imagine if you’re a client and you realise that your documentation within an agency can be searched for beyond the account team and could be used in ways that you don’t know about? This isn’t an unsurmountable problem, but it is something that I am sure Publicis would be thinking about
  • Changing working habits and culture – the most valuable files will be spread across Dropbox-like services, in email exchanges, on file servers, personal computers (Mac and Windows), USB sticks and optical media.  Software can look at unstructured data to try and make sense of it. But it needs access to the files first. As a manager how would you feel that you lose control over work assigned to your staff. How would you assess their work for their appraisals?
  • A marathon of sprints – this a huge IT undertaking across hardware infrastructure, networks and access. That’s before you’ve considered software development. On its own it would weighty task – in reality it will be a large amount of iterative tasks, any number of whom could delay or damage Marcel

Understanding the context for Marcel

The second half of the video is concept film of how Marcel would work in practice. It was likely put together to give voice to functionality rather than also thinking about tone. I would not be surprised if this was reused from an internal presentation to showcase the vision of Marcel to key stakeholders. The film has tonality in it is a bit concerning, I suspect it’s unintentional. If Marcel works as promised we would be in new territory for corporate culture however.

Having watched it reinforced to me:

  • The technical scale and ambition Marcel represents. It is a huge undertaking from a technical point-of-view
  • Marcel is just the start of the hard work for Publicis.

How do you ensure a culture that continues to attract and retain the top talent as the organisation gets Marcel operational?

  • What does it say to women (or men) who might want certain amount of work life balance due to family commitments or a desire to upskill?
  • How would it handle organisational politics?
  • Lesley might be requesting talent for his energy client but how would his demands be balanced against those of their line managers or other people in the business?
  • How might it redefine the role that line managers play for colleagues?

The partial removal of client services as a gate keeper between Jamie the client and Publicis talent was interesting. It would make client services job to get their arms around all the business opportunities in the client much harder. It would also be more attractive to certain clients who would feel more in control of their account.

Themes in the film:

  • Marcel is being used at night or in the twilight – usage massively extending the working day. Agencies aren’t really a 9 – 5 lifestyle at the best of times, but this video implies even less work-life balance as standard working practice. The introductory dialogue is shot at twilight and Alex the Asian American strategist, sits in an empty office at night time. Lesley is in the artificial time of an subway station and even the Arc de Triomphe dropped in is shot in twilight
  • Marcel is mobile – and being used out-of-the office in most of the film. This implies that the work day has no boundaries. Does it imply that mobile devices are no longer for reacting to urgent emails, has the balance of work expectations changed to zero-downtime always on proactive working? How would an agency team be able to keep their thinking fresh over the medium and longer term?
  • Marcel is desktop – Alex uses Marcel on a desktop computer and the web service provides a Statista like set of visualisations for data. The implication being a large amount of research source integration (social insights, market data, Kantar media data???). This would also affect third party licenses as information is pooled
  • The dialogue implies a ‘Siri’-like experience on the mobile app, except that it understands what you’re saying. Marcel is far more articulate conversationalist than Siri, Google, Alexa or my banks interactive voice system. He’d probably score highly on Tinder due having a personality. I suspect most of this is a plot device for storytelling. Alex gives voice to his key strokes and Marcel is manifested as a search box rather like Bing using a desktop computer. Lesley the South African client service person is not talking to his phone as he moves up the escalator – he is literally giving voice to his thoughts. He sounds stressed.
  • Jamie the client from a bank is an interesting vignette. She has direct access to Marcel as a client facing tool and it is suggesting Publicis contacts to her, normally you would expect a client services person to be that interface.
  • Ines, the copy writer in Brazil has the most positive experience portrayed. Marcel understands her complex career aspirations and offers her opportunities to work on an Indian project. It looks as if she is doing this work at home, again reinforcing ambiguous message on work / life balance?
  • All of the people are alone, Marcel is not shown being used in a normal office environment. Marcel becomes your team?

TL;DR

Marcel is the business equivalent of playing high stakes poker. If it is pulled off successfully it would put Publicis in an excellent position versus it’s competitors. However there is a lot that can go wrong from a technological and organisation perspective.

I don’t know how much of this can be realistically achieved in the 12 months that Publicis seems to have given itself? It strikes me that this is likely to be a transformation that would require much more time in order to fully match the vision outlined.  From a cultural perspective the challenge of ‘break, build, bond’ hides the level of complexity and change going on.

The biggest risk is what happens if Publicis doesn’t meet the wider industry expectations of success with Marcel? How will that affect client perceptions of them, or their ability to hire talent? How would it affect Sapient’s standing as a technology company?

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Great interview with Adam Curtis

I’ve been watching a lot of Curtis’ work recently. HyperNormalisation, The Mayfair Set, The Trap, The Century of the Self, Bitter Lake and Pandora’s Box.

