So I am here in Madrid, in a hotel room, typing away on my Nokia N8… saying to myself: “why did I wait so long to get a smart phone…” But now I understand that maybe I didn’t make the best choice - the phone is amazing, the OS is not. Symbian’s UI and touch screens do not really meet eye to eye (better said finger to software).
I have been monogamous with Nokia (except a short little thing with NEC) since the days of the banana phone. The hardware has always been exceptional - and I am know how to use Symbian in my sleep… and I will probably stay with Nokia but I really hope Windows OS works out.
But… Symbian has done me a favor recently. It has made me start thinking hard about privacy. (I hear someone saying “Huh??”). Well, one day I responded to a LinkedIn message I received on the N8 and lo and behold, Symbian complains about a certificate that has nothing to do with LinkedIn but rather some market research outfit. Wait a minute… I would expect a handshake with LinkedIn but not with whomever these guys were.
Now in the world of social networks, I had emotionally placed LinkedIn on the left hand side of the “I Can Trust Them Scum” scale. (I do use Facebook, but it makes me feel like when I have a Coke for breakfast. I give iGoogle the Nancy Reagan moment “Just say no” treatment).
Well, of course I closed the browser then and there. Thanked my Nokia N8 for being sufficiently clumsy to “out” the snoops. And then I began thinking.
First, this little intrusion by the LinkedIn parasite is not in the grey area between privacy and personalization. This is profiling. Maybe its purpose is getting me the ads just like I like them… but I will suppress the rant about the ad value versus ad annoyance ratio for another day. Just let me say ads have been outstandingly unsuccessful with me so far.
I am not really a follower of the “Infowars” stuff. But I will say that I don’t like my information being harvested and re-distributed without me being aware… and the fact that I should have known – that I should have read the T&C’s of LinkedIn and known what I was getting myself into – does not make me feel any less disgruntled. So here is the rant:
“The fact that Big Brother from ‘1984’ is not the Government but rather is an implicit Business consortia is not material to me as an individual (sorry “Consumer”). Besides, the ‘enlaces’ between the two – from USA to China to France – make it irrelevant”
That feels better. Now I can go on to the next problem I had on the Nokia N8 and the point of this blog. On my N8, my carrier (whom I will leave unnamed) had kindly installed xFactor, CNN, National Geographic (plus a couple of more in case these did not tickle my fancy). Of course, in my initial play with my new toy frenzy - I proceeded to uninstall xFactor.
Well, the system refused (“Removing cancelled” in Symbianese). I cursed a couple of times went to the Nokia site for instructions on how to do this, and found notes from users that had tried to as well and who had not succeeded. So I just forgot about it.
Then a couple of weeks ago I accidently pressed the damn xFactor icon and got an immediate warning from Symbian () that the application wanted to read and write my personal information from the phone…. (which is now really my personal organizer). At this point I developed a case of acute paranoia and checked the other apps like CNN that seemed innocuous. None could be deleted – all asked for my information. Funny thing was that the pre-installed CNN snooped, but neither FT nor Bloomberg – both which I grabbed from OVI did.
So, being a CTO I decide to delete the little ‘comemierdas’ like any good hack would. I downloaded a powerful “see everything” file browser for Symbian and searched across the entire phone for *Xf*, *Geo*, CNN*. No luck. These fun little busybodies turn out to be root kits. Extensions to the OS made by my network operator.
Wait a minute, having Google and their ilk harvest my profile for their global ambitions is one thing. But having my operator do the same?
Look, as we have seen with Telco’s attempts to compete first on content and now with apps, there is no reason to think they will particularly excel in exploiting my information. Looking at this from a “strategic marketing” viewpoint, they are definitely in a Red Ocean when it comes to being snoops. Of course, they have the customer and usage data that they have always had – but although valuable – it is nothing compared to the data I store on my phone and I produce as I use the next silly (or quite serious business) app. The thinking that goes “we can’t get daata that the way Google does”, “nor the way Apple and its Apps do”… “hey let’s go for the OS … at least we can do that” is not Blue Ocean in my book.
If you are going to do something, do it right. If you are going to be a jewel thief – don’t go around picking pockets. Operators really need to step back and ask where their Blue Ocean is: what can they do that their competition in the form of Apple, Google, etc. can’t or better yet don’t want to do.
From my point of view – this is simple: protect me. Manage my profile for my purposes – full stop - keeping it private – definitely keeping it off a server somewhere in Santa Clara.
Of course, as things are today private profiles would seem to defeat personalization. But let’s step back: applications really just need profile information to improve my “customer experience”. These applications definitely do not need to take my data back into some centralized store to improve my customer experience. The companies that sell or host these applications (not the applications themselves) absolutely need to profile me so they can sell me stuff or worse yet sell my information on.
And to be honest – I have no interest in helping these companies nor should my carrier whom I pay good money to be my vehicle to the outside world. Blue Ocean is being on my side. Red Ocean is being on theirs.
I believe carriers need to develop tools to manage a “read, use and forget” API for my profile data. The carrier would guarantee my privacy. Of course, if necessary, they can hold data that apps want stored “off device” but does not belong on Larry’s (not Ellison) server California.
You may ask – do people really care? Perhaps I am just old. But my business colleagues that increasingly use smart phones and apps should really care. Should IBM worry that Apple knows via that cool little task manager knows what small town in Iowa its top management is visiting?
I want my carrier to make me its first priority. And if does not care to – maybe a smart start up will do it for them…. On the cloud: creating a de facto “as needed only profile” standard and circumventing the carriers once again. I think the TMF, their service provider and especially their enterprise members should assert their leadership.