Podcast 3: Cave Dwellers, Privacy, Huawei and Buzzsaws

IoT podcast

Guest Alicia Asin, CEO of IoT specialists Libellium, asks “Is it really necessary to expose our privacy to control pandemics?” Privacy Purists are in the spotlight as Jeremy Cowan and George Malim ask Alicia how enterprises should balance free services and access to our data.

And, Sun of a Beach: We see how IoT can help you in Spain this summer; we anticipate the UK’s Huawei decision, and see how we can all avoid COVID Cliches.

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Transcript:

Jeremy Cowan

Hi, and welcome to the latest Tech Trends podcast brought to you by IoT Now, VanillaPlus, and The Evolving Enterprise. I’m Jeremy Cowan. And it’s great to have you here for today’s sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted look at digital transformation for enterprises. In a moment, our guests will share the tech news that interested them. Then our second guest promises to tell us what’s wrong with privacy purists, she’s already written about them blocking the end of lockdown. And as we begin to emerge from this, I want to know what role technology can play in returning us all to some sense of normality. And finally, in What The Tech we’ll share what’s made each of us smile lately, or maybe it just made us beat our heads on the desk. So let me introduce two people whose expert opinions will make any lockdown seem shorter. The first is George Malim, managing editor of IoT Now magazine. George, welcome.

George Malim

Hello, everyone. Very pleased to be here to join the discussion today.

Jeremy Cowan

It’s great to have you here. And our second guest is Alicia Asin the CEO of Libelium. Now, Libelium is a Spanish company designing and manufacturing hardware and APIs for wireless sensor networks in the Internet of Things, Machine to Machine communications and smart city solutions. Alicia, a warm welcome to you too.

Alicia Asin 

Hi. Pleased to be here with you.

Jeremy Cowan

Did I get it roughly right with that description of Libelium?

Alicia Asin

Well, in fact, that’s what we’ve been in the past. Now we are trying to evolve to a more general angle and we consider ourselves a company trying to make the IoT possible from no matter if it means hardware or software or whatever. So, trying to be broader than that.

Jeremy Cowan

I see. Good. Well, thank you for correcting me on that. Okay, let’s start with the headlines. George, what have you spotted in the news?

George Malim

Jeremy, I’m looking at the role of Huawei in the UK, which has been running on for endless months. And looks like it might be getting close to an ending to the for the weekend. And, in fact over the weekend as well. There’s been stories coming out in the in the national press, that decision time will happen this month. And it’s looking like Huawei won’t be allowed to sell its 5G equipment to UK operators. Of course, we’re suffering with this story because the mainstream media doesn’t really understand the telecoms industry and speaks about the UK 5G network like it’s a singular thing. And like the government owns it and invests in it, when in fact, it’s multiple networks owned by different network operators who will make their own decisions. So really, it’s not a case of the government banning Huawei from a UK national network. It’s a case of the UK Government taking one choice of vendor away from international commercial organisations. So that’s probably highly negative in terms of getting 5G coverage to all of the UK because, I think it’s quite well acknowledged, Huawei is well ahead in terms of its 5G gear, so the UK operators not being allowed to specify Huawei 5G equipment and in fact, potentially having to remove 3G and 4G equipment over the next decade is a very unwelcome additional expense and could actually slow down adoption of 5G.

There’s a further problem here of course, without getting too political about the situation; this is being done in the name of Security when I don’t really buy into this argument that Huawei is 5G equipment is any weaker than anyone else’s. Most of this equipment is built in Chinese factories regardless of who that vendor is. Most of it is hackable, if you have the will. So, I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind this apart from obviously, there’s a lot of political muscle being put behind blocking Huawei in the US. And the UK is obviously part of the Five Eyes Security Alliance with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well. And these are all negative to Huawei. So, I think for the UK to remain in that Five Eyes Security Alliance, having Huawei gear in the network will be a problem, but it’s a long-running saga. It seems not fully justifiable to me, but I think the sensationalist reporting in the mainstream press doesn’t fully understand the issues.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It clearly is part of a balance of power play as much as anything to do with security because the case is constantly being made regarding security without always a great deal of evidence. Alicia, is there anything that caught your eye on that?

