Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

trash can is stalking you: using wifi to track people in the real world


Luigi Cappel:

Whether or not you give permission, your mobile phone is sharing information to anyone who wants to invest in relatively low cost to collect it and analyse it.

Originally posted on SoLoMo Consulting:

See on Scoop.itLocation Is Everywhere

Smartphone-monitoring bins in London track places of work, past behavior, and more.

Luigi Cappel‘s insight:

This is an important read. The MAC address can ultimately be used to identify any one if there are sufficient ‘trash cans‘ located in areas where you live. If you consider the number of CCTV cameras located around London for example. One of these devices attached to each of those would be enough to start identify persons of interest.

As the story explains, if these devices are placed in malls or next to public toilets, you can identify the gender of the user. If these devices are used at shopping malls, cinemas, bus stops, you can find out roughly where people work, go to school, what sporting matches or night clubs they go to, you can build up a profile.

This can be used…

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How Do You Keep Up With the Massive Changes Affecting Your Business?


How do you keep up with the changing environment you live and work in? Technology is a moving target as are many other elements that shape our environment. There are so many facets to our industries that constantly change while you are trying to keep your business going the best way you know how. 

There are a  number of options. You can join business groups, buy industry magazines, search the Internet, follow social media and talk to others in your industry. So now you are working a 16 hour day and not necessarily making much more progress. Why? Because you are so focussed on doing Business As Usual and your view is based on your insider knowledge, bias and training.

What else can you do? One option is bring someone like me in as a consultant. As a Futurist I scan data using tools I have learned, my own experience in business and a wide focus on STEEP, whilst also having no skin in your business and therefore an objectivity that is hard to find when you have been making decisions that you are financially and emotionally attached to.

What is STEEP? It is about looking at the world and elements within it from the perspective of a wide range of elements and wild cards which make up the world. These key 5 elements are Society, Technology, Environment, Economics and Politics.

Take those 5 elements and apply them to your Business Plan. What is going on in your world right now in relation to STEEP? How might each element impact on your new product launch or sales plan? I would welcome your comments. 

One of the elements of foresight is being able to find connections between seemingly irrelevant  factoids or situations and understand what they mean. Then on top of that sometimes there are wild cards to be considered. What would happen if……..

When you look at information in isolation there are many risks. People form opinions based on snippets of information without seeing the full picture. They assume other people’s opinions, perhaps also based on bias or limited information. People often form opinions or carry them forward based on old data, often not even knowing that it is old data. For example, you may see a RT on Twitter and think it is current information, when in fact it has been retweeted by people for a week. Think about the disinformation that went around in Boston recently. Once it flies around it is very hard to know which information is current and correct.

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Currency of information is hard to find these days. When a book comes out, by the time it has been printed it is already out of date. When I published Unleashing The Road Warrior, which took me about 6 months to write, it had a currency of about 2 years. After that, all the technology I wrote about was out of date.

We are frequently bombarded with little pieces of information, parts of stories, brief nuggets of 10 ways to be better at something, or 5 ways to become a social media superstar and double your sales. If only it was that easy.

Is there a simple answer? No, there isn’t. However in today’s world, we are connected to many people who are experts in certain areas. There are also people who maintain they are, when they are not. Start by connecting to people who really do know what they are doing. Ask people you know and trust. Check out their credentials. LinkedIn is a good place to start from a business perspective. Are they well connected? Have they been endorsed or recommended? Do you know people that they are connected with that you can talk to?

There are 3 types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Don’t be in the last group if you want to go forward, but also be careful where you get your counsel from.

As a footnote, if you are in New Zealand, or somewhere else where similar things are happening. Fairfax is said to be closing down in both print and online Computerworld NZ, PC World and Reseller News. So where will you be looking for information on your next technology investment or foray? I welcome your comments.

On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

I’m Tired Of You Amex


At a quarter past 5 this morning, my phone started vibrating on my bedside cabinet. My wife stirred next to me, asking “What’s that?” At that time in the morning, in the middle of a REM state, your mind starts racing, your heart starts pumping and you’re thinking someone in your family is hurt, sick, in crisis.

