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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Game on … (Buzz vs. Facebook) Round One

In an interview on, Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, the company behind the # 1 blogging platform WordPress (used by brazethoughts no less), makes some insightful comments on the future of software and how it can learn from the gaming industry. He believes the biggest challenge for the software industry is to make sure users can take full advantage of the increasing complexity of applications.

“If you think about it, complexity is actually not a bad thing – I mean users are not dumb, they’re actually very smart. You just need to give them the best way to learn and discover all the power that you have, and the best example of this is computer games. Computer games are so, so good at this. Think how complex the average computer interface is. It varies from game to game almost 100 per cent – the way you play Mario is not going to be the way you play Modern Warfare. But it starts you out on a training level – you start out, you get your legs, you walk around and you advance from level to level. And this applied to traditional software I think is going to one of the most interesting trends.”

He then attributes much of the success of Facebook to its game-like nature.

“They’re really brilliant how they encourage certain behaviours and how they tailor their news feed and the way images work and everything like that. Essentially it’s a social game but the other players are your friends and the objects are updates and photos, videos and news stories. The game never gets old because it’s constantly fresh from the content your friends are feeding into it. It’s utterly brilliant.”

facebook vs buzz Google’s Buzz has now entered the social networking arena,  it has a nice feature set but it doesn’t appear to have anything like the game aspects of Facebook. This got me wondering if the smart minds at Google have not thought things through and missed an opportunity.

Beware the Android

Lots of press this week about the Nexus 1 (a.k.a. the Google phone) and whether it was as good as the iPhone. (see coverage roundup). It may be a moot point. An insightful article, falseiPhoneon the NT Times Gadgetwise blog, describes a counterfeit phone from China, that looks and behaves very much like an iPhone but is in reality an Android-based device.

Seems as if you can the best of both worlds (albeit illegally), an iPhone on a non-proprietary platform. Sort of begs the question, why would I buy an iPhone if I can get an Android phone that can act like one (or as a regular android phone)?

This really could put the cat amongst the pigeons as it divorces the iPhone (user interface) from the Apple iPhone operating system.

iPhone vs Droid ~ more to the story

With the release of the Motorola ‘Droid’ phone running the Android 2.0 operating system, there has been much talk and chatter on whether this is the long anticipated “iPhone killer”. It could well be, there are a number of impressive features on the Droid such as multi-tasking that are not available on the iPhone. That said, in the long run I think the feature that will make the most difference is the operating system itself.

For the first time, I can as a T-Mobile subscriber with a G1 phone make recommendations on ‘good applications’ to a Verizon subscriber with a Droid phone. The application catalog is no longer tethered to the mobile phone operator. It is the realization of develop once and run on multiple networks (in this case GSM and CDMA).

Droid Phone


Is it time for another “CarterPhone” decision?


In 1968, the FCC allowed the CarterPhone to attach to the AT&T phone network. The CarterPhone was a non-AT&T approved device linking a two-way radio network to the phone network. This decision was made over the stringent objections of AT&T, the telephone monopoly at that time in the US, who argued that foreign devices would by their very nature cause a breakdown of the  telephone network.

Fast forward to 2009, and we see history possibly repeating itself with  AT&T replaced by Apple, the network with the iPhone platform and the CarterPhone with Google, Palm, etc. and the FCC examining the merits of Apple’s policies.

Recently there has been a lot written on Apple’s decision to not permit either Google Voice or Latitude to be added to the iPhone Apps Store. ( see NY Times, Business Week, and InformationWeek). In particular, the Information week article describes how Apple is using thirty year old arguments, “Apple Fears Jailbroken iPhones Could Kill Phone Networks” in defense of its only Apple approved applications on iPhones policy.

The question is of course should Apple have absolute say over what runs on an iPhone ( a kind of benign dictatorship as it were). It is not totally clear what criteria Apple uses but one of the criteria seems to be is the application a competitive threat to either Apple or at&t. There have been a number of missteps so far (see sample rejected iPhone apps).

Looking back at the CarterPhone decision and seeing the innovation that resulted (think cordless phones, fax machines etc.), I would argue that while Apple should be able to have an “approved” applications list, it should also provide a mechanism for other non-approved apps to be available on the iPhone. This ruling should of course apply to all other app store platforms, like Microsoft, Android, Pre etc.

Making your identity your own

On Tuesday, April 21st, Google announced a new product “Google Me”. It allows folks, like you and me, to create our own profile smallprofiles on the Google Profile site and then when someone does a Google search on that name, the profile you entered will appear on the first results page.  The top four results for that name will be displayed based on the amount of information in your Google Profile.

The setup is very easy.

  1. enter the word me in the Google search field
  2. the first result will be a link to Google Profiles where you can enter the information.  For a comprehensive description of the type of information you can enter see this link from search engine land.
  3. One of the more useful components of the Google Profile is the ability to add links to other sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc.

That is it. The next time someone does a Google searches for your name – your profile will appear on the first page (at the bottom unfortunately).

So what does this mean for Telcos. A lost opportunity in my view. The battle for providing the master profile service has shifted from the Telcos to the social media and search sites. This is unfortunate as the mobile Telcos especially have the capability to provide verification services as well as profile services that make it profile services even more valuable.

This puts Google into a position of great power as articulated by both  readwriteweb and search engine land. As much as I admire Google, it scares me too.

Google Voice – the next best thing

Announced last Thursday, Google Voice (based on the Grand Central acquisition) is yet another nail in the ‘core services’ coffin of the Telcos. It promises to not only allow easy consolidation of multiple phone numbers to quote the NY Times “one number to ring them all”  [link], but also provide easier management of voice mails and conference calling. The consumer cost appears to be very low and provides a real challenge to Telcos. Some observations (and I can’t wait to sign up !!)

  1. It provides a very cheap way of creating an additional dedicated ‘home’ business line (and being able to redirect calls coming into that number to multiple destinations).  Taking a personal example, rather than pay $27.86 per month ((including fees and taxes but without voicemail or other features) for a business line which I use occasionally – I can use Google Voice for a fraction of the cost.
  2. It is not a Skype-killer, there is no video feed and while switching costs are very low,  the ongoing cost is also low making the monetary benefit not compelling.
  3. It will become harder and harder for Telcos (and others) to justify charging for conference calling features (can Web conferencing be far behind?)
  4. What is in it for Google? My initial take is that there is little revenue in this for Google but it further strengthens the Google brand as the place to go for consumer innovation.