Alicia Asin

Well, as a future user of the network of 5G, I consider this from a different angle. I think that we are seeing like a football match or a tennis match in technology terms are very, very complicated and what I think it’s that it’s really the story of geopolitics, balance of force with it’s really behind that. And I think that using all them technical systems in the discussions, it’s just a way to lure the news to the rest of the consumer so that we finally don’t understand anything. That’s my view.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, and I think a lot of commentary that’s been made in the national media, as George has already pointed out has been somewhat ill-informed. But that is not news to anyone who understands telecoms and communications generally. Alicia, what story attracted your attention?

Alicia Asin

I’ve been amazed by a recent story on the beaches of Sanxenxo in the northwest of Spain recently, they want to install social distancing on the beaches. So they’ve created nine square meter spaces in the beach, where you will go and in a very, very tight way, you will be only in one. So, the landscape of the of the beach has totally changed. And you define those spaces with sticks and ropes in the sand. And the downside of that is that, yes, it’s a way to ensure social distancing. I’m not sure how Spanish people will accept that. We are not very good at accepting those things, especially if we are in the beach. But the bad thing is that they say you cannot book in advance. So I thought that it’s a perfect example where technology could improve a lot, the use of that measure, and without being so inconvenient for the users. If you could book one of those spaces from your hotel or your apartment, you would make sure that you go there and you will not need to make a queue till someone is leaving for the bar or wherever. So, I think that’s a good example that we should try to embrace technology in all the new security measures we are taking in the post-COVID era.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah, it’s a great example of how actually IoT can play a really constructive role. I think that’s interesting.

The thing that I’ve noticed, is more of a digital transformation story, I guess, rather than comms or IoT. It’s a piece on our website on The Evolving Enterprise (www.TheEE.ai) , and it’s headlined, “Boomers and Generation X doubled Bitcoin investments every month since lockdown”. And according to data from analysts at Mode Banking, investments in Bitcoin or BTC, as it’s often known, have been doubling every month since February among older age groups. I think they mean, baby boomers like me and Generation X people born from 1965 to 1980. But Mode says it signals wider adoption of crypto currencies. Apparently, they first saw an uptick in BTC investments in March, just as global markets crashed and many countries went into lockdown. And they say that as the pandemic spread, boomers and Gen X investors increased their exposure to Bitcoin on Mode’s platform, the thing that caught my attention was that it wasn’t really by a small amount either. Both groups invested over two times more in Bitcoin in March than they did in February, and four and a half times more in April and a staggering 8.8 times more in May. So, Mode Banking concludes that Bitcoin is becoming popular among all age groups and being endorsed by more mainstream investors every week. I have to say I’m personally still cautious, but I’m not surprised that people are buying into cryptocurrencies at this time, and it’s no coincidence that it’s happening now. George, do you consider investing in cryptocurrencies or is it an area that you think is too fraught with risk?

George Malim

Yeah, I’m afraid I say it that way. I’m a bit of a cave dweller and I always assume when it comes to investment that if I’ve heard about it I’ve already missed the boat! And I think that with things like the failure of Wirecard, which I appreciate is not a cryptocurrency and that’s just your standard traditional fraud, the idea of having my money in something that it’s not clear how I would get it out of is very challenging. And I think that may prove to be a challenge to this demographic that’s piled into Bitcoin. When they try and move that out into bank accounts they’ll come up against anti-money laundering regulations and things like that and it may not be quite as liquid as everyone hoped.

Jeremy Cowan

Alicia, do you take a different view on Bitcoin. Is this your thought as well?

