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Competitive Intelligence and Online Privacy, NSA Leaks from Edward Snowden

In preparation for attending the Privacy Identify Innovation conference here in Seattle with peers, my recent conversations have been around the  kind of data that Edward Snowden and related NSA leaks stirred up.

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These conversations live in another dimension almost as spooky as the Twilight Zone.

While the NSA is in the center of this issue, we should think about the thousands of companies that have access to our personal information.

Through these companies there are an untold number of individuals who have access to our digital homes without our knowledge. Some of them knowingly allow access (while others do it accidentally.)

We have dropped the ball: not only as companies and organizations in the U.S., but as a global society we have absolutely failed to understand how the Internet of everything relates to metro, regional, ethical, and moral audiences around the world.

If this was my house it would  be leaving my front door unlocked and leaving it unattended. When we have a digital version of our home we need to give a little bit of thought about the benefits and risks associated to it.

  • We have to keep in mind that data isn’t limited to live where it is created.
  • It isn’t limited to a time or place.
  • It is a universe of information that covers both historical and future possibilities.
  • Our digital neighborhood isn’t local- it is global.

We need to ask questions about who may visit our home.

What do they know about me?

This is a big question. 

You need to have a grasp of the questions below before you can really begin to identify what they know about you.

If someone is interested in you they have decided you are worth a certain amount of effort.

The reality of the situation is that there are a lot of rocks to kick over and look under.

When competitive intelligence professionals like myself get involved there is a level of strategic and investigative research that takes place using all sorts of systems that help look under rocks quickly.

Examining what is under each rock cost a little bit of money and effort. If I have intent and reason to turn over thousands of rocks I will find out more about you than being lazy and turning over just one.

The speed at which this investigation can take place depends on the tools and the likelihood that the research effort will be rewarded with knowledge.

Thinking about who really has access to the data

When I turn on the typical desktop computer there are dozens of companies involved with the security of the data.

A basic example of typical computer privacy points:

  • The Brand/Creator of the PC
  • CPU Manufacturer
  • RAM Memory Manufacturer
  • BIOS programmer
  • Video Card
  • Wireless Processor
  • High Speed Modem
  • Network Router

Software

  • Adobe Flash
  • Java
  • Microsoft Office
  • Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer (with several dozen plugins)
  • Internet is supplied by Comcast (Comcast router boxes, relay junctions, data stores, etc)

Web Services

  • Banking
  • Utility Payments
  • Mobile Services
  • Entertainment (Netflix, etc)
  • Social Networks (Facebook, Linkedin, etc)
  • Communication tools (email, digital phone, etc)

Securing the basic elements above almost requires a degree in rocket science.

Yet as a society of web enabled users we’ve thrown caution to the wind and have opted-in to all sorts of things like social networks and freemium web services.

Multiply the basic example above for laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.

Facebook is an amazing example of our blunder.

Over a billion people have joined the site and have given access to our profiles, social networks, and personal communications.

In addition to what we share on Facebook.com, Facebook scripts and widgets run on tens of millions of sites.

These scripts cover a range of login, recommendation, analytics, and sharing functions.

If you were to figure out the combined data collection of Facebook across all of these sites you’d have trillions of interactions.

But we also have Google who has access to sites with

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Webmaster
  • Google Adsense
  • Google Content Networks
  • Google Gmail
  • Google Docs

When you overlap just the properties and data collection points of Google and Facebook you end up with information on almost the entire web using population. 

The NSA may have access to that data… but who else?

While the NSA may have access, I wouldn’t typically focus on whether the NSA has it.

You should be focusing on people and organizations that seek you harm (if the NSA has reason to cause you harm, then worry about the NSA.)

Google and Facebook don’t necessarily want to harm us, but they do want to make a few dollars in profit.

The core item to think about is that there are thousands of businesses in the industry of collecting and monetizing our data or using it for harmful or monetary purposes. These include data brokers, financial organizations, major employers, and big retail brands. They also include criminal and military organizations.

The information they are collecting is specifically important to the intent of why they are collecting it.

You can help figure out where you sit in the big picture as both an individual and as a business by running through a series of questions.

What are the problems?

Data will always be created and collected by some process.

The core problem comes from the question of Good vs Evil?

Good uses:

  • Trying to use the data to improve the education system of a local town.
  • Supporting entrepreneurs to create green, sustainable business.
  • Helping third would countries raise the standard living.

Bad Uses:

  • Identifying an individual’s commute time to work so robbers know when the house is empty.
  • Discriminating against employees based on what was perceived as private.
  • Disabling a city utility by crashing the utility grid.

Why are they collecting data?

Most organizations use online data to define and segment millions of users into a size they can interact with.

They want to strategically locate communities and individuals who matter to them.

This usually revolves around simple items such as:

  • How many interactions?
  • How many relationships?
  • How many transactions?
  • How many habits?

 Who is using it?

The answer to who is using it creates a number of tangents to think about:

  • Where are they?
  • How do they store it?
  • Do they sell it?
  • Do they abuse it?
  • Do they learn from it?
  • Where do they have interests?

What laws am I dealing with?

As you answer the above questions about you begin to identify the legal structures of where your data lives.

In the U.S. we have some very specific ideas about privacy and freedom of speech. These same ideas may not apply around the globe.

  • Where does all that data live?
  • Who owns the lines it moves across?
  • What jurisdictions apply to the servers?
  • What companies have access?
  • What employees have access?
  • What criminals have access?

