Saturday, July 16. 2011
This is the second in a series of posts about Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.
I am amazed at how willing some people are to totally ditch their privacy for "more relevant ads." I'm willing to give up a little privacy for more relevant ads in specific areas. But forfeiting all privacy means forfeiting safety, individuality, and even free expression. And always receiving "more relevant ads" is like donning blinders.
I confess that during the 1990s I was leery of privacy activists. At that time the issue was whether individual websites should be allowed to recognize returning users and track how they used their sites. It struck me as counterproductive to prevent websites from leveraging personalization technology. Plus, privacy activists seemed to be calling for government intervention in a market offering consumers more and more choices.
However, things have changed. With retail and wholesale search, embedded YouTube videos, and Google Analytics—to name just a few—Google can track you almost everywhere you go on the Web. I don't mind being recognized by Amazon.com and being presented book recommendations. But I don't want to be tracked everywhere and at all times. Nor do I only want to see ads that reinforce my existing interests and likes. (Advertising is a great way to spur new interests.)
I've learned that privacy is important. Without privacy, you can’t be who you want, because you are forced to reveal everything. Without privacy, there’s little opportunity for independent thought or dissent, because your ideas are immediately subjected to public scrutiny. Without privacy, there can be no human dignity, because others can barge in on you whenever they like.
Here's the kicker: You cannot establish and maintain your personal identity without privacy. Your account numbers, user IDs, passwords, and phone numbers are your private property. Keeping that information confidential is not only legitimate, it’s necessary for your safety.
I also reject Eric Schmidt's creepy argument: “If you're online all the time, computers are generating a lot of information about you. This is not a Google decision, this is a societal decision.” The fact that a decision is a "societal decision" does not make it right.
Thursday, June 30. 2011
From my Op-Ed today at The Daily Caller:
With data breaches and cyber attacks littering the news, Google’s mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is proving increasingly dangerous. By purposely storing all of the world’s information in one place, putting everyone’s eggs in one basket, Google exposes Internet users, content producers and even governments to huge and unnecessary risks. The utopian vision behind Google’s mission — that all information (including private property) should be centralized in the hands of one unaccountable entity — can only lead to a series of disasters and ultimately tyranny.
Read the whole thing here.
Friday, June 24. 2011
This is the first in a series of posts about Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.
In the 1990s, most of us saw the World Wide Web as a liberating technology. Built atop the “network of networks,” there is no limit to how much information the Web can hold. And it’s incredibly fast: You can jump from one end of the globe to another in a split second just by clicking on a hyperlink. The Web gives consumers access to information on virtually any topic. And anyone can publish on the Web—usually for a fraction of what print media costs.
The Web promised to change everything—and in many ways it has.
Our expectations only seemed to grow as the number of users and websites increased. Many of us believed the Web would perfect the free-market system: all markets would be global in scale; buyers and sellers would always be well informed; and all transactions would occur at the speed of light.
The Web would give everyone yearning for freedom a platform from which to speak, and it would undermine and ultimately defeat anyone engaging in censorship. No government would be able to stem the free exchange of information and ideas.
It was hard to see any downside. The barriers to entry were remarkably low. Anyone with a personal computer and a dial-up modem could get on the Web. High speed access over cable TV networks was rolling out, and telephone companies promised a competing high speed service using phone lines.
We celebrated the fact that the Internet was a self-organized, unregulated, “dumb network.” The days when we had to play according to the Phone Company’s rules were finally over. No single entity could control the Internet. Most of the intelligence resided at the edges of the network—in the hands of end users and a multitude of small websites.
What could possibly go wrong? The technology was evolving so rapidly that it seemed the moment a threat to competition or choice appeared it was already on the road to obsolescence.
If there was a first mover advantage, we theorized, there was also a second and a third mover advantage. No one worried about the network effect—a large company’s ability to extend its market lead by acquiring customers at a faster rate—because online markets were in constant flux. New companies with new solutions emerged daily. Competition was always just one click away.
