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broadstuff"broadstuff" - 5 new articles

  1. Privacy in 2025 - Luxury or a Free Good?
  2. One small step for Robotkind
  3. 11.11.11.2014
  4. Smart socks for dumb smartphone users
  5. Asshole Density as a measure of Bubbles
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  7. Search broadstuff
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Privacy in 2025 - Luxury or a Free Good?

Interesting paper by Pew Internet Research, they have conducted a Delphi-technique piece of research on where Privacy will end up by 2025 , essentially they posit 2 possible emergent scenarios:

Bad News Scenario


1) Living a public life is the new default. It is not possible to live modern life without revealing personal information to governments and corporations. Few individuals will have the energy or resources to protect themselves from ‘dataveillance’; privacy will become a ‘luxury.’

2) There is no way the world’s varied cultures, with their different views about privacy, will be able to come to an agreement on how to address civil liberties issues on the global Internet.

3) The situation will worsen as the Internet of Things arises and people’s homes, workplaces, and the objects around them will ‘tattle’ on them. The incentives for businesses to monetize people’s data and governments to monitor behavior are extremely potent.

4) Some communities might plan and gain some acceptance for privacy structures, but the constellation of economic and security complexities is getting bigger and harder to manage.


Good News Scenario

1) Citizens and consumers will have more control thanks to new tools that give them the power to negotiate with corporations and work around governments. Individuals will be able to choose to share personal information in a tiered approach that offers varied levels of protection and access by others.

2) The backlash against the most egregious privacy invasions will bring a new equilibrium between consumers, governments, and businesses — and more savvy citizens will get better at hiding things they do not want others to see.

3) Living a public life is the new default. People will get used to this, adjust their norms, and accept more sharing and collection of data as a part of life — especially Millennials and the young people who follow them. Problems will persist and some will complain but most will not object or muster the energy to push back against this new reality in their lives.


(Incidentally, the report has this annoying random word-break that seems increasingly prevalent in .PDF documents these days, means a cut n' paste is a tougher job as you have to then rejoin it all. You'd think they don't want people to copy their work and re-broadcast it to many other readers...)

Anyway, it's an interesting piece - readers of this blog will know we incline to the pessimistic on this as:

(i) There was little sign pre-Snowden that the Crowd, in it's immense Wisdom, cared a fig for their own privacy - and there has only been a muted understanding afterwards, outside of Technorati circles, that interested parties are working hard to mute further.

(ii) The economics of intrusiveness (and Big Data Capture) are too compelling for any commercial or governmental enterprise to ignore

(iii) The "Internet of Things" is adding a whole new, multi billion device (and dollar) layer of snoopery to the 'Net


If the past is any guide to the future there will probably be a "Wild West" era when institutions and "entrepreneurs" ride roughshod over privacy concerns, with all sorts of appalling breaches ( Bad (2) ), followed by the much slower moving social and regulatory forces that will peg the worst excesses back ( Good (2) ), but the power of vested interest lobbies will ensure it is still a rich seam to mine (Bad (3) ). So, to mix n' match these 2 scenaros, I'd suspect an endgame where something like this occurs:

1) Living a public life is the new default. It is not possible to live modern life without revealing personal information to governments and corporations. Few individuals will have the energy or resources to protect themselves from ‘dataveillance’; privacy will become a ‘luxury.’

3) Living a public life is the new default. People will get used to this, adjust their norms, and accept more sharing and collection of data as a part of life — especially Millennials and the young people who follow them. Problems will persist and some will complain but most will not object or muster the energy to push back against this new reality in their lives.

2) There is no way the world’s varied cultures, with their different views about privacy, will be able to come to an agreement on how to address civil liberties issues on the global Internet.

4) Some communities might plan and gain some acceptance for privacy structures, but the constellation of economic and security complexities is getting bigger and harder to manage, and...

2) The backlash against the most egregious privacy invasions will bring a new equilibrium between consumers, governments, and businesses — and more savvy citizens will get better at hiding things they do not want others to see.

In other words, a two-tier privacy system, patchily implemented globally, with some groups powerful enough to "go dark" - but "Privacy as the Default Setting" will be gone. And shame on all of us if this is the outcome we let happen.
    