Alicia Asin

I’m not an expert on stocks and I don’t have any cryptocurrencies yet. But I think it’s very, very relevant to outline that those generations are doubling their investments in cryptocurrencies. And I think that’s the result of an increasing lack of trust in the whole system. And I think that’s what is behind that. Cryptocurrencies rely on blockchain technology, which means more transparency, in a very essential definition it means more transparency. And I think that’s what the population is demanding at all levels. And we’ve seen this in pandemics in all the aspects, from the way that you were counting people infected and thereby the coronavirus, to the economical system that many people are doubting about its permanence in the future. So, I think it’s the maximum exponent of uncertain times and it reflects that.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah. I do agree with you. I think it’s a significant reflection of people’s attitudes at the current time. Anyway, if anybody wants to know more about that story, they can find it at TheEE.ai. Just search for the word “boomers”. Now, Alicia, the reason I most wanted to talk to you was following an article that you did for us about data privacy. There’s always lots of business talk about security, privacy seems to get a lot less coverage. And obviously, given COVID-19 is a big issue everywhere and all countries have to decide how much privacy to give up in order to track and trace our movements, it seemed a great moment for us to have a chat about it and thanks very much for joining us. The first question that I had for you is quite a broad one. Is it a fantasy that liberal democracies can control pandemics and at the same time still protect our privacy?

Alicia Asin

Well, I think that we should make the question in the other way. Is it necessary to expose our privacy to control pandemics really? So, I would ask the question in that way, because the control of the pandemic which is a major force event, cannot be the excuse to lose lots of rights of privacy. However, we can neither be purist in privacy to avoid the reopening of the economy. And I’ll give you two examples. On the one hand, we’ve seen many governments promoting tracing apps that control your location and need also your cooperation by introducing the symptoms you may have to detect them, to detect if you’ve been exposed to the pandemic, and how many people have been infected.

In Singapore, one of the countries that was one of the earlier adopters of this technology, they would require like 60% of people downloading and co-operating with this kind of applications. And they reached less than 20% because it’s too much, giving away your location and your contacts, and when you have no trust in who is owning and surveilling the data. I think the problem with that was we haven’t been clear enough, companies and governments haven’t been clear enough with citizens about what kind of data, and how long they’ll be storing the data.

On the other hand, at Libelium we have designed a fever screener detector that detects on-site without identifying the person if that individual has a fever or not. Many reactions, and even by part of the data protection Spanish agency, have been that it could mean a violation of privacy because you are monitoring the temperature of someone in front of other people, and what if that person is above 37.5? Everyone will know and I think that’s a lot of hypocrisy. If you have systems that are not collecting any data that can be used to protect and prevent the spread of the pandemics and you are criticising them because of the invasion of privacy that they mean and on the other hand, Most governments are promoting those tracing apps systems that are way more invasive in privacy. So, we think that we as citizens need to demand that we want to control the pandemics but we are not giving away all our privacy for that.

George Malim

Great. Alicia enterprises that collect data could make it much easier for consumers to set their own limits on how that data is used. Do you think they should allow consumers to have more control?

Alicia Asin

Yeah, they should give more information and that would be sufficient. When I think that we’ve already passed the concept of understanding that if the product is for free, you are the product and people already understand that if they are using Facebook or Google services, they are giving their data in exchange. But the problem is what happens with a smart TV, for example. When I ask people, why do you think smart TVs are so cheap? Why do you think that you can find for less than €700 a 60-inch flat screen smart TV? And they say, ‘Well, that’s because they are a big company, they can optimise the production costs’. No, that’s not the answer. The answer is that they are also collecting data and using that. And many people react, saying that they are really, really surprised about that. Not that smart TV manufacturers are not providing a privacy policy included with the TV. It’s that we are not used to reading those kind of documents. We are not used to expect that an appliance or a TV may be collecting data. So, I saw an initiative a couple of weeks ago by Salat promoting something like a nutrition label but regarding security and privacy in devices. I think that’s a wonderful idea. So imagine that all the electronic devices you have would contain a standardised label, explaining to you very well about the kind of data that you’re collecting. And if that’s in, in the sense of noise, location, video, how long are they storing that, and for which purposes? And I think it would be much easier for the average citizen to understand what’s he giving away? And if that person agrees or not with a trade?