What we didn’t see—what we refused to see—was the Internet’s winner-take-all dynamic. Scott Cleland calls it the Internet Choice Paradox: The Web offers consumers what looks like infinite variety, but most users eventually select favorite search engines, social networks, and news sites. Information producers trying to reach a large audience soon find that they have very few choices. A relatively small number of sites become the Web’s information gatekeepers and e-commerce toll collectors.
That could only mean one thing: the Internet would enter a period of concentration (of information) and consolidation (of companies). The technology might continue to evolve, but only a few business models would thrive. A small group of winners would seize control.
Sunday, June 19. 2011
Thursday, April 7. 2011
Business experience is key to doing things right the first time, avoiding predictable mistakes, and riding out storms. But some situations call more for guts. Three leading figures from the History of Wireless—Guglielmo Marconi, Paul Galvin, and David Sarnoff—are great examples.
Marconi was a courageous visionary. When others said that wireless wouldn’t work, and even if it did there was no need for it, he only became more determined. That story has been retold many times. Less well known is how Marconi built a reputable business using incredibly primitive and unreliable wireless technology.
Marconi’s wireless technology was a step above smoke signals. The receiver could only detect the presence of a signal. To send a coded message, the transmitter had to be turned on and off at specific intervals and the receiver had to record the signals on a moving tape. Plus, at the time there weren’t separate frequency channels, so competing users had to take turns.
Marconi hid his technology’s weaknesses by hiring and training his own operators and offering wireless strictly as a turnkey service. He carefully avoided competition with cable-based systems. Still, he understood that the only way to grow the market was to continuously extend the range of wireless communication. He claimed the first transatlantic wireless transmission and milked it for what it was worth—and then some. The first message consisted merely of the letter “S” sent over and over in Morse code. There was no independent confirmation of the achievement.
But so what? Marconi created an important niche market and quickly dominated it. He wasn't afraid of anything or anyone. In fact, he made a convincing argument for granting his company a monopoly: Competition would endanger the safety of existing maritime users by causing interference.
Paul Galvin was another gutsy entrepreneur. His original goal was to build a successful small business. However, he learned the hard way that you have to aim much higher just to survive. After a string of failures, he started yet another business during the Great Depression. His company, Motorola, manufactured and sold car radios. He proved that a successful business could be built even during the worst of times by offering a lower cost solution.
His son Robert turned Motorola into a corporate giant. But it was Paul Galvin who got the boulder rolling by refusing to give up. Failure simply wasn't an option.
David Sarnoff deserves much of the credit for building the broadcast industry. But he is often remembered as a hard-hearted businessman. That’s an unfair verdict. Sarnoff’s job was to achieve the best financial results for RCA’s employees and shareholders. Even critics acknowledge that amassing personal wealth was never his top priority. He has been accused of cheating Edwin Armstrong (who invented FM radio) and Philo Farnsworth (who invented one of the first television cameras). However, years earlier Sarnoff made Armstrong a rich man by acquiring patents from him for cash and stock. RCA eventually paid Farnsworth a modest sum.
Lost in all of the recriminations is the simple fact that Sarnoff built the consumer market for radio broadcasting based on instinct and guts. He understood that to ensure success he had to think and act big. He needed volume to drive down radio manufacturing costs and attract advertisers. Years later, he introduced television despite fears that it would cannibalize radio.
I’m not saying that the wireless pioneers relied exclusively on guts. They surrounded themselves with experienced people and acquired their own experience on the fly. But what really set them apart was their courage—the courage to look ahead, to never give up, and to act in a big way.
Thursday, March 24. 2011
Personal Health Tech Blog is designed to help individuals take greater control of their health and health care, particularly (but not exclusively) through the use of technology. We’ll cover a wide range of technology solutions: products and services that you can buy and use on your own, products and services that enable physicians to follow patients with existing health problems and risks more closely, and things that patients should know about the diagnostic tests, treatments, and implants prescribed by doctors.
