Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No Secrets Anymore

Behram Mistree talks about his data mining and analytics experiment using Facebook while he was at MIT, transcript from CNN interview on CNN Newsroom below:

See video here. Note that the highlighted information below was removed from the video.

VELSHI: Let's talk more about how your personal information can be used to find out things about you, particularly on a social networking site. Let's bring in the co-author from a M.I.T. study, getting his Ph.D at Stanford right now. And Carter Jurnegean (ph) is from Boston. Same study. He is now a software developer.

OK, guys, you -- used your study. Just let me know if this is clear. You went on Facebook, and basically from people's information on there, figured out their sexual orientation. Is that basically it?

BEHRAM MISTREE, M.I.T. STUDY AUTHOR: Yes, sir. Absolutely. In essence, what we were trying to test is the age-old adage, birds of a feather flock together and have it apply it to the digital age. And is our research showed that based on your friends online, we could infer information about you, whether you disclosed that information about yourself or not.

VELSHI: Carter, is that particularly scientific? Because I guess you could sort of figure it out when you look at things like that or figure out where somebody is from, based on where their largest concentration of friends is, or where they went to college, even if they didn't put that on. Were your findings sort of a mystery to you?

CARTER JERNIGAN, M.I.T. STUDY AUTHOR: Well, I mean, I think what was novel about our research is that we've really shown that this birds-of-a-feather phenomenon applies in online communities, even when people don't publicly disclose information. So, if your profile had basically no information and it was very bare bones, just by seeing who you're associated with, we could still learn certain significant information about you.

VELSHI: Let's take it beyond sexual orientation. Where else could you be vulnerable about people learning things you didn't feel like you wanted to have known on Facebook, for instance?

JERNIGAN: That's a great question --

MISTREE: Go ahead.

There's emerging work that's suggesting that similar information could be found based on -- about political affiliations, religious affiliations, income bracket, those kinds of things. So, there's nothing to suggest that this work is just specific to sexual orientation. In reality, for this type of network data, you could have lots of privacy risks associated across a gamut of different traits.

VELSHI: Carter, if I were gay, I may not want to say that on Facebook, but it may not matter to me if that information was out there. If I live in Atlanta, I may not say I'm from Atlanta, it may not matter that it gets there.

Where do you draw the line as to protect information you don't want out there? Should I be on Facebook if I don't want people to know where I live, where I shop, who my friends are or what my sexual orientation is? Is it just too much information to be able to protect yourself?

JERNIGAN: Right. And it's -- become very difficult to keep all of that information private. And so as part of our research, we were very interested in raising awareness in these sort of surprising risks with online privacy. So as I said, again, a lot of people think oh, well, our research doesn't apply, because, you know, I don't have any information on my own profile.

VELSHI: Right.

JERNIGAN: But again, we were really interested in raising awareness, even if you think you have done the best job you can do to keep information private, that may not be the case.

VELSHI: Behram, there's a quote in your study from Scott Abrams, the creator of Dilbert. I just want to share this with you. It says, "Let's say that someday, technology will allow anyone to find out every possible thing about my life. I can compensate by being so uninteresting to that nobody could survive the process of snooping on me without lapsing into a coma."

Is that really going to be the solution?

MISTREE: Perhaps it is. But just so that you know, even if you're very uninteresting to the average person, you're very interesting to different companies. So, there's a real financial incentive for these -- for lots of large companies to have information about for marketing and other types of purposes. So, whether or not you're very uninteresting to the average person, you're very interesting to, say, an advertiser.

VELSHI: Carter, any conclusions here about how we should behave online?

JERNIGAN: I think, really, being aware of the fact that any actions you take online, you know, can have unintended privacy consequences. And so, again, it's this awareness that we think is really important.

VELSHI: But you're not advocating that people don't put information in, you're just saying they should know what it is.

JURNIGAN: I mean, I think it's going to be up to each person's own decision. I think disconnecting yourself entirely from technology is going to have its own consequences, just as well as connecting yourself with technology has consequences. And so, you know, full disclosure and being fully aware is definitely a very good first step.

VELSHI: Great study, guys. We were chopping off little bits of this technology, privacy issue to try and understand it better. Thanks for helping us. Behran Mistree is one of the co-authors of the study and the other Carter Jernigan, joining me from Boston. Thanks, guys.

MISTREE: Thank you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

India's National Institute of Design

I am always inspired by some excellent work at the Young Designers website of National Institute of Design in India, see various examples related to communication, interdisciplinary, industrial, textile and IT here.

Congratulations to the faculty, administration and the students on bringing the institute through to its 50 years this year.  I hope to visit in person one day!

See the NID's website here.

CEO Opening - Pakistan ICT R&D Fund

Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology has opened up the position for the CEO (of National ICT R&D Fund) to lead its roughly $35m for information and communication technology, see details here.  Of interest to my readers would be the Centers of Innovation RFPs in multiple sectors here.  A good beginning!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Startup Visa to USA?

USA's innovation comes from the outside or the "outside" mind (~50% of top tier patents filed are by immigrants to USA or naturalized citizens)... details regarding legislation being requested here. Similarly, I wrote about Dubai's startup visa here.

If passed, this will be an interesting way to attract "creative" minds to the USA. The cost of entry is pretty minimal if one considers - "The bill requires each entrepreneur to have a sponsoring US venture capital or angel investor who will invest at least $100,000 in their startup, and total funds raised must be at least $250,000 per company."

The question that remains for me is if the equity of USA is still strong enough among the innovators of the world for them come over? Also, why wouldn't the Silicon Valley VC give, let's take for example a robotics company in Thailand (the reader can easily find the company I refer to) $100,000 which will go ten times farther in both attracting top talent and run operations?

Perhaps the policy being suggested is more reactionary as most things government are... that is after the fact! Has the ship sailed?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Indian Consumer Debt Recovery Technique

An approach deployed by Indian banks to recover consumer debt - "He is a private money recovery agent – more commonly referred to here as a goon – who is hired by a large private bank to collect debts from credit card holders. Mr Shirole requested the bank not be named." See details here.

This provides a unique insight into adoption of or perhaps "copying and pasting" of what may have worked elsewhere while the current policies and infrastructure do not allow for sustainability of the solution.

The East Rising

The Economist states: "The East is undoubtedly rising but its new day has barely begun." Excellent graphical representation of regional growth comparisons.

Data To Information - Monitor to Manage

Nice audio at The Economist on data gathering, its conversion to information and the value that can be extracted, both retrospectively and predictively - "information about the information society"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Copy and Paste Urbanism - New Songdo

Friend and colleague Franz Dill sends along a great article from Fast Company, "Cisco's Big Bet on New Songdo: Creating Cities From Scratch" here.

Having experienced the building and growth of cities from scratch such as Dubai, a key aspect missing in the article is the fact that humans form societies and the societies revolve around culture.  The success of copied and pasted cities will depend on whether the regime or government supporting the effort is autocratic or democratic.  Autocratic regimes will have a higher success rate with copying and pasting.  A democratic environment that will respect individual rights and choices, either perceived or real, will have a tendency to challenge the status quo represented by the product (city) being replicated.

Replicating cities in democracies will need a substantial marketing budget to be successful!

Also, such cities developed in regions where the qualitative and quantitative value to the inhabitants increases substantially, the success rate for a short period of time will again be good.

In the final analysis, if a people or place defining the cities, regions, or nations do not represent a uniqueness or distinction, after the initial uptick the sustainability of such becomes questionable.