The Internet of Things – Smart Objects and Dumb Users

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the thing that will change everything, including humans. Interconnecting uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing Internet infrastructure and allowing interaction and data exchange is said to be the recipe to facilitate life, improve business and raise efficiency.IoTs

Data is already the gold mine and the competition is between those who try to derive applicable knowledge from it in close to real time. It’s not only about how you collect data but when and where you do that. A practically good answer is around the clock and everywhere. You do need a lot of things to do that; and to be able to have the data at your finger tip immediately or sent to a particular thing, there is no better medium than the Internet.

At face value this looks so great and obviously, there are endless cases for peaceful and innocent uses for IoT. Imagine being able to receive early warning of natural disasters, receiving in-time health advice based on condition and location, tracking a lost car (or tank), an expensive machine able to fix itself, being able to watch your kids or pets from work and protect your home while on vacation or your fridge ordering healthy food only and specific for your taste – to name a few. The question worth asking is this: is thingful life the way to go?

The data flow remains at the center of this discussion because this is what IoT is all about. There are technical and legal aspects to this issue. Who has the right to access, process and utilize your data in the first place? And who can do that, not only by law, but through either technical abilities or security holes and other leaks in the systems?

You have a medical smart bracelet and soon you find out that not only your medical insurance retrieves all your medical history and other related habits, but also your local store, your employer, the person who competes with you in the next round and the handful of major advertisers who target all your devices and sensors with highly targeted (personalized) commercials.

Although the main driving force behind IoT is financial (commercial), the fear from falling into the wrong hands may outweigh the financial gains very soon. It may not take long before beneficiaries try to make it part of the everyday life everywhere – reduced cost of ownership, rules and regulations; and forcefully by channeling major services through dependent channels.

Major catastrophes may occur when IoT becomes the next generation of warfare. We have witnessed the development of unconventional weapons of the past, including biological and genetic ones. After laser guided missiles to target a specific coordinate, death merchants may have already found ways not only to target specific individuals but probably have choices of how to neutralize them, change their way of thinking or reverse engineer their plans. The same could even apply to certain races en masse (taking into account that many conflicts are racial and the various cases of genetic and biological experiments getting out of control). This assumption does not rule out economic conflicts or even financial ones – after all, many nations are practically bankrupt and traditional enemies are holding the keys to their financial respirators.

Before we are fully thingified, we should stop and reconsider carefully before we jump on this wagon. It’s not only our privacy that is at stake, but our health, possessions, values and personal lives. It’s not just a question of receiving uninvited solicitation or having your envious neighbor spoil your smart dish. Before even thinking about the future of our thingfully raised children, we should notice that the drums of the Third World War are already beating and very loudly. You can be tracked by the tweet you send, the photo you upload to your timeline, the smart watch around your wrist, a tiny chip in your belt, the chat you do online, the car you ride or even the dirty wall you pass by.

Of course, technology itself is not evil but those who abuse it are. You should outsmart any smart device you use or come close to. If not, you are just a victim waiting its turn. The new sensor is the next generation drone!

Posted in Internet of Things | Tagged | Leave a comment

Entrepreneurship In The MENA Region: Fact Or Fiction

Quit your current job! Drop out of school! Register for our upcoming competition! Attend our next workshop! Join our incubator! Apply for our accelerator! Start crowdfunding now! Be our next success story as an entrepreneur!

Unless you are isolated in a distant dark cave, in which case you won’t be reading this anyway, you must have heard the terms: entrepreneur, startup, TNBT (the next big thing), funding and investment. Of course, these are not new terms but they have been gaining extensive popularity in a do-it-yourself fashion in other parts of the world over the past few years. The focus in this article is on a sensitive geopolitical area of the world – MENA (Middle East and North Africa).

Entrepreneurs are not those who simply run their own small businesses; they are those who come up with great ideas and turn them into high impact products or services. The MENA region has been on the entrepreneurship dealers’ radar for sometime now but we are not seeing great examples of high growth companies or any considerable success stories – at least nothing to justify the strength of the PR campaign and multiplicity and enthusiasm of players.

MENA is a huge market with great potential. Apart from a few exceptions, it shares the same culture, language and market dynamics. A simple geopolitical comparison may suggest a similarity with the European Union and hence a similar approach and similar business results. The story is totally different.

Entrepreneurship requires an enabling eco-system and infrastructure to flourish. Some of the basic ingredients may exist in this country or that, but from a holistic perspective, the situation is far from assuring. There are various reasons, and manifestations, as to why entrepreneurial system in MENA is not working thus far and is not likely to bear fruit in the near future.

There were several success stories in business in the region both locally and regionally but these were traditional businesses most of which were built as family endeavors over several years with unique recipes of success. One can easily spot empires of real estate, construction, distribution, retail and franchise, media and entertainment, to name just a few. However, recent entrepreneurs emerged as hobbyists influenced by companies that survived the dot com bubble effect and western literature and media that gave entrepreneurship a special focus over the past decade.

Early MENA entrepreneurs were picked up by foreign embassies and other missions in various countries to serve two distinct purposes: find new markets (or capital) for home entrepreneurs and use related activities and their inputs and outputs as a catalyst of security and stability in the region (economic prosperity leading to political stability). Thus, there were no initial initiatives to establish and cultivate entrepreneurship at the official level. Like governance systems, business systems are centralized and well defined (and protected).