One small step for Robotkind

Take me to your re-charging unit


Like many others I was constantly checking the BBC livefeed and ESA reports yesterday as Philae landed. My interest is twofold (well threefold, but we will get to that):

- Firstly, exploration of space is always fascinating and who knows what we will learn from this (It's quite scary the number of people arguing this is a a waste of money!)
- Secondly, it's another episode in the application of the advances in modern Robotics - and for a good, not a dystopian, outcome. The potential of robotics is well showcased here - the downside (surveillance by Philae's brethren) is more worrying, but can be put aside for now.

This second point has me musing a bit more. It has been clear to us for some time that space exploraton will, in the main, be done by our robots for a long time to come. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is half hoping that Philae spots the carcass of another civilisation's robot sent to look at the comet.

Which brings me to my threefold muse - to wit, its highly likely that other civilisations will also use robots for their space exploration, so the most likely human-alien first contact will probably be between two robots. Not so much a "take me to your leader" moment, but a struggle to find a compatible protocol to communicate with each other (and maybe a race to recharge the batteries in the only available plug socket).
    

11.11.11.2014

Delville Wood* on the Somme, then & now - photo courtesy Somme Battlefield Tours


Lest we forget. Especially now, when the world seems to be turning ominously into a replay of 1913.

(*Lost 2 Great Uncles at Delviile Wood)
    


Smart socks for dumb smartphone users

Two things on the Broadstuff Towers spike, both to so with putting a sock over your smartphone:

Firstly, Yondr, for the text-addicted:

Two weeks ago, I heard about a new company called Yondr that was making lightweight smartphone socks-with-locks that prevent the smartphone's user from accessing the device during a concert, movie, or party.

......

Preventing fans from accessing their phones during a show might seem like an extraordinary step, especially in tech-centric San Francisco. But even the most compulsive texters among us can say that they've seen That Person: the guy in front of you at the concert who holds up his iPhone to record eight minutes of video, forcing you to watch your favourite band through his tiny screen, or the girl whose phone lights up with texts while you're in the theatre trying to watch an important scene.

When self control is no longer good enough, the answer is Yondr- a time-lock sock.

More serious I think is the story of a kickstarter for clothing to enhance privacy "inspired by Orwell and Snowden". Behind the hipster fashion is the "UnPocket", essentially a Faraday cage that means your smartphone is shielded from sending and receiving messages:

UnPocket™ is a secure pouch made from layers of stealth fabric that allows you to drop off the surveillance grid at will. UnPocket™ puts you back in control and makes you both untrackable and unhackable.

Oddly enough I couldn't see a garment there with a hoodie....

Interesting twist - when "wearable computing" kicked off, it was all about communication, but now its about going incommunicado.....this Dystopia is the intersection of 3 Bruces - Privacy expert Schneier, Cyber-Futurist Stirling, and coutourier Oldfield.




    

Asshole Density as a measure of Bubbles

Fascinating article on Pando Daily about how the VC community has moved from funding high potential people to funding Assholes:

Here’s the problem. Every venture capitalist, in every interview they’ve ever done will tell you the same casual lie: That they invest in people first and ideas second. They’ll tell you they invest only in people they’d want to work with. They’ll tell you that they have the luxury to say no to companies that don’t do things in line with the way they like to work, the way they like to treat people.

You don’t have to look too far into this year’s frenzied pace of dealmaking, and at the price tags of those deals to know that’s complete bullshit. In all too many cases, what venture capitalists are investing in is assholes.

It’s weighing on those who’ve been in the business for decades, and I’ve been having conversations about it all summer. A senior partner at a top firm recounted a partner meeting at breakfast recently.

“Why are we backing this guy?” he said to a younger rainmaker at the firm. “He’s an asshole.”

His partner replied: “Hey, you gotta get over it. It’s no longer about whether someone is an asshole it’s about can he make money.”

That conversation happened a year ago. Said this multi-decade veteran of the business: “It didn’t use to be that way.”

