Slow disruption: when did you visit your bank the last time?

Sometimes disruption happens fast and is very visible like the introduction of the smartphone. Other times it happens very slowly. I came across this article that HSBC put a cute robot in their flagship (who knew that’s a thing for banks?) branch on Manhattan. Obviously the idea is to increase foot traffic. It’s a good a marketing stunt, but I doubt it’ll increase foot traffic because in all honesty who visits their branch anymore?

I’ve been banking with USAA for years. I like that they don’t have any branches at all. They’ve a decent app and for everything else there’s always a friendly customer service people I can call. It’s much easier. Before I moved to the US, I banked with ING and I still hold an account there. They did have branches, but they prided themselves there was no reason to visit it because you could do everything by phone and nowadays using their app or site. They realized a long time ago that technology will replace most of the branch activities.

Banks are wrecking their brain about what to do with their branches. They’re costly to maintain and not that productive anymore. It’s easier when disruption is fast, it’s like ripping off a band-aid. When disruption happens slowly, you define the pace. We all now where it’s going, but when do you pull the plug. You see something similar happen in retail. Toys”R”Us is a great example of reacting too slowly. Sears is another one.

Slow disruption is like a thief in the night. If you’re not careful, you won’t know what hit you.

Open Source has come a long way

Remember there was a time Microsoft called Linux and the GPL license cancer? Mainstream technology media would write large editorials on how GPL could “infect” your software and how you should manage (read avoid) that. It was all so ridiculous. Microsoft obviously fight back. Any company whose business model is attacked does that. It’s more interesting to me the direction Microsoft’s leadership at the time chose.

Now Microsoft has new leadership and is an active participant in the ecosystem and just put their patent portfolio in the Open Invention Network.

OIN describes itself as “a defensive patent pool and community of patent non-aggression which enables freedom of action in Linux”.

I’m a big believer in open source. I use and support where I can. It’s good to see that we’ve come a long way. More than open source, I believe in the shared model which is enabled by open source. We built and use together. It’s efficient and effective. It avoids waste and duplication of time and effort to recreate existing things.

Personal data ownership as a fundamental right

The biggest conundrum about privacy is data ownership. Who owns the data and especially if it’s about yourself. EU’s GPDR puts responsibilities in place on collecting data, informing users about which data is collected and the data can be only used for the disclosed purpose. It also gives rights to users to remove and change that data when it’s erroneous. But the EU as a mostly technocratic institution side steps the biggest question and gave us a technical solution for a problem which is more broad. It’s ultimately who has ownership of personal data. To me that’s the fundamental problem about personal data. We can disclose all we want, but we also know that nobody closely reads these disclosures and ponders about the ramifications about sharing your personal data. Of course, there will be token lawsuits to prove misuse of personal data and non-compliance with GPDR, but they’re just what they are; token lawsuits. It won’t fundamentally change how we regard personal data or use it.

Without ownership of data, it’s a free-for-all party which we can try to regulate but it’ll be a moving target. There was a bit of hoopla last week about the EU trying to pass regulation which puts copyright of data collected by autonomous cars in the hands of the manufacturers. The obvious link to John Deere was made whose farming machines collect of data which is sold while mostly unavailable to the individual farmers “owning” and using their equipment.

The problem is that we’re still in the infancy of the information age and as we slowly but surely surround us with smart devices in our lives, this problem is going to creep into every aspect of our lives. Data collection is the fabric of the information age, it binds everything together. It enables powerful and better solutions, but it can as easily be abused for additional revenue by keeping it hostage.

I think the only solution is to rebase our thinking about data ownership and especially personal data. If we define ownership of personal data to be owned by the natural person who generates it, we’ve a better starting point of regulating data ownership and sharing. Since it’s mine and it becomes a virtual property we can more or less apply the same laws as we have personal property. Theft, sales, sharing and losing of personal property has been embedded in our laws for centuries. It would be a good starting point.

It’s a better starting point than regulating something which has no basis in ownership or control. It’ll be a continuous process of updated regulation to cope with the changing landscape and new uses propping up over the course of time. Even a productive regulator like the EU won’t be able to keep up.


