Categorypolitics

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

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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!

Net Neutrality Begone: Startups, stay out of Europe (for now)

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A few days ago, the EU passed legislation around Net Neutrality that in name should have guaranteed net neutrality, but in the legal text has such huge loop holes that in fact it does the opposite.

This regulation was passed very much against expert opinion, and bears a very unhealthy resemblance to the language that telco lobbyists have been pushing for a long time.

This directive is a shame, and it kicks out one of the main drivers of innovation and equality in Europe. As of the moment of signing Europe, its citizens, and its companies will be disadvantaged citizens in the digital world. Europe has just been weakened tremendously as a place for digital innovation.

Please note that the following isn’t “just” my opinion as a citizen of the EU. It’s also my professional opinion as an analyst and consultant to organizations large and small, from startup to global corporation; as Managing Director of my own company, The Waving Cat; and as chair and founder of a number of technology & innovation conferences.

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I’m becoming an e-citizen of Estonia

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I had been vaguely aware of Estonia’s initiative e-Estonia, in which people from around the world could sign up for a sort of e-citizenship for this most technologically advanced country of not just the Baltics, but maybe the world. But at the time, you had to pick up the actual ID in Estonia, which seemed slightly over the top (for now).

Fast forward to today, when I stumbled over Ben Hammersley‘s WIRED article about e-Estonia and learned that the application process now works completely online and a trip to our local Estonian embassy (a mere 20min or so by bike or subway away) now does the trick.

That’s exciting!

e-Estonia is not, of course, an actual citizenship, even though for many intents and purposes it does provide a surprisingly large number of services that traditionally were tied to residency of a nationstate.

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Lowering regulatory barriers for startups in exchange for access to data?

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Nick Grossmann posted this very interesting piece: “Here’s the solution to the Uber and Airbnb problems — and no one will like it” that’s full of points worth discussing. I don’t want to butcher his arguments or put words in his mouth, so please do read it. It isn’t long, and worth the read. And while you’re at it, I also recommend skimming Kim-Mai Cutler’s piece (also linked from Nick’s post) “Uber, Airbnb And The Conflict Between Policy’s Ratchet Effect And Tech’s Accelerating Speed“.

These are just two articles that tackle one of the huge, intricate, complex issues of our days: How regulation can keep up with the speed and scale of tech companies; How we can harness this speed without giving up hardwon freedoms and societal benefits; and a ton of other related, much more nuanced questions.

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Questioning the Euro tech narratives

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There’s a been a lot (a lot!) of talk about Europe’s, and particularly Germany’s, take on digitization and tech innovation. Sometimes using the Industry 4.0 terminology (connected factories and the like), sometimes framed using European vs US startup success stories (“Where’s a German Google?”).

While a debate about tech innovation, adaption rates and access to the benefits of new technology is necessary – especially when it comes to providing a supporting political framework – I can’t help but notice a few narratives floating around that are quite wide-spread and seem to be dubious at best.

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Google/Skybox could offer a searchable DIFF of the world

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Since Google announced to buy satellite company Skybox recently, there’s been quite a bit of speculation about the reasons and potential implications of the acquisition. Some wondered about the emerging picture of a Google that owns military robots and drones and has access to information about both outside and inside our homes; others looked at how regularly updated satellite images could improve maps, or how a real-time map of, say, available parking spots might be possible with this technology. Or predictions about the market and economics developments. Wired speculates about Really Big Data and geopolitical forecasting.

Writes The Atlantic:

Right now, the raw imagery created by satellite cameras can be hard to decode and process for non-experts. Therefore, many companies like Skybox hope to sell “information, not imagery.” Instead of pixels, they’ll give customers algorithmically-harvested assessments of what’s in the pixels. For example, using regular satellite-collected data, an algorithm could theoretically look for leaks in an Arctic pipeline and alert the pipeline’s owners when one appeared.

This at least is one of the visions Skybox promotes in their videos:

 

 

It’s hard to tell how much of this is possible yet; I’d assume it’s nowhere near as complete now as it might seem. But it is a near-real time video feed of a large part of the surface of the world that – at some point – could be analyzed and converted into actionable data.

A searchable DIFF

And that’s where it gets really interesting: With this kind of technology, once it’s ready for prime time, Google could offer a complete over-time picture, a searchable visual and data representation – a DIFF of the world.

Imagine a cargo container, sitting in a dock, loaded onto a ship, the ship moving (and recognized by the image processing algorithms as such), the container being unloaded and put on a train, then a truck, then opened up and emptied. At any given time, you can trace (and trace back, if in hindsight it becomes interesting) how the tracked object has moved over time.

Live analysis combining a variety of data sources

Fast forward a few years and into version two of the toolkit (maybe) being built here. Then we’re looking at a much bigger picture. Assume a lot more processing power is now available to process, analyze, categorize and save the data available from the satellite images. Maybe enriched by other data sources, too. Now you can offer to pull together unforeseen searches on the real world as a service, similar to the way Wolfram Alpha lets you perform calculations by pulling together data from various sources – weather and traffic data; processed video feeds from drones; market and stock info; communications and network data, etc. – and combining them into one powerful analysis tool.

I find it hard to come up with good examples for this off the top of my head; let’s try anyway. Say you want to know how many trucks vs cars pass over a certain bridge. Or where to find the highest density of SUVs globally. Or the ratio of swimming pools per capita in LA compared to New Delhi compared to London. Or correlate the length of lines at bus stops to the local weather. Or want to know where your car ended up after it got stolen, and where the person went who stole it.

These examples are pretty weak, admittedly. But suffice to say that the range of applications – in commercial, military & security, social contexts – are enormous – ludicrously enormous – for good and evil alike.