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S05E24 of Connection Problem: Ambient privacy & participation at the (smart) street level

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I’ve been writing a newsletter for a few years now that I just rarely feature here, and usually just mention every now and then. At a recent conference, conversations with Ton Zylstra, Elmine Wijnia, Peter Rukavina and others all reminded me of the value of creating a more permanent archive that you host yourself (to a degree) rather than just relying on something as potentially impermanent as a commercial newsletter provided. (Ton blogged about it, too.) It is in that spirit that I’ll try for a bit to cross-post (most) of my newsletter here.

Please note that (for workflow and time saving reasons) this is a copy & paste of a pre-final draft; the final corrections and edits happen within Tinyletter, the email service. So there might be a few typos here that aren’t in the newsletter itself.

The preferred way to receive this (preferred by the author at least) is most certainly the newsletter, but here’s the archived version for those who prefer a different format. Also, take it as a sample/teaser. And if you think this is for you, why don’t you come along for the ride:

Subscribe to my newsletter Connection Problem here.

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Ambient privacy & participation at the (smart) street level

“Sustainability always looks like underutilization when compared to resource extraction”
— Deb Chachra, Metafoundry

In Berlin, we’re coming off of the tail end of a massive heat wave with somewhere near 40C peak yesterday. A small stretch of forest burned on the city’s edge, a much larger one just south of the city. The latter included a former military training ground; ordnance was involved. There were warnings of strange smells wafting through the city. Stay calm, everyone. This is just the new normal.

Today’s pieces mostly run along the thread of privacy & how to make sure we can all have enough to see democracy thrive: From the macro level through the smart city lens down to the issue of microphones embedded in our kitchens. Enjoy!

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Personal-ish stuff

Starting a new fellowship. I mentioned if briefly before, but am happy to announce officially: Edgeryders invited me to be a fellow as part of their Internet of Humans program, exploring some questions around how to make smart cities work for citizens first and foremost (as opposed to vendors or administration first). I’m honored and grateful; this helps me dig deeper into these issues that — as you know well if you’re reading this — have been on the top of my mind for some time.

The network provides. For Zephyr Berlin, our apparel staples side project that we’ve been engaged in since 2016, I reached out to Twitter to see if anyone could hook me up with some recommendations/leads/pointers to learn more about how and where to produce something with merino wool in Europe. And lo and behold, we got so many excellent leads — thank you! (You know who you are.) I’m not sure what might come out of this, if anything, but I know it’s more than just fun to learn more and experiment with new ideas.

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Ambient Privacy

One of my favorite writers online — especially about travel and the internet industry — is the ever brilliant Maciej Ceg?owski, founder of Pinboard and Tech Solidarity and an outspoken tech critic from within, so to speak. He just wrote a long-ish piece on what he coins “ambient privacy”, i.e. the idea that our privacy is impacted not just by the things we actively choose to share through, for example, social media; but also by the environments we move through, from other people’s social media use to sensors and GPS and the internet watching us through surveillance ads and all that jazz. It’s essentially an inversion of our traditional perspective of privacy as a default to non-privacy as a default (not a desirable outcome one, to be sure!) — or the shift from individual data rights to a collective data rights in the words of Martine Tisné (linked a few times before).

If you read one thing today, make it this one, I urge you. I loved it so much, I kind of want to quote the whole thing. Instead, a few snippets as teasers more than anything (highlights mine):

“This requires us to talk about a different kind of privacy, one that we haven’t needed to give a name to before. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll call it ‘ambient privacy’—the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition. (…) Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can’t drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can’t opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not.”

“In the eyes of regulators, privacy still means what it did in the eighteenth century—protecting specific categories of personal data, or communications between individuals, from unauthorized disclosure. Third parties that are given access to our personal data have a duty to protect it, and to the extent that they discharge this duty, they are respecting our privacy. (…) The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.

“Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society.“ (…) “Telling people that they own their data, and should decide what to do with it, is just another way of disempowering them.”

“The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don’t really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.”

“When all discussion takes place under the eye of software, in a for-profit medium working to shape the participants’ behavior, it may not be possible to create the consensus and shared sense of reality that is a prerequisite for self-government. If that is true, then the move away from ambient privacy will be an irreversible change, because it will remove our ability to function as a democracy.

And, last but not least:

“Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior?”

