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Living in the New New Normal

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Image: Unsplash (derveit)

Please note: This post veers a bit outside my usual topics for this blog, so you can read the post in full on Medium.

It’s the year 2019. What’s it like to live in the New New Normal, in a world where the once-disruptive Silicon Valley tech companies (GAFAM) have become the richest, most powerful companies in the world?

In a world in which Chinese tech giants (BAT), too, have reached a level of maturity, and scale, to equal those Silicon Valley companies and are starting to push outside of China and onto the world stage? In which these companies represent not change, innovation and improvement (of the world, or at least the online experience) but the status quo; where they are the entrenched powers defending their positions? In a world that has left the utopian ideas of the early open web (especially openness and decentralization) in the dust, and instead we see an internet that has been consolidated and centralized more than ever?

In other words, what’s it like to live between increasingly restrictive “ecosystems” of vendor lock-in, and the main choice is between the Silicon Valley model and the Chinese model?

Read the full post on Medium.

Monthnotes for December 2018

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Featuring the Trustable Technology Mark, ThingsCon Rotterdam, Smart Cities, and a Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark launched to great media reports. Now on to sign up companies!

I was incredibly psyched when I received my VaiKai Companion doll and it already shipped with the Trustmark!

The VaiKai Companion is one of the first products to carry the Trustable Technology Mark.

ThingsCon Rotterdam

In Rotterdam, we celebrated 5 years of our annual ThingsCon conference, and oh boy it was a blast. Videos forthcoming; in the meantime, here are some photos. We also have a new website at thingscon.org.

Smart Cities

Thanks to fellow Mozfellow Meghan McDermott and Aspen Institute I got to spend a few days in NYC discussing if and how the principles underlying the Trustable Technology Mark might be useful for the Smart City context. Namely, could they be applied to Smart City procurement or some other mechanism that provides leverage for quality control and for defending citizens’ rights?

A Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda

As part of some work with the good folks at FEPS, I headed on up to Oslo for a workshop with SAMAK and their Nordic allies to discuss what a Nordic agenda for tech and society might look like. So many things to explore there, I’m grateful to be part of this larger conversation.

What’s next?

A hopefully largely flight free Q1 as part of an experiment on more sustainable habits; lots of planning around ThingsCon and the Trustmark; more conversations around a European digital agenda and Smart Cities.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Yours truly,
P.

Thanks and Happy Holidays: That was 2018

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This is end-of-year post #11 (all prior ones here). That’s right, I’ve been writing this post every year for over a decade now. Who would have thought?

What happened in 2018? It was an intense year on many levels, so let’s dive right in.

The TL&DR; version of 2018 from my perspective: Experienced life with a baby, discovered the limits of doing so with two working parents and no family around. It’s been intense, in both good and less good ways. I pretty much lived with a constant feeling of not delivering adequately or up to my own standards, yet also extremely happy with a healthy little kid. From conversations with other parents I learned that this seems to be par for the course. To be honest, I feel a little ashamed of how ignorant I was of this seemingly widespread issue. That said, it was a really rewarding year as well.

Launched a trustmark, spent time in policy meetings, and had a year attached to a larger org as a fellow for the first time in quite some time. Read too little, but managed to write a fair bit. Felt a lot: exhausted, grateful, tired, happy—often all at the same time.

On a purely personal note, this might be the first time I’m not writing this in transit to my family or M’s, where we traditionally have taken turns spending the holidays. Having just come off a long series of travels both individually and with our now 1-year-old, we decided to host the first Christmas at home. But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing this in transit – I’m on a one day express return trip to Oslo for a workshop, the last trip before the holidays.

The theme for 2018

Last year I wrote:

the theme was first and foremost impact. Impact through large partners, through policy work, through investments into research.

For the first time since I can remember writing these, this has pretty much stayed the same. Working within the time constraints of having a baby at home and no daycare for the first year on one hand, and the opportunity afforded by a Mozilla Fellowship that allowed me to focus primarily on one project (the Trustable Technology Mark), the work on impact through partners and policy work has remained and seems to be working well.

In fact, since before we even publicly launched the Trustable Technology Mark in early Dec, I’ve been invited to a whole bunch of conversations that look like they’ll allow us to expand the underlying principles of the Trustmark beyond the consumer space — to larger societal issues, especially Smart City policy. This I find particularly exciting.

