Category Archives: Commentary-Consumer

COMMENTARY – These Are the Challenges Tech Giants Will Face in 2019

A protester wearing a model head of
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg poses for
media on Nov. 27, 2018 in London.
Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple,
and Amazon must address increasing public
concerns or face more government regulation.
Jack Taylor—Getty Images

By Bill George – January 18, 2019

 

For the past decade, the technology giants—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, Uber—have dominated the business world. Just last year, their stock prices appeared to be on an endless upward trajectory.

No longer.

The past year presented the major technology companies with multiple difficulties, and 2019 promises to be even more challenging. Expect extensive news coverage of how Russian agents used Facebook advertising to influence the U.S. election as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues. The Federal Trade Commission may take antitrust action as Google, Facebook, and Amazon dominate digital advertising revenue.

Additionally, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has told leading technology companies that a federal privacy law “enjoys strong bipartisan support.”

Will the pioneers of this technology era keep pace, or remain oblivious to the public policy issues they are creating? Entering 2019, tech companies have five major issues they must address—or governments and the public will do it for them:

  1. Privacy
  2. Antitrust
  3. Employee revolts
  4. Device addiction
  5. Leadership and governance
Privacy

Facebook faces a series of scandals: Russian agents using Facebook advertising to influence elections, its controversial data partnerships, and its privacy policies. Last spring, the Guardian broke stories on Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook sites to gain access to user data, including Facebook friends connected to these sites, to influence the 2016 U.S. election, triggering extreme political and media reactions.

Mark Zuckerberg’s response? He went into hiding for five days, even sending his associate general counsel to replace him at Facebook’s regular employee town hall. When he did appear in public, he tried to blame everything on Cambridge Analytica. Six months later, Zuckerberg still hasn’t addressed the real issues and continues to react defensively as new issues arise. His distortions and deflections incited Facebook’s critics and invited the media to dig deeper. In response, Facebook hired attack dog PR firms to go after its detractors.

Facebook’s problems are much deeper than Cambridge Analytica. It has amassed 2.1 billion users with the offer of a free site. But users are largely unaware that Facebook takes their private information to create highly detailed user profiles to sell to advertisers.

The privacy issue can be easily overcome by requiring users to opt in or opt out of permitting Facebook to profile their information, and charging monthly fees for opting out. Facebook’s failure to address this issue suggests Zuckerberg is driven more by revenue and profit growth than by protecting users’ privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook takes a dim view of Facebook’s approach. He believes data privacy is a human right. Regarding regulations, he notes, “We have to admit when the free market is not working…It’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.”

In May 2018, the European Union launched the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the bulk of which may find its way into U.S. law. When GDPR required users to explicitly opt in or out, Facebook saw declines in its user base.

Antitrust

Antitrust authorities are ramping up investigations of the tech giants for market dominance. Last summer, the European Union fined Google $5.1 billion in an antitrust action for misusing its Android operating system. In November, President Trump said his administration is “very seriously” considering antitrust action against Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged his company’s vulnerabilities, as his staff say government regulation is a major concern for the company’s outlook.

Employee revolts

Employees at the big tech companies are exerting strong influences of their own, forcing leaders to adjust to the new environment. In 2017, Google engineer James Damore attacked the company’s affirmative action program and was dismissed by Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In November, more than 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases.

Facebook has faced a series of high-level executive defections, with at least 10 senior executives announcing their departures, including Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Following Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s forced departure, his successor Dara Khosrowshahi revamped his executive team and company culture to address outrage at sexual harassment incidents and Uber’s sharp-elbowed culture.

Device addiction

In the past year, media coverage has relentlessly detailed the ways that excessive phone usage negatively impacts users—perhaps even rewiring the brain. How will tech companies, which all work hard to keep users on site, respond? Apple, for instance, now sends users weekly updates of their device time.

Leadership and governance

Most of these tech giants are still controlled by their founders and have founder-dominated boards. Creating two classes of stock has enabled their founders to retain control of the company and their boards. On the surface, their rationale—to focus on long-term growth and investment—appears sound, but the concentration of power can lead founders to feel invincible. Zuckerberg, Kalanick, and Tesla’s Elon Musk have needed wise counsel, and they haven’t always listened.

