The surveillance structure that underpins us all

GCHQ listeningHere’s another paragraph to add to the debate about privacy, surveillance, spying and the whole gamut of who does what, how and why with digital information that you think is yours and private but in reality is in the spies’ domain.

Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a 10-minute report in its evening news show that revealed how Cable & Wireless, one of the UK’s largest communications firms, had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden in which the GCHQ plays a leading role.

I didn’t hear the words “alleged” or “allegedly” mentioned in the report.

The essence of Channel 4’s story is this:

[Cable & Wireless], which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Watch the full story:

This is just another revelation in a litany of exposure of government surveillance – due largely to the actions of Edward Snowden – that suggests there is nothing any of us can really consider as private.

If what Channel 4’s report portrays is true, then fiction really is fact.

It’s not only governments, though – private companies are equally as bad, according to two reports in recent months.

Wired-Telegraph-data

Take a look at a sobering report in the November edition of Wired magazine in the UK that recounts the experiences and findings of reporter Madhumita Venkataramanan in her investigative piece entitled My identity for sale:

Earlier this year, I became curious about the personal-data economy. It has grown relentlessly into a multibillion-pound business of tracking, packaging and selling data picked up from our public records and our private lives. As I dug deeper into the world of trackers, it reinforced my anxieties about a profit-led system designed to log behaviour every time we interact with the connected world. I was aware that the data generated by apps and services I use daily – from geolocation and cookies to social-media tracking and credit-card transactions – was building a record of my past. Combine this with public information such as Land Registry, council tax and voter-registration data, daily location routes and social-media posts, and these benign data sets reveal a lot – such as whether you’re political, outgoing, ambitious, pessimistic, uptight or a risk taker. […]

And there’s more – check this report in the Telegraph on October 10 in which Sir Iain Lobban, Director of the GCHQ until the end of October 2014, says that big companies snoop on the public more than GCHQ does:

[…] In his first print interview, Sir Iain told the Daily Telegraph that the public should be more concerned with what private companies were during with their personal information.

“Look, who has the info on you? It’s the commercial companies, not us, who know everything – a massive sharing of data,” he said.

“The other day I bought a watch for my wife. Soon there were lots of pop-up watches advertising themselves on our computer, and she complained. ‘It’s that b***** Internet’ I tell her.”

Reality: anything you say or do online is up for grabs by the spies, whether from the government or from private companies. Reminds me of MAD magazine’s Spy vs Spy comic strip back in the day.

Spy vs. Spy

Yet this is no laughing matter.

(Photo at top by George Rex, used under Creative Commons license.)

The local newspaper is dead, long live the local newspaper

The decline in print and the rise in digitalThe closure of printed newspapers around the UK counts new casualties in the battle to stem the tide of declining circulations and the ever-diminishing number of titles in print with news this past week that Trinity Mirror is shutting down seven regional newspapers in southern England.

The news has particular interest to me as my local paper, The Wokingham Times, is one of those casualties.

Founded in 1903, the Times has gone through many evolutions especially during the past decade or so as it changed ownership a few times; and as alternative sources for local news emerged as the internet and the world wide web evolved, more online choices appeared and the ability for anyone and everyone to get online becomes almost ubiquitous and continues to be ever easier, cheaper and faster.

The closure is a picture you could paint in communities up and down the country.

Trinity Mirror, current owner of the title and its siblings in Berkshire (and Surrey), said in its announcement that it intends to develop and grow its digital business around the getreading.co.uk website which offers digital versions of its Berkshire titles – Reading Post, The Bracknell Times and The Wokingham Times – and also delivers content to mobile devices via an app.

It’s not hard to see why Trinity Mirror is making this move. As its statement says:

[…the getreading.co.uk website] has achieved unrivalled market leading penetration in the area – in the last year monthly unique users have grown by 68% (Jan-Oct 213 to Jan-Oct 2014) and the site continues to show phenomenal audience growth.

In its report, Press Gazette quotes Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, from the company’s announcement:

This is a bold digital-only publishing transformation that will re-establish us as a growing media business that delivers the best quality journalism to our digital-savvy audience. We wholeheartedly believe that the future of our business here in Berkshire is online and this is an important and pioneering step that might, in time, be applicable to other existing markets or indeed new ones.

Bold indeed, with the inevitable human cost – 26 job losses in Berkshire (50 in total if you include the other closures, according to reports). The flip side of that is “the creation of around 10 new digital editorial roles and two digital commercial roles,” says Trinity Mirror in its announcement.

The type of hard commercial decisions made that will lead to the closure of seven print newspapers are confronting media companies across the UK and elsewhere – at all levels, nationally, regionally and locally – as trends continue to show the inexorable decline in print and the increasing growth in digital content that meets the preferences and needs of contemporary consumers who want to consume content wherever and whenever they want, with whatever device they wish, comment on and share that content with their networks, repurpose it, create additional insights from it, and more.

