America's biggest tech companies have gone from begging congress for surveillance reform, as Kashmir Hill reported here at the end of October, to taking their case to President Obama and members of Congress directly in an open letter published today. At risk is the public's trust in the internet itself and all of the economic and cultural benefits it contains. The letter, signed by AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, urges the U.S. to "take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight." Microsoft's general counsel, Brad Smith, released a statement asserting that, “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.” This is a striking development given the varying degree to which these same companies have cooperated and/or collaborated with the NSA's data collection efforts. Clearly the balance has tipped and America's tech companies now feel emboldened to call for sweeping reforms even as the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, is sponsoring a bill maintain the security agencies' right to continue to collect bulk data. The Big-8, with a combined valuation of $1.4 trillion, are trying to convince their billions of users worldwide that they can still trust American tech companies. "For our part," the open letter reads, "we are focused on keeping user’s data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope." Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft have all beefed up their internal encryption systems. "The security of users' data is critical," says Google CEO Larry Page, "which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information." This may all sound political, but as with most things coming out of Silicon Valley (and Redmond), it is primarily economically motivated. America's leadership role in consumer-facing internet technology is clearly at risk, as are the benefits of true global connectivity for businesses and individuals. As governments around the world have expressed their displeasure with the Snowden revelations, a thicket of international regulation threatens to choke the global growth of the Internet giants. The Guardian explains that "The eight technology companies also hint at new fears, particularly that competing national responses to the Snowden revelations will not only damage their commercial interests but also lead to a balkanisation of the web as governments try to prevent internet companies from escaping overseas." The Guardian's role, particularly, in providing journalistic support for Snowden's leaked material (more of which is still to come) has made it hard for American tech companies to deny the extent to which their own infrastructure has been compromised and repurposed for the cause of state surveillance. These companies have a mixed track record in terms of their relationship with the NSA, but most have expressed outright anger (and in some case expletives!) as these revelations have rolled out about the degree of their infiltration. How will Obama and Congress respond? That depends on how the story plays in D.C. The real story here is that the security risk of terrorism to America is considerably less than the economic risk of losing the global primacy of our tech companies. But to really make that case, the tech companies will have to admit that they have not yet created the kind of broad-based economic benefits that would justify such special status. Government surveillance is not the only reason that the populace might be mistrustful of the internet. Much of the blame should go to the tech companies themselves who have centralized the collection of data within their servers—for arcane commercial purposes—where it could be bulk collected by the NSA in the first place. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – To keep up with Quantum of Content, please subscribe to my updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and App.net or add me on Google+.
President Obama’s credibility has taken a significant hit since it became clear to the public that his signature promise—that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan”—turned out to be dishonest. Polls now suggest a realistic chance that Republicans can retake the Senate in the 2014 mid-term elections. But the irony is that the GOP, having implicitly committed itself to protecting Americans’ existing insurance arrangements, has backed itself into a corner. What happens in 2017 when tens of millions of Americans will be on Obamacare-sponsored insurance plans? Republicans have pledged to repeal the law, even if many of those Americans come to like their new health plans.
When I posted an article last week about the importance of the current Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, I was surprised by how many comments posed the situation in terms of East-West relations, as if the Cold War was still a serious consideration. Then, as the story gained traction in western media, it seemed that many so-called experts saw it the same way.