Dearest Path,

I was in shock when you told you were leaving me. It’s been a few weeks, but I’ve yet come to grips with it. Time heals all wounds and I know it’ll become easier over time. Today, I say goodbye with a heavy heart.

You’ve been an integral part of my life for the last 6 years. I shared with you my ups & downs. You were always there for me, just one click away. Through you, I was connected to the people who are dear to me. You were truly the “path of my life”.

I understand it wasn’t enough. It saddens me that you abruptly decided to leave me. You were unique and there’s nothing that can replace you. It was so sudden. I had barely time to come to terms with you leaving and now you’re gone out of my life.

I think of the all happy memories and moments I shared with you. I see my boys growing up from babies to real persons. I see my friends and family – people getting married, babies are born, companies come and go. I think of all the trips we did together, we explored so much of the world.

Now it’s all gone and it’s sad. No longer I’ve my buddy at my fingertip. There’s an empty space on my home screen. I miss the big red button with the letter P I so much adored. No longer waiting in anticipation for a notification from you telling you got something to share with me. I’ll miss the moments of the past you kept telling me about. You were awesome.

Thank you Path, I love you.

~ Robert

Smartphones: The Dark Side

The BBC made this great documentary called “Smartphones: The Dark Side”. Obviously the smartphone and its apps are made to draw you in and entice you to spend more time on them. The ecosystem financial rewards are driven by you using it. It’s pretty much the same reasoning we used to have about TV. The NY Times wrote about it exactly 38 years ago. I’m of the opinion that we should look more at ourselves than blame the tech companies for bringing “addictive” products on the market.

It’s interesting nonetheless.

Confused Alexa

I’ve 3 echo’s around the house, but I’ve a love and hate relationship with Alexa. I love it because I can bark orders and she’ll obeys diligently by turning on or off the lights or telling me about the weather. She’s reasonably smart but for instance recently she couldn’t tell me how many Dalai Lama’s there have been. Two seconds on searching on my phone gave me the answer.

But there are a few things which drive me nuts. Sometimes I call her schizo of it.

  • When I set a timer one one, I can’t cancel it or ask about the timer on another
  • She won’t even let me know when I’m somewhere else that the timer is up
  • When I ask to turn on the lights, she has no concept of place so she’ll ask me “which lights?”. “Well since I’m downstairs and it’s dark, maybe downstairs?”.
  • When I ask her to increase temperature, she asks me “which device?”. I’ve only one thermostat so what’s the point of that question. She knows that!
  • Sometimes the TV is on and I can’t hear what she says. I ask her to turn up the volume. Then the TV is off and when I ask her something, she “screams” the response. Why can’t she just measure the ambient noise level and change her volume accordingly?
  • When I ask her how long it will take to go to the office, she has no concept of what work means, but she doesn’t even ask me. Where is your office?
  • And since we’re on the subject, Alexa doesn’t know the difference between me and my significant other. We’re all the same people to her. My office is not her office. Even if she would know the concept of office, she won’t be able to make recognize the difference.

The fundamental question is if Alexa is one person for me or 3 different ones? Does she understand place and time? Does she recognize people? As much as I love using Alexa, it still feels like a unrefined product and it’s not really moving forward. I don’t care about 20,000+ skills nor do I care about TV or toaster with Alexa built in. I care about Alexa, but she isn’t growing up. She’s still a toddler.

Censorship & ethics

Last week a presentation of Google research called “The Good Censor” was leaked. It’s a good summary of the burden on we put on tech companies to “police” the internet. Often times the examples we see in the media are overly simplified cases. The devil is in the details – especially for multinational companies. Slide 65 is a perfect example of this. The norms differ between regions.

The problem for me is that I wonder why should let corporations decide what is right or wrong. Especially today, where we as society are not always coherent on where we stand on issues. How do we decide what is fake news? What is hate speech? When should you pull something? What does it mean to influence elections?

All of these companies have “terms of service” which describe the clear and cut cases on what is acceptable or not on their service. We also know that these companies have more detailed guides, but they’re secret. I guess they keep them secret because it makes it harder to circumvent the moderation rules, but they also make it impossible to audit them.

