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).

On SNAKK Media, Derek Handley and Kiwi Entrepreneur Success


The Snakk Media AGM, appropriately held in the Sir Paul Reeves Building of AUT in Auckland last night, appeared to be a classic event, with typical investors, asking typical questions. However, in my opinion, it wasn’t, it was a meeting in a room made up of some of the finest minds in marketing and leading edge mobile technology.

SNAKK AGM

SNAKK AGM

I was very proud to see entrepreneur, Derek Handley, on the stage surrounded by other Kiwi business leaders and visionaries including Tim Alpe, Max Flanigan and GM, Andrew Jacobs who I met for the first time last night.

I’m sure the media will cover the story, but here’s my take; on a tangent. I have always believed in Derek, his family and team from the day I met them, many years ago as they were preparing to found The Hyperfactory. They were the classic start up and I admired their passion and enjoyed their company, because they were driven and they were passionate about the same things I was, and still am. I love the company of positive, can do, will do people.

Snakk has allowed Kiwi investors to invest in a company that may never do a huge amount of business in New Zealand, which is really exciting, because it is not an opportunity that comes up often. As was pointed out, 2 years ago mobile digital advertising spend in New Zealand and the UK was 1% of the total spend. Today in New Zealand (where I have been trying to educate agencies on location based marketing and Augmented Reality, the percentage remains at 1% and in the UK is now 23%. In Australia they have the third fastest growth in the world (sic) of smartphone and tablet users, so it is appropriate for their head office to be in Sydney.

There was a lot of discussion about the threat to live TV with so many people now streaming to their mobiles and time shifting. Snakk didn’t mention all the technologies, but I am confident that they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves so that people like me who watch a reasonable amount of TV, while using my iPad or mobile, and MySky, will also be able to receive the messages I want. 

Here’s where I get excited. I want, and assume you will too, my TV. When it comes to advertising, I’m a marketer, but I don’t generally like watching ads. I guess the main reason is because most of them are not relevant to me, or at least not relevant to me at that time. I want them when I am open to buy.

So here are some of the things that I wanted to hear (and did either directly or between the lines):

  • Profile. I want ads that match my profile. Having them appear on my third screen (my mobile or tablet) in conjunction with what I am watching, based on my interests is something I might welcome. If there is an interaction between my device and the TV program, then it may not matter if I am watching live or time-shifted, depending on my:
  • Context. A lot of the future of mobile advertising comes down to an app on my device knowing things about me. What I am interested in, where I eat, drink, play, get entertained. What I am interested in at certain times of the day or day of the week. Market food to me at a time I am likely to be considering a meal. Then of course there is:
  • Location. If my mobile knows where I am, there is so much more you can do. If I like coffee, I’m walking downtown and there is a cafe that wants my business, let them send me an offer together with a reward of free WiFi.

On another tangent, the awesome podcast from Asif Khan and Rob Woodbridge of the Location Based Marketing Association: This Week In Location Based Marketing mentioned that where a geofence is used for guerilla based mobile marketing, they get a 12% click through rate. Just to explain, imagine you walk into Burger King and your mobile bleeps you a notification offering you a free upsize if you go to McDonalds up the road and buy a Big Mac combo.

This is where people started to get excited and concerned about privacy and I need to mention the MAC, pun intended. Effectively it is possible for apps to learn about you and your behavior without having your personal details. Effectively they track your mobile, not YOU. It’s not quite that simple and that is why in the early days of The Hyperfactory (I didn’t actually work there, I suppose you could have called me a Hyperfactory groupie) we started to set up a Mobile Marketing Association, with the view of self regulating to ensure the Government didn’t over regulate. The key was around allowing people to know what information was held about them and giving them the right to revoke access to it.

This blog is getting way too long, so I’ll finish with a few quick thoughts on Foursquare. I wish I had paid more attention to Derek having shared an office with Foursquare, I think I made a mental note to talk to him about that, but I didn’t. Maybe I still will.

The question was asked as to whether Foursquare was viable and the general answer from the panel was, not really. Derek was more retrospect and pointed out that the issue in New Zealand has always been one of scale. In New York City scale isn’t a problem, the population is over 8 million people. They can afford to have sales people in NYC and its easy to segment them.

In New Zealand there are actually a reasonable number of users, but Foursquare hasn’t really been interested in them because we are too small. I briefly became a Foursquare Ambassador and saw big opportunities for proximity based marketing. I saw a business model for myself with Foursquare, but they would not allow me (or anyone) to manage multiple businesses on behalf of customers. Each account had to be managed individually and for New Zealand that was a fatal flaw.

For those who think Foursquare is out, have a read of this story from Fast Company.

Did you go last night? What did you think? I think this is going to be a very successful global company and look forward to being involved somehow, if only only the sideline. I have watched and met many successful people over the years through my business network and Derek Handley is a Kiwi that remains underrated imho despite all he has achieved to date. In my opinion the shares are well undervalued right now. I’d recommend at least buying a few.

Footnote: I do not own any shares in Snakk Media. I do not work for Snakk Media in any capacity. I would seriously consider both though:)

Congratulations to Julie Landry, Vaughn Davis and the team for an excellent event.

Can the NSA track you on your prepay mobile?


The recent news about PRISM and NSA surveillance on people based on their Internet usage and mobile usage is fascinating. The concept of being able to monitor people’s activity based on their mobile is nothing new, although of course we all thought that it would only happen under a warrant, or in emergency circumstances such as when someone makes a 911 call or perhaps in a SAR emergency.