The move to digital is indeed inevitable as is the consequent human cost in lost jobs where current skills clearly aren’t what the media companies need as they evolve in the new digital-only environment to survive and grow.

Does it mean there is no place for print any more? Not necessarily – looking at it purely in commercial terms, if your market analysis, business plan and the numbers add up, you may have a workable proposition.

And The Guardian’s report on the Berkshire closures includes this:

The Reading Chronicle, which has been published since 1825, will become the town’s only print title. Editor Lesley Potter said it was a sad day for those losing their jobs and for the people of Reading.

“We have been fierce rivals over the years, but we have always had a healthy respect for one another. We at the Reading Chronicle have absolutely no intention of abandoning print.”

You have to feel a touch of sadness at developments like this even as they mark another milestone in the transition of news and information, how it’s produced and presented to readers, and what they do with it.

So print newspapers gradually vanish but they continue online in name and purpose, mirroring the look, feel and presentation of their analogue forbears.

It’s called progress.

FT conference bots to star at #FTInnovate

I bought a robot...

I’m looking forward to being at FT Innovate 2014 that takes place in London on November 19-20.

This latest edition of the Financial Times’ annual tech-focused business conference will concentrate on the digital “big bang” – and the digital natives, digital pioneers, digital technologies and digital practices it is spawning – and how it’s transforming the way businesses innovate.

The speaker line-up is impressive, and the agenda for the two days looks pretty compelling.

And here’s a nice bit of innovation that may appeal to you if you’d like to be there but can’t physically go – drive one of the FT’s “conference bots.”

Here’s what’s happening in London as outlined in an email from the event organizer:

Attendees at this year’s FT Innovate conference will notice a few unusual delegates mingling amongst them.

For the first time, 3 robots will be roaming the conference, listening to our expert panel of speakers, participating in the interactive roundtable discussions and connecting with the senior innovation managers who will be attending during the networking breaks.

The FT Innovate team are offering 3 lucky winners the chance to remotely control one of our robots from their own home or office. The conference takes place on 19-20 November 2014 so you’ll just need to be available on these dates and have access to a laptop/tablet with a video camera and high speed internet connection.

If you would like the chance to control one of our FT Innovate robots, enter our draw today by completing this short form. The closing date for entries is midnight on Thursday 13 November and 3 winners will be selected at random and notified by Friday 14 November 2014.

Of course, we think it’s even better to be there in person, and a limited number of delegate tickets are still available. To register, and for more information on the programme and speakers, visit www.ftinnovate.com.

Looks a lot more fun than just following a Twitter hashtag. Which you can do, of course: #FTInnovate.

See you there!

Friction-free donating with SnapDonate

SnapDonate

Sometimes you see an app for mobile devices that’s simply brilliant in the idea and concept of it.

Such is the case with SnapDonate, a new app for Android devices that lets you make a snap decision, ‘snap’ the charity, and donate there and then – I guess that’s how they came up with the name – right from your smartphone or tablet.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Load the app and point your phone’s camera at a charity logo wherever you see one.
  2. The app will automatically recognize it if it’s one of the nearly 70 it currently can (and you can find more with the app’s search tool).
  3. Select an amount to donate, starting from the minimum of £2 (about €2.50, $3.20).
  4. Add a message, your name and an email address if you want a receipt (all optional), or connect with your Facebook account.
  5. Hit the send button and your donation will be on its way to the charity of your choice via JustGiving, the world’s top platform for online fund-raising. (You can also save your intent for later – handy if there’s no network connection where you are at that moment.)

I tried it – installed the app on my Galaxy S4 and went through the procedure that really is simple and fast.

SnapDonateSnapDonate

SnapDonateSnapDonate

There’s no doubt that, from capturing a charity’s logo where you see it – in my example, Macmillan Cancer Support from the logo on their website – you can complete and send a donation in less than a minute.

I did encounter some flaky behaviour using the app, though – it crashed whenever I took one of the screenshots – and it didn’t actually get me to the completion point: sending the donation. I sent in crash reports each time. I see the app on Google Play is version 1.0.0 and requires Android version 2.3.3 or later (my S4 runs 4.4.2) so hopefully things will be fixed in the next update soon – reinforcing the wisdom, perhaps, of waiting for version 1.0.1 of anything. Note that a version for iPhones is coming soon.

Still, the idea is excellent even if the execution is a bit flawed at the moment in my experience.

I like the idea a lot, especially for situations such as when I come across a charity volunteer collecting outside the supermarket or in the High Street, and I don’t have actual cash on me. It always sounds pretty lame when you say, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.” If the collector sports a big logo, I can snap it and donate cashlessly there and then or save for later.