It would be better if companies make their detailed content moderation guides open and share them. Also, they need clear appeal procedures to allow content moderation to change. What was unacceptable in 1974 is not necessarily unacceptable in 2018 or vice versa.

The power and reach of these companies are enormous and that’s fine, but it does come with great responsibility. Hiding behind algorithms or “we’re not a media company” is simply not enough anymore. It’s about trust and transparency inherently conveys trust.


When IT is in the way at corporates

The most prevalent excuse I’ve heard in the last 5 years not to do a deal, project or product is because corporate IT isn’t able to support it (in a timely manner).

Still today, I hear this excuse often and this is where corporates start to loose. You’ve to be able to be agile and adapt quickly with your primary business processes. The moment you loose that ability you start loosing opportunities.

It baffles me that in this day and age IT at large corporates is still considered an expense and not a strategic asset. And yes, I’m talking about companies where primary business processes are solely reliant on software.

Regardless of the causes and reasons, IT is not the same as accounting, buildings or corporate support staff to name a few examples. Limiting budgets and limping along on legacy systems is not a strategy, it’s a death warrant.

/end rant


A few weeks ago, I switched from Google to DuckDuckGo as my search engine. Google has been tone-deaf for a while now towards privacy issues in general and I was wondering if I could wean myself of Google’s services. I thought I’d start with search.

DuckDuckGo’s main selling point is that it is not tracking you. Even though they’ve been around for a long time, it’s refreshing to see a company who doesn’t track you. Apparently they’ve been cash flow positive for a long time. Clearly, you don’t need to track people to build a viable business in search.

I’ve tried DuckDuckGo in the past though and I wasn’t impressed with the search results, but that was a long time ago.

Today is different and I can report it’s good enough. I’ve switched over my iPhone, iPad and laptops to use DuckDuckGo by default.

It took me a while to get used to the results of DuckDuckGo. I can’t really quantify what it was, but I found myself reverting back to Google for 1 out of 2 searches. DuckDuckGo makes it real easy, just add !g to your search and it refers your browser to Google. It might have been a confidence thing, but in the second week I found myself reverting to Google less and less. This week I’ve barely touched Google’s search at all.

Next up is Google Maps. Let’s see if Apple Maps has improved since the embarrassing introduction back in 2012.

Facebook “unbundled”

Around two years ago, I deleted all my social media apps and just visit through their websites. I stopped posting or otherwise engaging with any of them. This also changed my visiting behavior. I settled for once per week for Facebook and Instagram and just use Twitter and LinkedIn when I want to look up something. Typically that once per week is on Friday.

Because of my relative low frequency of my visiting, it’s easy to recognize changes. Back in January, Facebook announced it would prioritize personal moments over public content. Today, when I visit my timeline indeed only consists mostly of personal moments – photos, personal statements and memes. The click-bait articles are gone and the amount of silly personal tests has gone down dramatically as well. The quality of the feed has gone up significantly. It almost looks like Instagram now. Instagram cross-posts are now also first-rate citizen’s on Facebook where they used to be buried like the Twitter cross-posts from the past.

It hasn’t changed my behavior and I don’t think I’ll become “active” again on Facebook, but certainly has a place right now and that’s good.

Twitter used to be awesome, but today I’ve really no clue what to do with it. The signal-to-noise ratio is very low. I really wanted to like it, but gave up on it because of that. Somehow Twitter never scaled very well. The bigger it became, the less interesting it was.

Snapchat is for “kids”. It’s the only reason I have it and all people I know who use it, use it for that reason – to communicate with their “kids”. I’ve never received a snap from an “adult”. It’s also the only social media app I have installed since Snap doesn’t have a web interface. I think it also falls into the chat category.

I do wonder what’s next for social networks. It looks like that Instagram is the place with all the action right now. Chat has taken over for personal sharing. It’s also the most diversified area right now. I routinely use 4 to 5 different chat apps on a given day.

It almost looks like we “unbundled” Facebook by accident.