I hope to continue this work in 2019 and beyond, in whatever capacity seems most promising then.

Family & friends

After adding a new family member late last year, we lost another. Rest in peace, E. We miss you.

Among our friends, some new babies and some health issues. I guess it’s within the normal distribution at our age group. We’re lucky to have so many good friends around the globe, but also and especially nearby.

Travel

I set out to radically reduce my travel for the year and failed spectacularly. My travel stats: 14 trips, 36 flights, 9 countries (I think — this year has seen a lot more short term flight changes than any before, so the count might be a little out of whack). According to Tripit this added up to 91,625km of travel (likely more, since that only counts planes and trains, not driving etc.) and 104 days away from home. That’s almost a third of a year.

I am considering imposing a stricter travel ban on myself, or rather: a stricter limit on flights. The environmental impact is just too disastrous, plus life spent on planes is meh. Maybe I’ll start with trying not to fly (or at least flying as little as possible without losing my work) in Q1, and then see how that goes.

Conferences

I didn’t do a whole lot of conferences or events this year, but I did thoroughly enjoy the few I went to. It was mostly either ThingsCon events, or invite-only affairs, like the excellent Museum of the Future, some Aspen Institute events, and a handful more. Also, a bunch of workshops. And, of course, Dundee Design Festival and Mozfest.

Health

But of a mixed bag, this one. The big picture is, it’s all good, and I’m very healthy. Zoomed in, it was a terribly unhealthy year, or at least a year of terribly unhealthy habits. A good chunk came from having a baby while the two of us were both working, which put us in a constant extreme time crunch. Visits to the gym and slowly eaten meals both went right out the window, to be replaced with no breaks and inhaled food, sometimes while walking to the office. This has been changing again now that daycare started for little K; I can’t wait to get back to a regular gym routine. Back pain be gone!

Work

As mentioned above, there’s been a lot more focus this year, a lot less spread than the years before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Between ThingsCon (where we just celebrated the fifth anniversary at Rotterdam and the Trustable Technology Mark, I’ve been heads down researching, designing, reaching out more than ever around these projects, and the number of presentations for anything else in between has been minimal.

I wrote a lot less, but am happy to say that—despite a somewhat less regular schedule—my newsletter Connection Problem is in Season 4.

I wouldn’t mind continuing along similar lines, with a strong focus, for a little longer.

Very Fun Side Projects

ThingsCon is still going strong, maybe stronger than ever. It’s well on its way to outgrow side project status.

Zephyr Berlin has been cooking on the slow burner for some time but still is up and running, even though we haven’t been able to give it as much attention in 2018 as I had hoped, for all the reasons above. However, our Ulimate Travel Pants are for the first time available in store (yes, physical retail!) as a test for us. Head on over to Kreuzberg’s 360 Outdoor to try them on, or jump to our website to order. Both at 360 and on our website we have a travel season sale on.

Speaking

As per usual, I gave a few talks. Many around ThingsCon, many around the Trustmark. Maybe more than ever in closed-door workshop settings.

Media

It was a pretty good year for media, especially once I could publicly talk about the Trustable Technology Mark. Some mentions I enjoyed: Stacey on IoT, Fast Company, BoingBoing, NET Magazine, WIRED.com, Brand Eins, Offscreen Magazine, Netzpiloten.de, Wall Street Journal, Internet Health Report, The Craftsman, and Brazil’s National IoT Plan.

Things started and discontinued

Started:

  • Being a parent
  • A Trustmark for IoT

Continued:

  • Zephyr Berlin, to make pants that travel well.
  • ThingsCon as an event platform, and growing it beyond that into other areas of engagement.

Discontinued:

  • My Facebook account has now been inactive for over a year and I trigged the full deletion at long last. Be gone!
  • Healthy routines. Those I hope to get back now that the situation at home relaxes with little K’s day care and a little more experience.

Books read

Depressingly few books I actually read. I kinda skimmed, kinda leafed through Vacation Land by John Hodgman, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Smarter Homes by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles, and a handful others. So I fell way short on my reading.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Firsts: Flew with a baby. Applied for parental leave. Canceled parental leave. Booked and rebooked the same leg of a trip for a total of 3 (?) times. Merged two organizations, to a degree. (Will have) hosted Christmas eve at our home.