Zuckerberg says his company is at “war.” Is he really, or is his wartime mindset responsible for alienating executives, employees, and users? Uber founder Kalanick controlled his company’s board, which struggled to tame his abrasive style. He remained impervious to public and internal criticism until shareholders finally forced him to resign as CEO. The talented Elon Musk was recently banned from chairing Tesla after the Securities and Exchange Commission pressed securities fraud charges against him. Meanwhile, Musk’s erratic style has caused scores of Tesla’s top executives to resign.

The problem also resides with their boards, who serve more as advisers than as governors. Recently, a former Facebook director claimed that founder-led companies are different. “At an ordinary public company, the board is the boss,” he said, while noting that Facebook’s board members play more of an advisory role. Public companies—regardless of who founded them—require strong and effective governance. If the boards of Facebook, Uber, and Tesla had taken governance more seriously, they could have averted some serious problems before they turned into crises. In Uber’s case, Arianna Huffington stepped up to transform its board, negotiate Kalanick’s departure, and recruit his successor.

The more mature tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft decided years ago to build strong boards filled with CEOs and experienced executives, which has enabled them to avoid many of the problems experienced by others. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had the wisdom to recruit Eric Schmidt as CEO until he became board chair of parent company Alphabet in 2015.

As the tech industry faces even greater scrutiny in 2019, hubris among technology executives may force the government to step in. One proposal would impose time limits on two-class ownership structures, while another would require independent board chairs of founder-led companies. While founders feel the need to control their companies, they increase their odds of success when they engage other stakeholders who bring different perspectives to help create more durable, long-term enterprises.

Tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook play an important role in building a dynamic, innovative economy. Let’s hope their CEOs and boards step up to establish strong governance, effective processes, and aligned executive teams.

Bill George is a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, and the author of Discover Your True North. Follow him on Twitter or read more at BillGeorge.org.

 

 

 

Cybersecurity, what is it and what does it mean to me?

February 1, 2019

Commentary
Bill Owen – TechNewsBlog.net

 

We hear a lot about cybersecurity issues, identity theft, etc. We try to keep up on it, read a few articles. How many of us are actually taking it to heart and doing something about it? This would definitely not be one of those “put it on the backburner” categories for consumers or businesses.

From the consumer standpoint, we typically do not give it much thought while we merrily browse on our smartphones, tablets or PCs, posting messages, checking Facebook or a myriad of other social sites. Easy peasy, no sweat. But if you have not taken the minimal precautions to protect your bank accounts, personal websites, etc., you need to. Cybercriminals have become increasingly adept at breaking through some of the most stalwart of firewalls, etc.  As a consumer, you need to stay on top of it on a regular basis, even if you think it is a pain in the [bleep]. Some may not think about it, because nothing has happened to them to date. Just ask anyone who has been a victim of identity theft of important data about themselves. It takes months/years to clean it up. They are undoubtedly, or should be, leading the charge in updating people they know on the importance of browsing security. SSNs, phone numbers, bank accounts, passwords, and the list goes on and on. I have included an article from Kevin Murnane, a contributor to Forbes, on some very important steps to take in case you have not considered this topic, or are not sure if you have taken all of the basic steps to date to protect yourself re: privacy issues. Having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is almost a must now. Another article here on the all important subject of public Wi-Fi, that is largely being ignored (from the Federal Trade Commission with video). Feel free to chime in with comments, including any experiences that you have had that may apply here. Your input could be very instrumental in preventing some major issues for a lot of people.

From the business standpoint, IT departments are designed to have specialists on board to address the issues. That’s a given. They are probably the most underappreciated group/division within a company. All we want is our computers working so we can get the job done. Everything is wonderful until the system goes down. Red alert!!  We rarely see/realize the constant level of maintenance that the IT Team performs on a daily basis that keeps everything up and running about 90-95% of the time (hopefully your range is similar or higher!). Business cybersecurity is a whole different animal, as very sophisticated cybercriminals/hackers (the black hat variety) love to test their talent and abilities at a business’ expense. They are growing in number and sophistication, so it is a constant battle. Keeping up on the latest protective measures is being undertaken by many businesses today, but a surprising percentage are not, or are not to the extent that they should be. I will include an overview article from Kapersky Labs of what the business sector has to face here along with an article from Josh Fruhlinger, a contributor to CSO Online concerning statistics from 2018. A lot of excellent additional links to specific areas there. This may be of interest if you are an employee and/or consumer, just so you get an idea of the scope of the potential and real threats that businesses are facing. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that definitely applies to business.

