Categorymedia

Monthnotes for April 2018

M

Media & Trustmark

Some nice media action in April around the ThingsCon trustmark for IoT.

Offscreen Magazine kindly invited me to contribute a piece about IoT and how we can create IoT in a more responsible way. (Also, trustmark shout-out!)

The Wall Street Journal‘s cybersecurity newsletter (paywalled) did an indepth interview with me about the trustmark. Some more info about that interview over on thingscon.com.

Mozilla’s Internet Health Report featured our trustmark report from last fall.

And if you read German, I started a column over on Netzpiloten.de with a piece on risks and chances of IoT, and the role a trustmark has to play: Das IoT—Gefahren und Chancen im Internet of Things. (Full disclosure: I was project lead at Netzpiloten from 2007 to 2010, and Dearsouvenir GmbH is a joint venture between The Waving Cat GmbH and Netzpiloten AG.)

In an effort to make it easier to follow the trustmark project’s progress I also started a regular trustmark update over on ThingsCon.com (ThingsCon Trustmark Update 04/2018).

And last but not least, my co-fellows Julia Kloiber, Jon Rogers and I are also listed in the Mozilla Fellowship directory—Mozilla supports the development of the trustmark through my fellowship. (Full disclosure: My partner works for Mozilla.)

Miscellaneous ThingsCon

Also, ThingsCon is part of an EU grant proposal consortium which required a lot of paperwork. (That’s a good sign, right?)

We also had two ThingsCon Salons in Germany and some more action over in the Netherlands, both of which are easier to follow over on ThingsCon.com.

What’s next?

Between these things and lots and lots of research and conversations that will be shaping the development of the trustmark for the next few months, April was pretty packed.

I’ll be heading to Antwerp for a ThingsCon Salon and a workshop with Dries de Roeck tomorrow, and to first NYC then Toronto in June for conferences and meetings.

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

And on that note, I’m off for a last round of calls and off to the airport in the morning.

Have a great May!

A Trustmark for IoT: Some updates

A

Just for the record, a few quick updates regarding my work on a trustmark for IoT.

Last year I did some research with the ThingsCon network and Mozilla about the potential of a trustmark for IoT. (Learn more about my report “A Trustmark for IoT”.) This year, we want to turn this research into action.

This is work that I’ll be doing under the ThingsCon umbrella with support from Mozilla Foundation—as of March 2018 I’m a Mozilla Fellow. (Read the ThingsCon announcement about the fellowship.) It’s an inherent part of this project to work as much in the open as possible. With this constellation in mind, the project documentation won’t happen primarily here at this blog and instead in the following places:

Also, I’m happy to report that the initiative is already getting quite a bit of attention, including an interview with the Wall Street Journal for their cybersecurity newsletter (paywall), and a mention in Mozilla’s Internet Health Report 2018. (See the media mentions round-up on the ThingsCon blog.)

Full disclosure: My partner works for Mozilla.

Zephyr Berlin: Featured in The Craftsman

Z

The Craftsman header

The brilliant and kind Gianfranco Chicco writes a super lovely monthly newsletter called The Craftsman. For it, he meets and interviews craftsmen (and women, obviously) around the world about their projects, products, and passions.

I’m super happy, and very much humbled, that Gianfranco approached us to feature Zephyr Berlin in the March edition (read issue #006 on Medium).

Zephyr Berlin is very much a passion project of Michelle’s and mine, and we dug deep into the craft aspect when working with our designer Cecilia. Also, I loved that he gave a shout-out to our iterated designs that feature extra deep pockets, the model we internally nick-named The Deep-Pocketed One.

Here’s the blog post over on zephyrberlin.com.

Welcome to the Post-Social Media Era

W

The last decade was the era of Social Media: Community-driven platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn have completely changed the way we interact with, and perceive, the world.

(Purely anecdotally: I joined Twitter in 2006, about a year after it launched—and felt I was late to the game. Since then, I think I owe a great deal of my career to the people I met through Twitter.)

Societally, the impact of these platforms has been amazing: They have enabled communities to form, they allowed people with niche interests to find likeminded folks around the globe, and they have empowered groups to advocate and campaign for their causes globally without the need for traditional, large scale campaign infrastructure.

Social media also has made us all (with a caveat: some more than others) commentators, and active participants in the global media conversation. In the process, they allowed for real-time fact checking and commentary of media and politics. For a while, it seemed this was a bottom-up revolution that propelled society to more truth, easier access to facts and experts, and a more informed public.

Image (Public Domain): U.S. National Archives: Actual Demonstration by the Fire Department Training Station. Photographer: David Falconer.

And it has, to a degree. But at the same time, the same mechanics have also led to large scale harassment and fake news, and have helped undermine trust in journalism (aka “main stream media”) and political institutions like governments and political parties. Turns out tools aren’t neutral or a-political; and even if they were, Bad Guys are really savvy using tools for nefarious purposes.

By now, the combination and scale of fake news, harassment, and intransparent platforms with their black box algorithms are killing social media as we know it:

Social media first undermined the media’s and institutions’ credibility, and now their own. Facebook and Twitter (the platforms) are the tech world’s functional equivalent of main stream media; Facebook and Twitter (the companies) are the institutions.

In their place small, private groups thrive (think Whatsapp), but public social media has peaked.

We’re headed into a social media winter. The post-social era has begun.

Interview with Netzpolitik.org: Regulierung und Datenschutz im Internet der Dinge

I

In September I spoke at Netzpolitik’s annual conference, Das ist Netzpolitik. While I was there, Netzpolitik.org also recorded an interview with me: “Regulierung und Datenschutz im Internet der Dinge“.

A big thank you to Netzpolitik and Stefanie Talaska for the conversation!