Possibly, but looking back at the dotcom era one can argue that it gets that way as the cycle moves up to Maximum Froth, in my experience the Asshole count and valuations both went up exponentially as the froth rose in the dotcom era. At its height anything and everything was funded, and some of those people were very definitely many cards short of a deck. To me it's more a sign we are starting to see the Froth appear in the current "Tech" bubble (though, to be pedantic, most of these companies are not in fact "Tech" per se, in that its not their technology that is critical, they are mainly digital versions of long established services with some form of networking function overlayed on them to simplify the transaction between buyer and seller. It's the attraction of eyeballs - sorry, their traction - that is critical, as there is only space for a few winners)

The other very telling comment made in the article is this one:

At some point this business became about funding a founder, not a company. This has coincided with three other theories of venture capital portfolio management that have become prevalent of late. The first is an obsession with a VC’s “social game”—to steal the parlance of reality TV. Since 75% of venturebacked startups are destined to fail, VCs today assume they’ll do less damage overall by writing off a bad performer than doing the hard work to fix it. Even if they oust an ineffective founder, a company may be too damaged to salvage, meantime, the VC has ruined his rep of being “entrepreneur friendly” for nothing.

The second theory is the new valuation math: Given basic liquidation preferences and soft landings at bigger Valley companies, the risk to losing all your money is somewhat protected. Likewise, companies like Facebook and Google have thrown traditional valuation math out the window too, caring only if someone might disrupt them in another ten years.

So the only thing anyone cares about is the upside. VCs—in this point in the cycle—are smart to worry less about erring on the side of paying up too much for a deal than erring on balking at a seemingly high valuation. Especially when the next day Mark Zuckerberg could rewrite every rule by paying $2 billion for a hardware company that doesn’t even have a product on the market. As Bill Gurley of Benchmark says, “You can only lose your money once” if you invest. If you don’t, you can effectively lose that would-be appreciation many times over.

Is it the mantra of a bubble? Maybe.

I love how even the Valley pundits who insist they are "telling it like it is" shy away from the "Bubble" word ;-) - these above two point perfectly express the "game theory" of a Bubble dynamic. Anyway, on with the point:

The third change that rules venture decision making is an acceptance that no one has any clue of what works.

.....

The determiners of success in the Valley are no longer CIOs deciding on huge iron boxes that cost millions a pop. It’s not even whether geeky early adopters will like Twitter or FriendFeed more. It’s what teens around the world want to do on their phones. A hot mobile app has more in common with a movie premiere than a classic Silicon Valley tech company. And increasingly, VCs know they have no clue what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea. Better to back all the apps showing “hockey stick growth” on college campuses.

This also is a descriptor of the beginning of the Frothy phase of the dotcom era - no VC knew what would work then either, so they invested in a huge range of patently daft ideas, praying for a few nuggest, because to not do so was job-risking. If one VC made a big play in a sector then the others piled into every other player in that sector (and by the end, even manufactured their own plays like pop svengalis manufacture boy-bands). Now to be fair, the sort of person who can set up and build a billion dollar company is seldom going to win the "person most admired for being nice and honourable" awards, and as Pando points out, the process of getting a company off the ground can make someone into an asshole - but Pando thinks This Time it is DIfferent:

The other sad reality is the continual erosion of what Silicon Valley—as a place—stands for, if anything. This used to be a place of misfits and changing the world. Even the legendary assholes had a cause beyond themselves and checks and balances on their board. It just may take another economic collapse to get back to that.

Pando also argues that the reduced cost of setting up a company has changed the power dynamic, but while that's true in the down-cycle and early up-cycle, by the time the Froth appears money is not the issue anymore. To me, this looks very cyclical. At the top of the dotcom bubble it wasn't about changing the world either, it was about get rich quick. Bubbles attract assholes, and they disappear again when times get hard. If you want to find a low asshole industry sector, look for ones in trouble - the mid 'noughties Valley was just that, and was arguably more asshole free than average.

And we are enetring the Frothy time, so expect the asshole count to increase. Then there will be a crash, a collapse, and things will go back to being more asshole free again - until the next bubble starts to froth.

(Update - a friend of mine pointed out that what I reallyw as saying is that asshole density is a measure of bubbletime, so I have changed the title to that ffrom my original)

    


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