More information
Just Adam Curtis channel on YouTube – has curated many of his documentaries.

The Yahoo! Data Breach Post

Yahoo! had a data breach in 2014, it declared the breach to consumers on September 22. This isn’t the first large data breach breach that Yahoo! has had over the past few years just the largest.

In 2012, there was a breach of 450,000+ identities back in 2012. Millions of identity records were apparently being sold by hackers in August 2016 that the media initially linked to the 2012 breach. It would be speculative to assume that the records for sale in August was part of the 2014 raid.

The facts so far:

  • 500 million records were stolen by the hackers. Based on the latest active email account numbers disclosed for Yahoo! many of these accounts are inactive or forgotten
  • Some of the data was stored unencrypted
  • Yahoo! believes that it was a state sponsored actor, but it has offered no evidence to support this hypothesis. It would be a bigger reputational issue if it was ‘normal’ hackers or an organised crime group
  • There are wider security implications because the data included personal security questions

The questions

Vermont senator asked the following questions in a letter to Yahoo!:

  • When and how did Yahoo first learn that its users’ information may have been compromised?
  • Please provide a timeline detailing the nature of the breach, when and how it was discovered, when Yahoo notified law enforcement or other government authorities about the breach, and when Yahoo notified its customers. Press reports indicate the breach first occurred in 2014, but was not discovered until August of this year. If this is accurate, how could such a large intrusion of Yahoo’s systems have gone undetected?
  • What Yahoo accounts, services, or sister sites have been affected?
  • How many total users are affected? How were these users notified? What protection is Yahoo providing the 500 million Yahoo customers whose identities and personal information are now compromised?
  • What steps can consumers take to best protect the information that may have been compromised in the Yahoo breach?
  • What is Yahoo doing to prevent another breach in the future?
  • Has Yahoo changed its security protocols, and in what manner?
  • Did anyone in the U.S. government warn Yahoo of a possible hacking attempt by state-sponsored hackers or other bad actors? When was this warning issued?

Added to this, shareholders and Verizon are likely to want to know:

  • Chain of events / timing on the discovery on the hack?
  • Has Yahoo! declared what it knew at the appropriate time?
  • Could Yahoo! be found negligent in their security precautions?
  • How will this impact the ongoing attrition in Yahoo! user numbers?

Additional questions:

  • How does Yahoo! know that it was a state sponsored actor?
  • Was there really Yahoo! web being sold on the dark web in August?
  • Was that data from the 2014 cache?
  • How did they get in?

More information
An Important Message About Yahoo User Security | Yahoo – Yahoo!’s official announcement
UK Man Involved in 2012 Yahoo Hack Sentenced to Prison | Security Week
Congressional Leaders Demand Answers on Yahoo Breach | Threat Post

Oprah time: Heaven’s Bankers – inside the hidden world of Islamic finance by Harris Irfan

I was given Heaven’s Bankers to read as a friend. I can’t say I had thought that much about Islamic finance before. I knew that it had a couple of patches of ‘heat’ behind it in the banking sector. One was in the late 1990s. It then took a back seat post-911 and took off again as Dubai boomed.

It helps that Harris was not only an insider, but passionate about banking in its widest sense. He’s also sickening polymath who is a top flight racing driver.

History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends. – Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner

Irfan delves into the intricacies of how modern Islamic finance grew and contracted. The industry he provides us an inside view of is now worth a trilliion dollars.  The start of history like most things were pretty straight forward. As the industry grew more arcane and complex financial instruments became the norm. This reminded me of a lot of Mark Lewis’ Liar’s Poker. Lewis dealt with bonds and modern derivatives became so complex customers didn’t understand them. The Savings and Loans debacle of 1985-1996 foreshadowed subprime mortgages.

Where Irfan really excels for the non-banker as reader is in his ability to break down the basics. He takes the concepts many of us learned in business or economics classes back into pre-medieval history. He provides a historical perspective on modern capitalism as we know it. So the book becomes invaluable regardless of how you feel about the current economic system. The background gives you a more informed perspective.

PrivaTegrity: the flawed model of distributed keys

Dave Chaum’s idea to to try and balance between state actors demand for internet sovereignty and the defacto end of citizen privacy, with the need to address emotive causes such as terrorism, paedophile rings and organised crime got a lot of attention from wired.
Yesterday evening on a bus stop in Bow
The principle behind PrivaTegrity is that there would be a backdoor, but the back door could only be opened with a nine-part key. The parts would be distributed internationally to try and reduce the ability of a single state actor to force access.

