Archive for the ‘My moral code’ Category

Yesterday, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and one of Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommates, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed proposing that Facebook be broken up. I’m not a big proponent of government intervention intended to stifle the growth of large successful businesses. But, Chris’s arguments are compelling. For example, he says of Mark’s 60% ownership of Facebook shares:

Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered.

Although, in my view, Chris misrepresents the intent of the American constitution when he says…

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. 

… he makes an important point about monopolies and the concentration of power.

I have heard an interesting counter-argument to Chris’ contention that Facebook is like AT&T once was and that competition is not an issue. The argument goes like this:

“Facebook provides their services for free and, since they aren’t selling anything to users and aren’t exchanging money for access, this can’t be about monopoly and antitrust”.

Perhaps there is a long debate to ensue. But I want to give you my opinion with one simple concept:

<<<<< DATA HAS VALUE >>>>>

To me this is unquestionably an antitrust issue. Every time I point my browser at Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp (I don’t actually use the latter) I am exchanging my personal data for the services I’m consuming. I know I’m doing this and I only do it because I get value from these services. I’m exchanging something of value for something else of value.

The problem is that if I don’t like Facebook software, I have no other choice. I can’t move to another social platform (no, Twitter isn’t a substitute), and I can’t just stop using these apps without sacrificing my network of relationships. (After all, Facebook was established for what appeared to be a really cool purpose and that is something I embrace).

In my estimation, then, I’ve exchanging a value (my data) for a service (my network) and the value I exchange is put to productive reuse by Facebook (they sell my data to advertisers and use it to drive my experience). So, my valuable data is  exchanged and re-exchanged just like currency. If I have only one choice about who to give my data to then that is the data version of antitrust, the “not a monopoly” argument dies instantly.

Should Facebook be broken up? You decide. But, does Mark Zuckerberg own a monopoly? Unquestionably.

Mark Zuckerberg gives me a network every day. In exchange I hand him a piece of my ever-growing “dataganger”. Billions of us do that every day and that is called a concentration of power.

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I’m thinking of writing a book.

I thought I made up a word called “Dataganger” but I Googled it only to find that others have beat me to it. The great news is that I could instantly “Google” it. The bad news is that there is now another bit of data to define my “Dataganger”! I still want to use the word if I ever write the book. Here’s why:

  • Several medical image libraries have gigabytes of image data of my brain.
  • My Alexa insures that Amazon knows when I go to sleep, when I awake, which podcasts I listen to, that I listen to the BBC World Service when I go to bed, when I go upstairs and downstairs, what music I like, what my political views are, and a million more things about me that “she” probably records when I’m not looking.
  • Twitter knows all my political views and all my likes and dislikes.
  • Facebook knows pretty much everything
  • Google knows everything I’ve ever researched about my health, sporting teams, technical interests, and almost everything I’ve ever cared about.
  • Amazon knows all the books I like, what coffee I drink, what toilet paper I buy, what Indian food I like, what watches I wear, what pet food I buy, and, by the way, every product I’ve ever bought at Whole Foods.
  • My Nest thermostat knows what temperature I like any time of the day or night and when I am and am not home.
  • My T-Mobile SyncUp Drive knows every place I drive either of my cars, how fast I drive, how many times I brake too hard, how much time I’m on the road, and how I maintain my cars.
  • My iPhone knows where I am anytime of the day or night, how much I walk, what apps I use, what I like and dislike, and thousands of other bits of telemetry relative to what I am and do.
  • LinkedIn knows everything about my career history, aspirations, and business relationships.
  • My Fitbit knows how much I walk.
  • My watch knows how much I walk and everyone who texts or calls me.
  • My parking lot key card reader knows when I come and go from work.
  • The Harvest app knows everything I tell my company about my work hours.
  • The fingerprint reader on my office door knows whenever I enter or leave the office.
  • My Ring Video Doorbell know who comes to by front door, when, and possibly even why.
  • Comcast Xfinity knows everything thing I watch on every TV in my house.
  • Zillow knows where I live, who my neighbors are, what my house is worth, and the demographics of my neighborhood.
  • My Roku knows anything about my viewing habits that Xfinity doesn’t know, and, since it’s on my Comcast ISP, Comcast has that data too.
  • Ancestry.com has my entire genome.
  • And let’s not even start on Credit Karma!

But wait! There’s more!  The sad fact is that every one of those services has probably sold my data to many others so that they can target me with ads.

So, what’s my point – aside from the fact that I’m over-connected? There are two.

