Is Smart Data next?

Everything is becoming ‘smart’ these days.  While we personally don’t have any of these über smart devices in our home, you can buy Smart Appliances today at a premium price – from refrigerators to toasters to washers and dryers, to digital peep holes, digital sprinklers etc.  We knew this was coming, but are we really prepared for The Internet of Things and the big data explosion that will come from it?  We have 6 WiFi Access Points in our home; probably a bit excessive, but I have over 30 devices that are already WiFi enabled (Belkin Wemo switches, smart phones, DVD players, home security sensors, surveillance cameras, tablets, printers etc.).  I have a 50MB Comcast Xfinity pipe to the Internet, so bandwidth is plentiful, but clearly it won’t be for long.

As the cost of sensors go down, when battery life increases to last a few years and processors come down significantly in power consumption and price, everything we know today as static objects will become connected, bandwidth-hogging devices on your network.

Our home networks will start to feel like our corporate networks today or an over-crowded coffee shop on a single DSL connection, where  you’ll be wrestling with every other device to get out to the internet.  Sure, you can throw more access points and bandwidth at it, but it will never be enough.  This is something we will have to deal with.

However, while there may be some intrinsic value in having a toaster that talks to you via your smart phone (or let’s face it, your iWatch or Google Glass), the underlying issue that continues to grow is security and privacy.  Every day, we seem to be putting a lot more data onto devices, or worse yet, social sites – both internal and external.  Based on my previous post, this digital breadcrumb trail is going to get worse over time, and since most people don’t want to ‘manage’ their security, pay for a credit monitoring service etc. we will continue to see people getting hacked, identities stolen etc.  Sure, hackers will always find a way around it, but my theory is that you should at least try to do something preventative.  Just renewing your anti-virus subscription isn’t enough anymore.  That was SO a decade ago. 🙂

We must develop a new way to classify and protect data.  We definitely need this from both a consumer and business perspective, given that the lines have already been blurred with Consumerization. Enter the world of Smart Data, where data knows where it is, is aware of how many clones and versions of itself exist, knows to self-destruct in 30 days, or only can be viewed on protected devices, notebooks etc.  Imagine every piece of data with a virtual tag or sensor that allows it to be classified.  Will file sizes get larger?  Sure.  But the cost of doing nothing will be much larger for us as this spins out of control.

We’ve seen some of this data tagging before; it’s been a part of Microsoft’s Office stack for a while (called Rights Management) and in DRM (Digital Rights Management), but in today’s world, where you are consuming data on a number of heterogeneous devices and private/public cloud repositories, this ancient method of tagging and securing content is defunct almost instantly.

This becomes even more important as we (as consumers) try to repel the dark side of Big Data. We need controls to be able to control privacy not just on social media sites, but also on data that is being collected on our mobile devices, toasters, washing machines etc. There aren’t many standards today, and we’re just itching for a new protocol, methodology and an integrated platform.  We need an independent, consumer-oriented body of people who can work with the IETF and other standards bodies to develop this and it needs to happen quickly.

In some senses, this is a big mountain to climb, so my guess is that the only way this will actually happen is if the government steps up and explores the concept of Smart Data. But before that happens, someone is going to have to take the fall, and all you can do for now is try your best to make sure it’s not you.  🙂

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Selling your soul to the devil and trying to get it back. Sigh.

I feel like I sold something to a shylock, decided to buy it back, only to find out the price is now 30% more; a hard pill to swallow. Today, I deleted my Facebook account. Oh right, you can’t delete it, u can only deactivate it. (Boo)

I finally realized that I had made a deal with the devil. I invited a ton of people to share useful (but mostly useless stuff) that went on in my brain and life, getting addicted more and more to the Facebook style of constant communication. When I finally came out of the blurry haze that enveloped the last few years of my life, reality hit me. Holy crap, did I really have 75 videos and thousands of photos posted to a social network whose privacy laws have always been kinda iffy? Do I really post check-ins as to where I am (like anyone really cares), how great or crappy the weather is, or my opinion on whether Google Glass is uber cool or not? Do I really check FaceBook 30-40 times a day on my phone? Does it really matter if I have 50 friends or 5,000? (I always kept it under 100, which meant monthly governance and mass deleting)

I got sucked into this black hole, just like millions of other people. And part of it was my own fault, which I call Social Addiction and pure idiocity (think Ratatouille). Many friends of mine including my own spouse don’t use a social network today and don’t ever plan to. I used to make fun of them, and now realize they were right the whole time. There, I admitted it; please don’t gloat, you’re better than that.

So what made me come out of the haze?

First of all, we’re now in a data driven age. Big Data is upon us and we are consuming gigantic amounts of information on a daily basis, only because social networks and online communities are producing a ton of content for us. More information is a good thing, at least for me, since I love to learn. However, we now have tools that are available that can be used to exploit how people purchase or plan to purchase things. Some call this sentiment analysis and many software packages exist where you can very easily, in one search engine, find out all the goods, bads and uglies that someone said about your product and service. Oh that’s great for product development and customer service, but what we don’t all realize, is that we’re now leaving a significant bread crumb trail all over the Internet, a Social DNA of our thoughts and behaviors, if you want to put it that way.

