Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Privacy is About Expectations More Than Anything Else

Chris Kelly - Chief Privacy Officer FacebookImage by ShashiBellamkonda via Flickr
Chris Kelley
I attended SecondMarket's "Cocktails & Conversations" event last night. The guest speaker was Chris Kelly, formerly the Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook. His talk was titled "The Evolution of Social Privacy" - as you can imagine a very timely and relevant presentation given privacy breaches and blunders at companies such as Apple (geo-tracking iphone and ipad users), Sony (Playstation Network debacle), and increasing regulatory action in this area.

The thing that really stuck with me is that privacy, like many things, is so critically dependent on expectations. Chris pointed out - (obvious once you hear it) - if you are transparent upfront about what you are going to do with user data, then users will be OK with that. (The ones that aren't OK with it, well they can make an informed decision to not participate; no one gets misled). The point is that if you set someone's expectations that certain online behavior (sharing photos online, "friending" other people, posting a video, tracking click behavior, targeting ads, etc) will be used in certain ways or publicly shared, then users will generally be OK with that. Don't surprise them.

It's when online services are opaque about these things that they get in trouble. So, set expectations upfront by informing users what data of theirs or about them is collected and how it will be used.

As Chris said, if you're not upfront and transparent with your users, then you probably have something to hide. I'll add that it can make you appear evil if it's intentional, or otherwise apathetic and ambivalent about a very sensitive issue.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BioDigital Human - Browser Power

Virtually dissect anatomy to reveal underlying structures
At last week's NY Tech Meetup, one of the companies presenting was BioDigital Human. It's a collaboration of medical and computer science that is very impressive. And it's a sign of things to come.

The astonishing thing is the 3D rendering of the human body from the skeleton on out to the skin - viewable in whole, in layers, in cross-section, in dissection, and from any angle. The level of detail and utility is so much more impressive when you realize this is all done in the browser - no plug-ins, no downloads, nothing to install. (Firefox only, for now).

The applicability and implications go beyond science, medicine, and education of human anatomy. This type of utility delivered through a browser will do amazing things to advance other areas such as architecture, gaming, manufacturing, finance, and more. Certainly there are desktop applications that these industries use for visualization, but it's the power of browser ubiquity that will make rich information more accessible and engaging to more people.

If you don't have Firefox, or would rather just sit back and watch the awesomeness, check out the video of their presentation and advance to timestamp 01:17:00.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

NY Tech Meetup's After-Party Hits the Mark

"Longtimers" by @innonate
Tuesday night's NY Tech Meetup was awesome in so many ways. Interesting and innovative companies presented, high-tech magic was performed, and it all wrapped up with break dancers.

I'm a regular at this monthly meetup of 800+ folks interested in the NY tech scene. It's the largest and oldest Meetup with a community of 18,000 members. I go to see new tech and the people behind that tech. I also go to see old friends and acquaintances in the tech community. But I've always found it frustrating because it's difficult to network at these events.

That's because - by virtue of the size of the audience - the events are held in a theater. Obviously, you can't mingle too easily within a theater. So I was thrilled when the after-party was held within the same venue as the main event in an open meeting hall at the NYU Skirball Center. Usually the after-party is in a local bar where tons of people crowd in and you can't have a conversation over the loud music.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm not the only one. Many people at the event the other night were praising the new arrangement. I hope they continue it because I caught up with some friends and met some new and interesting entrepreneurs. And that's what community is all about.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

They've Been Tracking You for Years...Offline. Is Online Tracking Over-Hyped?

How to Manually Flush a Self-Flushing ToiletImage by ancawonka via Flickr
After writing a post last week about Interactivity & Privacy, I got to thinking about all the ways that we've been tracked offline for years. Here's my list (so far):

  • Supermarket - Discount & loyalty cards allow them to track what I buy, and infer if I have children (diaper purchases!), income level (do I buy the expensive brand or generic), how much beer I consume (let's not go there).
  • Other stores/malls - Images of me, in addition to similar data as above.
  • Hotels - Through cardkey systems they know when I come and go.
  • Credit Cards - What I buy, where I buy, where I geographically am, and a bevy of inferred data from purchases I make as in supermarket example, but much broader.
  • Bank - Income (direct deposit), debt, homeownership, purchase behavior, timeliness of bill paying.
  • Cable TV Company - What I watch, how much I watch, when I watch.
  • Landline Telephone Company - Who, when, and duration of calls, who I call most frequently.
  • Mobile Telephone Company - Same as landline plus where I am geographically located currently, and where I've been. Content of my text messages.
  • Home Security (Alarm) Company - When I'm home/away.
  • Automotive Servicer - How frequently I exceed the speed limit.
  • EZ Pass (highway toll payments) - Where I am, where I've been.
So, it occurs to me that this data far exceeds the amount of data collected about me online. I'm not concerned about privacy to the degree that certain media coverage would have me freaking out. I've had no bad experiences with the above establishments tracking to-date. That said, I'm still a little at ease that many auto-flush public toilets have the ability to track my frequency and duration of use. Thank goodness this data is anonymized and aggregated - just kidding!
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Good VCs Have Always Had Good Ideas

"Ideas Creativas"Image by *r.s* Photography * via Flickr
There was a nice article yesterday in the New York Observer by Adrianne Jeffries titled "Steal This Start-Up! No Longer Content to Write Checks, VCs Are Giving Away Their Best Ideas".

The premise is that there's a new trend: venture capitalists are pitching entrepreneurs on ideas, instead of the other way around. I'm glad to see Jeffries call attention to this, but the thing is, I don't think it's anything new or surprising. Good VCs have always shared and pitched their ideas, especially to A-list entrepreneurs pitching them ideas with good "bones". Early-stage investors are not just silent financial backers; they're value-add collaborators. Part of that value-add is helping entrepreneurs tweak their business models, and to the extreme, helping them pivot (i.e. make a wholesale change in their business model).

Why are early-stage investors good at this? They see tons of "deal flow". So, it's no surprise that they have great ideas - their minds are constantly chewing on the aggregation of innovators' pitches.

As a matter of fact, if the VCs you're speaking with have no good ideas, that might be a cause for concern; they're either not the right VC, or your idea is uninspiring.
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