Cybersecurity Predictions For 2019 from Forbes Technology Council article by Brian NeSmith. Brian is the CEO and Co-Founder of Arctic Wolf Networks, a leading SOC-as-a-service company, based in Sunnyvale, CA.  Additionally, Arctic Wolf Networks has been earmarked for $45 Million in new funding to accelerate company growth.

Cybersecurity will have its own category on this blog soon, so check back frequently. Hopefully some of the more technical posts in the future will be of more use for the informed, but it is always a good idea to lay out a good foundation first for the general audience. If you are a technical professional, feel free to add in technical areas of interest that you would like to comment on or have not been able to find answers to. I will do what I can to dig it up and post here for you in the comment section.

As a side note: I am really looking forward to attending a number of key technology conferences this year. I will be rubbing elbows with some key people and get their take on the latest landscape in different specialty areas of technology. I will then be able to, with their permission, post some articles of interest that should be of benefit. Thank you.

Bill

 

 

What CES Announcements Mean for Enterprise IT

Lisa has made some good points in these sections and we need to be mindful of them from both a business and consumer standpoint…

1/14/2019  09:30 AM

IT Leadership – InformationWeek

Commentary

1/14/2019
09:30 AM

Lisa Morgan
Lisa Morgan
Commentary

Connect Directly

CES exhibitors continue their tradition of zany tech announcements, almost all of which are cool. However, some of the innovations signal trends IT should consider.

Intelligent automation

“Convenience” has been the operative word in the consumer sector at least since the introduction of TV dinners back in the 1950’s. Time savers like bread machines now have fully automated industrial equivalents such as the Wilkinson Baking Company’s BreadBot. The persistent question, which has an evolving answer for every business, is why should humans have to do [fill in the blank]? If the task is boring, repetitive, time-consuming or hard to scale using humans, automation is the key. What might be automated next in your industry that will impact cost, productivity, efficiency and profitability? How could you translate that into a competitive advantage?

Cybersecurity and privacy

Bring-your-own technology has impacted enterprise IT and cybersecurity. Since wearables connect via Bluetooth, Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Wi-Fi, they provide yet more opportunities for brute force attacks. In addition, wearables tend to store Personally Identifiable Information (PII) unencrypted, which, if exploited, could result in political moves or other misdeeds that expose the organization to reputational damage, lawsuits and regulatory fines. Take the Withings Move ECG activity tracker, for example. It monitors a user’s heart health, which is great in some regards, but what if a device like this were compromised by a competitor, industrial spy or corporate politician and used to show that a key employee driving the popularity or market cap of a company was a liability? (Note: it is not our intention to imply that the Withings Move ECG is or any Withings products are less secure than any other IoT device because frankly we don’t know. It is just one of the CES announcements that made us consider the impact of such devices on IT.)

Voice interfaces

Voice interfaces are being integrated with all kinds of devices, including as the Lenovo Smart Clock, which leverages Google Assistant like its sibling the Smart Display which was introduced last year. The consumer electronics space is fueling the growth of voice interfaces, so your company should be at least piloting and testing them. Employees and customers will expect it. Figure out what they want and map your company’s interface strategy accordingly. Voice interfaces aren’t a complete replacement for more traditional interfaces just yet, but the mix is going to change rapidly. Are you ready?

Virtual reality

The HTC Vive Pro provides a commercial option for training, design and simulating impossible scenarios. It tracks eye movement, which enables it to make efficient use of resources, aligning those resources with the user’s point of attention. It isn’t cheap, though. The pro version costs $1,399 and the cheaper Vive Focus is $599. Then again, the products are aimed at enterprises, not consumers.

Frankly, VR and AR are still struggling to take off generally speaking because the headsets can be uncomfortable. In addition, the virtual elements can impact perception which can cause dizziness, nausea and spatial-related risks.

Configurability

The Samsung MicroLED modular TV allows users to configure screen components into any shape. It could be used artfully in lobbies and conference settings where a “wow factor” is desired. The two base screens are bolted together, whereas the other screens attach via magnets. Since the screens are modular, they’re also portable which is great news for creative minds, but potentially not-so-great news for asset management.

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include … View Full Bio

InformationWeek – We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.