What ethics am I dealing with?

With some of the legal concepts detailed we can begin to think about ethical and moral uses of the data.

Some cultures and countries have wildly different ethical and moral concepts.

  • Do they want to hurt/help me?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my family/friends?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my company?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my country?

What can I do about it?

The key to protection is understanding.

#1 – write down a list of things that are most important to you.

#2 – write down a list of people who want to hurt you.

#3- ask an expert to detail ways #1 and #2 interact.

#4- Create a plan for protecting the things most important to you can be used by people wanting to hurt you.

#5- Apply a scenario to two or three organizations you don’t like and ask yourself what you can do to them.

These basic steps will wildly vary in results depending on if  individual and group perspective.

By understanding value vs risk you can allocate where your effort will produce the most protection.

 

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Big Data Analytics – 5 ideas to consider

As someone who drives complex ideas through and around dozens of roadblocks, I am often reminded that one of the best ways to help people is simply to highlight the right resources that will eventually transform into knowledge and wisdom.

In one of the most complex areas of my endeavors is the current ‘seizure’ mentality that is stopping the right technology and trends at the appropriate levels. This is especially true of the Big Data conversation that is challenging all levels of business.

Ironically the small and mid-sized business teams are having an easy time gaining traction in understanding the issues that affect their business. The small and medium businesses bring another problem: not having enough Big Data to play with and the budget to bring the expertise to make the initial change.

So the key to think about:

Enterprise Player = focus on tactical and economy of scale.

Small and Mid-sized Business = focus on wisdom of larger data providers.

If you are in an organization that is currently considering a Big Data initiative, please  take a moment to reach this article by John Weathington over at TechRepublic = To get Big Data buy-in, IT should let go of proof of concept …

Once you have had a chance to read it, come back and explore some of these other Big Data articles with the mindset of initiating the process with the right team and executive support in place. The simple reality is that Big Data isn’t an IT issue; it is a game changing opportunity for executive leadership and owners who choose to be nimble.

— ADDITIONAL READING —

Dynamic data analysis the future of big data: Brainmates – ZDNet

Big data isn’t all about beefing up marketing strategies for organisations, according to founder of the product management …

“As a predictive tool, big data can deliver better products, but to effectively achieve this, product managers should use big data to test the questions that have previously been impossible to answer until after the product has gone to market,” he said. “Too often, we are led by what we think we can do and are trapped on those rails, whereas if we imagined the impossible, pretty soon we will find it has already been done elsewhere.”

Can Big Data make government cheaper? – ZDNet (blog)

The movie “Moneyball” celebrated a “Big Data” approach to maximizing returns from investments. Can Big Data do the same for government?…

“Today’s young people – hammered by the Great Recession, the loss of middle class jobs and gridlock in Washington – may take a more pragmatic approach. Stress – like the Great Depression and WWII – seems to focus Americans on solutions rather than ideology.”

Putting a Dollar Value on Big Data Insights – Wired

The Big Data phenomenon produces some mind-boggling statistics, such as the fact that the volume of global data produced doubles every two years. At the University of California at Berkeley, researchers …

” To cite just one example, retail giant Walmart was able to use Big Data analysis to drive a 10%-15% increase in completed online sales for $1 billion in incremental revenue, which is a well-planned ROI using data.”

5 Big Data Projects That Could Impact Your Life – Mashable

GCN argues that the first “big data” software was IBM’s DB2, a database management system it released back in 1983. What’s new is the ability to compile and process everything at such large scale …

“It’s a swanky term for a not-so-sexy concept: the idea that mass amounts of information can be analyzed to find hidden patterns, buried beneath terabytes of numbers, in Facebook posts,Google searches and Amazon purchases. These patterns can predict social trends and, in some cases, reengineer the way we live.”

 

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Local Business Analytics and Digital Metrics

While there are plenty of global business models, the reality is that most people prefer to do business with local providers. When all things are equal we differ to the professionals we can look in the eye and shake hands with…

But that idea isn’t so simple to understand when it comes to the collision of online trends and real world usage…

When someone uses a smart phone to search for nearby services they first have to overcome the extreme bias of marketing dollars that control how ‘not so local’ businesses have bought themselves the lion’s share of exposure. While some search engines have limited ad slots to prevent the search results from being completely dominated by advertising, the bottom end of the ‘natural results’ are equally affected by money being spent optimizing information in a way that other local small and mid-sized businesses are unaware of.

But exposure is simply one metric for a local business…. Read more

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10 cost conscious ways to increase online visibility

In the real world, everyone is involved in a start-up.

Whether you are the ‘real deal’ start-up with a half dozen people trying to take over the world or a corporate project team working on the next release, we all have different ‘start-up’ projects that need to get some extra love and attention online.

The following ten items will help you do just that! Read more

Video Editing Tools on a Budget

As a follow-up to my equipment list to what is in my HD mobile video kit, I wanted to discuss some of the affordable video software that is available.

I use every tool on this list. Some of them don’t fit my exact needs as an individual (but they do fit client needs.)

[stextbox id=”info”]To give an idea of my experience with tools like this, I also use some higher end video software such as Adobe After Effects, Premiere, and Lightwave. All of these higher end tools are great, but unless you do video work every day it is hard to justify spending thousands of dollars in software.[/stextbox]

So here are some of my favorite budget video editing tools broken into three segments: desktop software, online tools, and iPad/Touch apps.
These tools range from $2 to $150. Read more