This wasn’t the internet we envisaged

The debate over privacy on Facebook got me thinking about the internet we envisaged. Reading media commentary on Tim Cook’s recent address at Duke University prodded me into action.

What do I mean by we? I mean the people who:

  • Wrote about the internet from the mid-1990s onwards
  • Developed services during web 1.0 and web 2.0 times

I’ve played my own small part in it.

At the time there was a confluence of innovation. Telecoms deregulation and the move to digital had reduced the cost of data and voice calls. Cable and satellite television was starting to change how we viewed the world. CNN led the way in bringing the news into homes. For many at the time interactive TV seemed like the future of media.

Max Headroom

Starship Troopers

The Running Man

Second generation cellular democratised mobile phone ownership. The internet was becoming a useful consumer service. My first email address was a number@site.corning.com format email address back in 1994. I used it for work, apart from an unintended spam email sent to colleagues to offload some vouchers I’d been given.

My college email later that year was on a similar format of address; on a different domain. I ended up using my pager more than my email to stay in touch with other students. At college I signed up for a Yahoo! web email. I had realised that an address post-University would be useful. Yahoo! was were I saw my first online ads. They reminded me of garish versions of ads in newspapers.

I used to go to Liverpool at least once a week to go to an internet cafe and check my email account. I found out that I had my first agency job down in London when I was called on my cell phone whilst driving. The internet was as much as an idea as anything else and the future of us netizens came alive for me in the pages of Wired and Byte. Both were American magazines. Byte was a magazine that delved deeper into technology than Ars Technica or Anandtech. Wired probed the outer limits of technology, culture and design. At the time each issue was a work of art. They pushed typography and graphic design to the limits. Neon and metallic inks, discordant fonts and an early attempt at offline to online integration. It seemed to be the perfect accompanyment to the cyberpunk science fiction I had been reading. The future was bright: literally.

Hacking didn’t have consumers as victims but was the province of large (usually bad) mega corps.

I moved down to London just in time to be involved in the telecoms boom that mirrored the dot com boom. I helped telecoms companies market their data networks and VoIP services. I helped technology companies sell to the telecoms companies. The agency I worked for had a dedicated 1Mb line. This was much faster than anything I’d used before. It provided amazing access to information and content. Video was ropey. Silicon.com and Real Media featured glitchy postage stamp sized clips. My company hosted the first live broadcast of Victoria’s Secret fashion show online. It was crap in reality, but a great proof of concept for the future.

I managed to get access to recordings of DJ sets by my Chicago heroes. Most of whom I’d only read about over the years in the likes of Mixmag.

All of this pointed to a bright future, sure there were some dangers along the way. But I never worried too much about the privacy threat (at least from technology companies). If there was any ‘enemy’ it was ‘the man’.

In the cold war and its immediate aftermath governments had gone after:

  • Organised labour (the UK miners strike)
  • Cultural movements (Rave culture in the UK)
  • Socio-political groups (environmentalists and the nuclear disarmament movement)

I had grown up close to the infamous Capenhurst microwave phone tap tower. Whilst it was secret, there were private discussions about its purpose. Phil Zimmerman’s PGP cryptography offered privacy, if you had the technical skills. In 1998, the European Parliament posted a report on ECHELON. A global government owned telecoms surveillance network. ECHELON was a forerunner of the kind of surveillance Edwards Snowden disclosed a decade and a half later.

One may legitimately feel scandalised that this espionage, which has gone on over several years, has not given rise to official protests. For the European Union, essential interests are at stake. On the one hand, it seems to have been established that there have been violations of the fundamental rights of its citizens, on the other, economic espionage may have had disastrous consequences, on employment for example. – Nicole Fontaine, president of the european parliament (2000)

I advised clients on the ‘social’ web since before social media had a ‘name’. And I worked at the company formerly known as Yahoo!. This was during a brief period when it tried to innovate in social and data. At no time did I think that the companies powering the web would:

  • Rebuild the walled gardens of the early ‘net (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy)
  • Build oligopolies, since the web at that time promised a near perfect market due to it increasing access to market information. Disintermediation would have enabled suppliers and consumers to have a direct relationship, instead Amazon has become the equivalent of the Sears Roebuck catalogue
  • Become a serious privacy issue. Though we did realise by 2001 thanks to X10 wireless cameras that ads could be very annoying. I was naive enough to think of technology and technologists as being a disruptive source of cultural change. The reason for this was the likes of Phil Zimmerman on crypto. Craig Newmark over at Craigslist, the community of The Well and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The likes of Peter Thiel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Silicon Valley

We had the first inkling about privacy when online ad companies (NebuAd and Phorm) partnered with internet service providers. They used ‘deep packet inspection’ data to analyse a users behaviour, and then serve ‘relevant ads.

Tim Cook fits into the ‘we’ quite neatly. He is a late ‘baby boomer’ who came into adulthood right at the beginning of the PC revolution. He had a front row seat as PCs, nascent data networks and globalisation changed the modern world. He worked at IBM and Compaq during this time.

Cook moved to Apple at an interesting time. Jobs had returned with the Next acquisition. The modern macOS was near ready and there was a clear roadmap for developers. The iMac was going into production and would be launched in August.

Many emphasise the move to USB connectors, or the design which brought the Mac Classic format up to date. The key feature was a built in modem and simple way to get online once you turned the machine on. Apple bundled ethernet and a modem in the machine. It also came with everything you needed preloaded to up an account with an ISP. No uploading software, no drivers, no DLL conflicts. It just worked. Apple took care selecting ISPs that it partnered with, which also helped.

