Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Google Health: Now we know that rash wasn’t from poison ivy

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Google Health is live. It’s US only but I was able to get in. Terms and Conditions. I’ve written before about Microsoft’s HealthVault and I stand by it. These services are good and if the data they collect can get us better medical advice, better and cheaper consultants and screw over Irish medical consultants. WOO. But I also want a cut on the money that Google makes from this data. As I said before about Microsoft but it equally applies here:

If we can move our money from a money bank, why not move our health data to a health bank? I’m sure HealthVault and the clones will add more features over time to negotiate discounts on tablets and meds for you and everything else that uses the service, naturally with Microsoft getting a cut too. And just like a bank, we should be able to make money from what we store in it. Microsoft will make money from the data from charging access (by charging for the applications that access it) and also from those discounts for what you get, as well as ads when you do medical searches via the site. Why should Microsoft or whoever make all the money? It’s our data they are profiting from, share the wealth guys.

Looking at the service itself:
You can already import your medical records from a host of places, mostly clinics right now but still. Impressive.

Here are some screenshots.

Google Health

Google Health

But do you trust Google? Now think about all that data and the fact that they WILL in the future integrate with the 23AndMe DNA analysis company they’re investors in, you comfortable with all your email, chat conversations, word documents, medical records and DNA all controlled by one group? There are many secret laws in the U.S. since before and after 9/11, how do you know Google isn’t complying with one?

There’s also the dervied data that Google has you on you. I wrote about this before too.

More from Google Blogoscoped:

Google continues to ask for your agreement for Google to pass on information about you to entities and individuals you define. As examples, Google lists sensitive information related to e.g. sexually transmitted diseases, mental illness, alcohol abuse, genetic diseases and more.

Google in the Q&A later on explains that they may share aggregate, anonymous information from their Google Health records (a statistic like “10% of users with diabetes got a flu shot”).

Hmmm. I’ll wait another while just yet thanks.

So you’d let your kids play in an unsupervised playground?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

There’s been a good bit of talk again of late about Bebo and Facebook and YouTube and the good and evil that happens in and around them.

I’m a proponent of social networks and think like most technologies that they’re a very positive thing but anything that enhances one aspect of humanity can enhance the good or the bad.

Social networks in the Irish context sprung up overnight and became the defacto place to hang online for teenagers and those in their early twenties. This still holds true. It was a new place and a new way of interacting. Our current daily social norms have taken 100s if not 1000s of years to form, Bebo is a new world where these norms are being worked out as we speak by those inside it and those outside must be baffled and scared when maybe they should be bringing their wisdom and experiences into it to share and guide people.

Zoned out on code
Photo owned by ToastyKen (cc)

The good:

Relationships are accentuated with social networks. They’re good people management tools. We can store details of dozens and hundreds of friends and acquaintances. The mobile phone allowed us to store hundreds of numbers on our phone that we’d never remember without a physical address book. The social network expands on that. Our friends can update us by just changing their status on Facebook or upload pics of their holidays to Bebo and everyone they’re connected to get informed of this and can look at the pictures. The daysof sending 15 postcards to people is over. A facebook update takes care of it all. Social networks also reconnect us with old friends, friends who we’d never remain in contact with because of Geography. Families scattered around the world can stay connected and informed via social networks. I often chat to old college friends in America and New Zealand. Because of the ability to stay connected over a lifetime and over continents, our friends lists are much larger than before. The Dunbar number with the idea we can only maintain a certain amount of quality relationships with people has been inflated hugely now. I firmly believe humanity is becoming far more friendly because of these technologies.

Photo owned by Annie Mole (cc)

The bad:

With this new Big Brother and American Idol nasty culture, everyone seems to want to be nastier than Simon Cowell and on social networks, blogs and YouTube you see some people trying to outdo each other on how can be most vitriolic. In a normal social situation people like this would be rebuked but online that doesn’t seem to happen. Given the positive reinforcement from mainstream TV shows, it’s only encouarging people to explore their hyper-critical sides. I’m reminded of a free class in school that gets rowdier and rowdier as time goes on and gets calmed down with the teacher next door coming in or the free class ending when the next class starts. Imagine this rowdy class going on forever. Not good.

There does not appear to be much supervision on these sites of the kids. Playgrounds do not necessarily have supervisors but they are within reach of homes and people doing about their business in estates. Sites like Bebo, Facebook and YouTube have report abuse functions and they seem to be working hard at making them better but it’s not that you need adults going “stop that” but you do need people going “Do you not think that? How about?”.