However it has a number of flaws to it:

  • It assumes that bad people will use a  cryptographic system with a known backdoor. They won’t they will look elsewhere for the technology
  • It has a known backdoor, there is no guarantee that it can’t be opened in a way that the developers hadn’t thought of
  • Nine people will decide what’s evil
  • If you’re a state actor or a coalition of state actors, you know that you have nine targets to go after in order to obtain access by hook-or-by-crook. It was only Edward Snowden who showed us how extraordinarily powerful companies where bent to the will of the US government. The UK government is about to grant itself extra-territorial legal powers to compel access. There is no reason why a form of extra-ordinary rendition couldn’t be used to compel access, rather like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings bending the ring bearers to his will. Think of it as Operation Neptune Spear meets a Dungeons & Dragon quest held at a black site

More information
The Father of Online Anonymity Has a Plan to End the Crypto War | WIRED
Privategrity

The changing culture of Silicon Valley

When I was in college I interviewed for a few placements, one was with Hewlett-Packard in Germany. They wanted a marketing student to look after their printing brochures on demand initiative for their UNIX product line. This was going to save them a mint in terms of marketing spend using an Indigo Digital Press rather than brochure runs on litho printing, reducing waste, storage needs and allow for faster document updates. (HP went on to buy Indigo in 2001).

Commercial adoption of the web was around the corner, I was already using it in college, but its ubiquity still seemed quite far away. I decided I didn’t want to go for the job primarily because I wanted to get my degree over and done with and HP weren’t paying that much for the role.

We were interviewed by a succession of people, the only one who was memorable  was a guy called Tim Nolte who wore a Grateful Dead tie and had a Jerry Garcia mouse mat in his cubicle.

At that time HP, had the dressing of the company man but had more than a few hippies on the payroll who permeated its culture. Reading Robert X Cringely’s Accidental Empires made me realise that technology was as much a culture war as technological upheaval.

If one looks at the icons of the technology sector up to and including the early noughties many of the people were influenced by the counterculture movement if not part of it. The  Grateful Dead where one of the first bands to have their own website at dead.net. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded by John Perry Barlow, a lyricist with The Grateful Dead. Steve Jobs was influenced by Indian mystics and his experiences using LSD.

Stewart Brand who founded WIRED magazine and The WeLL was the editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, a guide to useful things for people who wanted to get back to the land. He was influential in the early environmentalist movement and had been involved in the counterculture of 1960s San Francisco.
Members of the Golden Circle Senior Citizens Club of Fairmont holding quilt they made. The quilt was raffled off during the Fairmont centennial, May 1973
Ideas from open APIs and creative commons came from their libertarian values. Open Source Software again comes from academic and countercultural attitudes to information and has had to defend itself from accusations of communism, yet it now runs most of the world’s web services and gadgets from smartphones to Google’s search engine.

Reading the Cluetrain Manifesto is like reading a screed that could have come from an alternative Haight Ashbury.

Aeon magazine wrote an article on how yuppies have hacked the hacker ethos, but the truth is they’ve got behind the steering wheel as web2.0 declined. The move from open web API’s and the walled garden approach of Facebook and their ilk marked a changing of the guard of sorts.

Flickr had and ability to move your photos as a matter of pride in their product. Just a few clicks kept them honest and kept them innovating. Joshua Schachter’s similar approach on del.icio.us allowed me to move to pinboard.in when Yahoo! announced that it would be sunset.

Government always is the last to catch up, which is the reason why open data only really gained mainstream political currency in the past five years.

Were now in a Silicon Valley whose values are closer to the Reagan years and I am not too sure what it will do for innovation. I suspect that the change won’t be positive.

More information
Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date by Robert X Cringely
Don’t listen to Bill Gates. The open-source movement isn’t communism. | Slate
How yuppies hacked the hacker ethos – Aeon

Tim Cook at The White House Cybersecurity Summit

Whilst on the surface this is a puff piece for Apple, but Cook uses the Obama administration’s call to cooperate making life easier for the intelligence industrial complex get access to consumer data and lays out an opposing vision.

He basically kicked Washington DC in the teeth, other significant companies just decided to turn up with a significantly less senior representative to send the same message.

The Facebook paper on mood research paper post

Over the weekend if you went on to quality (not Buzzfeed) news sites you would have probably seen something about a scientific paper that was published by researchers in the pay of Facebook on how emotion spreads through social networks.

There was a lot of copy written already about the experiment, so I recommend that you read The Atlantic‘s piece on it instead. There has been a lot written about whether it is moral, legal or ethical. As far as it being legal, Facebook’s highly paid legal counsel could provide a better steer on it than I could; and I suspect they would tell you it was completely legal.

As for the morals and ethics of it, I rather think that those are a mute point. Consumers emotional states have been tweaked for decades, the question of morality sailed with the rise of the mass market consumer product.
Guilty Viewing Pleasures: They Live
Whilst public relations as it is practiced now is more of a mechanistic craft; its father Edward Bernays viewed propaganda as a ‘modern instrument’ driven by scientific thinking including understanding of audience psychology to move people.