Paul Polak was a social entrepreneur before it became sexy to be one. Polak first joined the global community of “do-gooders” in 1981 as founder of iDE, a social enterprise that pioneered foot-powered pumps for poor farmers in Southeast Asia. The rudimentary irrigation technology has reportedly reached 19 million farmers in the world, thanks to iDE’s efforts. Polak went on to create D-Rev, the Bay Area-based design company that concocts new designs (on a budget) for the “other” 90%, he says. Polak is 79 years old but still zipping the globe to deliver electricity, water, and other basic needs to the world so-called “bottom billion.” His latest book, The Business Solution to Poverty, co-authored with non-profit guru Mal Warwick, looks at the nitty gritty of the social innovation space. Polak spoke with Esha Chhabra at his Denver residence about the new book, the need to scale, and the imperative changes needed in the sector to get real results. What do you hope to achieve with this second book, The Business Solution to Poverty? I want to create a global movement to end poverty for 2.7 billion two-dollar-a-day people. It takes off where the first book, Out of Poverty, left off. It addresses the problem of how to reach scale by creating a new breed of frontier multinational. In the book I describe every practical step required to create a new big business that has three goals: to transform the livelihoods of at least 100 million two-dollar-a-day customers, to generate annual revenues of at least $10 billion, and to earn attractive enough profits to bring in commercial global investors. What is your advice to people before they launch a business? Over 25 years in starting and running iDE, I learned that the first step is to talk to people as customers rather than recipients of charity, and to find out what their needs, preferences, and aspirations for the future are. Then you build the technology and the business strategy around what you learn. The process of learning shapes what you do in designing the technology and operating the company. At what point should a company scale? At the point at which you have the first idea to do something. You don’t scale anything by creating a project and then tacking scale on the end of it. You accomplish scale by keeping scale in mind from the beginning. I won’t touch anything unless it has the potential—if successful—to reach 100 million two-dollar-a-day customers. That means that you have to do the winnowing process at the very beginning. To reach 100 million customers, you really need a problem that affects a billion potential customers, because a realistic target is to reach 10 percent of the market. So you start thinking—and it really is a question of thinking differently—what are the problems that have a billion potential customers? Well, there are a lot of them: there are a billion people who don’t have access to safe drinking water, electricity, affordable nutritious foods, education. There are just under a billion people who need eye glasses but don’t have them. There are probably a billion people who need crop insurance—it can be as specific as that. And the list goes on and on. When you pick a problem, you plan from the beginning to ultimately reach a scale of 100 million. In my case, I see that happening over a 10-year process. Do you collaborate with non-profit organizations? The central operating style is to run everything as a for-profit business, but we will work with other organizations. For example, in the drinking water business, part of the issue is public education: people in the village have to be brought up to speed on the relationship between drinking bad water and illness. For now, we’re trying to cover that deficit through for-profit, blitz marketing approaches. But in the future, if there are customers we can’t reach by the commercial method, we might work with granted non-profits who help with public education—we’re not against bringing in organizations that can help reach that market. The question is: what kind of market penetration do you want to reach? We’re shooting for 50 percent; we’re able to reach 30 percent now. Maybe to reach the last 20 percent we’ll need some collaboration with non-profits. What changes do you want to see as social enterprise evolves? There are a lot of problems with social enterprise. It’s sort of like saying ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’—it becomes popular and loses all meaning. One of the biggest problems is that there is a huge tendency for young people to be attracted to self-congratulatory conferences and incubation processes that help them make elevator pitches, write business plans, and market what they’re doing. But unfortunately, it often takes them away from doing the grunt work that’s needed to start a business on the ground. I think it’s backward. Unfortunately, the charity model is based on having good marketing to raise money to support the charity, and that often puts the cart before the horse. The non-profit development organizations that are successful know how to market, but they often are weak in making it actually work in the field. I would like to see social entrepreneurs start by going to where the action is, talking to the people who have the problem, listening to what they have to say, and doing the grunt work in the field. And then coming back and improving their skills at elevator pitches.
Stanley Kirk Burrell, known to his fans as MC Hammer, is facing a new challenge. According to TMZ, Hammer owes the Internal Revenue Service nearly $800,000 in back taxes. And now, it's time to pay up: the IRS has slapped Hammer and his wife, Stephanie, with a $798,033.48 lien for failure to pay taxes dating back to 1996 and 1997.
Let's face it - The hiring process is stressful for both sides. The job seeker is putting their talents and career future on the line, which is a vulnerable place to be. The organization is investing considerable resources in hopes of finding a star in the making. This is important stuff.
Growth in the number of rich kids from China studying in Hong Kong has fueled new business for investigators paid by their parents to spy on them there, the South China Morning Post reported in a front-page story in Sunday.
"If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it." Sadly, that appears to be the approach that the Obama administration and the mainstream media are taking with the U.S. economy. They seem to believe that if they just keep telling the American people over and over that things are getting better, eventually the [...]