Why Would You Want an Amazon Echo and Who Else is Listening


Amazon EchoHow do you feel about a device that is listening to everything that is being said in your home or office and is connected to the Internet? Especially in this age of cyber terrorism,  when we know that criminals already use tools like Facebook to target people with easy to steal and easy to sell assets.

How do you feel when Gmail bombards you with advertisements for products you have just bought or vacation location deals when you have just returned home from that place? Besides being a waste of time because you already have those things, it shows how Google (in return for giving you free email software and storage) has access to everything you write using their freeware.

So when Amazon had their massive sale on Prime Day, I thought about the Amazon Echo and wondered what I would do with it if I had one and why.

I very occasionally use Siri to save a reminder, a note, perhaps in the car to reduce the risk of having pen and paper in my hand when the lights change, or illegally using my phone because of the inherent risks, even at a traffic light. No joke, my wife has had 2 cars she was driving totalled, both while she was legally stationary at a red light. I’m not saying she could have avoided them, she couldn’t, but the people who hit our cars were certainly not paying attention.

So when I take Siri, and I have to admit it has improved in it’s ability to understand my Kiwi accent, the number of times I have said one thing and Siri has randomly rung a phone number for someone I had no desire to speak with and the fact that Siri has even randomly responded to a sound it heard, when I hadn’t even touched my phone is interesting.

I would love to have an automated home. When I got home last night from dinner in the freezing cold city it was around 6 degrees inside our house and I said to my wife how nice it would be if I could have turned on the heat pump via my phone. It has a timer, but we didn’t know when we would be home and I’m sure we could get an electrician to wire a remote switch into that circuit without having to buy a new heat pump, but I digress.

When everything I write makes a permanent footprint on the Internet and the supplier of that service has access to it all in order to ‘assist me’, I struggle with why I would want another device listening to everything I say.

Imagine living in a country like North Korea where you can be put in jail or worse for just saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then having a device that YOU PURCHASED providing access to every word that you said in the ‘privacy of your own home’.

Now I know that Amazon is not a spy agency, they can’t afford for this product to risk your privacy because if it did, they could go broke, but they do want to know what you are interested in and devices like these are supposed to be your personal digital assistant. I used to have an executive assistant in one of my jobs and she knew what I wanted or needed often before I did. It was awesome because I knew and trusted her. this device has to listen, even for the Alexa command to work, so technically it is listening to every word, even if in theory it is identifying most as not relevant.

The biggest issue for me with devices like this, which was also why I digressed a little with the heatpump, is that hacking or cyber crime is easy if you know how,or are prepared to pay someone to do it for you. Whether it is hacking someone’s wireless internal garage door or front door, checking Facebook to see who has a boat in the their back yard AND is on holiday overseas is really simple, because most people don’t know how to or don’t want privacy, because they don’t realise the risk.

I read a CBS story this morning about how some cheap Chinese mobiles are apparently surreptitiously sending information from the mobiles back to China using firmware that was in the phones from the factory.

You could say that Alexa can only be woken by people using the word Alexa, then it starts listening for instructions. So what is the first thing that is going to happen when you buy one of these devices? You’re going to tell your friends about it and show it off, so you are going to be using the word frequently and waking it up frequently and it will start listening.

For now I think I’d at least like to be able to use the fingerprint recognition on my phone and tap a button to turn on an appliance if I can’t be bothered standing up to do something like turn on a light. I am happy that I can have a wireless remote system with security algorithms to do that. I’m not sure I want Amazon or a hacker to be able to listen to everything said in my home and then using data mining tools to look for keywords or information that could be used by criminals, or by advertisers to send me more info I don’t want.

How about you?

 

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Helping Soldiers with PTSD through Music


As you know, a few days ago I set up a new Facebook page called Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies. It is about people helping other people. Today I came across a group that help soldiers with PTSD by using songwriting to express themselves and tell their stories in a trust environment, which is helping a lot of people, even those who are not musical themselves, or don’t realise they are.

Several years ago I wrote a song called Another Stretch in Iraq. You can hear a demo on my Reverbnation page. It was motivated by a newspaper story of a service woman who came home looking for some love and normality only to find that her man had left her for another woman. A common story sadly.

I joined a military blogging (milblogging) site and spent a good year or so talking to military personnel, mostly serving overseas at the time to get a feel (as much as that is possible, given that family members who served almost never spoke about their experiences when a civilian was present).

They trusted me and I learned a lot about their lives, their hopes, their agonies in losing brothers and sisters, general life and the isolation from their families where their fellow soldiers in fact became their families such that many could not and still can not adjust to civilian life without their brothers and sisters from he service.

When I was in Orlando some years ago, I played a couple of sets at a biker-friendly bar in Longwood and my song Another Stretch in Iraq was one of the songs I played with some great backing from the house band. I wish I had taken some photos because it was the classic bar with 30 Harley’s in a neat row out front, sawdust on the floor, the sort of place that Kiwis only see on movies and TV shows and that the cab driver thought I had no place being until he saw the friendly bear hug greeting I got from the woman who ran it.

After finishing the song a group of 6-foot something burly men came up to the stage. The biggest of them all came up to me with tears in his eyes and I thought I was about to become roadkill. He and his friends looked me in the eye and then he shook my hand and said I took him right back to the theatre at Desert Storm. He re enlisted twice and his son had just left for Iraq a week ago.

