Big brother?

I’m becoming more concerned by the day about targeted adverts.

When I was at MIPIM this year I very nearly bought a watch. I don’t actually need another watch – but that’s hardly the point is it? I saw a Meistersinger watch in one of the boutique stores and almost splashed the cash – I didn’t. I was sensible. I came home with a view to doing a bit more research.


I still haven’t bought a new watch.

But every time I log onto Facebook I am confronted with adverts for “Iconic Watches’ – and the link takes me to on-line stores I have visited. Yesterday I got my morning edition of Gizmag – with the days latest gadget offering and the mast advert is … watches. Iconic watches.

I have no real issue with being targeted as part of a wider demographic – but this is plain intrusive. It’s clever – but cannot be right.

They do say that Google know about your searches before you start them – that is why when you start typing in the search box it guesses the next part of the sentence or search. But this new level of ‘guessing’ is a step too far?

What else do they know about us?

And why do they think I want a Bellroy Wallet too? I have never searched for one of those?

Big Brother is watching you(r keystrokes)

There are some very clever people out there who know what you are doing. They can second-guess your next move, especially if you are staring at a computer screen and bashing away at a keyboard. We have known this for a little while. Some fraudsters were able to work out passwords from keystrokes (hence why some secure sites use drop down menus for dates and the like).

But there was a news this week that we Mac users pay more for our hotel rooms than beige box bashing PC users. We are prepared to pay up to 30% more than a PC user apparently. The reasons given were that we appreciate fine design and will pay extra for cutting edge technology. I’m not unhappy with that assumption, it is probably fair (for me).

But what is worrying is that the research was gathered from data mining – i.e. following your browsing habits including the type of machine you work on. The clever boys and grills have written algorithm which can spot the operating system you book from.

I do get concerned about the way in which this data is collected, usually surreptitiously. We don’t get the option to opt-out and the big computer firms just collect vast amounts of data about us. We have no idea really what they know. We do know that Google collected a lot of information about wi-fi networks when they prepared the street view images.

The real issue is that this ‘Apple’ premium fact could work against me? Presumably when I use a web site they could assume that I’m prepared to pay more because I am on a Mac? So, the playing field is no longer level. And the suggestion that the internet has widened choice may well have been a false dawn?

Technology – in you we rely

This week Blackberry has hit the news, but not in a good way. They have been having major connection issues with users left without email or browsing. And this spread all over the world. Thankfully we are iPhone users, so we were / are feeling very pleased with ourselves.

I am a keen advocate of the use of technology in business. I know that sometimes this ‘always on’ stuff can be a bit of a distraction. But I hope it means that we can offer a better and faster service to clients. It seems incredible sometimes to step back and realise what we are capable of. From taking digital images, dictating digitally, producing professional looking documents – from home, the office or a train. In my case this blog is being written in a hotel room on the Isle of Wight!

In simple, we have become completely reliant on our tech-toys. Who could really live without a mobile telephone now? I can’t imagine life without Google. The information you can draw upon, in seconds, is mind blowing. In my professional life it is amazing how we have progressed in such a short space of time.

But all of this goodness comes with a downside. When the internet fails – or the Blackberry world falls apart – we are stumped. People flood twitter with their frustrations! They stop functioning…

It isn’t until things go wrong that we stop to think how reliant we have become. In my office if we lose our email for a few hours, people start swearing and asking (demanding?) to know when it is going to be fixed. Appendages feel like they have been removed!

In God we may have trusted before, but I think it is the technology is our new God? Let us pray.


I am still waiting for my invitation to Google+ – the newest service from the behemoth that is Google.

It is the latest in a long line of social networks – and another to keep LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook warm in the winter. But this is going to be different. Whereas Facebook is about friends and LinkedIn is about business contacts (I think) Google+ is about acquaintances. It looks like I am going to have to get my label machine working full bore for a bit. All these monikers? I shall have to keep a list of people – but some of my business contacts are acquaintances and some I would dare say are friends too. Where shall I put them?

You can check out their demo site here. But is there a sense of deja vu here? I blogged about the wonder and then subsequent demise of the Google Wave some time ago? You can read the post-mortem here.

Looking at the new site it looks as though some of the features of the Wave have been re-used. Huddles, Sparks and Hangouts sound really cool. Circles of people too. Or is it cool really – are Google just trying too hard…

I am not sure how many more ‘places’ we need on-line. Sometimes we maybe need to move away from the screens and actually meet people? Now that is a cool idea?

Still – I have signed up for G+ and will let you know when I have been invited to join so we can perhaps huddle? And I shall definitely put you in a circle…

The password nightmare

In this digital world we live in we seem to need a password for everything – Bank, work stuff and web sites. And keeping track of the passwords is a nightmare.

Most people are fairly predictable in their choice – hackers have a league table:


It is estimated that the top two represent approximately 5% of all passwords!

And last week one of our locally based surveying firms had their website database hacked – in itself no good thing. But worse still was that it was posted on the internet. The database dumped on the web contained email addresses and passwords – and yes some were predictable. Some were ‘interesting’ and others potentially embarrassing….

My assistant was horrified when I asked her the meaning of her password. She spent the next few hours changing all of her passwords – she used the same one for lots of things!

I came across the listing through a simple Google search (it has now been removed), but clearly no one can know who has downloaded a copy (I have destroyed the copy I had).

This is a salutary lesson to us all. I took no pleasure in telling the firm concerned that they had a security breach (even if they think I did). They told me not to worry as they had a plan in place – I wasn’t worried, they didn’t have my password!

It could happen to any of us. It is, as they said in their email to everyone on Friday, a sign of the world we live in. There are some people out their who regard this as a game. They get a kick out of breaking a code. You have to hope there was no ulterior motive in using passwords for illegal purposes.

