Your Smartphone Passcode Lock Does Not Matter

January 10, 2013

Members of the San Francisco Gold Rush at 49er...

Members of the San Francisco Gold Rush at 49ers training camp at the team’s headquarters and practice facility in Santa Clara, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog post is the second of a four part post on The Hotel California Scenario for social, local and mobile media / solutions (SOLOMO). In my last post, I likened lyrics from The Eagles Hotel California to a future SOLOMO scenario where the User is the Interface, The World is the Computer, and the Situation is the Network.  The future depicted is one of personal empowerment unlike anything that has ever existed, and should be celebrated. 

There is enormous momentum driving startups and established companies alike to have a social strategy and go “mobile first”. The statistics on social usage are undeniable, and mobility is evolving and disrupting worldwide.  Read any tech blog or media resource and you will be deluged with a never-ending stream of articles on the benefits of mobility, brought to you by the newest network, user-friendly platform, device or app. I first envisioned and strategized over some of this evolution in the early 1990’s with my IT colleagues.  We used to call this “Any 5” meaning anyone getting anything, anywhere, anytime, in any form.  Now that mobile’s time has finally arrived, it occurred to me that industry practitioners and users alike should take a step back to also consider possible corollary costs that the always on, on demand, in your pocket, highly personalized, presence-based world of social/mobile might bring us.   

The Theatre of Security

This past weekend, a security expert being interviewed on major media explained that there is something known as “The Theatre of Security”. His example was that of a random number of people who are singled out for pat downs on the trains. He explained that this form of “security” really did not make anyone any safer, but it provided commuters with the illusion that they were safer, hence the theatre.

In terms of your privacy, and potentially your future security, the passcode on your smartphone will provide you with similar theatre.  Sure, it is helpful to know that if your smartphone is fleeced in such a way that the thief cannot unlock it, today’s run of the mill robber will not have access to your data. Mobile devices are becoming so central to our lives, that people prefer to lose just about anything except for their smartphone.  However, as my previous blog post depicted using the Hotel California example, your face will soon biometrically unlock your data, and the world, including cat burglars, will be programmed to receive.  So if you shudder at the thought of having your cat burgled, or you take comfort in having a passcode on your smartphone, read on.

First, The Good News

One of the essential building blocks for the deeply personalized Hotel California future is data mining.  As the linked Forbes video on an innovative Business Intelligence (BI) company called Qlik shows, data mining truly does add a lot of productivity to economies, and has largely been utilized to help businesses make better decisions, faster. I should note that Qlik’s business, BI, is larger than data mining. I am only using them as an example because I was so impressed with their product from a business planning view, and because the short video has 2 good examples on how BI can help people as well as organizations.

Now the Cautionary News from 1949, 1984 and 2013

Note that at the end of the video, the executive mentions that now anyone can do this. Beyond enterprise-specific software companies, today’s online ad platforms, blogging services, and others provide consumers with aggregated user statistics. What new types of social, mobile and local data will be made available in the future? It is hard to argue that the bias for the last seven years has not been trending toward sharing of more personal data.  In Mobile, it is critical to present highly personalized data (relevance!) quickly in order to maintain high levels of engagement. More and more, good mobile user experience design will take into account one’s situation, which can be inferred in a number of ways. I can download a dating app today and learn about people walking around nearby who fit my criteria. For every positive use case, there may be a negative one as well. Who can we expect will have access to more granulated data mining and just how easy will it be to get access? Will security issues with the popular application framework Ruby on Rails, and a probable rise in hacker targeting of smartphones produce more exploits as is being warned?

There is some irony that the 1949 Gold Rush brought the world’s miners to California, and San Francisco is now the Eldorado for data mining.  Every little Silicon Valley startup appears to be panning for analytical nuggets.  It’s just that the streams they’re panning are different – now they are digital, such as your photos, your emails, your online and offline browsing, and your buying. When you hear about the 49ers, don’t just think San Francisco football, re-think gold mining.

A lot of the building blocks for the Hotel California future are already in place.  Your face, your calendar, your contacts, their relationships to you, where you live and work, where you invest, how you pay, how you commute, your likes and dislikes, your favorite vacation spot, your curiosities, your medical questions, and your interests and preferences are now being mined and sold. I am not referring to yet another 1984 scenario of some far away future when cars fly and your son is named Elroy. You are on databases, and I mean really on.  This shouldn’t be news to anyone, except that we should take a moment to marvel at the degree to which the cold machinery of networked data centers have steadily grown to churn out terabytes of cross referenced data on every thing, every place and everyone any time in any way for any purpose (depending on your country) under the euphemism of “Big Data”.  This was, after all, our Any5 vision in the early 1990’s.

Whereas today’s marketers are creating standard personas in which to group you, every day these will be more individualized and so will be the messages and benefits you receive.  If you turn in any direction, if your eyes scan any object, any manner of signs that your attention is identifiable will be fair game. How you eat, what you eat, when and where you eat can all be tracked in the name of health and weight loss. I’m waiting for the “Peter Griffin Digital Toilet” to show up – it would provide real time health data, be more convenient than a urinalysis and if you don’t like it you don’t have to work here, Mr. Airline Pilot.  Talk about your pot of gold!  (Sorry, a good joke left un-said is a good life left un-led. Hey, I demand credit for that saying).

The masses are parting with their privacy / security in the name of convenience, productivity, real time search, alerts, career, gaming, gamification, dating, learning, health, you name it.  The billions of apps and online service registrations and the one billion smartphones that will be sold in 2013 are only the point of entry.  As big data access is liberalized, the very source of a mobile users’ empowerment can also be their downfall. Will the confluence of more data, an expectation of better experience management, more liberal data sharing, online programming training, and possible exploits expose more of your real time personal data beginning in 2013?  The next blog post will explore possible implications.

The evolution of the SOLOMO web is affecting us all in profound ways, good, great and cautionary. I can’t get enough of the innovation and resultant utility that the tech industry brings us every day. Every other blog seems to focus on the coming blessings of mobility.  Its true that there are things that personalized mobility will do for us that will make us wonder how we ever got along without them. Folks should also consider the issues that might arise as a consequence of the opportunities.  The thousands of industry professionals should continue to go full bore into creating the future. They would be wise to also think a few steps further about how the decisions they make regarding access to end-users’ data could produce undesired outcomes. My next post (3rd of 4) will explore legalities and practicalities of privacy rights.  Part four of this post will list some of the companies bringing us these new capabilities.  Regardless, unless you are a Tibetan monk or understand the deep web, you might as well get used to it.  It’s a brave new world.