First, In every single case I have done this to myself. I have chosen to exchange my data for one form of convenience or another. I did this by either reading and agreeing to terms and conditions that I have no possible leverage to negotiate, or by not even reading those Ts&Cs. After all, what am I supposed to do, not have a smartphone just because T-Mobile and AT&T won’t negotiate? I knowingly make what could be a really stupid decision every day.

My second, and perhaps more important point is that there is now a distributed data copy of Steve Bilow, floating around Cyberspace. It may be distributed but it’s still privately owned. This is my digital doppelganger and the only one who seems not to own it is ME.

That is what I call my “Dataganger” and I have a lot more to say about it in my next few posts.

There may be a book in my future. Who knows?

(Well, actually, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Nest, T-Mobile, Apple, Fitbit, the parking lot and building owners at my place of business, Harvest, Comcast, Zillow, Roku, Ancestry, Credit Karma, and only God knows who else probably have enough data about be to make a pretty accurate inference. So, SOMEBODY probably does know.  Just not me. I own one me… large corporations own the other, the federated, me. That’s the bad news…………..)

 

Back in July I saw an article in Wired asking the question:

“WAS IT ETHICAL FOR DROPBOX TO SHARE CUSTOMER DATA WITH SCIENTISTS?”

You can easily find that online.

What I wanted to share today is that I take a pretty hardline data privacy position and I answer the question with an unequivocal “NO”.

Here’s why:

Say I have a car. Is it mine? I say “yes”.

Suppose I park it in a big parking lot, for example at Disneyland. Is it still mine? “Yes”.

Now, let’s say I paint the car, remove the VIN, take off the license plates, add a bunch of after-market accessories, hit it with a sledgehammer a few times, and change the wheels. Is the car still mine? Of course it is.

In any of those scenarios can someone just decide to take my car and use it for a scientific experiment without my consent? Nope.

Why is my data any different?

In my view, it’s not. I own my data and no matter how you repaint it and “anonymize” it, it’s still mine. In fact, any decent data security guy will tell you that it’s virtually impossible to actually anonymize my data, to remove all identifying information linking it to me. That would be like making all those changes to my car and then having to insure that there is no trace of my DNA left in it. Completely anonymizing my Facebook data or everything in my Dropbox would be an edge case at best. It’s likely not going to be possible.

So, you can’t remove my identity and use my data anymore than you can remove my VIN and use my car, without my consent. That is blatantly unethical.

Now, you might say that I have agreed in some license agreement that my data is different. Why?

When I park my car in that parking lot I get an agreement too. But I don’t need an attorney to help me decide whether or not to park there. If you give me a 50 page legal document to read before handing over my data then you are putting me in an impossible position. You are assuming, rightly, that I won’t understand what I’m agreeing to. That is a common but unworkable business practices and that is not ethical either.

We may have gigabytes of data in the depths of the internet. But, we are still humans and that means we are fallible. I’m your customer and, yes, I’m fallible. Taking advantage of your customer’s fallibility is not an ethical business practice.

Bring on the comments and disputation!

I’d like to start by apologizing to those of you who are actually engaged followers of my writing. My last post was over 3 months ago and even that was just a reblog. I have found myself in a situation of looking for a new “real job” and everyone I know tells me to be careful of what I write. All of them are correct. After all it’s difficult to undo a first impression and everyone who sees my resume will see my social media. I do need to be cognizant of that. So to my followers, I’m sorry I’ve given you so little.

In theory, since I’m sending around lots of resumes, I also need to begin by welcoming those of you who are here because you want to know if you should interview me. Trust me, you should 🙂 When you look at these posts please don’t focus on the one or two you disagree with or find strange. Rather, consider how refreshing it might be to work with someone who thinks and who has such absolute integrity as to be 110% transparent. You won’t like all you read but you will hopefully find it thought-provoking. That’s what my next employer will get: unconditional integrity, transparency, and intellect. That is who I am. Ok… And I try like heck to be funny too since that is my stress coping mechanism.

Which brings me to the point of this post…

Every firm has resources. Every resource has a cost. Every cost goes on the expense side of a balance sheet. Every balance sheet needs to ultimately represent a profitable, fiscally viable, business. My iPad is a resource. My Mont Blanc pen is a resource. My glass kiln is resource. My house is a resource. My wife and I are resources. But only the last resources I mentioned can have unconditional integrity, humor, love, emotion, empathy, fear, creativity, strategic agility, and compassion. So, in the next few weeks I want to address my contention that humans can’t simply be treated as financial resources. My personal moral-compass points to human value and dignity at exactly true north.

