Categories: "Technology" or "Android"

Online Privacy and Internet-Based Business Models


Chances are you have provided your name, email address and/or phone # many times when using internet services. Besides having those databases offering mildly useful (to you, the user) services (if any) to help remember you choices, preferences, whatever, the primary purpose of this is to add you to some contact list. The longer the list, the better, as there is a market price for every contact.

Chances are that the service you were using will turn a profit on selling you (sorry, your contact info) out to whoever wants to buy, usually telemarketers and other shady businesses that thrive on cheating and dishonesty (which I consider bothering innocent people who most certainly did not agree or want to be bothered, without making absolutely sure they don't mind).

Congress generally has been very lenient toward these practices, as for the most part, a business that is based on "sort of" misleading customers, but still produces revenues is still a business and of course they need to be reelected at some point so donors associated with businesses like that would be more enthusiastic if our congress members were not out to get them aggressively. The tides may be turning due to public outrage...

Take for example IE. They just came out with their version 10, in which tracking is disabled as a default. So why is this relevant? Well, for some time now, pretty much any major browser has offered that as an option and the savvy and technologically more literate, who also happen to be annoyed by advertisers tracking their every move on the internet, could disable the tracking already. But to make that default is huge, as it essentially means that the majority of internet users are now lost to those shady advertisers.

It also means that Microsoft (who is on the losing end of the browser wars right now) felt that consumer discontent with the unwanted advertising and tracking etc reached a point where the appeal of such a function (do-not-track as default) to consumers outweighs the ignorance of this issue. It remains to be seen whether they made the right calculation. However, it definitely signals a new era we are entering, in which we can take better control of our privacy.

Well, what does it all mean for Facebook, which just went public? Quite possibly nothing good. Facebook's business model is actually based on ads (despite the Facebook movie's Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network being shown as abhorring selling them out to advertisers). Their low click rate has already been an issue, and now this... To make it simple, their business model outlines 2 main areas of income. One, the ads; and two, selling their massive user lists to 3rd party internet advertisers and other shady entities (whoever buys).

While neither of these 2 will help maintain Facebook's "cool" factor, they could spell trouble greater than that. First, the ads are not only not cool, but they are actually annoying and deterring. Nobody wants to see all these scary ads (scary because they are a result of sophisticated targeting obviously indicating their high level of understanding of you habits somehow) when they are logging in to connect with their friends and family.

Second, and this is even a greater problem, if privacy concerns are gaining ground, just as you are seeing in the Microsoft decision over do-not-track in IE, FB's ability to sell out any of their user databases (without the users' consent) is going to be curtailed and/or even eliminated.

I think (dream) that one day some level of transparency will prove to be a needed part of the most sustainable internet business models. I think it is OK to sell out consumer data (browsing, contact, ordering, etc) when somebody clearly agrees to that. And I don't mean some vague blanket consent that can be freely used, but to break it down specifically, for EACH case your data is shared. Something like "you are receiving this email because we are about to share your entire timeline, chatting habits, sexual preferences, favorite cuisines, home telephone number with the company '' and we are getting 1.03 USD for this sale of your data. Please let me know if this is OK with you". And if they get no reply they could not take it as a yes.

At the same time, you could have a tiered user agreement, in which you could pay a user fee (say $10/month or something like that) for all the services and see no ad, have none of your data shared. Of course I am naive and it may be a gross underestimation of how much your data will be worth and how much it costs to maintain these services every month if those 2 income making options (related to your being a FB user) are eliminated.

It will be interesting to see how it will play out in the next couple of years. For now, I will stay a FB user and remain braced for my data being used/misused, as to me personally the advantages of FB services outweigh the downsides. Barely. That could change any moment...

Android, Motorola, and the Patent Wars


Ever since the arrival of the Motorola Droid, hailed as the first serious Android contender to the iPhone, changing the smartphone (or rather app phone) landscape forever (and arguably not to the advantage of Apple), I have been a Motorola Droid user. I had 2 units of the original Droid, then at my 3rd Droid 2 Global.

Overall, I should say I am generally happy with both the platform and the hardware. There are of course glitches and frustrations, which I think is unavoidable to some extent with such gizmos (at least knowing me they are), but in general there are no major reasons for me to move away from this combo that I have relied on for almost 2 years.

Why, some of you might ask, do I all of a sudden seem like brand loyal diehard, when I have made the point so many times before that it is always the actual facts, functions, and needs that determine for me what I buy, no matter who makes it. My motto was "zero brand loyalty". Also, you might ask, why on earth would anyone stick with Motorola, when fancier and flashier Android competitors are abound with better and brighter alternatives? Take, for example, Samsung. Don't they have the "super AMOLED", a screen that is praised as ~30% brighter than any other company's best display option and the only touchscreen technology choice today, which can produce a visible interface on a smartphone in direct sunlight? Or take HTC! There does not seem to be a month go by when they don't come out with something jaw dropping. Specs are following some dizzying exponential accelerating hardware curve, set out by HTC for themselves (and for the rest of the market to follow). It is incredible what they can put together, technologically, in a phone. Google itself is turning to these (Samsung, HTC) for manufacturing its own "Google" phones, the Nexus series, not Motorola.

If you look at the article, however, I think you might get a sense as to (in part) why this newly embraced "brand loyalty" towards Motorola. I mean I do like them in general: I had several Motorola phones way before the smartphone era, and I do believe they do an outstanding, truly highest quality job when it comes to manufacturing. Reliable, business grade, sturdy, dependable are just some words that occur to me thinking of their manufacturing.

However, that is irrelevant here. Manufacturing is expected to be pretty perfect today anyway, technological perfection is a minimum from any of the main Android manufacturers. Patent portfolios aren't equally perfect across the board, though. As pretty much every one of the main Android device makers are tangled in a patent lawsuit (or usually multiple suits) with Apple, who has launched on an ultimate mission to exterminate all its competitors with patent-based weaponry; actually the strength of patent portfolios will weigh in tremendously and determine how exactly the apps phone world will look the day after tomorrow.

At a minimum, Motorola (and maybe only Motorola) can fend for itself, when it comes to legal challenges in the patent arena. In that regard, if you look at all the various Android makers, Motorola stands out by a mile. Pundits have been evaluating Apple's patent assault strategy. HTC was obvious. Small patent portfolio, easy target. Samsung was another must-have target, especially considering the danger it poses with its super AMOLED display and the resulting phenomenal performance on the market. Certainly these fights are showing results, just look at Vodafone's decision to suspend sales of the Samsung Galaxy tab in Europe. It was generally assumed that Apple will not go after Google itself any time soon, as that "clash of the titans" may be a bigger piece than what even Apple can swallow and, albeit that conflict clearly building up, has the dubious prospect of total annihilation of one or the other giant.

Instead, switching gears from small targets to larger beasts, perhaps testing the waters for the ultimate clash, now it seems Apple decided to go after Motorola (Xoom, in Europe), which will definitely be a major test of my assumption (in which I generally concur with the writer of the linked article that Motorola is patent-invincible). Motorola is most certainly a formidable opponent in any patent fight when it comes to phones. Just as explained in the linked article, it can well be the last bastion, even after Google (!), in the Android wars.

In any case, I remain assured, for now anyway, that nobody will announce tomorrow that the sales of Motorola Android based phones are halted until further court order. As to HTC, Samsung, etc devices, well, I am not so sure...