Ok, so I did end up quoting at great length. But really, I think it’s that good and important.

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Your blender is listening

There was fun news — for some definition of fun! — coming out of France this week. A group of hackers discovered a connected blender had shipped with a microphone built in and with bad security practices. So this blender could be used to spy on very much unsuspecting buyers.

But let’s start at the beginning (also available on Twitter), because this is exactly the kind of irresponsible stuff that we at ThingsCon try to fight every day. Here’s the blender we’re talking about, on the right side:

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See the knobs on the blender? It’s a little hard to tell on the photo but these are virtual buttons, it’s a touch screen. (Insert your own joke about virtual buttons emulating physical buttons.) Also note that it says “Ausverkauft” under the product — sold out.

So what’s the story here? Lidl, the big chain discounter, sold the Monsieur Cuisine Connect. The connected blender is described in some articles as a Thermomix rival/clone, sold at a fraction of the price.

“Designed in Germany and produced in China, it has a seven-inch touch screen that can be connected via wifi to download recipes for free. And like any device connected to the network, it is susceptible to being hacked. That is precisely what two techies have done, who have disemboweled the robot and discovered important security and privacy issues. The device has a small microphone and a speaker and, in addition, is equipped with Android 6.0, a version that is not updated since October 2017.”

The articles quotes Lidl’s ED of marketing in France to say: “The supermarket chain defended itself arguing that they had foreseen that ‘the device could be controlled by voice and eventually by Alexa, we left the micro, but it is totally inactive and it is impossible to activate it remotely’”.

So what we see here is an undisclosed microphone in a blender, and a machine running an outdated, long insecure OS version. On their website, the manufacturer doesn’t even acknowledge the issue, let alone address it meaningfully. Instead they just set the product to “sold out” in their online shop, which seems a dubious claim at best. It’s a really instructive case study for the field of product development for connected products and IoT in general. Should be (and might become!) mandatory reading for students.

When I first tweeted about this, I claimed — somewhat over-excitedly — that it’s shoddy practice to keep too many feature options open for the future, that this was a main attack vector. I think it’s not totally off, but I want to thank Jeff Katz (always helpful & well informed: a rare, excellent mix of characteristics indeed!) for correcting me and keeping me honest when he pointed out that it’s normal, even good practice in hardware products to put in all the enabling technologies if you have the intention to use it, but you need to be transparent: “The fuckup was not disclosing that it was there, at all (…) Being opaque and shipping old software is far more common an attack vector.” Which is a good point, well made ?

As someone who spent a lot of time and too much money on connected speakers specifically so they would be not Alexa-ready (read: we wanted microphone free speakers), I always find it a little traumatizing to learn about all the embedded mics. But I’m not going to lie: this feels like a losing battle at the moment.

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Microphones at the street level

Ok, a strained segue if ever there was one, but here you have it. Brain still in heat meltdown mode! The Globe and Mail covers Sidewalk Labs’ new development plan for the Toronto waterfront they’d like to develop. Spoiler alert: This poster child of smart city development has become the lightning rod for all the opponents of smart cities. They’re facing a lot of push back. (For the record: Rightly so, in my opinion.)

The author identifies multiple issues, from the very concrete to the very meta: Apparently the 1.500+ page document doesn’t answer the big picture questions of what Sidewalk Labs wants in Toronto: What do they really offer, what do they ask for in return?

“It’s remarkable that, after 20 months of public presentations, lobbying and “consultations” by the company – a process that gave it access to public officials that other real estate companies never get – I still don’t know, really, what [Sidewalk Labs chief executive] Doctoroff means.”

Also, given that this is an Alphabet company — and I’d like to stress both Alphabet as the lead actor as well as company as the underlying economic model — the question of handling data is front and center:

“Questions of data privacy and of the economic benefits of neighbourhood-scale data are exceptionally difficult to answer here.”