USA 162Commercial vehicles are being tracked as a normal process, in some cases to ensure staff are working, but more commonly for more practical purposes, such as driver behaviour and safety, making sure that refrigerated trailers maintain correct temperatures and in countries like New Zealand to allow diesel truck operators to claim Road User Charge rebates when they are not driving on public roads, which can save businesses a truck load of money if you will pardon the pun.

As a fan of TV programs like Person of Interest and 24, which I hear is making a comeback, I often wonder why it seems so hard to track criminals, but if you follow my blogs and tweets you will see that more and more criminals are being caught, especially after stealing iPhones or other devices containing GPS and communications. I love those stories.

So, to the question of this blog. What we know is that government agencies (and businesses with their clients’ approval, such as finance and insurance companies) are tracking people and monitoring their behaviour. By monitoring Big Data about the location of people’s mobiles, algorithms can identify information such as where people live, work and play. They can identify associations with other people through this same data. For example if you monitor a person and establish their home (where their mobile is most nights of the year) and identify other mobile devices that are also at that location during most nights of the year, then you can identify that they also probably reside at that location.

If those people were criminal suspects of any kind, you could thereby potential make some assumptions that those people might also be criminals. This would be very useful, not only with terrorists, which we thought were the prime reason for being able to spy on people, but also gangs, drug dealers and manufacturers and more. I guess part of the issue there is whether this evidence is admissible in a court of law. But again I digress.

If you are able to monitor mobile phone radio connections using GPS or less accurate technologies and identify unknown devices such as prepaid mobiles that frequently appear at the same locations as known devices, that would suggest that you could infer the identity or characteristics of a user. If, for example, a person had a mobile for normal use and an anonymous prepaid mobile for more nefarious purposes and they were carried around together, you could infer that the user was the same person.

This could mean that effectively the use of a prepaid mobile, being used for the purposes of criminal activity, on the basis of its implied anonymity, could be fatally flawed. Not a bad thing in my opinion. The problem is more in the assumption that a governmental agency has the right to spy on its citizens without recourse and without obtaining a warrant from a court first, a bit like apologising after the event.

I am all for keeping law abiding citizens safe, but there should be transparency on how that is done, especially in countries that we consider to be enlightened democracies. Anyway, the answer to the question in my opinion is that using a prepaid mobile will not by default prevent you from being tracked or identified if an agency has the power to track radio devices. the technology is certainly easy to access.

What is a Blog and How do I Get One?


Everyone is talking about writing blogs. In the world of IT and in large companies, people are writing online. It might be newsletters, articles, pages on websites and of course social media. That’s all very well for people that like writing and can do it well, but what about busy people working in their SME business? What about people who are good at what they do but are not good at writing?

I’m not going to tell you in detail what a blog is. The web is full of explanations, Wikipedia, defines it as well as anyone here. A blog is effectively an easy tool to allow you to share your passion and message with the world. It’s a way to attract new clients, to share your knowledge, to engage with people with a common interest, a way to share stories.

A blog can contain photos, video, music, polls and much more. You can allow people to comment, you can create categories of information, add keywords to help people find your information when they are looking for what you have and much more. It is also chronological and that is very important. If you are going to blog, you need to be doing it regularly so that people know there will be new information coming. They can subscribe to it and get involved with you and your brand.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Why blog? If you don’t know the answer to that, skip the rest of this. If you have a bit of an idea, then start focusing on it. What is your end game? Do you want customers to buy your goods or services? Do you want to add value and inform people about things you are excited about? Do you want to raise your profile? Do you want new customers, or to keep existing ones? if you don’t have a goal, you’re going to have a pointless blog.
  2. Why would people read your blog? You don’t want to be preaching to the converted. You don’t want to be telling people what they already know, which a lot of blog writers do. If you are in business, what sort of questions do customers often ask you? Why do they come to you, I frequently hear people say their customers go to them because they have product knowledge. I would put it to you that if you have product knowledge, you have passion. People will read your blog for the same reason they do business with you, you have a common interest, you have helpful information and you care.
  3. How often should you blog? At least a couple of times a week or people will forget about you. Search engines will pick up on your blog is they see there is regular content and you will rise higher up the rankings and more people will find you. That might sound a lot, but they don’t have to be long. In fact any longer than this and people may well stop reading.
  4. What sort of writing style should you use? It needs to be easy to read, almost like having a conversation, but leave out the slang and the industry jargon. It also needs excellent spelling and grammar. This is a professional conversation.
  5. What should you write about? Keep it relevant to your goals and your target audience. When I was studying songwriting a common thread was write about what you know. As above, what do you know that will be useful to your reader?
  6. I want to write but I don’t have time. Then contact someone like me. You can email me at luigi@solomoconsulting.co.nz  I can get you started with your online writing and help you start the conversation.

Blogging is of course only one form of online content writing. There are newsletters, white papers, online magazines, websites and much more. What is great about a blog is that there are easy to use and often free tools. It is all kept in one place, but keeps growing. You can go back and add to stories, you can edit them if you want to. You also get analytics which means you can find out how many people are reading your blog and even what part of the world they come from. Once you get started it’s a lot of fun. Want to get started?

Here are a few blogs that I write. SoLoMo Consulting is all about Location Based Services. The Future Diaries is fiction of sorts with my futurist hat on. I pretend to be some years in the future talking about things that might be coming, mostly about technology. Imersia NZ is one I collaborate on with my colleagues at Imersia. I have more, but these will give you a bit of a mix, showing different ways of presenting information for different reasons. Of course you have already found this one, which comprises everything from technology to soapbox rants.

IS1380016f there is one final rule I would add, it would be have fun. So we have some empty chairs sitting there waiting to be filled by people who are interested in what you have to say. Let’s start the conversation:)

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?

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960’s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)