Posts will include product overviews, reviews and comparisons, user feedback and tips, new product announcements, and features on companies, organizations, and individuals. From time-to-time, we’ll also present news about scientific research and emerging technologies that could lead to greater patient empowerment.
Technology is not the only source of personal empowerment, however. We’ll also cover topics including evaluating and selecting doctors and health care facilities, alternative ways to pay for health care, and circumventing hospital bureaucracy and physician protocols.
Wednesday, December 22. 2010
The last 24 hours have seen a chorus of calls to abolish the FCC. In the FCC's press release on Net Neutrality, they indicate that wireless networks deserve a lighter touch because the Android operating system is open.
Even Net Neutrality supporters are scratching their heads. How could the openness of one device operating system among many, which has nothing to do with how wireless networks are designed and operated, and nothing to do with wireless carriers' business models, decide what rules to apply or not apply to wireless carriers?
It looks like Verizon and Google have done a masterful job lobbying the FCC. From Engadget:
I wonder what Microsoft and Apple think about this?
Tuesday, November 30. 2010
Republican Representative Eric Cantor said today that Republicans would keep two provisions of Obamacare: permitting children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 and prohibiting insurance companies from refusing coverage to patients with preexisting conditions. Cantor doesn't understand basic economics: forcing companies to offer unprofitable products destroys market efficiency and will only hurt consumers and health care providers in the long run. In fact, this idea is analogous to pressuring banks to issue high risk mortgages. How's that working out?
The following essay was originally posted on March 23, 2010 as a Facebook "note."
The preexisting condition exclusion is necessary to make health insurance work the way it works best. That doesn't mean that people with preexisting conditions should be left with no options. It just means that solutions for those with preexisting conditions should be provided separately from commercial health insurance. I'll explain in a moment.
Insurance is a great idea that we have corrupted. The original concept was that you pay a low recurring fee for protection against a relatively unlikely catastrophe. For example, homeowner's insurance will help you replace your home in the unlikely event that it is destroyed in a fire. By getting many people to buy this form of protection, insurance companies can give homeowners a sense of security, make big payouts to clients whose homes burn down, and still make a profit. Everybody wins.
Somewhere along the line we transformed health insurance into a magical third-party payer. Instead of paying a small recurring fee for protection from an unexpected major illness, we pay a large recurring fee and expect the insurance company, in exchange, to pay out more in benefits than it takes in. This reminds me of people who have tried to get me to work for them for free in exchange for "exposure." All people--including the owners and employees of insurance companies--deserve fair compensation for their work.
If insurance companies are required to provide immediate comprehensive coverage to everyone regardless of preexisting condition, then what motivation does the healthy consumer have to buy insurance? There is none. They can wait until they get sick, buy insurance, and then demand that the insurance company pay increasingly exorbitant bills.
There is an obvious way around this problem: force everyone to buy insurance. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford today's health insurance premiums, and forcing insurance companies to accept everyone regardless of risk drives up premiums for everyone. Couple that with limiting insurance companies' ability to raise premiums, and you have a formula for driving health insurance companies out of business.
It's no secret that some people want the federal government to become the sole insurance company--the "single payer" solution. I can only appeal to anyone who sees virtue in being somewhat skeptical to consider these points: a single provider insulated from competition will tend to be inefficient and ineffective; the easiest way for government to control costs is to limit access to expensive products and services; and an industry run by salaried officials is susceptible to favoritism and even corruption.
To fix the system, we need to accurately identify what's broken. Unfortunately, that is a hotly disputed--and expansive--topic. I'll just say that I believe the problems boil down to two primary causes. First, whether you like or don't like programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, such programs increase prices overall by adding bureaucracy and payment delays, and by limiting and denying benefits for specific services. Second, we have removed almost all of the direct consumer-provider interaction that forces providers to offer competitive prices. It's not just the politicians' fault--we have all acquiesced with this state of affairs.