Advertisers utilised motivational research from the early 20th century on to create cognitive dissonance  with a consumer and then provide the product as a solution. The Atlantic carried an article on the psychology of advertising back in 1904. You are a better Mum if you wash your kids clothes with Persil, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk will put a smile on your face.

Political pollsters use voter psychographic profiling to induce a constituency result. We already live in the world of a malleable proletariat envisioned by by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

The people who are outraged by this need to get over it, log-in to Facebook less and realise that they are already sheep with a gallery of multinational shepherds herding them through their consumer lifecycle. What you can do is become more informed and read your environment in a more critical way.

More information
Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment | The Atlantic
Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks by Adam D. I. Kramera, Jamie E. Guillory and Jeffrey T. Hancock
The Oxford Handbook of Propaganda Studies (Oxford Handbooks) the Auerbach and Castronovo edited anthology gives you pretty much everything you need to know from Bernays onwards about psychology and audience manipulation
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The Psychology of Advertising by Walter D Scott | The Atlantic (1904) – no that’s not a typo
Frontline: The Persuaders | PBS
Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals | Jib Fowles

Algorithmic Accountability and other Big Data issues

In the past, what is now included in the envelope of big data resided with just a few organisations. The story of big data started with the US government. The government used a young company called IBM and their punch card technology to help tabulate their census data. Punch card technology started in the textile industry, where industrial revolution-era jacquard looms manufactured complex fabric patterns. Punch cards also controlled fairground organs and related instruments. It was with early tabulating machines made by IBM and others that started to change the world as we know it.
Computer History Museum
When the mainframe came along governments used them to manage tax collection and to run the the draft for Vietnam. It came a key part of the US anti-war protesters to destroy machine readable draft cards. (The draft card destruction didn’t affect the draft process. But burning the draft card was still an offence and some people underwent punishment.)

Also around this time, the credit agency was coming into its own in the US. Over a period of 60 years, it had gradually accumulated records on millions of Americans and Canadians. The New York Times in 1970 described the kind of records that were held by Retail Credit (now known as Equifax):

…may include ‘facts, statistics, inaccuracies and rumors’ … about virtually every phase of a person’s life; his marital troubles, jobs, school history, childhood, sex life, and political activities.

These records helped to vet people for job applications, bank loans and department store consumer credit. It was like a private sector version of the J. Edgar Hoover files. Equifax moved to computerise its records. One reason was to improve the professionalisation of its business. This also had an implication on the wider availablity of credit information. Computerisation led to the Fair Credit Report Act in the US. This legislation was designed to give consumers a measure of transparency and control over their data.

Forty years later, mainframe computers are still used to process tens of thousands of credit card transactions every second. New businesses including social networks, search engines and online advertising companies have vast amounts of data; unlike anything a credit agency ever had.

The recent The Social, Cultural & Ethical Dimensions of “Big Data” event held at New York University by the Data & Society Research Institute was important. Events like these help society understand what changes to make in the face of rapid technological change.

The Algorithmic Accountability primer from the event highlights the seemingly innocuous examples of how technology like Google’s search engine can have far reaching consequences. What the Data & Society Research Institute called ‘filter bubbles’. Personalisation of search will change that consumers see from individual to individual. This discrimination could also be applied to items like pricing. Staples has produced an algorithm that based pricing on location of the web user; better off customers were provided with better prices. One of the problems of regulating this area is first of all defining what an algorithm actually is from a policy perspective.

Algorithmic systems are generally not static systems but are continually tweaked and refined, so represent a moving target. During my time at Yahoo! we rolled out a major change to the search algorithm every two weeks on a Wednesday evening US west coast time. I imagine that pace of change at the likes of Google and Facebook has only accelerated.

The problem with many rules based systems now is that we no longer write the rules or teach the systems; instead we give the system access to large data sets and it starts to teach itself – the results generally work but we don’t know why. This is has been a leap forward for what would be broadly based artificial intelligence, but makes these systems intrinsically hard to regulate.
concern with data practices
Given all this it is hardly surprising that research carried out  on behalf of President Obama by The Whitehouse showed a high level of concern amongst US citizens.

More information
Jacquard Loom – National Museums Scotland
Separating Equifax from Fiction | Wired (Issue 3.05)
Data & Society | Algorithmic Accountability primer
This Landmark Study Could Reveal How The Web Discriminates Against You | Forbes
Websites Vary Prices, Deals Based on Users’ Information | WSJ
The 90-day review for Big Data | Whitehouse
Data & Society | Alogrithmic Accountability Workshop Notes
Digital Me: Will the next Cringely be from Gmail? | I, Cringely

Data privacy around the world

The Boston Consulting Group pulled together data about data privacy around the world.  This gives a really good view into consumer’s attitudes towards data privacy.  Location comes across as particularly high compared to other information like credit card details for surfing history.