Facebook (and others) use this to their advantage to help sell stuff. For example, I went to a Metallica concert in 2009 and probably posted pictures on Facebook. Now, I get solicited when a new album comes out, or a cool T-shirt is available or when they are in town near me. That’s right, they are using big data technologies to hone in around all the stuff about you, including your likes, what status updates you’ve done that contain matches to products, artists etc. While this isn’t as annoying as it sounds, there is no way to turn this ‘auto-matching’ off per se, because it is part of the free Facebook user experience package. However, the fact that they now have this Social DNA of yours that is made up of so many personal things you’ve shared online should start making you pretty
uncomfortable.

The first thing that you should do is limit who has access to your stuff, via facebook’s privacy settings, which I might add, aren’t granular enough IMO. But even after you lock it all down, delete creeper friends etc. and delist yourself from being found, you’ve still got a few things to worry about.

Umm, so what happens if Facebook gets hacked and your Social DNA is stolen? Lets see, they have all your information, your birthday, title, where you work and what you like to read etc. You don’t need hacker skills to figure out almost all of the passwords you use for your bank, home security and other critical stuff just from your Social DNA. Oh yeah, this can happen very easily. Why do you think so many people get hacked?

The one thing that really makes me mad however, is not so much Facebook or how they store their data. The one that makes my blood boil are the friends that I have on Facebook that have never changed their password in three years or have a password so simple that you can guess it in your sleep. I’m talking about the classic passwords that include the name of your cat, son or birthdate. That’s right, birthdate; you probably know someone that is guilty of doing this and may even have it in their email address. And if that’s not bad enough, the password may actually be written on a Post-it note or in a journal sitting in plain sight somewhere at home. I know quite a few people who have this style of password management, and i’ll bet you do too.

Ok, so why do I care about my friend’s passwords? Hmm, lets see. How about because they have access to all my information on Facebook? My birthday, where I went to school, what my cell number is, the fact that I’m on a plane right now and my house is just itching to get burglarized? This is a huge issue. HUGE. Do you know how good your friend’s passwords are? Do you know if they have Facebook setup on a tablet and the password is stored so they don’t have to enter it everytime (everyone does this)? Do you know if that tablet has a password lock on it so that a random person can’t pick up their iPad and go to town on your Facebook account? The answer is no; you don’t know and there is NO way you can enforce this today.

These are many of the reasons why I decided to take a break from Facebook. But getting off of it was harder than I thought. First of all, I had a lot of stuff on there, 76 videos and 35 photo albums to be precise. The videos, I had to delete manually, one by one. There was no ‘Erase all my Data’ button on Facebook, which really made me mad. This reminded me of Hotel California, but I had made up my mind. I was going to find a way to leave. So I sat at the airport this morning and deleted every video, manually, which took FOREVER.

Then I got to my Photo Albums which was a little easier. I still had to delete them one by one, but it sure beats deleting photo by photo. But wait, when you get to wall posts, mobile uploads, profile pictures and cover photo albums (the core Facebook albums) you are SOL. The only way to get your photos deleted are to delete them one by one. That took forever as well.

At a turtle’s pace, I was slowly deleting my breadcrumb trail of Social DNA. I know it is probably backed up somewhere at Facebook’s data center. Actually, it might be in more than one data center, but over time, the data will get overwritten, at least I hope so.  Man I hope so!

However, I’m not done. I still have to untag myself in other people’s photos, of which there are hundreds if not thousands; so I know what I’ll be doing all weekend long. I also plan to delete all the friends on my list. Why? Because since your account isn’t actually deleted but deactivated, if you login later on, all your friends and their data is still intact. If for some reason my deactivated account gets hacked and someone comes online pretending to be me, they can now have access to all my friend’s information. So in a way, I’m trying to protect everyone else’s information which should be part of your responsibility.

I haven’t talked about Facebook integration yet. You know you can use your Facebook credentials to login to other services and sites; this isn’t a new idea and has been around as far back as Microsoft Passport. But wait, when you integrate with a service like that- the service now has access to certain stuff on your Facebook profile and that link is (drumroll), permanent. Do you even remember how many sites you logged into with your Facebook credentials? Well I don’t, but luckily, you can go into your Facebook account settings and see who has access, and delete the associations. This is very scary because once again, if your account gets hacked, they can now use your Facebook credentials to log into a bunch of other sites and create new associations without you knowing.

Social Addiction is interesting and unlike any other kind of addiction, they really try and tempt you to stay. For example, when I started the account deactivation process, it went to a page where it shows you 4-5 friends and goes one step further by saying “Are you sure? Steve will miss you, George will miss you, Melissa will miss you” while showing a pic of each person. What is this? A guilt trip? Is there an Irish Mum running the Facebook retention department? (I have a wonderful Irish MIL that is great at this)

You’d never see a guy selling booze outside an AA meeting or rehab center, would you? While not the same kind of deadly addiction, I think we all need to recognize the dangers of sharing ‘too much’ and Facebook needs to make things easier for those who want to stay or leave. Here are a couple things I’d like to see:
1- Single click to delete ALL your private information, photos and videos etc. from Facebook.
2- a Security risk analysis dashboard for each friend – a make up of how strong their passwords are, how often they change them and how much they post/download. This will enable us to choose friends wisely based on how responsible they are.
3- Reminders on when to change your password regularly.
4- PIN code lock for Facebook Apps, or a security mode that requires you enter in your password every time, once a day or once a week

This is just a start. I’d also like to know where my data is at any given time; is it in Seattle, or is it replicating to Japan?

It’s inevitable that I will once again fall into an addiction pattern, but I’m going to try and do my best to limit my breadcrumb trail, and you should too. After all, they say the devil is in the details.