“The world doesn’t know where it wants to go”


Image: Compass by Valentin Antonucci (Unsplash) Image: Compass by Valentin Antonucci (Unsplash)

One of the joys of my working at the intersection of emerging tech and its impact is that I get to discuss things that are by definition cutting edge with people from entirely different backgrounds—like recently with my dad. He’s 77 years old and has a background in business, not tech.

We chatted about IoT, and voice-enabled connected devices, and the tradeoffs they bring between convenience and privacy. How significant chunks of the internet of things are optimized for costs at the expense of privacy and security. How IoT is, by and large, a network of black boxes.

When I tried to explain why I think we need a trustmark for IoT (which I’m building with ThingsCon and as a Mozilla fellow)—especially regarding voice-enabled IoT—he listened intently, thought about it for a moment, and then said:

“We’re at a point in time where the world doesn’t know where it wants to go.”

And somehow that exactly sums it up, ever so much more eloquently than I could have phrased it.

Only I’m thinking: Even though I can’t tell where the world should be going, I think I know where to plant our first step—and that is, towards a more transparent and trustworthy IoT. I hope the trustmark can be our compass.

Netzpolitik13: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder


My slides from Das ist Netzpolitik (Berlin, 1. September 2017). Title: “Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder“.

Vom Hobby-Basteln bis hin zur Smart City: Das Internet of Things (#IoT) hat zunehmend Berührungspunkte mit allen Bereichen unseres Lebens. Aber wer bestimmt was erlaubt ist, was mit unseren Daten passiert, und ob es OK ist, unter die Haube zu gucken? IoT sitzt an der Schnittstelle vieler Technologie-, Governance- und Regulierungsbereiche—und schafft dadurch gleich eine ganze Reihe von Spannungsfeldern.

Due to technical issues with the video projection, my slides weren’t shown for the first few minutes. Apologies. On the plus side, the organizers had kindly put a waving cat on the podium for me. ?

It’s a rare talk in that I gave it in German, something I’m hardly used to these days.

In it, I argue that IoT poses a number of particular challenges that we need to address (incl. the level of complexity and blurred lines across disciplines and expertise; power dynamics; and transparency). I outline inherent tensions and propose a few approaches on how to tackle them, especially around increasing transparency and legibility of IoT products.

I conclude with a call for Europe to actively take a global leadership role in the area of consumer and data protection, analog to Silicon Valley’s (claimed/perceived) leadership in disruptive innovation as well as funding/scaling of digital products, and to Shenzhen’s hardware manufacturing leadership.

Netzpolitik has an extensive write-up in German.

Update: Netzpolitik also recorded an interview with me: Regulierung und Datenschutz im Internet der Dinge.

What we can learn from VW’s emission scandal for IoT


As the digging into Volkswagen’s emission/cheating scandal continues, it’s very interesting to watch the kind of conflicts and issues we see emerge from the whole thing. Interesting not because it’s fun to ridicule corporations (it’s not, especially when emissions are concerned), but because this particular case gives us a good idea of the kind of scandals, issues and questions we’ll increasingly see over the next few years around #iot and sensor-data based decision making.


Lobby lists for total transparency


Reinhard Bütikofer, member of the European Parliament for the German Green Party, publishes a list of all his meetings. Whoever he meets up with, whether they’re lobbyist, interest groups, colleagues or citizens, they show up on this list.

This is way more transparent than politicians in Germany are legally required to be. More importantly though, it’s an important signal. It says: “You’ll always know who I’m talking to, who I’m listening to, who might be trying to influence me.”

I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a big announcement. The list was mentioned just in passing in Bütikofer’s weekly column. In his post, he says he was inspired by the White House Visitor Record.

I do think, though, that initiatives like this deserve attention. As long as there are no legal requirements to publish lobbyists’ efforts more thoroughly (and regrettably it doesn’t look like this is going to happen anytime soon), more politicians should step up and voluntarily share this kind of information. It’s an important step in the fight against institutional corruption.

Props to Reinhard Bütikofer for being one of the first to go this way.

The next step, and that’s where it would get really awesome, would for all politicians to publish these lists in a standardized format so we could crunch the data thoroughly to see patterns emerging.

Update: Ulrich Kelber, Member of the German Parliament (Bundestag) lists all his income, too. (Thanks, Falk!)

Radical transparency: Obama staff applicants needs to share their online pasts


The Obama team ruled the online campaigns, that’s something most could agree on. They also show they know their stuff by digging deep into staff applicants’ online pasts, as the New York Times reports:

A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive – some say invasive – application ever. The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps. Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages. The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”

And you thought your new employer checking out your Facebook profile was kinda odd? Hah!

Ameritocracy: Beta invites for you


AmeritrocrazyA few days ago I wrote a brief post about Ameritocracy, a collaborative fact-checking platform with a focus on U.S. politics.

The Ameritrocracy team got back to me and was so nice to provide my readers with a bunch of invites to the close beta so you can check it out yourself.

With the invite code “wavingcat” (one word, all lower case) you can sign up here.