Choose your poison
Photo owned by szlea (cc)

The utterly horrible:

Things can go out of control quite quickly. Like real life there’s bullying and harassment though it can be controlled slightly as you can lock down a profile and deny the bullies access to leaving comments. Like Lord of the flies though, kids without adult guidance could take things down a wrong path and keep going and going and going. Bullies in real life are recording their attacks (what is it with bullies and dictators being some of the earliest adopters of tech?) which rang from tauting, to violence and beatings and uploading them to YouTube and Bebo and distributing these videos amongst their peers. The videos get taken down eventually or sometimes rapidly after complaints but pop up again in new videos that get around the blocking software. The bullies build shrines to their attacks like the way some serial killers takes momentos of their murders. You have terrorist groups doling out punishment beatings to people or covering people in paint as a visual method of ascerting their authority and this tar and feathering is now happening online too. But it’s accentuated. A network of 1000 kids can see a video within hours wheras word of mouth is a lot lot slower than that.

So what can be done?

Don’t ban Bebo or social networks. Parents should learn how to use social networks and take part in them and see where their kids are playing these days. They should be able to dive in and out now and then but without excessively spying on their kids but parents should have the ability to make sure everything is ok. Same goes for teachers. Demanding access to their profile though, I’m not so sure. I do wonder whether the report abuse functions should be better too. Were I Bebo I’d consider the Community model where the community looks after each other with voluntary moderators ensuring smooth sailing. Perhaps if you are under 16 for example you’re profile is always connected to an identified counsellor or team of counsellors who can give advice.

The services do have age restrictions but it’s not like they ask you to prove your age so 8 year olds can just like and say they’re 15 and they’re on Bebo. YouTube is 16 and over, Facebook and Bebo are 13 and over, in line with US data protection laws and MySpace is 14 and over.

The worst thing a parent can possibly do is believe the hype that only bad things happen on these sites and they need to slam them without ever understanding them and I fear that’s what is happening again and again.

A big thank you to Josie Fraser for her advice and thoughts on this area. Here’s a great overview to Cyberbullying and how to deal with it. RTE 1’s Prime Time programme is doing a piece on Cyber Bullying tonight at 2130. It might be worth watching.

Social networks and suicide

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Today the Sunday Independent had a bit about Facebook Memorials and a suicide expert decrying them, though I think they meant Bebo Memorials.

To me Dan Neville’s comments seemed quite balanced, he gives out about the memorials but he also says the bad old days where suicide was not talked about should be left in the past. The Indo put their twist to it. Yeah, I too was surprised at that.

“The Bebo and Facebook tributes that are going on at the moment are not appropriate at all because they are allowing people in crisis to involve themselves in events after the suicide and that can be extremely dangerous.”

“I would be extremely concerned about guards of honour by school friends and sports clubs at the funerals of suicide victims — not because the person involved should not be recognised for what they did, but because it also gives a signal of attention and recognition.

“Someone in crisis looking at these guards of honour and Bebo and Face Book tributes might say to themselves ‘look my crisis will be over and I will get this type of attention or send off, or recognition of my life from my peers,'” Mr Neville said.

Banning teenagers from doing something, though? That’s going to do what? If Bebo pages in memory of someone that killed themselves are taken down in order to prevent more suicides it’s not going to work. That kids create them means that there’s a need for them to remember their friends. Why not instead have links to suicide prevention campaigns and links to people on Bebo that people can message if they have a problem. Suicidal people will find out these memorials be they on Bebo or elsewhere, they’ll come there and maybe you can intervene there. There’s a greater chance of interevention there than out in some dark corner of the web.

The scary thing about suicide though is that it’s contagious in a way and I remember hearing someone on Morning Ireland (maybe it was Neville himself) talking about news reports on suicides can actually trigger people into considering it. This is why there are suicide clusters in areas.

Neville talks about banning these memorials but these memorials are where people are going to remember their friends. It would surely be like trying to ban talk of their friends in the classroom or pub or when they mope around in groups in shopping centres. Instead of banning them, why not establish guidelines with the community that create them?

Irish Company turns your mobile into an online News Station

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Not quite death of the Newsroom but Wexford Software company Ubcam have developed software for a whole load of Nokias, Sony Ericsson’s and some other brands (but not the iPhone) that will turn your phone into a live video streaming device. It’s like the well-recognised service from QIK except more phones can run the Ubcam software than can run QIK.

I chatted to a TV crew from RTE recently about QIK and they were amazed that a simple mobile phone could empower the average punter into becoming a live news broadcaster. Wouldn’t they have been impressive during the Dublin riots?

Camera crew
Photo owned by MShades (cc)

Facebook Search – Again

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I wrote before about how Facebook could beef up their internal search engine and get users used to good internal search and then they could go off and switch on external search too and how it would be more powerful than Google’s search as it would have so much profile data about their users that they could really refine search results. Time is ticking for Facebook on this, Google is battling back now with their profiling work.