Smart city scholar (and critic) Anthony Townsend takes it a step further in this direction:

“Data governance has been a lightning rod because its new and scary. Early on, Sidewalk put more energy into figuring out how the robot trash chutes would work than how to control data it and others would collect in the proposed district. As part of Alphabet, you’d think this would have been a source of unique added value versus say, a conventional development. Not so? (…)”

Zooming out, he also wonders if the old narrative of attracting big businesses to boost the local economy for all, sustainably, might have run its course:

The kinds of companies that want to set up shop in cities, today, the flagships of “surveillance capitalism” as Shoshanna Zuboff calls it, no longer operate like the industrial engines of the past. They source talent and services from all over the world, wherever its cheapest. Being near a big population is more useful because it supports a big airport, than because it provides a big pool of workers. (…) Google, Amazon, and their ilk are more like knowledge blackholes. Ideas and talent go in and they don’t come up, at least in a form usable to others. Seen another way?— it is precisely their ability to contain knowledge spillovers that has powered their success.

And mayors go along with it, for now, because desperation, digging their own holes deeper and deeper:

“Economic development in cities today is a lot like hunting whales. Mayors try to land big deals that promise lots of jobs. They wield extensive tools, explicitly designed to operate outside of local legislative control, to make the needed concessions to outbid other cities. It’s in many ways a race to the bottom. They all hate it, but they do it.”

I have no answers to any of this. All I can offer is a few pointers that might lead to better approaches over time:

  • Put citizens first, administrations second, and vendors a distant third
  • Participatory practices and decision making are key here, and not window dressing

Together, they just might allow us to shift perspective enough to strengthen rather than erode democracy in our cities and beyond.

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Currently “reading” with minimal progress: How to Do Nothing in the Attention Economy (Jenny Odell), Exhalations (Ted Chiang), Netter is Better (Thomas Hermann)

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If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability, so let’s have a chat!

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What’s next?

Next week, before heading off on a summer break, will be the season finale for this newsletter, before picking back up after the summer. In the meantime, it’s a week of crunch time to get everything to a place where I can leave and the teams I’m working with have what they need from me. So, heads down, and onward.

Have a lovely end of the week!

Yours truly,
Peter

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Pictures: my own

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 June & July 2018

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Lots of travel and a brief time off means a combined summer-ish edition of month notes for June & July. A lot has happened over the last 8 or so weeks, so let’s dive right in. In no particular order…

Trustable Technology mark

The ThingsCon trustmark for IoT has a name, finally! Meet the Trustable Technology mark, or #trustabletech for short. The URL (trustabletech.com) still forwards to the trustmark page on ThingsCon.com, but will have its own place soon. The most current version of the explainer presentation is up on Slideshare:

What’s more, I’m not alone in this endeavor—far from it! More and more folks from the ThingsCon network have been giving their input, which is priceless. Also, Pete Thomas (University of Dundee) has been taking the design lead and been a great sparring partner on strategy questions, and Jason Schultz (NYU Law) has been thinking about legal and policy implications. A big thank you to Pete & Jason! I’m super excited this is moving along at such a clip.

Going forward, the next steps are to finalize and then test more extensively the checklist for the assessment that’s open for comments in this gDoc. Jason and I also just presented the trustmark at the most recent ThingsCon Salon Berlin (video below), and I’ll be presenting it again at ThingsCon Salon Cologne on August 3rd. (Thingscon.com/events has all up-to-date details.)

Media, etc.

Brand Eins interviewed me about IoT and how it challenges our notion of ownership and trust. Details in my blog post here.

My somewhat eclectic newsletter Connection Problem has completed Season 3 with just over 30 installments. I’m taking a writing break of a few weeks, and then I’ll kick off Season 4 soon. Sign up now if you want to follow along!

ThingsCon

With ThingsCon, we co-signed not one but two declarations and open letters: The Toronto Declaration about AI and human rights (initiated by AccessNow) and the Open Letter to G20 Leaders.

Travel & Events I Attended

I got to join a whole bunch of things those last few weeks.

I thoroughly enjoyed both a workshop on IoT security and market surveillance by Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, where we discussed all things certification, incentives and assessment frameworks; and the always fascinating Museum of the Future workshop in Berlin. I’d been to one in Amsterdam before, and even though I’m spoiled by greatly curated events, the group that Noah & team convene in this context is humbling and fascinating and the only thing I wished is that I could have been there full time, which this time alas wasn’t possible.

In between the two I got to go to New York City for meetings and a quick swing-by at Data & Society, as well as Toronto for the Mozilla Foundation’s all-hands where I was kindly invited to participate as a fellow. Speaking of committed & warm & driven groups!

After that, some family time in the Pacific Northwest, and a short vacation, which included a little road trip through the Cascades. What a stunning & wonderful region!

What’s next?

