JCL Blog

Google Reads Your Email, and Facebook is Jealous

Gmail is free – provided you don’t assign any cost to Google reading your email.  It is a simple case of risk and reward.  Gmail users have accepted this trade off because the utility (reward) of the service eclipses the perception of the risks associated with the lack of security.  Facebook aspires to be the owner of identity management for the purpose of selling personal information to marketers and cannot imagine being left out of the email reading business.  So this week Facebook will announce their own free email service.

It will be interesting to see how long users accept this lack of security.  Clearly Google crossed the line earlier this year when they pushed Buzz too close to gmail and got big blowback – so users are not completely ambivalent about security.  There have been a few cases (This American Life; Gizmodo) where federal officials have pursued people because of posts on Facebook.  A few more of these and law abiding citizens could start to fear Facebook, Google and other free/unsecure services.

Yes  it is legal for Google and Facebook to read your email because of the agreement you accept when signing up.  Of course no one reads those agreements, and most people know that their employers can legally read their email too – so adding Google or Facebook probably doesn’t really register.  If there is a tipping point on the horizon where security becomes as big or bigger than convenience, what will the users do? 

Last week I was at Mark Anderson’s Fire Global conference in Seattle where Steven Sprague (Wave Systems) proposed this idea:  “What if I could encrypt my data before sending it to Facebook and only my friends could decrypt it.”  Could this be the next Facebook:  a system that would manage connections and encryption keys?  There would have to be a different monetization model, and it is highly unlikely that Facebook itself would go this route.  Maybe someone is out there right now building such a system.

On the email front, someone could easily emerge as the secure provider.  ISPs offer email service along with their bandwidth subscriptions, so they would be in prime position to play up the security angle.  AOL is a trusted brand and their un-hipness may even be an asset.  Apple could capitalize with its mobileme service. And last but not least is Microsoft.  Sure the Hotmail people are reading your mail, but the new Office365 paid service could be better positioned than any of the others to take advantage of this shift.

This will be an interesting one to watch.


LATER (11/14):  Just noticed that AOL launched an email revamp today.  Read about it on ZDnet here.  I don't see any mention of security, so it does not look like they are playing up the angle I thought.


Know Your Place and Your Responsibilities

A few years ago I took a trip to India.  I was fortunate to meet many of the leaders of the business community in the capital city of New Delhi.  Like many people from the US I found myself in surrounded by people educated much better than I was, and I was prepared for that.  

I was not prepared for the widespread accepance by the elites that the good of the nation was more important than the good of any individual family dynasty.  Sure, they may have just been saying this, but there was some evidence to support it.  You may recall that just a couple of decades ago there were state protected monopolies in India for oil, cars, and just about every other major market.  These were owned by families and as we learned in Econ 101, protected monopolies are not efficient.  Somehow these powerful individual interests were put asside at what must have been an unnerving threat of financial risk to the people in power in exchange for an uncertain payoff as the Indian economy entered the open  world markets.

Now surely these families were seeking any advantage they could secure as they crossed the chasm.  But even so it was a show of defference to the greater good that we could learn from.  While in India the evidence of the caste system is one of the things that you just cannot avoid thinking about.  Being from the US, I do not believe the caste system will bring benefits to India.  I cannot help but marvel at the way the worlds largest democracy incorporates this complex history in a way that may just work.  

This past week I was fortunate to be part of a conversation at Mark Anderson's Fire conference about alternative energy.  Mark has done an amazing job with Fire and he continues to push the people attending to think of new things about how the future could be.  A few years ago he started the CTO challenge.  He assembles the CTOs at the conference into a team and challenges them to think hard about a big problem.  Not unlike a code-a-thon, this 48 hour effort is not expected to solve everything, but to apply a burst of creativity and concentrated energy with the hope of advancing the ball down field a bit.

This year the challenge was to think deeply about how to scale alternative energy.  Many ideas were presented, and along the way it was just assumed that any viable ideas must steer around the vested interests of coal and oil because those elites would never give up their singular pursuit of their best interests (or give up their lobbiests).  

At that moment it struck me that just maybe the responsibility the elites in India feel a for the best interest of their nation comes from the caste system.  Could it be that a horrible construct that condemns people to their place for generations also conveys a responsibility to the people at the top to do the right thing?  

Clouds on the Horizon

Today I am in Los Angeles attending Mark Anderson's Future in Review conference - aka "FiRe".  I have attended this conference several times and it is always my favorite conference of the year.  Like many conferences is it a great way to meet new and interesting people.  This conference is different however because the subject of the future is quite broad and Mark does an amazing job of packing the agenda with a wide variety of subjects -- and all expertly presented in a No PowerPoint zone.  

We are half way through the event and I have a good ten pages of notes. It will take a while for me to distill all of this thinking into blog posts, but until then here are some initial thoughts:

There has been a good deal of discussion about how Cloud Computing will impact the world and how cloudy our future looks when considering the dislocating effects of energy and climate issues.

Energy:  Half the world does not have electricity.  Right now the worldwide production of electricity is 13 trillion watts -- most electricity is created from coal, and we have 2,000 years of coal reserves on hand. Do we make electricity more expensive (to discourage use and reduce carbon footprint) and in the process deny even more of the world population the benefits of electrification, or do we reduce the cost of electricity, deliver it to more people, but figure out how to produce it without such a large impact on the environment.  We need 28 trillion watts of innovation by 2050.  

Ray Ozzie:  It was around the tech world in 45 minutes in a conversation between Mark Anderson and Ray Ozzie that hit at least 20 topics.  Some of the points were:  

On creative destruction:  The amount of money in the system may just drop in the near term. The consumer will pay less, new revenues will be created (later).

  • On the shift to consumer (from enterprise): The more there is a consumer buyer of technology the more costly it will be for the enterprise.  This is both in terms of exception management and security. Any CIO should have a very clear view of threat model.  The insider threat included.
  • On the Cloud: The cloud = developer sit down, worry about coding - that is it!
  • On Privacy and Facebook: Facebook has a lot of momentum.  We as a society have never had to deal with privacy issues on the scale that we have.  We have business models that are fundamentally attached to intent and matching that with advertising.  It is very difficult to cope with.  Facebook is doing us a great service by pushing the envelope so much.

People, Learning and the Role of the Institution:  The core of most organizations is failing and the value is at the edge.  Return on Assets is trending to zero (because we do not know how to value the right things).  The cloud provides power tools for the edge. The edges collide and become centers with power tools and social tools. The edge pulls the core to the edge. There is deep thought going into how these networks are put together. The greatest innovation into how these communities are structured is happening in India and China. How can it be governed?  It is not always about technology.

I will be sending out updates on Twitter @jcleon.  Or follow the tag: #Fire2010.