Competition Time!

Bank Holiday puzzler: can YOU work out the connections here?

‘Google and Microsoft have made a pact to protect surveillance capitalism’, 2/05/2016

Microsoft and Google, two of the world’s greatest monopolies, have been bitter rivals for nearly 20 years. But suddenly, in late April, they announced a startling accord. The companies have withdrawn all regulatory complaints against one another, globally. Rather than fighting their battles in public courts and commissions, they have agreed to privately negotiate.

And here the most sinister upshot of Microsoft’s decision to stop needling Google with legal disputes becomes clear. “A key theme I write about is that surveillance capitalism has thrived in lawless space,” says Zuboff. “Regulations and laws are its enemy. Democratic oversight is a threat. Lawlessness is so vital to the surveillance capitalism project,” she continues, “that Google and Microsoft’s shared interest in freedom from regulation outweighs any narrower competitive interests they might have or once thought they had. They can’t insist to the public that they must remain unregulated, while trying to impose regulations on one another.”

Data privacy is as important as tax, Google exec warns Noonan, 12/04/2015

In November, the Finance Minister met with Google’s vice president of engineering Urs Holzle, the company’s eighth employee and the man who leads its technology planning and data centre efforts. Google Ireland chief John Herlihy also attended.

Data privacy was one of the main topics of conversation, records show. Holzle raised Ireland’s policy of requesting information from internet companies, urging Minister Noonan to make sure the rules are clear.

‘Get off Facebook if you value your privacy, EU commish tells court’ , 26/03/2015

In the current case, a group called Europe v Facebook, led by privacy activist and “Angry AustrianTM” Max Schrems, alleges that Facebook violated European citizens’ “fundamental rights” (defined in the European Convention on Human Rights) by transferring their personal data to the US National Security Agency (NSA).

After the Irish data protection commissioner refused to investigate, citing Safe Harbour rules, the case was referred first to the Irish High Court and now the ECJ.

Europe’s highest court strikes down Safe Harbor data sharing between EU, US, 6/10/2015

Europe’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), has struck down the 15-year-old Safe Harbour agreement that allowed the free flow of information between the US and EU. The most significant repercussion of this ruling is that American companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, may not be allowed to send user data from Europe back to the US.

The case was originally sent to the CJEU by the High Court of Ireland, after the Irish data protection authority rejected a complaint from Maximillian Schrems, an Austrian citizen. He had argued that in light of Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, the data he provided to Facebook that was transferred from the company’s Irish subsidiary to the US under the Safe Harbour scheme was not, in fact, safely harboured.

Minister Richard Bruton T.D. Joins Microsoft to mark the start of construction of Microsoft’s new €134m Campus, 20/10/2015

“Technology is an area we have specifically targeted as part of our Action Plan for jobs and we have put in place a range of measures to support growth in this area. Microsoft was one of the first US companies to choose Ireland as a location for its EMEA operations.”

‘DRI challenges independence of Ireland’s Data Protection Authority’, 28/01/2016

Digital Rights Ireland has instructed its lawyers to serve legal papers on the Irish government, challenging whether the office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner is truly an independent data protection Authority under EU law.

Ireland’s position as the EU’s centre for technology multinational companies makes it critical for the protection of all EU citizens’ rights that the state has a world class data protection regulatory regime.

A series of cases from the CJEU, the EU’s top court, have stressed the critical importance of a truly independent data protection authority. Most recently, in the Schrems case on Safe Harbour, the lack of such an independent watchdog was cited as one of the most significant differences between the EU and US privacy systems.

DRI’s case is that Ireland has failed to properly implement EU data protection law, or to follow the requirements of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by failing to ensure the Irish DPC is genuinely independent from the Government.

So Long And Thanks For All The Bricks

I Love You, You Pay My Rent

No, you don’t own that Internet of Things device, you’re just renting it. With renting must come great trust that the manufacturer won’t be acquired by a larger company, which had just recently itself been acquired by one of the largest companies of them all, which will then decide that it will go ahead and permanently switch off that snazzy household hub you thought you owned. More fool you.