With geopolitical boundaries, and despite recent developments ranging from introducing reforms to changing regimes, the MENA market remains fragmented and faces more challenges than one can think and it can cope up with. Geographical and political barriers reflect badly on the business climate not only from a logistical point of view, but in terms of rules and regulations (if any), restrictions, currencies, transfer of funds, payment gateways, marketing and customer support.

With seasonal official support and lack of local or regional planning, entrepreneurial activities and institutions remain dependent on, and affected by, external institutions. Such institutions normally come with their own agenda, priorities and cultural perspective that are usually incompatible with local or regional interests.

The other major concern for the region’s entrepreneurs and startups is funding and investment. Angel investors are very hesitant and lack technical expertise to evaluate ideas and projects. Venture capital and bank loans are usually inappropriate and demanding. Other sources like crowd-funding and crowd-investment, including their regional adaptations, are prohibitive to most entrepreneurs in the region. This is not to include ideas that tend to solve major problems that require initial resources and capital – only one or two person projects where a minimum viable product can be built with personal funds.

To add insult to an open injury, political turmoil is not likely to end soon and several countries in the region are either witnessing major activities of unrest or suffering from full scale war close to home. It is not clear when the curators of entrepreneurship will pack their suitcases and leave, or focus on more demanding issues, but it will leave the region’s entrepreneurs with more to do on their own and with little experience and minimum official support.

It is easy to spot the size of the dilemma from observing the same known people and projects applying to every accelerator, workshop, incubator, show and competition or pitch. Most universities have established centers of excellence and technology parks that simply compete with local commercial training shops. You see activities, speakers, media reports and PR posters but almost zero impact on the ground. Too much ado about nothing!

Unless entrepreneurship is seen as a strategic initiative in the region and adequate resources and attention are allocated at the highest level, local markets will continue to be characterized as consumers of foreign products and services as well as copycat business models at best. With increasing threats to traditional economy and business practices, what is seen now as emerging economy may soon become a submerging economy. It is not easy to float in such a hostile environment.

Posted in ABN, Arab Business Network, Marketing | Tagged , | Comments Off

Customer Surveillance, Not Service

Once upon a time (1994 to be exact), browser cookies were introduced. They were accepted by default, as a means to preserve state, and almost no body knew about them. In February 1996, the Financial Times revealed the cookie secret and third party cookies were considered a privacy threat. Third party cookies were soon put to use by the advertising industry and it took three cookie specifications to establish the current standard of 2011. In fact, third party cookies were accepted by default in some major browsers until recently and many users may not know how to disable them. People are still encouraged to accept cookies to personalize site navigation and improve browsing experience.

It is true that cookies, as encrypted plain text files, are unable to infect your device with viruses or malware, but they can profile your browsing habits, store and share them. Some cookies are now essential for a site to function normally (ex. authentication cookies), so you are forced to accept them.

With HTML 5, browsers added local storage for persistence and even recreation of deleted cookies. Geolocation was also added and if you are logged in or using a portal or a service, you are known by identity and location, you are profiled and your data is stored and shared. Data mining is used to extract knowledge for advertising companies, research labs or synthesized as contact databases of various interest groups.

Enter social media and smart devices – you are not only known by name and email, but by exact location, face, friends, events, preferences and beliefs. What you say, search for, do, watch, like or dislike is either data or metadata – collected for analysis either for commercial or safety/security purposes.

Of course, you always have options (short of staying away from technology). What if you decide not to login to use Google search (your location is known, though)? What if you decide to cover your cam lens – not because you have something to hide, but because you are entitled to some privacy (and you know that cam and mic can be switched on without any indication to that effect)? I have bad news for you: this is meta data and meta data is being collected by big brother. Google may read your Gmail using a robot to display relevant ads, but the other guys read its meta data and keep a full copy of your messages aside, just in case. So does Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – just to name a few. Facebook even conducted experiments on its users and there is nothing to stop others from doing the same.

Now that smart devices are widespread and with the introduction of wearables as well as adding interactivity to appliances and the spread of monitoring devices in public places and availability of access points, information generation, analysis and sharing is becoming the norm. Your group picture on Instagram today could identify you the moment you enter a local store and you may receive an endorsement to buy a certain item from the same friend you talked about it or discussed with earlier. You are not the only source of information about yourself, your friends and acquaintances can tag you and talk about you without you even knowing (your opponents as well!).

Do not be surprised to learn that entity X can trace your whole life and play back a movie of your daily activity – when you woke up, what you had for breakfast, what TV channel you watched, whom you talked to, what you searched for, where you tweeted from or updated your Facebook status or uploaded a short movie, where you took that Instagram picture and where you went for shopping. Of course, you did nothing wrong, but does this entitle an entity because it has the capability or access to your personal life to invade your privacy for whatever reason?

Encryption and open source are usually mentioned as a workaround but neither can protect you. Encryption standards are made to be broken for those who have the resources and when the backdoor is built into the operating system, there is little to do – not to mention the need to install an app or a game you need but may not trust.

Basic rights, including privacy, are protected – not granted – by constitutions. Privacy cannot be traded for money (marketing) or security. Those are important concerns but should be addressed in a more innovative and dignifying ways. Universal justice, for example, is much cheaper, and more effective, than universal sniffing. Being able to do something does not entitle one to do so. After what we saw about recent leaks, imagine personal data falling in the hands of criminals!

And one last thing to remember: if you sacrifice your privacy today, you will be more prepared to give up the rest of your rights tomorrow.

Posted in Advertising, Facebook, Marketing, Social Media | Tagged , | Comments Off