But the real lesson here is to be very careful about the passwords you use! And who you give them to…

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged Data Protection, database, , hacked, ICO, Passwords

An amazing office

A former colleague of mine – who now swans around Seattle going from Starbucks to Starbucks sent me some incredible pictures in the week of the new Google offices.

Having just moved office (not much) I thought it would be really cool to have some of these features – OK, just one of these features would be good!

So, this is a short and not wordy blog – check out the pictures below! It really must be a great place to work…

the stress capsule

time out to chill out

keeping fit alone?

all the fun of the fair?

an ideas place - not an office

my kind of office!

Today, Google employs 20,223 people around the world, receiving a CV every 25 seconds from job-seekers, hiring an average of nine new employees a day. It’s not a surprise really. And to cap it all off a full-size replica of Virgin Atlantic ‘s Spaceship One (space tourist vehicle) hangs in the reception area…

The wave fizzles out….

I blogged last year about Google Wave – which I thought was an excellent idea – I even had some conversations with colleagues and friends.

google ripple formerly known as google wave

But the wave is to be no more. Google have dropped it – rather quietly. Their blog post is here.

I thought about this and they are right – I (and presumably a few others) had stopped using it. Actually I never really started using it. The reason? Well, it didn’t really work ‘out of the box’. Some of the features worked and others were scheduled to follow. I guess I forgot to go back to the site to see if they had been enabled.

I guess there is a lesson in there – don’t bring stuff to market that doesn’t work properly. The iphone ‘flaw’ as it’s become known might enjoy the same position (although I never had any of the problems as others were reporting). At least I now have my free bumper case – just in case!

I was also reminded when looking back at my old blog that I mentioned that Steve Jobs can do a presentation – the Wave launch was just appalling – we should have known the outcome – maybe?

It’s a shame really – I liked the idea. Great idea – poor execution. And ignore the fickleness of the market at your peril!

Long on moral authority, short on data

There is a great talk here on TED at the moment by Catherine Mohr. It centres on green technology – and the mis-information we are constantly given.

Catherine is building a house with her husband – and she declares herself a geek when it comes to green technology. They have analysed in infinite detail the cost of ‘greening’ the property in embedded terms. In other words how much energy does it take to make the green!

I have for a long time been suspicious of some of the claims about green technology – and have blogged about some of the mis-information we are given about global warming. But Catherine is coming at this from a different direction – her examples about wiping up a spill with a paper towel / sponge, tea-towel are amusing, but insightful.

As I have said before, in order for us to really be signed up to the green agenda, we need accurate data. It needs to be easily understood and have pay-back periods we can easily comprehend.

The rhetoric we sometimes see is doing nothing to help get across the message about global warming. Look here to see that the average google search uses 1/15,000th less energy than a cheeseburger. Reassuring? Thought so.

Catherines research may be geeky, but it does show that you can look beyond the headlines and get at some real data. I do believe the numbers – her 6 year payback is impressive. But it is a very small step, when you consider the number of houses being built outside of her standards.

We really are scratching the surface of the problem. We have some way to go!

But there is some good news out of the flight ban in Europe – as at yesterday some 63,000 flights had been cancelled – saving approximately 1.3m tonnes of CO2 emissions -the amount a developing nation emits in a year.

Every cloud has a silver lining (that doesn’t sound right?)

Web statistics?

We have come to run our lives through the internet – be it via emails or by social networking. I wondered just how many people are connected through the various mediums?

The headlines – ideal for Pub Quizzes? (I am not sure I would stake my life on them!)

1. The number of emails sent each day – 247 billion (by the time it takes to read this another 20 million have been sent!)

2. Around 91% (224 billion) are spam!

3. There are 1.4 billion users of email around the world

4. Approximately 900,000 blog posts are published each day

5. There are around 133 million blogs!

6. Wikipedia currently has more than 13 million articles in more than 260 different languages.

7. 18.3 million households had internet access in 2009 – around 70%

8. In 2009 it was estimated that 10.2 million adults never accessed the internet

9. If Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth most populated place in the world

10. And yesterday the biggest search on Google was “Apple announcement live” … I wonder why? Google defined the hotness of the search as “volcanic”

The Internet – making life easier?

All this snow focused my mind this week – Skiing! Not from Wollaton Hall hill (no lift up you see), but preferably alpine like…

My son 'resting' during his first ski week

But then I started to try booking.

Sometimes I think the internet has made our lives more complex – not easier. As you might expect, I am reasonably savvy when it comes to technology. But last night I was being driven to distraction…

… trying to book a ski holiday. Easy enough in the age of google! I know the date of travel (+/- 3 days), I want to fly from East Midlands Airport ideally (but Birmingham at a push). Resorts – probably Alps. Three in the party – myself and the two ‘boys’. By mutual agreement the boys want to share a room – alone.

So then the fun starts – Igluski, Crystal, First Choice, ThompsonSki, Neillson et al. All slightly different and each frustrating in their own way (actually quite a lot of them share the same search engine). Then trip advisor to check the hotels. Then Snow reports. Resort reports. What about transfer times? Do I want to endure Chambery airport and the single luggage carousel? As the Average White Band said – Let’s go round again…

I eventually put my laptop down – maybe I will start again soon! I did contemplate the Travel Agent next stop – but on my last visit there they used … the internet!

Do people still print brochures I wonder (probably do), but they must have been printed last year!

So the internet is great – but sometimes there is just too much to try and grapple with. It can be a real contradiction – the time you can save by having all this information is sapped by the time it takes you to filter all the information! I’m exhausted before I even start to think about reaching down to put those boots on – which I don’t mind telling you – I hate doing!


Booked today – via a real person at Igluski! . They were really helpful! Cervinia here we come…