The companies involved are, in this order, Revolv, Nest and Google. The product is a hub which acts as a controller for many connected devices in the home – lights, kettles, thermostats and so on.

Google’s parent company is deliberately disabling some of its customers’ old smart-home devices (Business Insider)


From, 7th April 2016

This is more than just a bit awkward and doesn’t bode well for people actually trusting tech companies to deliver the connected home of their dreams. (Wait, have people actually been dreaming about this?)

Google has a long history of shutting things down when they don’t work out the way Google had hoped. This isn’t in any way unusual in a successful business with multiple product lines that boast billions of customers worldwide. Strategic imperatives change, project champions are reassigned or leave the company entirely. Heck, things get ditched by Google because their videos are starting to creep the Internet out.

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X.

Having said all that, surely customers could expect a product not to be unilaterally switched off by the company that made it, or in this case the one that has inherited the obligations of the company that made it?

For a lot more about what may or may not be going on at Nest, it was covered in a fair bit of detail on the Jay & Farhad Show not that long ago.

Yum Yum

As software continues to eat the world, this leaves your average consumer in a bit of a bind when going about their dutiful business of consuming. When previously making purchase decisions about commonplace household devices they didn’t have to consider whether they trusted the manufacturer not to switch the thing off entirely at some unspecified time in the future.

We have recently become accustomed to shortened product lifecycles mostly through the galloping progress of mobile devices, moving rapidly from portable two-way communications tool to indispensable digital servant, companion and familiar. The industry’s marketing efforts are almost all directed to promoting the improvements available in the new versions of their devices. Longevity of any device or the software that makes it function is alien. In that world 18 months is now seen as a reasonable enough expectable lifespan for a product. Keen early adopters can easily find reasons to upgrade their phones on a much shorter cycle.

Built in obsolescence has been a thing that manufacturers have half-heartedly tried to deny for close on a century now, ever since the Phoebus cartel of light bulb manufacturers brazenly created the concept in 1924. The damn light bulbs were just too well made to be profitable enough. Members of the cartel were fined if their bulbs worked for too many hours.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (99% Invisible podcast, 16 minutes)

The cloud isn’t magic – it’s just someone else’s hard drive*.

What is the ownership model anyway? As a consumer you own the device, but not the service? So if the hardware in your house requires the continued existence of the service, and Google decides to kill the service then you’re just plain out of luck? That seems … decidedly unfair. Not illegal, obviously, because you read through the massively long EULA, right?

You would expect your car to keep working far longer than 18 months after manufacture of the model is discontinued. Although your car can now be disabled remotely if you don’t keep up the repayments.

Are we customers suffering from an outmoded way of thinking about ownership and simply haven’t caught up with the companies who understand that they are renting these things to us, but are not yet entirely upfront about telling us?

As software and hardware are now fully intertwined, with hardware devices like the Revolv hub requiring not just onboard software and an Internet connection to function, but also other software remotely located on someone else’s servers, what else could we predict might be switched off with little warning? Google’s much discussed self driving car? Smaller devices like Chromecasts?

I can’t imagine Apple or Samsung taking a decision to do something like this. They are both historically hardware companies first and foremost, with software and services to support this hardware. Google is a software and services company which is relatively new to hardware. It is hard to tell whether Google will modify its approach to connected hardware and provide guarantees of device lifespan from time of purchase, or whether other hardware manufacturers will learn from Google that switching off the servers is a very effective way of reducing support costs for a product line to near zero.


Once More Unto etc. etc.

As news of Ryanair suffering a hacking attack of some sort which resulted in the loss of actual money broke, I wondered why the Costa Coffee Club story from a few days earlier hadn’t got wider pickup. Is there just a lack of media interest if there isn’t cash involved? It’s a very well-known high street brand, and access to the club required parting with quite a chunk of personal data –

The app-accessed club requires a fair amount of customers’ information, including names, emails, birth dates, phone numbers and physical addresses

This yet again illustrates the slack security around customer data shown by a range of surprising organisations. Presumably few people are kept awake worrying that their favourite coffee shop is leaking their personal information.

Not at the tipping point for public awareness / anger or interest quite yet.