I think Facebook, when they attempt to do Internet search will feel the full force of Google’s wealth and impressive collective brain to disrupt and wreck their plans. I’m sure Google has a whole team devoted to wondering what Facebook could do to them. If OpenSocial, their flailing attempt at hitting at Facebook’s growth by offering open alternatives to competitors; is all they can come up with then Facebook shouldn’t worry but I think this ill-thought out programme was a badly implemented 11th hour attempt at slowing Facebook. It’s not worked kids. They’re surely smarting enough now to get the next swipe to be more effective?

Plastic Bags with...Plastic Bags part1
Photo owned by scottwyden (cc)

So why not roll out a basic external search now anyway? Know of any companies hurting over a failed attempt at taking on Google? Oh yeah, Microsoft. They seem to have a lot of money to spend now that Yahoo! has rejected them. Rumours are saying they want to buy Facebook. Not gonna happen. If Microsoft became the external search partner for Facebook though it would be a huge boost. 70M extra and very active customers for Yes please. And all the ads around those searches! If some profile data was shared too for the ad servers – better ads, more money. Maybe this is what they’re negotiating?

Or there’s Yahoo! themselves. In my previous post I said that Facebook could one day buy Yahoo! but in the meantime they could allow Yahoo! to be their external search partner. Years back Yahoo! gave Google a break and used their search tech. Yahoo! had the chance of buying Facebook but now Facebook could give Yahoo! a break and do external search. God knows both companies could do with some real revenue.

Copyright: Amily Gelbman exhibit-5
Photo owned by zeevveez (cc)

Saying that though, Yahoo! seems to have become too aligned with Google of late and Microsoft are really good pals with Facebook at the same time. Search is a core thing needed for any “utility”. Facebook is connecting people and allowing them to share data and content but search is still essential and it’s never going to die.

Facebook Connect – Is this Beacon 2.0?

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Some are saying this is something like a version of openID and the current implementations for Facebook Connect are for interacting with your Facebook Friends outside of Facebook. An example is being able to see what your Facebook Friends are doing on DIGG for example.

Abandon aircraft beacon
Photo owned by saschapohflepp (cc)

What they’re saying though is that the apps that you could once run on Facebook only and which could access certain data about you and your friends can now be run on other websites. So external sites/webservices can now access your Facebook data or some of it. Now this is good, it’s almost data portability. But.

Isn’t this going to allow sites to know more about you and so sell more to you? Beacon allows external sites see that you’re a Facebooker and send “stories” (ads) back down your connection and into your news feed for your friends to see. Almost like that Candiru fish in the Amazon that swims up your urethra and feeds off you once inside. With a site using Connect and Beacon, won’t they know even more about you and your friends? Will Connect allow external sites to better display ads to you?

Should Google sign up to Connect?

Salim Ismail in Dublin on May 12th

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Salim is coming over.

Says Joe:

Salim Ismail is in town next Monday (12th May) and suggested a meetup somewhere in Dublin. The Market Bar is traditionally where we hold these events, so if you’d like to shoot the breeze with Salim and lower a few beers at the same time come on down to Market Bar at 7.30pm on Monday.

Salim and Tom
Photo owned by Phillie Casablanca (cc)

Salim made everyone that went on the Paddy’s Valley trip hugely welcome. He went above and beyond. It’d be nice for us here now to buy him a few thank you pints.

Non-human social networks – Mulley on about fridges again

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

No I am not a secret shill for PowerCity or Harvey Norman’s.

I previously wrote about defrosting fridges and about how being a fan of objects would connect people together. Knowing someone through their fridge is how I put it. But that was about human social networking. Will my fridge be on a social network too, connecting with other like-minded fridges exchanging recipes? I think yes.

Prepped for CyberSalon Visitors
Photo owned by cogdogblog (cc)

The idea of a social object is to create something that will make humans more sociable and get them to connect with each other. Need it just be for humans though? Could we not make these objects take on some human characteristics allowing them to communicate with each other too and have personalities in a way? In the near future our fridges will either have barcode scanners built in or rfid readers when all barcodes are replaced by RFIDs. The fridge will know what it contains and would have a good guess as to what food types you like and what recipes you might use. In turn just like LastFM matches people with the same musical tastes, FridgeBook might just link fridges together and have them exchange recipes which will pop up on the front of the fridge. In addition the fridges will also share bargain hunting tips with each other. It’s better not to have the fridge stuff on your Facebook anyway as the fridge has a different personality to you since it’s used by a few people, unless you live alone. And cry yourself to sleep at night over it…

Then let’s not forget VRM – Vendor Relationship Management, where retailers will come to you or your fridge and offer what you normally buy each week but at a cheaper price. With all the fridges talking to each other they can also root out the scam artists and messers and low-quality food retailers so you get the best quality for the best price.

