Connected Products: Legibility & Failure Modes


Note: The following is not a review of The Dash, but a look at some deeper interface and interaction questions around connected products.

A few days ago, I received a package from a courier service. Opening it, this is what I found:

Bragi - The Dash

It’s The Dash, a smart, connected, wireless, waterproof, vital sign tracking in-ear headphone from Munich-based startup Bragi. I backed The Dash on Kickstarter in February 2014 (as backer number 5,362).


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


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.


Imperica interviews Warren Ellis


In ThingsCon related news, over at Imperica, Matt Muir has interviewed our friend and keynote speaker Warren Ellis (see all speakers) as he’s getting ready for his trip to ThingsCon. They chatted about #iot, connected products, and all the fun ways they can fail:

What happens when the people who run your front door for you suddenly shut down overnight? What happens when the houselights get bought out by Amazon? And you have to install a new app to heat your home because Apple owns that business now? What happened to your life that you outsourced the operation of your front door to a bunch of kids in the Mission District who pay $15 for artisanal toast in the morning?


Twitter, why u so US centric?


For my new company Brightfuture [NAME PENDING], I tried to register a Twitter account. Much to my surprise, @brightfuture didn’t seem actively used.

No avatar, two tweets (one from 2007, one from 2009. No activity for 5 years, and no real use before that either.


screenshot of @brightfuture


So I figured that yes, obviously this account is basically available. Oh, how naive I was.

Twitter does have an inactive username policy. It states:

To keep your account active, be sure to log in and Tweet (i.e., post an update) within 6 months of your last update. Accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.

Find an inactive – or otherwise trademark violating – account? The Trademark policy to the resuce:

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.


When we determine that an account appears to be confusing users, but is not purposefully passing itself off as the trademarked good or service, we give the account holder an opportunity to clear up any potential confusion. We may also release a username for the trademark holder’s active use.

Alright, fair enough. The account is clearly inactive, I own a business with the disputed name and can prove it, too. Easy enough!

Wrong again.

To reclaim an account, a US trademark is needed:

A federal or international trademark registration number is required. If the name you are reporting is not a registered mark (e.g., a government agency or non-profit organization), please let us know (…)

So, back to square one. In this case, the Inactive account policy, which states:

What if I have a request for a username from an account that looks inactive, but I don’t have a registered trademark? We are currently working to release all inactive usernames in bulk, but we do not have a set time frame for when this will take place.


It’s the equivalent of Twitter shrugging off the problem, or Screw You, Rest Of The World.

I’m not going to lie: I couldn’t imagine living and working without Twitter today. But I can’t say that this kind of policy fosters my bond to the service.


For now, for quick updates on Brightfuture[NAME PENDING] please follow @brightfutureio my personal Twitter account (@peterbihr) or this blog.

ATT & Cargo Cults


Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Image by One Laptop Per Child (CC by)


As BoingBoing reports, a leaked memo indicates that AT&T will introduce a creepy and stupid policy: If a user is suspected of copyright infringement (by which means is unclear – Hadopi style maybe?) repeatedly, AT&T will block access to Youtube and other sites and instead re-direct that user to an “on-line education tutorial”, and only after completing said tutorial will allow their users again to access the web as they please.

All the enforcement issues and the details of this particular instance aside, the political implications of what’s been going on in the world of copyright enforcement over the last 10-15 years are so creepy and skewed that it’s hard to believe we’re still even talking about this. And that a company would still even consider the option to screw their customers without a legal warrant or equivalent, just like that. When did that become acceptable?

I’m guessing that in 10 years or so we’ll look back at this era and laugh about it like today we laugh about Cargo Cults.

Unless, that is, we won’t be laughing about it because this is still going on, but then it’d be a world I wouldn’t want to live in.

Catch up to the 21st century some time soon & find business models where you get paid voluntarily without suing or surveilling anyone?

More on Boingboing.

German startup Gigalocal screws privacy, tweets personal information


A few weeks ago, I tried out Gigalocal. It’s a platform that lets users announce jobs they would like to see done, and how much they’re willing to pay for it. (“Clean my apartment for 20 Euros”-style jobs.) I signed up so a journalist friend of mine could try out the process in a controlled environment, and without having to clean someone else’s apartment. Yet, there was a bit of a problem.

The minute I put up a test job offer for my friend (“I’d like a cold soft drink, now, delivered”), the service tweeted the job. Makes sense, I guess, as it makes it easier to track jobs out and about waiting for jobs. (If the users of said service have smartphones, that is.) But they didn’t keep it to the job description.

Gigalocal tweeted my full address, down to the house number.

That’s right. They didn’t restrict the location info to the neighborhood (close enough to figure out if that job’s a good fit for you), or next subway stop, or street level, or a 500m radius. No, they tweeted the full address.

I canceled my account and mentioned in the cancellation form that I find publicly tweeting addresses quite unacceptable, as I hadn’t been aware before that the company might do that.

Here’s the reply (translation below):

Grundsätzlich kann jeder User seine Daten selbst schützen. Niemand ist gezwungen seinen Wohnort anzugeben. Ein User kann einen Gig überall erstellen, seine aktuelle Position wird vom GPS Modul (Smartphone) oder durch die IP (Website) vorgegeben. Diese Ortung hat man schon wenn man auf Google Maps geht und dem Browser erlaubt den Standort zu erkennen. Jedem User steht es frei wo er seinen Gig erstellt, er kann ihn also gerne 4 Straßen weiter erstellen und sich dort mit dem Gig Erfüller treffen.

Translation: Generally, every user can protect their own data. Nobody is forced to input their home address. A user can submit a gig wherever they like, their current position is read through the GPS module (smart phone) or IP address (website). This triangulation takes place even if you just go to Google Maps and allow the browser to read your location.

Every user is free to set up their gig wherever they like, so they can set it up 4 streets down and meet up with the job fulfiller there.

I was shocked. Shocked at this level of ignorance in building a user service that requires granular privacy. (Home addresses!) Shocked at how the staff didn’t even seem to consider they might have made a grave mistake. And shocked at myself for being even surprised by the two aforementioned failures.

Gigalocal, here’s a hint: You want your “job fulfillers” to know if a job is close enough to make it worth the trip. You don’t want to show the world people’s home and office addresses. And you never, ever want to tweet personal information without asking permission first.

Now go back to the drawing board and don’t come back before you know what you’re doing.

Facebook launches facial recognition, screws users (again)



Facebook has done it again: The company enabled a new feature that uses facial recognition to prompt your Facebook connections to “tag” you in photos they are shown. In other words: It recognizes user faces in photos, then shows them to their friends, encouraging them to identify the user by putting a name to the image.

Sounds useful? Yeah, right.

Consider this: A user does not get the option to pre-approve of photos of themselves being published. As you might know, I usually go for a share-all approach. This case, though, is another notch in Facebook’s bedpost of privacy violations. As so many times before, Facebook defaulted to share personal information instead of to protecting it. Again, they went for an opt-out model (where the user has to become actively involved to protect their privacy) and – to top things off – decided to hide the option to disable this “feature” way down in the privacy settings.

This is beyond bad style. Here’s how you disable facial recognition on Facebook.

I can’t wait for a truly privacy-conscious social networking service.

mystery cat / goopy mart / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0