Learned: Shift work kills you. Lower your standards in the first year of having a kid. Make sure to take some time for yourself, even if it’s super hard.

So what’s next?

2019 is wide open at this point – I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to really plan much beyond the first couple of months. Some things I know: My Mozilla Fellowship is scheduled to run out in March. I’d like to do more work around policy and smart cities. I want to turn the Trustable Technology Mark into something more sustainable and with a strong governance model (read: where the bus factor isn’t 1). The same goes for ThingsCon: There’s a lot happening there, and we’re at a stage where we can “grow up” and make it sustainable, I think. So I’d like to work on making that happen. Also, lots of writing and research. That’s all I got at this point – lots of things I would like to do. Now on to making sure I get to actually do them! Also, if possible, I’d like to once more spend a month or two working from someplace else, if only to prove to myself that that’s doable with a kid.

I’m always up for discussing interesting new projects. If you’re pondering one, get in touch.

For now, I hope you get to relax and enjoy the holidays.

Monthnotes for November 2018

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This month: Trustable Technology Mark, ThingsCon Rotterdam, a progressive European digital agenda.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

ThingsCon’s trustmark for IoT, the Trustable Technology Mark now has a website. We’ll be soft-launching it with a small invite-only group of launch partners next week at ThingsCon Rotterdam. Over on trustabletech.org I wrote up some pre-launch notes on where we stand. Can’t wait!

ThingsCon Rotterdam

ThingsCon is turning 5! This thought still blows my mind. We’ll be celebrating at ThingsCon Rotterdam (also with a new website) where we’ll also be launching the Trustmark (as mentioned above). This week is for tying up all the loose ends so that we can then open applications to the public.

A Progressive European Digital Agenda

Last month I mentioned that I was humbled (and delighted!) to be part of a Digital Rights Cities Coalition at the invitation of fellow Mozilla Fellow Meghan McDermott (see her Mozilla Fellows profile here). This is one of several threads where I’m trying to extend the thinking and principles behind the Trustable Technology Mark beyond the consumer space, notably into policy—with a focus on smart city policy.

Besides the Digital Rights Cities Coalition and some upcoming work in NYC around similar issues, I was kindly invited by the Foundation for Progressive European Studies (FEPS) to help outline the scope of a progressive European digital agenda. I was more than a little happy to see that this conversation will continue moving forward, and hope I can contribute some value to it. Personally I see smart cities as a focal point of many threads of emerging tech, policy, and the way we define democratic participation in the urban space.

What’s next?

Trips to Rotterdam (ThingsCon & Trustmark), NYC (smart cities), Oslo (smart cities & digital agenda).

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 2019.

Yours truly, P.

Trust Indicators for Emerging Technologies

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For the Trustable Technology Mark, we identified 5 dimensions that indicate trustworthiness. Let’s call them trust indicators:

  • Privacy & Data Practices: Does it respect users’ privacy and protect their data rights?
  • Transparency: Is it clear to users what the device and the underlying services do and are capable of doing?
  • Security: Is the device secure and safe to use? Are there safeguards against data leaks and the like?
  • Stability: How long a life cycle can users expect from the device, and how robust are the underlying services? Will it continue to work if the company gets acquired, goes belly-up, or stops maintenance?
  • Openness: Is it built on open source or around open data, and/or contributes to open source or open data? (Note: We treat Openness not as a requirement for consumer IoT but as an enabler of trustworthiness.)

Now these 5 trust indicators—and the questions we use in the Trustable Technology Mark to assess them—are designed for the context of consumer products. Think smart home devices, fitness trackers, connected speakers or light bulbs. They work pretty well for that context.

Over the last few months, it has become clear that there’s demand for similar trust indicators for areas other than consumer products like smart cities, artificial intelligence, and other areas of emerging technology.

I’ve been invited to a number of workshops and meetings exploring those areas, often in the context of policy making. So I want to share some early thoughts on how we might be able to translate these trust indicators from a consumer product context to these other areas. Please note that the devil is in the detail: This is early stage thinking, and the real work begins at the stage where the assessment questions and mechanisms are defined.