I have been involved with several firms that are in transition. All of them seem to have expense issues at one time or another. Reducing travel expenses so that we “don’t need to make ‘other’ resource reductions”, for example, is a very poorly disguised code for pending layoffs. That was not my particular situation but I’ve been on both sides of the equation and I get it. That said, I propose (and this is where I always thought my PhD dissertation in business ethics – maybe in my next life – should end up) that $1m in travel and $1m in human capital are not equivalent. You can’t ruin a non-human life but you can destroy a family in an instant when you treat human and non-human resources identically. Over the course of this series of posts I will explain why both business ethics and virtue ethics in a business context should be founded on treating humans as inherently higher value than their comparably costed non-human resources.

So… Stay tuned.

Over 300 people are now dead. Twenty-seven are children. Why?

A group of truly evil people seem to think that Sufism is heretical. This must be because a branch of a great religion that focuses on peace and joy is anathema to fundamentalist ideology. After all, when did you ever see a dervish with an assault rifle? A dervish with a suicide belt? A dervish with anything but ecstasy? Clearly, no matter how “Godly” these perverse fools think there precious brand of nutcase Islam is, joy isn’t part of their God’s plan.

I find this especially appalling because, in my personal theology, and my broader religious community, JOY is exactly the purpose of living! Any religion whose theology mandates the killing of another person is not a religion of MY God. Not only that, killing a Sufi of all things could not be anything but an act of evil.

Paramahansa Yogananda once said “If you only knew how much God loved you, you would die of joy“. OK… he wasn’t Jewish but there are a lot in our community for whom that must resonate. I know that Jesus would say the same and I’ll bet the Prophet Muhammad would too, if only the crazy people would stop murdering others and would LISTEN. In fact, I’d propose that every major religion would agree. I’d also propose that every major religion has some segment of believers who let dogma trump that message.

What we have seen this week is yet another senseless MURDER of 300 precious members of our species. That is yet another bastardization of irrational dogma in the name of religion. Worse, it even twists the word religion to make that just another cover for hate.

So, to you who would kill 300 praying Sufis, I want you to know that I hate you too. The difference between you and me is that I’d never kill you for that. You see, I recognize that even you are precious members of the human family. Even you have been given the blessing of life no matter how you distort the image of God within you. You are stupid but you are sentient; and killing sentient beings because they aren’t like you is never acceptable. Not even with evil people like you.

So, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for joy. I am grateful to live. I am grateful for the love and friendship I share. I am grateful that the violent fanatics are a tiny subset of Muslims. And… yes… in memory of those men, women, and children you brutally murdered…

I am grateful that there is a branch of Islam devoted to joy.

Help me reach my goal of $500 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk. Just click here.

Thanks for helping AFSP!

Love you all!

 

 

I love my country and I respect our flag. I put up my flag for Independence Day and leave it up through Labor Day. I stand for the National Anthem even when I’m just hearing it at home. I help my wife with her “Tools for Troops” nonprofit. I visit the Vietnam Memorial 100% of the time I go to D.C., even though I despise that war. I applaud for returning military when I see them in the airport. I thank every military person I see for their service. I have gone to Arlington National Cemetery for the laying of the wreath at the tomb of the unknowns even when I detested the President who laid it. I read both the Cato Institute’s and the American Constitution Society’s annual Supreme Court case reviews. I love America.

So, you might think I don’t approve of NFL players who kneel during our National anthem. You would be wrong. Here’s why.

The primary thing that makes me so love America is our theoretically unbounded notion of liberty. Unlike China or North Korea we don’t have state controlled media. Unlike Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and most Muslim countries we don’t have law tied to Religion. Unlike England, we don’t have a state sanctioned church. We have a notion of Liberty that is broader than any other country. Not democracy – LIBERTY.

Unfortunately, the man we have elected President is the anthesis of all my concept of America represents. He will propose firing NFL players who kneel while praising white supremacists as including some good people. He stereotypes Muslims. He wants to stop our free media. He wants to let fundamentalist Christianity drive our laws. He is – in short – the exact opposite of me.

President Trump has the liberty to divide America all he wants. But, we citizens – NFL Players included – have been afforded equal liberty by our constitution. So, even though I revere our country, I love the flag, and I will always stand for the anthem, I revere far more the liberty upon which those things are founded. So, like it or not, I unconditionally support the NFL players, coaches, and owners who exercise their first amendment rights to protest the aspects of our country against which they feel it necessary to fight.

I stand for the first amendment and must thus stand with the NFL.