With Christmas fast approaching, the pressure on everyone to support causes with donations will be mounting. While no one can support everyone, SnapDonate will certainly make choosing a favoured charity simpler and actual giving easier while you’re on the go.

(Via TNW)

Scotland referendum results via WhatsApp and more

Yes / No

Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will not be the same no matter what happens in Scotland today as citizens there cast their votes in a referendum to decide whether Scotland will separate from the UK and become an independent country, or not.

The campaigning is done; now it’s up to the voters of Scotland to decide what they want for their country and the union with England that’s been in place since 1707.

Obviously media of all types – mainstream, social – and from all over the world are devoting huge time and resources to coverage of an event that has got the world’s attention especially in countries where the flames of separatism may be further fanned on the outcome in Scotland.

I’ll be following events as time permits during the day on TV and online. It’s once the polls close at 10pm tonight that interest will be most strong as the votes are counted with the first results to be declared expected sometime around 3am on Friday morning.

What appeals to me is the idea of key news as it breaks coming to me in a way that lets me focus just on that and gives me just the facts. I can choose whether to look for more detail, if I want, whether that’s online or via more traditional news channels.

So an idea from Channel 4 News in the UK is most interesting – broadcast breaking news on the results as it happens, directly to your smartphone via WhatsApp and Snapchat:

[…] We’re going to publish all of our best content, as well as live updates, via Snapchat and Whatsapp, from the moment the polls close on Thursday night right up to when the results are announced on Friday morning – ahead of publishing it anywhere else.

That last sentence is most interesting: “ahead of publishing it anywhere else.” Before TV?

My interest is WhatsApp; here’s how to set it up:

WhatsApp the message INDYREF to 07768555671 and add us to your contacts list to sign up for all of our best overnight news and analysis, pictures and video, delivered to you ahead of all the other social networks.
If you change your mind, WhatsApp STOP to the same number.

I’d added C4News to my WhatsApp and can’t wait to see how this plays out.

C4News

It’s great to see such innovation from mainstream broadcasters, especially communication methods that clearly show the broadcaster not only gets audience preferences by demographic according to social medium but also is able to execute an idea well.

Channel 4 is not alone in this. BBC News, for instance, announced this week that its content will be available on smartphone instant messaging platform LINE. Earlier this year, the BBC experimented with WhatsApp and WeChat in English and Hindi.

And Sky News launched its Stand Up Be Counted initiative, described as “a place for 16 – 25 year olds to safely upload and share the videos, pictures or blogs they make on the issues that matter most to them.” It’s been a very active place in relation to the Scottish referendum.

Innovation really is thriving.

(Via Journalism.co.uk; picture at top via The Guardian.)

Sprinklr adds Branderati advocacy to its ‘social at scale’ offering

Sprinklr + Branderati

Enterprise social media company Sprinklr is certainly making big moves in the enterprise social space with news this week of another acquisition as the firm consolidates a credible position at the leading edge of the emerging business of enterprise-level social relationship infrastructure development.

Sprinklr adds a further dimension to its offering with the acquisition of Branderati, an advocacy influencer marketing firm, to give Sprinklr a major addition to its Social @ Scale product that manages the key and increasingly complex social channels of large companies.

Branderati’s service offering is focused on helping companies build their own advocacy networks on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels by enlisting fans and customers to market those companies, their brands, products and services.

In its news release announcing the deal, Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas said with 92 percent of consumers trusting recommendations from friends and family more than any form of advertising, “advocacy now must take a more central role, not only in marketing but also in the overall business strategy.” Thomas added:

Branderati has unlocked the key to sustained brand advocacy at scale and having their technology and know-how on board will mean big things for our clients.

The news release also includes some interesting metrics about Sprinklr as it now is:

Sprinklr now employs more than 500 employees in five countries and serves more than 650 enterprise brands worldwide, including:

  • Four of the top five U.S. banks
  • Three of the top six insurance companies
  • Three of the top seven hotel chains
  • Four of the top six retailers
  • Tech titans such as Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and Dell

With Branderati marking the firm’s third acquisition this year, Sprinklr has doubled in size in numbers of people. Sprinklr raised $40 million investment capital in April. Now there’s more speculation about a potential IPO sometime very soon, even this year according to some opinions.

Whether an IPO is on the close horizon for Sprinklr or not, this acquisition looks a logical step for Sprinklr if you believe that social media will become an increasingly important element in the business strategies of large companies.

If you look at many large companies and what they’re doing with social media and social channels – just check the four names mentioned above – it seem quite clear to me that a firm that can offer a holistic approach to social at scale – two very key words – is in a pretty good place today.