On one hand I’m gearing up the planning for fall. 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.

On the other I’m pretty much heads-down to get the trustmark to the next level. This includes the nitty gritty work of both improving the trustmark assessment tool, and of lining up launch partners. It also means planning a little road show to expose this idea to more eyes and ears, including ThingsCon Salon Cologne, Mozfest, ThingsCon Amsterdam, and a few other events in between. We’re also in the middle of copy-editing the upcoming 2018 issue of the ThingsCon report “The State of Responsible IoT” (#RIoT). More on that soon.

So back to the text mines!

Have a great August.

Yours truly, P.

Monthnotes for April 2018

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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!

Monthnotes for February 2018

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What happened in February? I’m a little short on time today so let’s keep it short and sweet:

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The National IoT Plan in Brazil has been published by the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES)—and it’s so good to see our ThingsCon & Mozilla Trustmark for IoT report picked up there.

I’m very, very happy (and to be honest, a little bit proud, too) that this report just got referenced fairly extensively. To learn more context, here’s Brazil’s National IoT Plan, concretely in Action Plan / Document 8B (PDF). (Here’s the post on Thingscon.com.)

This is exactly the kind of outsized impact I always strive and hope for.

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We’re headed for a social media winter. I think we’re arriving in the post-social media era. It’s going to be interesting to see what’s next. My money is on small, private groups (think Whatsapp chats).

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Less formal media: For somewhat more off-the-cuff, more personal takes and pointers come join my semi-personal newsletter, Connection Problem.

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More formal media: For the first time in a long time, I have some things to advocate for (responsible IoT, trustmarks, etc.) and a story to tell. So I’m looking to improve my media presence beyond the occasional, fairly random interview or article. Still figuring out how to best go about it. Any pointers are welcome!

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If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, please get in touch.

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That’s it for today. Have a great March!

Monthnotes for January 2018

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January isn’t quite over, but since I’ll be traveling starting this weekend, I wanted to drop these #monthnotes now. A lot of time this month went into prepping an upcoming project which is likely to take up the majority of my time in 2018. More on that soon.

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Capacity planning: This year my work capacity is slightly reduced since I want to make sure to give our new family member the face time he deserves. That said, this year’s capacity is largely accounted for, which is extra nice given it’s just January, and it’s for a thing I’m genuinely excited about. That said, I think it’s important to work on a few things in parallel because there’s always potential that unfolds from cross-pollination; so I’m up for a small number of not-huge projects in addition to what’s already going on, particularly in the first half of the year. Get in touch.

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On Sunday, I’m off to San Francisco for a work week with the good folks at Mozilla because reasons and a number of meetings in the Bay Area. (Full disclosure: my partner works at Mozilla). Last year I’ve done some work with Mozilla and ThingsCon exploring the idea of a trustmark for IoT (our findings).

Image: commons (SDASM Archives)

Should you be in SF next week, ping me and we can see if we can manage a coffee.

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IoT, trust & voice: More and more, I’m coming around to the idea that voice is the most important—or at least most imminent—manifestation of IoT regarding user data. Voice, and how it relates to trust, is what I’ll be focusing on a lot of my work in 2018.

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User profiling in smart homes: Given my focus on voice & trust in IoT this year, I was very happy that Berlin tech & policy think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung invited me to a workshop on user profiling in smart homes. It was all Chatham House rules and I don’t want to dive into specifics at this point, but smart homes and voice assistants are worth a deep dive when it comes to trust—and trustworthiness—in IoT.

Connected homes and smart cities

Not least because (as I’ve been hammering home for a long time) the connected home and the smart city are two areas that most clearly manifest a lot of the underlying tensions and issues around IoT at scale: Connected homes, because traditionally the home was considered a private space (that is, if you look at the last 100 years in the West), and embedded microphones in smart homes means it’s not anymore. And smart cities, because in public space there is no opt-out: Whatever data is collected, processed, and acted on in public space impacts all citizens, if they want it or not. These are fundamental changes with far reaching consequences for policy, governance, and democracy.