By this time China was well on its way to taking its place in global supply chains. China would later join the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

The start of Tim Cook’s career at Apple coincided with with the internet the way we knew it. And the company benefited from the more counter culture aspects of the technology industry:

  • Open source software (KDE Conqueror, BSD, Mach)
  • Open standards (UNIX, SyncML)
  • Open internet standards (IMAP, WebCAL, WebDav)

By the time that Facebook was founded. Open source and globalisation where facts of life in the technology sector. They do open source because that’s the rules of business now. It is noticeable that Facebook’s businesses don’t help grow the commons like Flickr did.

Businesses like Flickr, delicious and others built in a simple process to export your data. Facebook and similar businesses have a lot less progressive attitudes to user control over data.

Cook is also old enough to value privacy, having grown up in a less connected and less progressive age.  It was only in 2014 that Cook became the first publicly gay CEO of a Fortune 100 company. It is understandable why Cook would be reticent about his sexuality.

He is only a generation younger than the participants in the riots at the Stonewall Inn.

By comparison, for Zuckerberg and his peers:

  • The 1960s and counterculture were a distant memory
  • The cold war has been won and just a memory of what it was like for Eastern Europeans to live under a surveillance state
  • Wall Street and Microsoft was their heroes. Being rich was more important than the intrinsic quality of the product
  • Ayn Rand was more of a guiding star than Ram Dass

They didn’t think about what kind of dark underbelly that platforms could have and older generations of technologists generally thought too well of others to envisage the effects. You have to had a pretty dim view of fellow human beings.

More information
Tim Cook brought his pro-privacy views to his Duke commencement speech today | Recode
Bugging ring around Ireland | Duncan Campbell (1999) PDF document
The ECHELON Affair The EP and the global interception system 1998 – 2002 (European Parliament History Series) by Franco Piodi and Iolanda Mombelli for the European Parliament Research Unit – PDF document
Memex In Action: Watch DARPA Artificial Intelligence Search For Crime On The ‘Dark Web’| Forbes
X10 ads are useless – Geek.com
Disintermediation – Wikipedia

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week.

I had some meetings and discovered what a good meeting space the lobby of the Citizen M Hotel in Bankside is. The downside I managed to lose my favourite pen, that was my fault; not the hotel. Of course, that didn’t take the sting out of it.

My dream chair is an Eames lounger and I am fascinated by production processes. This video from fulfils both admirably; showing how the Eames chair is made.

This week, I went back, way back, back into time and ended up listening to this mix of Jeremy Healy at Hot To Trot. What gets me about this is diversity of the set. The slight crunchiness in the beat mixing early on adds to its charm.

This Chinese made video on privacy has more than an element of truth beneath the humour. It would give Black Mirror a good run for its money.

Last thought… 2018 Q2 Global Digital Statshot by wearesocial

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Here’s What Facebook Won’t Let You Post | WIRED – pretty grim read

Now Is The Perfect Time For An RSS Renaissance | Neflabs – great read and a much needed request for a lean web

CIA agents in ‘about 30 countries’ tracked by technology, top official says – CNNPolitics – “Singapore’s been doing it for years,” she told CNN following her keynote speech on Sunday morning at the 2018 GEOINT Symposium, hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. Meyerriecks did not elaborate with further examples. – It makes total sense that the CIA is building a ‘Google Maps’-style dead ground map of areas that they operate in using machine learning.

Chinese cult writer Chen Qiufan on pushing the boundaries of sci-fi | FT – good read with the obligatory name check of Liu Cixin (paywall)

g2g, brb, and what the loss of early MSN language means | Dazed – interesting change in consumer behaviour as time spent online creeps upwards with the move towards ubiquitous connectivity

P&G returns to YouTube but with a more selective mindset | Marketing Interactive – ultimately brands are powerless in the face of Google, Facebook and Amazon advertising if they insist on not running with a media neutral approach

China opposes all forms of protectionism, commerce minister says – says market with high levels of implicit and explicit protection

No, a keyboard app can’t ‘prevent tragedy from depression’ | Advertising | Campaign Asia – quite shocking claims

Google’s new video ad format doesn’t need YouTube | Digital | Campaign Asia – interesting move

AI in the UK white paper | House of Lords – (PDF)

Microsoft gives up artificial intelligence sales over ethical concerns – interesting positioning, it would be good to get an understanding on on what the board would define as a bad actor

After Sir Martin Sorrell: The Reckoning | LinkedIn – interesting analysis of the marketing sector, I disagree with the way that some of it hangs together

Gchat could have saved Google the trouble of launching yet another messaging service. | Slate – what this forgets is that GChat ended up having a lot of bots and spam accounts. For me it was worse than Skype or Yahoo! Messenger at the time. I could see business historians highlighting this as a lost opportunity in the story of Alphabet

The current state of where 2.0

Interesting Churchill Club discussion on location based services. The key take out that I took from it was the slow pace of inside wireless based location services. I know vendors that have been at it for over a decade and companies like EADS and Ruckus Wireless. Yet, it still seems to be an area of relatively slow adoption (at least at the moment). Ultrasound or BlueTooth LE beacons seem to have only esoteric adoption.

GDPR resources

Partly due to Cambridge Analytica, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is going to have a more profound impact on data usage globally. GDPR would have been seen as an extra-legal reach, but Facebook is making it look like a good idea.

I thought I would pull together a few resources that I thought would be of interest around GDPR since there is a lot of snake oil being sold as consultancy around it at the moment.

Andreessen Horowitz put together a good podcast on it.

Privacy by Design – The 7 Foundational Principles by Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. (PDF) – is a must read paper for creative agencies and product teams. It is based on work that was started in the late 1990s. Cavoukian lists a site as a reference ‘privacybydesign.ca’ – but that seems to be down.

Via James Whatley’s newsletter this article on UX –  GDPR: 10 examples of best practice UX for obtaining marketing consent seems to be complementary to Cavoukian’s work.