The main difference between consumer context and publicly deployed technology—infrastructure!—means that we need to focus even most strongly on safeguards, inclusion, and resilience. If consumer goods stop working, there’s real damage, like lost income and the like, but in the bigger picture, failing consumer goods are mostly a quality of life issue; and in the case of consumer IoT space, mostly for the affluent. (Meaning that if we’re talking about failure to operate rather than data leaks, the damage has a high likelihood of being relatively harmless.)

For publicly deployed infrastructure, we are looking at a very different picture with vastly different threat models and potential damage. Infrastructure that not everybody can rely on—equally, and all the time—would not just be annoying, it might be critical.

After dozens of conversations with people in this space, and based on the research I’ve been doing both for the Trustable Technology Mark and my other work with both ThingsCon and The Waving Cat, here’s a snapshot of my current thinking. This is explicitly intended to start a debate that can inform policy decisions for a wide range of areas where emerging technologies might play a role:

  • Privacy & Data Practices: Privacy and good data protection practices are as essential in public space as in the consumer space, even though the implications and tradeoffs might be different ones.
  • Transparency & Accountability: Transparency is maybe even more relevant in this context, and I propose adding Accountability as an equally important aspect. This holds especially true where commercial enterprises install and possibly maintain large scale networked public infrastructure, like in the context of smart cities.
  • Security: Just as important, if not more so.
  • Resilience: Especially for smart cities (but I imagine the same holds true for other areas), we should optimize for Resilience. Smart city systems need to work, even if parts fail. Decentralization, openness, interoperability and participatory processes are all strategies that can increase Resilience.
  • Openness: Unlike in the consumer space, I consider openness (open source, open data, open access) essential in networked public infrastructure—especially smart city technology. This is also a foundational building block for civic tech initiatives to be effective.

There are inherent conflicts and tradeoffs between these trust indicators. But **if we take them as guiding principles to discuss concrete issues in their real contexts, I believe they can be a solid starting point. **

I’ll keep thinking about this, and might adjust this over time. In the meantime, I’m keen to hear what you think. If you have thoughts to share, drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter.

Monthnotes for October 2018

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This month: Mozfest, a Digital Rights Cities Coalition, Trustable Technology Mark updates, ThingsCon Rotterdam.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 2019.

Mozfest

Mozfest came and went, and was lovely as always. It was the 9th Mozfest, 8 or so of which I participated in — all the way back to the proto (or prototyping?) Mozfest event called Drumbeat in Barcelona in, what, 2010? But no time for nostalgia, it was bustling as always. The two things that were different for me that one, I participated as a Mozilla Fellow, which means a different quality of engagement and two, M and I brought the little one, so we had a toddler in tow. Which I’m delighted to say worked a charm!

A Digital Rights Cities Coalition

At Mozfest, the smart and ever lovely Meghan McDermott (see her Mozilla Fellows profile here) hosted a small invite-only workshop to formalize a Digital Rights Cities Coalition — a coalition of cities and civil society to protect, foster, promote digital rights in cities. I was both delighted and honored to be part of this space, and we’ll continue working together on related issues. The hope is that my work with ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark can inform and contribute value to that conversation.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark is hurtling towards the official launch at a good clip. After last month’s workshop weekend at Casa Jasmina, I just hosted a Trustmark session at Mozfest. It was a good opportunity to have new folks take a look at the concept with fresh eyes. I’m happy to report that I walked away with some new contacts and leads, some solid feedback, and an overall sense that at least for the obvious points of potential criticism that present themselves at first glance there are solid answers now as to why this way and not that, etc etc.

Courtesy Dietrich, a photo of me just before kicking off the session wearing a neighboring privacy booth’s stick-on mustache.

Also, more policy and academic partners signing on, which is a great sign, and more leads to companies coming in who want to apply for the Trustmark.

Next steps for the coming weeks: Finalize and freeze the assessment form, launch a website, line up more academic and commercial partners, reach out to other initiatives in the space, finalize trademarks (all ongoing), reach out to press, plan launch (starting to prep these two).