Of course for that we’d need some kind of “social layer” built into the communications stack of all these tech devices. Imagine sharing templates via a toaster network? Someone designs a nice toasting template for their toaster and they share it with a toaster network? All these social networks that we have are people based and they are hardly embedded but the BBC Olinda radio might change that and we might see more white goods with a social networking chip or firmware. That’s when the real fun happens.

Oh hello new visitors!

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

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eircom gives €35k to charity after Data Protection Commissioner investigation

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

NO court cases. Another slap on the wrist. We won’t do it again. Again. Again. eircom keep having these database errors that mean they accidently ring ex-customers when they shouldn’t. They kept promising ComReg it would not happen again. Yet it does. See my views of the DPC from last year.

Case Study 9: Marketing Calls by Eircom – remedial action – amicable resolution.

During the first half of 2007 I received a large number of complaints from members of the public who had received marketing telephone calls from a telecommunications company, Eircom. Many of the complaints came from people who were ex-customers of Eircom and the marketing calls from the company were made in an effort to win back their business. Some of these complainants informed Eircom that they did not wish to receive further marketing calls but the company continued to call them. Others had their phone numbers listed on the National Directory Database (NDD) opt-out register but continued to receive marketing calls from Eircom.

Regulation 13 (4) of Statutory Instrument 535 of 2003 prohibits the making of an unsolicited telephone call for marketing purposes to the line of a subscriber where the subscriber has notified the person or company making the marketing call that he/she does not consent to the receipt of such a call on his/her telephone line or where the subscriber has had his/ her telephone number recorded in the NDD opt-out register. It is an offence to make a marketing call which breaches this Regulation.
My Office investigated the complaints and engaged at length with Eircom on the matter. This involved meetings with the company as well as several exchanges of correspondence which eventually led to the following favourable and positive outcome from my perspective:

• • • Eircom assured me that it is fully committed to ensuring compliance with data protection legislation within the organisation. It expressed concern about the complaints received by my Office and it assured me that it takes all such complaints very seriously. Eircom introduced a number of measures to Eircom conveyed its sincere apologies to the • complainants to my Office for any inconvenience caused to them and it entered the complainants’ contact details on its suppression list to prohibit further marketing calls from the company to those individuals. In order to demonstrate its commitment to•

• • • reduce the risk of any reoccurrence of such complaints. These measures involved the completion of a full internal review of the processes which are followed by all customer-facing channels when recording requests to opt-out of direct marketing by Eircom and its related companies. Where any points of weakness within these processes were identified, the process was revised to ensure that it was both robust and compliant with data protection legislation. Eircom briefed all relevant staff on the issues which gave rise to complaints and on the new processes which were put in place. The new processes also became an integral part of the training material for new staff. Eircom established a centralised and dedicated ‘suppression’ unit with responsibility for processing “do not call” requests received by post, email or fax. A statement was placed on Eircom’s Intranet homepage emphasising the importance of ensuring compliance with data protection rules. The statement also explains the process which must be followed to implement a suppression request (i.e. an individual’s stated preference not to be called by the company for marketing purposes) and it provides details of the new centralised ‘suppression’ unit. the protection of individuals’ data protection rights and its regret for the issues which gave rise to complaints to my Office, Eircom made a donation of €35,000 to a reputable Irish charity. Finally, following agreement with my Office •

on the content, Eircom published a statement on its website regarding the protection of customer information. In the statement, among other things, Eircom acknowledged that it had communicated with individuals whose preference to decline marketing contact was not recorded due to a problem with its systems and processes and it expressed regret that these people were contacted when they did not want to be. It also stated that it had identified areas for improvement and had implemented those improvements. Overall, I am very pleased with the investigation of these complaints and the steps taken by Eircom in response to my Office’s intervention. The complainants concerned had good reason to complain to my Office about unsolicited marketing telephone calls which have become, in recent years, an all-too-frequent intrusion into the personal lives of individuals in their homes. Eircom identified the failings in its marketing processes and it did what a responsible data controller should do in similar circumstances -it took effective remedial action. In addition, it responded positively to my Office’s efforts to amicably resolve the complaints

-the Data Protection Acts make provision for the amicable resolution of complaints in the first instance between the parties concerned – by apologising to the complainants and by making a substantial donation to charity. Furthermore, I am happy to report that since Eircom took the remedial steps outlined above I have received no further complaints of substance regarding its marketing activities.

Me = Harry Potter?
Photo owned by smurfster1 (cc)

Photo owned by Simon Davison (cc)