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Worth your time: A few pointers to articles and presentations I found worthwhile:

  • Kate Crawford’s talk on bias in AI training data is ace: The Trouble with Bias [Youtube].
  • TechCrunch has a bit of a top-level explainer of GDPR, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation that goes into effect in May this year. It’s being widely lauded in Europe (except by the usual suspects, like ad-land), and been unsurprisingly criticized in Silicon Valley as disruptive regulation. (See what I did there?) So it came as a pleasant surprise to me that TechCrunch of all places finds GDPR to be a net positive. Worth 10 minutes of your time! [TechCrunch: WTF is GDPR?]
  • noyb.eu—My Privacy is none of your Business: Max Schrems, who became well-known in European privacy circles after winning privacy-related legal battles including one against Facebook and one that brought down the US/EU Safe Harbor Agreement, is launching a non-profit: They aim to enforce European privacy protection through collective enforcement, which is now an option because of GDPR. They’re fundraising for the org. The website looks crappy as hell very basic, but I’d say it’s a legit endeavor and certainly an interesting one.

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Writing & thinking:

  • In How to build a responsible Internet of Things I lay out a few basic, top-level principles distilled from years of analyzing the IoT space—again with an eye on consumer trust.
  • On Business Models & Incentives: Some thoughts on how picking the wrong business model—and hence creating harmful incentives for an organization to potentially act against its own customers—is dangerous and can be avoided.
  • I’ve been really enjoying putting together my weekly newsletter together. It’s a little more personal and interest-driven than this blog, but tackles similar issues of the interplay between tech & society. It’s called Connection Problem. You can sign up here.

I was also very happy that Kai Brach, founder of the excellent Offscreen magazine kindly invited me to contribute to the next issue (out in April). The current one is also highly recommended!

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Again, if you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, please get in touch quickly so we can figure out how best to work together.

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That’s it for January. See you in Feb!

Monthnotes for November 2017

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November was for wrapping up some client work and speaking, and for starting the planning for 2018. On a personal note, we also had a baby and so things have been a little slower than usual these last couple of weeks. So we’ll keep going as normal for now, just with a bigger smile on my face.

I’m starting the planning for 2018. If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, please get in touch.

Media

Netzpolitik: 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“:

stories connecting dots

Stories Connecting Dots: Back in July, the smart & ever-lovely Markus Andrezak interviewed me for his podcast Stories Connecting Dots. The second part of our interview just went live and I’m honored to be opening the second season of SDC discussing Shenzhen’s IoT ecosystem.

Thinking, writing, speaking

Underexposed: On 9 November, I spoke at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). It was an excellent event, put together by the even-more-excellent Ame Elliott.

My talk was called The Internet of Sneaky Things. In it, I explored how IoT is at a crossroads, and we can either let it become the Internet of Sneaky Things or we can make it better, more human-centric, and more responsible.

Underexposed also surfaced a conversation that’s been picking up steam: The importance of great and simple-to-use documentation, tooling and toolkits for designers and developers to make their products and processes more safe, secure, and ethical. And analog, of course, the equivalents for strategist, entrepreneurs, and everybody else: All the experts in their fields might not be experts in these other, often thorny meta areas, so let’s build tools that make their life easier. This led to this list of toolkits for designers around ethics & emerging tech.

Good School: I also spoke at Good School, a Hamburg-based executive leadership program, where I was happy to give a glimpse or two at China and its digital landscape as we experienced it during our recent research trips to Shenzhen and Shanghai. The feedback was fantastic—seems the topic struck a nerve.

Inflection point [blog post]: AI, IoT, Robotics: We’re at an inflection point for emerging technologies

Newsletter

For a long time, I’ve been writing (on and off) a newsletter with some work related and some more personal notes: Some project updates, some half-formed thoughts, some freshly explored ideas, some articles I found interesting.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to write that newsletter more regularly, and experimenting with a weekly format of things I found worth discussing. To follow along as I try and shape my thinking on some incoming signals, sign up here for Season 3.

ThingsCon

Lots of ThingsCon action around the world: Dublin is confirmed (details TBD), we’re having promising conversations with teams in two cities in the US, Shenzhen is on the way to turn into a regular event series, and another 1-2 cities in China might also happen soon.

In the meantime, because this month’s notes are a little delayed, the big annual ThingsCon Amsterdam has happened (check out the videos), and ThingsCon Nairobi premiered to a full house, too!

Miscellaneous

I learned a word from Cennydd: Provocatype, “a speculative prototype that isn’t ‘good’ product per se, but is intended to spark conversation”. It made instant sense. Definitively a keeper.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, please get in touch.