The current assessment form asks a total of 48 questions over 5 dimensions, with a total of 29 required YES’s. Here’s the most up-to-date presentation:


ThingsCon Rotterdam

Our annual ThingsCon conference is coming up: Join us in Rotterdam Dec 6-7!

Early bird is just about to end (?), and we’re about to finalize the program. It’s going to be an absolute blast. I’ll arrive happily (if probably somewhat bleary eyed after a 4am start that day) in Rotterdam to talk Trustable Technology and ethical tech, we’ll have a Trustmark launch party of some sort, we’ll launch a new website (before or right there and then), and we’ve been lining up a group of speakers so amazing I’m humbled even just listing it:

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Cennydd Bowles, Eric Bezzem, Laura James, Lorenzo Romanoli, Nathalie Kane, Peter Bihr, Afzal Mangal, Albrecht Kurze, Andrea Krajewski, Anthony Liekens, Chris Adams, Danielle Roberts, Dries De Roeck, Elisa Giaccardi, Ellis Bartholomeus, Gaspard Bos, Gerd Kortuem, Holly Robbins, Isabel Ordonez, Kars Alfrink, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Janjoost Jullens, Ko Nakatsu, Leonardo Amico, Maaike Harbers, Maria Luce Lupetti, Martijn de Waal, Martina Huynh, Max Krüger, Nazli Cila, Pieter Diepenmaat, Ron Evans, Sami Niemelä, Simon Höher, Sjef van Gaalen.

That’s only the beginning!

Here’s part of the official blurb, and more soon on thingscon.com and thingscon.nl/conference-2018

Now, 5 years into ThingsCon, the need for responsible technology has entered the mainstream debate. We need ethical technology, but how? With the lines between IoT, AI, machine learning and algorithmic decision-making increasingly blurring it’s time to offer better approaches to the challenges of the 21st century: Don’t complain, suggest what’s better! In this spirit, going forward we will focus on exploring how connected devices can be made better, more responsible and more respectful of fundamental human rights. At ThingsCon, we gather the finest practitioners; thinkers & tinkerers, thought leaders & researchers, designers & developers to discuss and show how we can make IoT work for everyone rather than a few, and build trustable and responsible connected technology.

Media, etc.

In the UK magazine NET I wrote an op-ed about Restoring Trust in Emerging Tech. It’s in the November 2018 issue, out now – alas, I believe, print only.

Reminder: Our annual ThingsCon report The State of Responsible IoT is out.

What’s next?

Trips to Brussels, Rotterdam, NYC to discuss a European digital agenda, launch a Trustmark, co-host ThingsCon, translate Trustmark principles for the smart city context, prep a US-based ThingsCon conference.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 2019.

Yours truly, P.

Monthnotes for September 2018

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It’s fall time. But while the days are starting to get shorter, productivity is up. Let’s dive right in.

ThingsCon & the Trustable Tech mark

Lots of progress on the Trustable Tech mark we’re launching under the ThingsCon umbrella.

We just had a lovely two day workshop at Casa Jasmina, Torino’s open source smart home of the future (a project by Bruce Sterling, Jasmina Tesanovic and Davide Gomba).

A warm welcome at Casa Jasmina, and a ThingsCon haiku by Dries de Roeck

There I also spoke, together with Michelle Thorne at Magic Monday, Casa Jasmina’s IoT meetup. Which was extra fun, because 3 years ago we were the first speakers at that meetup, and the first guests at CJ.

Here’s the slide deck:

We also signed up the first official academic/policy launch partner for the trustmark, one of the globally leading internet & society institutes. It’s super exciting. More on that soon.

In related news, we’ll soon have a business master class from ThingsCon, so keep an eye on our social media and website. Also, the big annual ThingsCon Conference that this year takes place at Rotterdam. Super Early Bird tickets are still up I believe this weekend, end Early Bird through October. It’s going to be amazing and you really don’t want to miss out on this one.

Media, etc.

Over on ReadWrite, I wrote an op-ed about the RiOT Report. Reminder: Our annual ThingsCon report The State of Responsible IoT is out.

What’s next?

Mozfest London (Oct), ThingsCon Business Masterclass (Nov; more soon), ThingsCon Rotterdam (Dec).

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat.

Have a great October.

Yours truly, P.