Many states already have health insurance pools for people who cannot get commercial insurance at standard rates. When these plans were first conceived, state officials feared they would be overwhelmed with applicants for what is, in effect, subsidized health insurance. I don't claim to be an expert on this but the evidence I have seen suggests that many if not most of these plans have been under-subscribed.
The solution--if it's not too late--is to let private insurers and private health care providers do what they do best, and let government focus on those who can't get private insurance. For example, government could provide subsidized health insurance for people with genetic conditions--people who are born with "preexisting" conditions; government could step in to pay the costs of patients who incur extraordinary costs, such as children requiring liver transplants; and government could encourage taxpayers to establish health savings accounts so that more people can purchase lower cost (higher deductible) insurance plans. These steps would allow insurance companies to concentrate on providing affordable insurance to the maximum number of people, so that government can concentrate on making sure no one suffers because they can't pay.
Saturday, November 20. 2010
Friday, October 29. 2010
Betsy McCaughey on the Obama Health Law:
The Obama health law forces you to buy a one-size-fits-all health plan, whether you want it and can afford it or not, and expands the powers of the IRS to punish you for noncompliance. This violates your rights. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution permits this coercion. In fact, the 28 beautiful words of the Tenth Amendment prohibit it.
See also the page debunking the World Health Organization's claim that the U.S. ranks 37th in health care.
Saturday, October 16. 2010
The battle between the champions of individual freedom and the forces of authoritarian collectivism never ends. However, the battleground has largely shifted from the physical world to cyberspace.
In many ways, Friedrich Hayek anticipated the Internet. In his masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek dissects the methods and objectives of socialism. He shows that centralized, top-down planning by experts can never achieve prosperity and inevitably leads to oppression. Hayek built on Ludwig von Mises' theory that constantly changing price signals are essential to the efficient allocation of resources; the “experts” can never possess the knowledge that is distributed among individual buyers and sellers. Plus, the only way that a central economic plan can be successfully implemented is by forcing everyone to obey. You can't have a central economic plan if there are people out there doing their own thing.
The Internet is like the free market. It succeeded as a decentralized, self-organized network. Experts in various specialties contributed to its growth, but there never was a master plan. In fact, the way in which the Internet succeeded and the scale of its success surprised everyone.
However, the forces of authoritarian collectivism don’t give up easily. In the physical world, they have tried both violent revolution and gradual reform to achieve their ends. In cyberspace, the two biggest threats are attempts to regulate the Internet (e.g., “net neutrality”) and a broader movement to limit or even abolish intellectual property rights (e.g., Eben Moglen’s The DotCommunist Manifesto).
The worrisome part is that the enemies of liberty have learned how to disguise their objectives through the clever use of language. Instead of admitting that they want to regulate the Internet they pretend that they are trying to preserve it. Instead of admitting that they want to abolish private intellectual property they pretend they are defending freedom of speech. For example, the Free Software Foundation says “To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech’, not as in ‘free beer’.”
That’s nonsense. Redistributing someone else’s creation without asking or paying for permission isn't free speech—it’s freeloading.
Tuesday, October 5. 2010
The Obama administration and the media say that we have been in an economic recovery since June of 2009. If that’s true, then why aren’t consumers spending and businesses hiring? The implication is that our biggest problem is the reluctance of consumers and businesses to move forward.
Color me skeptical. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed in February of 2009. Visit the press archives at Recovery.gov and you’ll see that ARRA spending began almost immediately. Gross domestic product (GDP)—often used as a barometer for the state of the economy—began to rise not long after. But GDP is calculated as the sum of consumer, business, and government spending; all of the growth was in government spending. It’s self-serving for the government to say that the recovery started in June of 2009.
Actually, the recession never ended and we are on track to The Greatest Depression. Congress just punted on extending the Bush era tax breaks. That can only mean that the majority want to raise taxes on the rich—a sure fire way to inhibit business investment. The House of Representatives just passed the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, seems designed to ignite a global trade war. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks the government isn’t spending enough fast enough.
