Power, Geopolitics and Technology


Awesome, cheap. So what’s the catch?

News reaches the outpost in rural Ireland that Xiaomi, ‘China’s Apple’, fresh from launching their extraordinarily gorgeous steel-clad Android phone which at the top of the line retails at a similarly astounding €86 / $116, has now launched a $13 fit-band, which also looks really lovely. It appears from first reviews that the Chinese are figuring out how to do power and style (learned, perhaps, from making stylish things on behalf of those who wrote the book on design) as well as cheap, and that’s set to make some serious waves.

It made me think about the politics of technology, which I do quite a bit anyway. Connected people, and connected commerce ecosystems are clearly on the way. Being able to control those ecosystems gives enormous power. And one suspects that the Chinese are more interested in power than in profit, as while profit is currency limited, and therefore politically relative, power is a political absolute.  In other words, if the Chinese can dominate the smartphone / tablet business, and by extension the people instrumentation business, that would undermine American attempts at technological hegemony, and create a strong platform for China.  Therefore while Apple seeks to preserve its position as a premium brand with premium margin for premium profits, Xiaomi is playing a different game entirely.


The Nature of Privacy

data privacyThe recent publications in the Guardian about NSA access to Google, Facebook, Yahoo and all the rest have been met with a flurry of leftist abhorrence and mutterings from the twittering, as opposed to the twitter, classes.  However, all reports refer to access to data, in such a way as to make people think that their personal emails and photos and so on are being read by the NSA, or their computers – this is not the case.  Because the media is governed by soundbites, polemic and an absence of nuance, the headline is that the security services have access to data.  The truth is, they don’t need or want access to the data.  They need the models. And this allows the internet companies to deny they are granting access to the data.

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Data is Money. Not like money, or as good as money. It is money.

(reminder and disclaimer – I work for IBM, but these are personal comments)

Almost three years ago, in Febraury 2010 (yeah, I know – three years!) the Economist ran a supplement called “The Data Deluge“, about Big Data and how it was transforming businesses all over the world.  In the middle of the supplement was an article called ‘Clicking for Gold‘, in which there’s a quote from Tim O’Reilly, who says that companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook ‘…are uncomfortable bringing so much attention to this because it is at the heart of their competitive advantage. Data are the coin of the realm. They have a big lead over other companies that do not ‘get’ this.’  For the intervening time, I’ve been quoting this to telcos all over the world, and they nod their heads, and – for the most part – don’t do much about it.

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Facebook is So Over, Dude…

There were two distressing cases in Ireland recently of young girls who took their own lives after cyber-bullying.  Both cases emerged after they had been exposed to the online behaviour on ask.fm, a social networking (Q&A, really) site that allows anonymity and has been taken up in great numbers by teenagers here.  When the first case happened, journalists tried to trace the company, but it was difficult, as it was snarled up in a web of offshore instruments and complex arrangements.  The site has been soaring in recent months, yet remains very small in terms of staff – ten people, no more.  It is particularly strong in non-English speaking countries, and countries where anonymity is useful.  My first question was “who is ask.fm?!” Now, just hold that thought. Continue reading

Mobile Commerce: The Future of Everything

It’s been fifteen years now since the Global Mobile Commerce Forum launched in 1997, at a hotel in Heathrow Airport.  They talked about “the delivery of electronic commerce capabilities directly into the consumer’s hand, anywhere, via wireless technology” and “a retail outlet in your best customer’s pocket”.  In a rather quaint and rare example of a forecast that was horribly understated as the dot com boom got underway, they even predicted that there would be as many as 150 million mobile telephony users by the year 2000.  Ah, we were innocent then!

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Telco and the Applification Complex

I’m not in the habit of making up words, as there are plenty good ones to go around, many of them lamentably underused.  Nevertheless, there is a trend upon us that defies conventional description, and for want of le mot juste, I’ve decided that applification (and its derivatives) best captures it.  I’m talking, of course, about how apps have come to dominate the thinking of digital consumers, and, increasingly, service providers as well.  Everything, it seems, is an app – or wants to be one.  We used to have web sites, services, APIs, email addresses, phone numbers (how quaint!), even computers and software.  Now, we have apps.

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Microsoft and the Ad Business

Microsoft today announced a write down of $6.2bn in their online advertising business, essentially wiping out their $6.3bn acquisition of aQuantive in 2007, and conceding defeat in the online display ad segment.  Display ads are a particular part of the ad business, dominated by Google through it’s acquisition of DoubleClick (in a competitive process against Microsoft) shortly before the Redmond behemoth completed its largest ever acquisition at that time.  Search advertising – with Bing – and other parts of its ad portfolio remain, but there are concerns.

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