Several times over the last year I have had battles with American Express charging me whopping late payment fees for my account. It transpires that we did automatic payments the day prior to the due date through the National Bank (now ANZ) but it typically took 3 or more days for the money to trickle through to Amex, even though our bank statements showed that we had made the payments on time.

We asked for explanations from the bank and from American Express and no one could explain. It just seemed to go into a black hole and of course no one really understands black holes yet, so they couldn’t explain where the money went, why it took so long, nor how a few days later it would appear, LATE, into our Amex account. Maybe it has something to do with cosmic string overnight cash rates, but if so, the interest certainly didn’t come to us to help pay with the late fee.

AmexSo we agreed with Amex that we would pay several days earlier than the due date (funny how they ping consumers when the average company takes 72 days to pay their 20th of the month accounts) and they put us on a text service where they would let us know when the account was due and when they received the payment.

Up until now those TXT messages came through at a reasonable hour, but this morning (maybe reduced fees for out of business hours SMS?) they decided to TXT me at 5:16 AM.

Well thanks Amex, I know you aren’t going to charge me a late fee. but I haven’t slept since you woke me up and have a long day ahead with important business meetings. I just want you to know that this is not cool or helpful, and I’m kinda annoyed. I’d ring you and try to wake you up, but I’m sure I’d end up talking to a nice person somewhere in the world where it is business hours.

Perhaps someone can look into your systems and think about putting in a few rules?

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

If Only You Would Listen


Its soapbox time again, but it won’t take long. This is for myself and for the many business people who talk too much.

I’ve been in a lot of business meetings lately, some of them excellent, many of them way too long. This morning I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Rock the World With LinkedIn on Webmaster Radio which was an interview with the founder of MBAWriters and Director at BT Consulting, Todd Rhoad. Among other things they were talking about the value and importance of eBooks. This is of course something of a hobby horse for me.

I wrote a treatise called Are eBooks Ready to Come of Age and published it 10 years ago. You can get a free PDF copy here.

Anyway, I’ve seen a few eyes glaze over recently in meetings and presentations. It wasn’t that they were unable to comprehend the topics. It was because they had understood long before. There were a few classic sayings towards the end of the podcast, the things smart parents tell their kids. and the things that sales people are taught, well were taught back in the day when sales was considered a profession. Like:

  • The most successful business people keep their mouths shut. I learned that in my second year of my 3 year Sales & Marketing Diploma. I was selling 2-way radios to a sharp businessman. Halfway through my presentation he asked me for the price. I thought I was dealing with the price objection, so I started in on the problems he had told me about and how the features and benefits of our product would help him with those. He asked again for the price. I stopped, a little confused. He asked me again. I told him and he signed a big fat purchase order on the spot. I learned big time from that and always try to remind other people that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason and you should use them in that proportion.
  • As Lori said on the podcast (which I strongly recommend you subscribe to, is that you learn more by listening. All you need to to do to get business is listen to what the customer wants, confirm that what they are saying is in fact what they want, then leg them know if you can solve their problem at a rate that is less painful than the problem they want to solve. Then stop talking and get on with doing the business.
  • Smart people are listening and processing what they are being told. As Todd said “With people who are very quiet, you have to be very eager when they pop up and say something, because they’ve been sitting there thinking about it and its probably going to be pretty intelligent.” The flip side of that is think about what you are going to say, don’t speak as you are thinking. Maybe you can’t wait to hear what you are going to say, but your listener may not be as excited unless you are responding to what they are telling you.
  • Another thing I learned many years ago which is obvious, but sometimes you need to think about the obvious, is that we can think much faster than we listen or read. Let your customer listen and if you have a PowerPoint presentation, don’t read them the presentation, they have already read it and are processing it. Glazed eyes again, perhaps thinking about lunch or their next meeting.