Is the recession just a state of mind? In a way, yes.
George Santayana warned "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Take your pick.
Monday, September 27. 2010
The (U.K.) Daily Mail reports that the United Nations plans to establish a new diplomatic post: an ambassador to officially greet aliens visiting Earth. The position is being created because, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of planets have been discovered orbiting other stars.
It's wise to plan for various contingencies, particularly those that are likely or that could have profound consequences. But that raises at least two more questions: What if the alien visitors are hostile? Do we all agree that the United Nations has the moral and political authority to handle this responsibility?
Personally, I don't think the discovery of planets orbiting other stars changes anything. Most scientists have long suspected as much.
I'm not sure what we could do if we were visited by hostile aliens who have mastered interstellar space travel. Though it's just as likely that intelligent aliens would find humans threatening once they really got to know us.
Nor would I trust the United Nations to handle this job. The United Nations is not the world's highest governing body; it was established to foster peace and international cooperation. And let's face it: the UN has done a lousy job. It's well known that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for example, serves mainly to shield the countries that are the worst human rights violators. The UNHRC has passed resolutions regarding the "defamation of religions" that are clearly intended to justify member state laws that curb freedom of speech. I'm also concerned about who gets to select and fill the UN's space ambassador post. For example, Iran was elected to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women; can you imagine anything more obscene?
Before anyone appoints a space ambassador purporting to represent the entire Earth, I suggest that the position needs to be clearly defined. And it has to be defined in a way that precludes the advancement of any particular religious or political agenda.
UPDATE: 2010-09-27 21:56
Stephen Hawking has another take, per the UK Telegraph:
He [Stephen Hawking] said: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
So, the aliens could turn out to be environmental imperialists and all around bad beings.
Friday, September 17. 2010
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said “Between the birth of the world and 2003, there were five exabytes of information created. We [now] create five exabytes every two days.”
I don’t know how reliable the first number is, but I’m sure that digital, online technology has spurred phenomenal growth. Digital, online technology makes it easier and more cost-effective to produce, store, and distribute content. That much is obvious.
What’s less well known is that it’s now possible to measure everything. By that I mean (for starters) everything you do, everywhere you go, everything you say, and everything you read, listen to, and watch. It’s also possible to measure the behavior of groups of people, companies, countries, markets, and the entire world.
Isaac Asimov foresaw the possibility of using math to predict the future—at least in its broad outline. He based his Foundation science fiction series on what he called the science of psychohistory. However, Asimov believed that psychohistory would not be accurate enough to predict smaller scale events in the distant future.
An important question emerges: are predictions about smaller scale events unreliable because the laws of physics get in the way? It may be impossible to predict small scale events well into the future, but there’s plenty of evidence that we can predict near-term, small scale events. This is what game theory, behavioral targeting, and sociophysics are all about.
I’m concerned that the propensity to measure and record everything could be harmful to individuals. This information could be used against us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Plus, those who collect and analyze the data would have a huge advantage over individuals.
If privacy is dead, so is individual freedom. Avoid, as much as possible, being tracked and profiled.
Monday, September 6. 2010
I grew up in the Chicago area and know something about how the Daley family has dominated Chicago politics for 42 of the past 55 years. Chicago Democrat Party machine corruption takes many forms, but patronage is its lynchpin. In a nutshell, the Daleys perfected the art of handing out jobs to people who understood they were expected to work hardest during election campaign season.
Now, President Obama wants to scale up Chicago-style patronage to nationwide.
Obama calling for more infrastructure spending
Happy Labor Day.
UPDATE: Mayor Richard M. Daley recently announced he would not seek a seventh term. Surely it was not because he thought he would lose an election. Much more likely, he's noticed the country's anti-incumbent mood, and doesn't want to be around when Chicago's city government collapses from years of corruption, waste, and rising street crime.
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