Jeremy Cowan

You’re right, and it’s not just Smart TV makers that are gathering data with social media like Facebook making billions of dollars from our data. Do you think that the new push back by advertisers, which seems to be led by angry consumers, is going to enable us to set acceptable limits on data uses? Because, let’s face it, governments are pretty slow to react.

Alicia Asin

Yes, governments are always too slow. And there is an increasing gap between technology advance and regulations, as technology is evolving in an exponential way. The good news is that consumers are becoming more aware of privacy, in a sense that privacy really matters, and they are willing to understand what are the data being used for, and how much are you making from me. Because there is a total misalignment in the values of the services that we are exchanging. I’m using Facebook or social media, and I can put a price to that, even though I’m using that for free. Then I would love to know how much are they making in exchange somehow. What’s the value they are receiving from me? And then maybe we would consider that we would prefer to pay for the services and say, ‘Well, I pay for a subscription for your service, but you stop collecting data and making money from me’ because it’s not only about money, it’s about collecting data that can be used to manipulate us in the in the future. And we’ve seen it’s,it’s already happened. We saw that during the Brexit campaign, and with all the scandal of Cambridge Analytica, so that’s really scary.

George Malim

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we seem to be sort of searching for a balance. I mean, obviously, it’s not in anyone’s interest to stifle creative new services that we might enjoy. And we need to encourage new enterprise services in the future, but the challenge seems to be how to find the right balance. Alicia, do you have any sort of insight into how the right balance can be identified?

Alicia Asin

Well, I think that’s a really tough question. And I’m afraid I don’t have a single answer. But I think that initiatives like the one I was mentioning of promoting a nutritional label for privacy and security issues in, in technology, electronics devices would be an advance. In general, we need two things. We need more transparency at all levels. And we also need more digital education. Because many times we are introducing new disruptive technologies and new disruptive services that are often targeted to be understood only for a very small portion of the consumers. Maybe millennials understand perfectly that Netflix is collecting data to adapt and even produce future TV programmes, and to suggest them what they are watching. But my question is do all the users of those services are aware of that? Should they be more transparent to make sure that anyone is understanding the game rules, because in this debate of not leaving anyone behind in the technology race, I think the beginning starts by making sure that everyone is playing with the same rules.

Jeremy Cowan

Yeah. Thanks, Alicia. There’s a lot to think about there and I’m sure it’s a subject we’re going to come back to. I guess people can find out more about your work if they want to know more at libelium.com

Alicia Asin

Yes, absolutely. And they will find all the new services we are creating for the IoT and specially in the in the post-COVID era.

Jeremy Cowan

Well, I’d recommend everyone having a look at that because I for one was amazed by the range of services that you now offer or enable.

I guess, we’ve come to the time where we can have a little bit of light relief from the serious matters of digital transformation for all enterprises. It’s what we call What The Tech where we share something tech-based that either made us smile or perhaps just made us mad. George, last time you had us shaking our heads in disbelief. How are you now?

George Malim

Well, I’m now basically, I’m afraid it’s a retelling of somebody else’s joke really, that happened to me in real life in the last few weeks. So, this is originally a joke by the British humourist, Charlie Brooker, and it’s about how we are all increasingly communicating via video conferencing, it doesn’t matter if it’s Teams or Zoom or whatever. And the classic question, that’s a routine interview staple for journalists for many years, which is, what’s your background? And traditionally, you would expect the answer, ‘Well, I’ve got a first class degree in electronics engineering from MIT’ or something like that or ‘I’ve worked in IoT for the last 25 years’. But increasingly now when you ask the question, ‘What’s your background?’ you get, ‘That’s a Gibson Les Paul studio guitar in Anaconda Burst as played by Eric Clapton that you can see hanging on my wall behind me.’ So, you want to be a bit cautious when you ask people about their backgrounds, because you won’t necessarily get their career history any more. You’ll get a bit of artistic critique.