I’m going to finish with an old Chicago song I used to love and share with you one great tool that I hear women using all the time, which I call active listening. Do you ever have a conversation with someone, usually a woman and she repeats back to you some of the words you have just said?

“The floods and damage from Cyclone Evan were pretty scary….:

“pretty scary”

“I had some friends who were over there on vacation”

“on vacation, I bet they were wishing they had gone somewhere else”

This is an active conversation and the people doing this are totally engaged. Most people are not totally engaged and are in fact focusing on the next thing they are going to say rather than listening to what their customer or prospect is trying to tell them. Active listening is a really good tool to use because it can stop your mind from wandering off and perhaps missing that clue that your customer is offering you as to why they might want your product. It will also help you understand what your customer is really thinking about and wants. It will let you be ready for buying signals and it will also endear you to the customer because you are showing that you are really interested. If you aren’t interested, then you probably don’t want their business.

Next time you meet someone and they ask how you are, say “Thanks, I’m very, how are you?” If they stop and ask “Very what?” They were listening. Chances are they will say something like “That’s nice”.

Listening for most of us is a skill we need to work on. Very few men, including myself at times, are not great listeners. I have found that the times when people really enjoyed a conversation with me, I actually said very little and I have probably learned a lot.

The Problem With Consultants


What is the problem with consultants?

Consultancy is one of the fastest growing sector in professional business people, the USA alone has over 700,000 of them. IBM Global Business Services and Ernst & Young have almost half a million consultants between them alone!

They charge a lot of money for their expertise and knowledge, if you get one through one of the top firms like McKinsey and Boston Group are unlikely to give you any change out of thousands of dollars an hour. Of course what you are buying in many cases at that level is something you already know, its more a corroboration perhaps when you are making a decision that has significant implications for your business, especially if you are looking at taking it into green fields, although most large businesses don’t take those sorts of risks in the first place even if the potential gains are huge.

Given that IBM possibly has the largest group of assembled business consultants of any company in the world, I guess the adage that no one ever got fired for buying IBM (not strictly true) still carries a cloak of implied job security for decision makers.

Perhaps it is the fees that put people off consultants especially when compared with the salary packages of the people who are hiring them, often to tell them things they already know, or for mining information from employees of their own company. Of course consultants don’t have job security between consults and often can’t even talk about what they did for their clients to earn those dollars because the IP is commercially sensitive. Do you get better value from a consultant who works for a top 1o company, or one who is self employed? Maybe, sometimes. Often not.

As a consultant myself, I think a common problem that people have is that the information they provide is known within the company, but for various reasons it wasn’t available to key decision makers, or they didn’t want to hear it from staff who sit below them on the corporate ladder. It is also frustrating for companies when it appears that the solutions or recommendations that consultants make seem to come so easy for them. It also frustrates many companies that they aren’t able to get those answers from interns and graduates they employ who they expect to have the latest thinking on their industry.

The problem for the graduate and the difference between them and the business consultant, is that the good consultant has business experience. They may have specialist knowledge in an industry, be that biochemical nano technology, banking or retail They have years of experience understanding and finding solutions for problems.

A key thing that I bring as a consultant, is that I don’t have emotional baggage in your business, I am not phased by who is the boss, I am not married to the corporate Business As Usual credo of ‘this is how we roll’. I can see things that might be staring in your face and you don’t see them, because we are wired differently. I’ll tell it to you how it is.

I am also passionate about solving business problems. I get out of bed excited about the opportunity to understand your business and help you to find solutions to your problems, how to grow your business, how to find out what your customers really want and need, how to harness the knowledge your people (your most valuable asset) have and want to share with you. I can save and make you money. Sometimes I can do that very quickly with knowledge I already have after many years of working in a variety of roles including my own companies, sometimes it may take weeks or months. I can take knowledge from a wide range of industries and transpose them into relevant solutions for yours.

The problem with consultants is that people bring them in too late. Why wait for an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff? Why not talk to specialists on your way up who can help accelerate your progress and help prevent costly detours or mistakes?

The problem with consultants is sometimes they will tell you what you don’t want to hear.