Facebook, Twitter, Google are a new type of media platform, and new rules apply

F

When Congress questioned representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter, it became official: We need to finally find an answer to a debate that’s been bubbling for months (if not years) about the role of the tech companies—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, or GAFAM—and their platforms.

The question is summed up by Ted Cruz’s line of inquiry (and here’s a person I never expected to quote) in the Congressional hearing: “Do you consider your sites to be neutral public fora?” (Some others echoed versions of this question.)

Platform or media?

Simply put, the question boils down to this: Are GAFAM tech companies or media companies? Are they held to standards (and regulation) of “neutral platform” or “content creator”? Are they dumb infrastructure or pillars of democracy?

These are big questions to ask, and I don’t envy the companies for their position in this one. As a neutral platform they get a large degree of freedom, but have to take responsibility for the hate speech and abuse on their platform. As a media company they get to shape the conversation more actively, but can’t claim the extreme point of view of free speech they like to take. You can’t both be neutral and “bring humanity together” as Mark Zuckerberg intends. As Ben Thompson points out on Stratechery (potentially paywalled), neutrality might be the “easier” option:

the “safest” position for the company to take would be the sort of neutrality demanded by Cruz — a refusal to do any sort of explicit policing of content, no matter how objectionable. That, though, was unacceptable to the company’s employee base specifically, and Silicon Valley broadly

I agree this would be easier. (I’m not so sure that the employee preference is the driving force, but that’s another debate and it certainly plays a role.) Also, let’s not forget that each of these companies plays a global game, and wherever they operate they have to meet legal requirements. Where are they willing to draw the line? Google famously didn’t enter the Chinese market a few years ago, presumably because they didn’t want to meet the government’s censorship requirements. This was a principled move, and I would expect not an easy one for a big market. But where do you draw the line? US rules on nudity? German rules on censoring Nazi glorification and hate speech? Chinese rules on censoring pro-democracy reporting or on government surveillance?

For GAFAM, the position has traditionally been clear cut and quite straightforward, which we can still (kind of, sort of) see in the Congressional hearing:

“We don’t think of it in the terms of ‘neutral,'” [Facebook General Counsel Colin] Stretch continued, pointing out that Facebook tries to give users a personalized feed of content. “But we do think of ourselves as — again, within the boundaries that I described — open to all ideas without regard to viewpoint or ideology.” (Source: Recode)

Once more:

[Senator John] Kennedy also asked Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, whether the company is a “newspaper” or a neutral tech platform. Salgado replied that Google is a tech company, to which Kennedy quipped, “that’s what I thought you’d say.” (Source: Business Insider)

Now that’s interesting, because while they claim to be “neutral” free speech companies, Facebook and the others have of course been hugely filtering content by various means (from their Terms of Service to community guidelines), and shaping the attention flow (who sees what and when) forever.

This aspect isn’t discussed much, but worth noting nonetheless: How Facebook and other tech firms deal with content has been based to a relatively large degree by United States legal and cultural standards. Which makes sense, given that they’re US companies, but doesn’t make a lot of sense given they operate globally. To name just two examples from above that highlight how legal and cultural standards differ from country to country, take pictures of nudity (largely not OK in the US, largely OK in Germany) versus positively referencing the Third Reich (largely illegal in Germany, largely least legal in the US).

Big tech platforms are a new type of media platform

Here’s the thing: These big tech platforms aren’t neutral platforms for debate, nor are they traditional media platforms. They are neither neither dumb tech (they actively choose and frame and shape content & traffic) nor traditional media companies that (at least notionally) primarily engage in content creation. These big tech platforms are a new type of media platform, and new rules apply. Hence, they require new ways of thinking and analysis, as well as new approaches to regulation.

(As an personal, rambling aside: Given we’ve been discussing the transformational effects of digital media and especially social media for far over a decade now, how do we still even have to have this debate in 2017? I genuinely thought that we had at least sorted out our basic understanding of social media as a new hybrid by 2010. Sigh.)

We might be able to apply existing regulatory—and equally important: analytical—frameworks. Or maybe we can find a way to apply existing ones in new ways. But, and I say this expressly without judgement, these are platforms that operate at a scale and dynamism we haven’t seen before. They are of a new quality, they display qualities and combinations of qualities and characteristics we don’t have much experience with. Yet, on a societal level we’ve been viewing them through the old lenses of either media (“a newspaper”, “broadcast”) or neutral platforms (“tubes”, “electricity”). And it hasn’t worked yet, and will continue not to work, because it makes little sense.

That’s why it’s important to take a breath and figure out how to best understand implications, and shape the tech, the organizations, the frameworks within which they operate.

It might turn out, and I’d say it’s likely, that they operate within some frameworks but outside others, and in those cases we need to adjust the frameworks, the organizations, or both. To align the analytical and regulatory frameworks with realities, or vice versa.

This isn’t an us versus them situation like many parties are insinuating: It’s not politics versus tech as actors on both the governmental and the tech side sometimes seem to think. It’s not tech vs civil society as some activists claim. It’s certainly not Silicon Valley against the rest of the world, even though a little more cultural sensitivity might do SV firms a world of good. This is a question of how we want to live our lives, govern our lives, as they are impacted by the flow of information.

It’s going to be tricky to figure this out as there are many nation states involved, and some supra-national actors, and large global commercial actors and many other, smaller but equally important players. It’s a messy mix of stakeholders and interests.

But one thing I can promise: The solution won’t be just technical, not just legal, nor cultural. It’ll be a slow and messy process that involves all three fields, and a lot of work. We know that the status quo isn’t working for too many people, and we can shape the future. So that soon, it’ll work for many more people—maybe for all.

Please note that this is cross-posted from Medium. Also, for full transparency, we work occasionally with Google.