It was so rewarding to me that I had captured the emotions and environment with integrity and that the song gave them some comfort. I haven’t worked harder on a song and would love to record it professionally. It is on Reverbnation as a free download and is also on a couple of sites of free MP3 downloads that is made available to all serving US military.

Back to the Facebook page. There are thousands of returned servicemen in dozens of countries who suffer from PTSD. They come from all walks of life and many of them play musical instruments, or used to. Many of them can no longer motivate themselves and need a hand. Some of them join groups like the one in the video above. Many will not join groups, either because they can’t or won’t ask for help, because they don’t want to appear weak, or because they are still in service and don’t want to jeopardise their careers by showing weakness.

The concepts in this Facebook page mean that all they have to do is talk to a few friends and family that they are close to and trust. Then all they need to do is ask for a little encouragement, it’s as simple as that. For those who wish to or are able to contribute stories, I am hoping they will join the Facebook Group because it can only grow and flourish if they know about it.

I’m hoping that if you know people like that, you will share this post or the link with them so that they can be made aware that help is available and whilst it is not easy as it sounds, with a little help from their friends it can happen.

As John Lee Hooker and my idol Carlos Santana sang, Blues is a Healer. It heals those who play it as much as those who listen to it. If you can help someone pick up their instrument, or raise their voice and break the silence, you can have a profound influence on people’s lives and it can be as simple as my mate Rob sending me a TXT message saying “pick that gat up and play for 10 minutes man.”

If you know of anyone that could benefit, please share the Facebook group with them and perhaps join us yourself. My thanks on their behalf.

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).

I Unfollowed You On Twitter Yesterday


Do you have a dormant Twitter Account? Did you know that there are 2.1 Billion Twitter Search Queries Every Day?

SoLoMo Consulting

I unfollowed about 400 people on Twitter yesterday. Not the ones in this image, but they could be next. I unfollowed people who haven’t posted a single tweet in more than 2 months, in some cases in over a year!

What was really interesting was who they were. I wish I had made a note of who they were and I wish I had time to tell them, because they could well be missing out on lots of business opportunities, or opportunities to be seen  as leaders to watch and follow.

What surprised me was that there were several New Zealand Government MP’s (really interesting given that next year is election year and it appears no post is safe). There were also a large number of people who claim to be social media ‘experts’ and consultants, business consultants; even major national and multinational brands.

Do you get more than your…

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Michael Q Todd is a Social Media Expert


The world is full of self proclaimed social media experts, many of them legends in their own minds. Every once in a while you come across someone who not only really does understand how it all works, but one that practices what they preach. 

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

Presenting at his Auckland Seminar

One such person is Michael Q Todd. I had the pleasure last week of meeting him in person in Auckland and attending one of his seminars which was a pre-launch of his upcoming book The 7 Pillars of Your Online Success. Michael is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Japan with his lovely wife Dr Yoriko Todd.

The mix of attendees ranged from total beginners to very experienced people including Sean Mitchell of Techday, Jason Kemp of Dialog Ventures, Mark Thomas of 2Review and Roger Bennett, one of New Zealand’s serial networkers and connectors, all people who are very passionate about what they do. You have to be, to go to a 3 hour seminar on a weekday evening. There was a quality of debate, illustrating that one size doesn’t fit all and Michael managed the proceedings like the pro that he is.

I’m not going to tell you about everything he covered, it was an introduction to the new book and one that I am very much looking to receive an advanced copy on. I’ve read a couple of pre-released chapters and they are winners. You may be very good with one application or aspects of an application, but be missing out on others. Another is that this is a changing environment. Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are constantly adding and modifying features, you need to keep abreast of these. New services like Vine, Empire Ave (one of my current favorites, you’ll find my account here)  and Posse  are popping up all the time. Some of these will be valuable to you. Never assume you are up to date, because you will be wrong. If you don’t keep up to date, you could end up like this moth (not for the squeemish) I captured on my second Vine attempt, being devoured by a praying mantis.

This is one of the reasons I really like

Following are a 3 key takeouts for me:

1. It’s about selling. Anything you do is social media has to have a purpose, an end game. It is usually to sell something. It could be the products or services you provide to customers, it could be selling your consultancy, or perhaps promoting your sporting activity, music or hobbies. Start with the end game in mind.

2. Three things that brand you. People get confused when you tell them you do lots of different things. Define the 3 most important things, based  on (1) above. Give this some serious thought. If you have too much going on, narrow your focus or you will confuse people and won’t sell much of anything. For me, I am

3. Plug the gaps. One for me is Lists. I used to have a very successful newsletter many years ago which I sold as part of my consultancy and training school, the New Zealand Smartphone and PDA Academy. It had a large following and I really enjoyed the feedback from readers. Lately I thought that social media had replaced email newsletters, but now realize that they add another dimension. What are your gaps?

Once in a rare while you meet someone who will make a profound and positive difference in your life if you let them. I have had a few of those over my years and I believe that Michael Q Todd is going to be one of those. Whatever business you are in, or want to be in, whatever role you currently play in life, you are a brand and Michael can help teach you how to focus and market that brand and to reach the results you desire. You can find out more about him on his website.

I’ll leave the last word to Michael from one of his many YouTube Videos

Augmented Reality and Face Tagging


Given where Facebook, Foursquare, Google+ etc are going with Face Tagging and the mobile apps are heading with Augmented Reality using GPS and compass, this is not at all far fetched. Check your privacy settings people.