Monday, July 14, 2014

Boot up: Google 'Nearby'?, big data myths, Tim Cook's mistake

Internet privacy: Caution tape on computer Caution: computer at work. Photograph: D. Hurst/Alamy

A burst of 10 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Fred Wilson (whose venture capital company has invested in DuckDuckGo):

assuming that Google's search volume keeps growing at 15% per year, DuckDuckGo would be doing 1.7% of Google's daily search volume in three years.

So there is certainly a market out there for people who will accept a slightly weaker product in exchange for privacy. It's not 25% of the market. It may not even be 5% of the market. But I believe it is well north of 1% of the market.

And if that is the case, are there other big product categories out there other than search where privacy could be used as a competitive vector? How about email? How about messaging? How about maps? How about browsers?

I think we are going to see this play out in the coming years. DuckDuckGo is making it work. Why won't others do the same?

Surprising that Wilson hasn't noticed other companies already emphasising privacy in their products such as email, messaging, maps and browsers.

Users, according to our information, will also be able to choose who (and presumably what) they are visible to. This will limit the ways that Nearby can automatically interact on a user's behalf.

While it's still early in its life cycle, and settings don't appear to be fully built out yet, it's easy to imagine Nearby coming in handy for extremely targeted Wallet offers, reminders, or other location-based interactions, but the important part here is that a user wouldn't need to interact with their phone or tablet to let other devices (be they mobile or otherwise) know they are around, and switching on Nearby once would allow the functionality to work with all of a user's devices.

This would open up the possibility of automated functionality in tons of spaces beyond the commercial world, from home automation to everyday user-to-user interaction, to the interaction between your own devices. This is especially interesting in light of Apple's recent announcement of Continuity, an iOS and OS X feature that allows Apple-made devices to interact with each other in really smart ways automatically, based on proximity.

Basically, the same sorts of functions as iBeacon. Disquieting, however: "When Nearby is turned on for your account, Google can periodically turn on the mic, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and similar features on all your current and future devices." Remotely turn on the microphone? All your current devices? All your future devices?

What I have found very frustrating is that I haven't been able to define what is acceptable in a manner that comes anywhere close to the importance I think this topic demands. Too often I am left with just an I'll know it when I see it definition.

With that in mind I present a game that I came across this evening. I think it perfectly encapsulates the positive side of the issue in a way that is hopefully instructive to showcase. The game in question is FlappyGolf.

Sameer Singh:

While market share of shipments is certainly a leading indicator for install base (and consequently, usage), it only gives us a part of the story. Contrasting regional market share and usage share (as a proxy for install base) may give us an even better understanding.

As always, I've sourced the figures for shipment market share from Kantar while usage share figures are from Statcounter. Usage share (or browsing share) isn't an ideal proxy for install base as it could be skewed towards higher end devices. However, the trends in usage share could give us a fairly good understanding of the underlying install base.

At the core of such tracking is the MAC address, a unique identification number tied to each device. Devices looking for a Wi-Fi network send out their MAC address to identify themselves. Wireless routers receive the signals—and addresses—even if a connection is never made. Companies like Euclid or its peer Turnstyle Solutions use the data to track footfall in stores, how people move about in shops, how long they linger in certain sections, and how often they return. Store-owners use the information to target shoppers with offers (paywall) or to move high-value items to highly-trafficked parts of the shop, among other things.

Even though stores may not mine this data to try to identify individuals, there are plenty of legitimate privacy concerns about the data collection, especially since people tend to be unaware that it is happening. Apple's solution, as discovered by a Swiss programmer, is for iOS 8, the new operating system for iPhones which will be out later this year, to generate a random MAC addresses while scanning for networks.

Intelligent throughout your day. Aviate intelligently surfaces information at the moment it's useful.

Smart: the idea being that it tells you about the weather in the morning, transport later in the day, meetings when they're relevant, meals later, and so on. For Android phones only (obviously). But you probably won't guess who it's from. (Scroll to the bottom of its page to find out.)

"Dr Drang":

As an engineer, I can't forget that design is how it works. When I was in college, I took seven design courses: steel design, advanced steel design, reinforced concrete design, advanced reinforced concrete design, prestressed concrete design, timber design, and a "capstone" design course that was intended to pull together what I learned in all the others. Now, when I need to analyze a structure or a piece of equipment, I ask for the design drawings. In my world, design is what engineers do to make things work.

The software world, on the other hand, has this weird dichotomy between what it calls "engineers" and what it calls "designers."

Kate Crawford:

The current mythology of big data is that with more data comes greater accuracy and truth. This epistemological position is so seductive that many industries, from advertising to automobile manufacturing, are repositioning themselves for massive data gathering. The myth and the tools, as Donna Haraway once observed, mutually constitute each other, and the instruments of data gathering and analysis, too, act as agents that shape the social world. Bruno Latour put it this way: "Change the instruments, and you will change the entire social theory that goes with them." The turn to big data is a political and cultural turn, and we are just beginning to see its scope.

But what do you do when you realize that all that data is not enough? From the Boston bombings to Malaysian Airlines flight 370, we know that data black holes exist. Even when there were direct tip-offs about the Tsarnaevs, the data didn't set off the right red flags. These moments demonstrate why the epistemic big-data ambition — to collect it all — is both never-ending and deeply flawed.

This is the essay that was referred to by John Naughton in his piece on Sunday.

Well, there's apparently one good thing Microsoft's Windows is good at: running the software necessary to manufacture Apple's Mac computers.

And the messenger of this information? Apple chief executive Tim Cook himself. On Thursday, Cook tweeted a photo of himself touring Apple's Austin, Texas production line where the Apple Mac Pro is manufactured.

The problem? Right behind Cook is an iMac—and it's clearly running Windows.

Michael Arrington, February 2011:

Uber, a young startup that let's people book a black car service on the fly via their mobile app, has closed an $11m round valuing the company at $49m pre-money valuation, $60 million post-money, we've confirmed from sources.

The comments - especially one from a taxi company - make good reading.

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