Jeremy Cowan

Could be anything, couldn’t it? Alicia, what have you spotted?

Alicia Asin

I recently read a story that happened in early March. A man hacked Google Maps by introducing a traffic jam where there was no cars passing by. And he did it by hacking the source code of Google Maps by just introducing 99 smartphones in a stroller and just walking down the streets. It was hacking in a non-technological way. And I think it’s interesting to keep this kind of stories in mind to understand that when we think about the potential dangers and potential hazards of technology leaks. Well, you always have unexpected ones as well.

Jeremy Cowan

We all talk about disruption in technology, that’s a nice one. I want to give a big round of applause to a guy called Hamish Thompson, who’s doing great things in my area of work, namely technology journalism. Hamish has built a website called thebuzzsaw.co.uk and you may want to check it out because it’s useful in a number of walks of life. He’s been successfully removing, let’s just call it the BS from tweets, posts, and press releases, speeches since 2010. I’m talking about cliché phrases like ‘reaching out’, or ‘circling back’, or ‘ideation’ – which is still mainly a US one, thank goodness –  and ‘going forward’. There are of course, new clichés too which Hamish is having to work with. Hamish really hates, “in the time of COVID”, as he says, Gabriel Garcia Marquez it ain’t. Or how about the ‘new normal’? The buzzsaw says it gets hundreds of emails a week using this and so do George and I. Hamish could have simply made a list of annoying words and phrases and then just told people to stop. But he didn’t. I like the fact that he’s created a free tool. I’m definitely not going to call it a ‘solution’. You see, the buzzsaw is also free editing tool. It automatically scrubs out annoying words, phrases and jargon from your text or mine. And all you have to do is paste your draft text in the box on their site, press the button, and your text will be checked against thousands of buzzwords. I’m just going to leave you with two more that he’s red-lined ‘preneur’. Basically, people are putting any noun in front of ‘preneur’ in the hope of making it sound cool. We’ve recently heard of cake preneur, IT preneur, even burger preneur and buzzsaw’s rule is, if someone describes themselves as an entrepreneur, they probably aren’t. And I think the last word can go to Hamish who has singled out the word ‘awesome’. He says that not since the fall of the Zimbabwean dollar has something devalued as much as the word awesome. So Hamish, we at Tech Trends Pod salute you and your heroic work. Ultimately, you’ll probably fail, mate. But your rearguard defence is “awesome”.

Okay, it’s time. And we’ll have to finish by saying a big thank you to Alicia Asin of Libelium. Alicia, thank you.

Alicia Asin

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Jeremy Cowan

And my thanks, also, as always to George Malim.

George Malim

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Jeremy Cowan

Thank you too, ladies and gentlemen for joining us wherever you are. The feedback to these podcasts has been fantastic. And we hope you’ll subscribe to it wherever you found us today. Please rate us. Give us a nice comment. It makes such a difference when people are looking for something new to listen to. You know the drill, give it five stars and big us up just follow the link on our website. And it’ll save our Mums having to review us all the time, they’ll be so grateful. Meanwhile, keep safe, keep logging on for news at IoT Now, VanillaPlus.com and TheEE.ai. And join us soon for the next Tech Trends Podcast, looking at IoT and enterprise digital transformation. Bye for now.

About our guest:

Alicia Asin is the CEO of Spanish IoT company Libelium, which she co-founded in 2006. She received the European Women Innovator Award in 2019 and is part of the jury for the Princess Asturias Innovation Awards. Alicia was also recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 100 most creative people in business. She graduated from the University of Zaragoza with a Master’s in Computer Engineering.

(Transcribed by https://otter.ai)

Source: https://www.iotglobalnetwork.com

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