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We have a massive personal data problem, but ‘value’ is the real sticking point.

Any list of the tangible effects of a misuse of data, having a tangible effect on our lives would include the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the UK’s ISO authorities’ findings that Facebook was largely complacent in allowing one million user accounts to be harvested for information. The penalty for this was £500,000, or roughly 1p per ‘hacked’ account. A tiny sum for a company which generates more than $70bn. To put this into perspective, the company generates this kind of cash every 4 minutes or so – it would have taken Zuckerberg longer to read the summary judgement, that to earn the cash to pay the fine. Other industries have long faced fines which are proportional to the size of their business. In April 2017, VW was found to have mislead consumers and ‘cheated’ on emissions tests. Most governments-imposed fines which varied is size, but a fine of around $30,000 dollars per car become roughly standard, and VW eventually ended up shelling out around $33bn un compensation. Putting this in perspective, Facebook was fined the emissions test cheating equivalent of 20 family sized hatchbacks, your personal data about everything that you do, your habits, your friends and your behaviours, is valued 3 million times less by our legislation, than a gassy car is. Now, emissions have serious repercussions which can result in premature death and cheating these should have consequences. But the difference in the magnitude of fines betrays a lack of respect for and understanding of, the impact that digital crimes can have. In the case of the misuse of personal data and the all-too-common data breaches, consequences can include anything from credit card phishing and loss of personal savings to de-railing of democracy. But how prevalent is this problem? To underline how commonplace these are, and how little repercussions there can be I urge you, right now, to go to the website and enter one of your email addresses. Using my personal email, I have been subject to no less than 10 data breaches in the last two years, which include Canva in May 2019, Covve in Feb 2020, DataCamp in December 2018, MyFitness in February 2019 and Zynga in September 2019. Through no fault of my own, my username and various passwords, my location data (scary), and authentication for my google account has been harvested, packaged and shared through various dark corners of the web – or traded for hash on Silk Road. When Canva failed to protect my data, they did so alongside 139 million other users. The data was stolen by powerful hacker group Gnosticplayers who have listed (and most likely sold) around 1bn compromised records this year. Disney was forced to issue a statement earlier this year, in response to accusations that Disney+ accounts had been hijacked. In this case Disney claimed that they had not suffered from a data-breach, but instead so many username and password combination have been stolen, that when users created a new account, using old usernames, they were immediately stolen. We are constantly being told to use unique combinations for every site, and to never share our details, but if these sites were half as responsible as we are supposed to be, we would have to. My own username/passwords are now stolen an average of five times a year, from companies that supposedly have a duty to protect my data. Most likely yours are too, and yet very few consequences exist for companies that were not prepared to pay the expense to fulfil the legal obligation to protect you, their customer. The misuse of personal data has serious repercussions and the protection of it is woefully lacking. While misusing this data is criminal, it’s also far too late to catch and punish the individuals who have stolen the data, years after a user or country has had their life disrupted by the data loss. Financial Vectors Needed Companies in general may like to pursue ethical avenues, but economic studies indicate that the only real way to enact broad change is to create a financial vector. Companies may at conceal the truth against the law, but this is always in the name of profit – not just because they feel like it. Therefore, altering the behaviour of companies must also lead from a profit standpoint. Again, cars are a great example, having grown much more efficient over the last 15 years, using technology invented in the 1930s (high pressure intakes). This came about though simple legislation, which placed a cost on inefficient engines. Consumers immediately looked for the cheaper stuff, and companies created better and better products to fill their needs. Data needs to be treated the same way. We can pass whatever moral judgements we like, but until we create financial vectors that force the companies that use our data, along the route that society needs, a few companies will change, but the majority will not. In the case of data breaches – this needs to take emissions as an example and impose fines big enough to hurt when companies do not comply. A sunny lining While for years, companies that do not protect data have been punished, the severity was laughable. But the new raft of legislation being passed now, services to correct this, and importantly is scalable for the future. In the UK, new legislation aim to deal with online harm, which includes data protection, but also the protection from harmful content. The fines will not be limited £500,000 but up to 10% of global turnover for companies like Facebook, meaning a current cap of £5bn which is 10,000 times greater or 36 days of revenue, rather than 4 minutes. Ofcom, which is experienced in the investigation and enforcement of duty of care type legislation will be taking charge, which is generally seen as a progressive move as the organisation has both the experience and the manpower to take on high-profile cases with international mega-corps. The European Commission is also upgrading its powers to deal with big tech with the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts. These laws again increase the level of fines that can be imposed on tech companies and again include duty of care requirements. In addition, these also start to regulate competition between the larger groups and independent bodies. Mainly this takes aim at ringfenced ecosystems, while this also has a smaller role in dealing with unintended consequences of GDPR, which disproportionally effected smaller companies. The next battleground Data breaches are very definable, but there are more issues which need to be tacked, which recent events have brought into the foreground. Facebook is once again in the spotlight in the US and this time legislators seem to have done their homework, not only understanding that ad-funded companies “sell ads” but are beginning to question whether having three of the six major social and messaging services owned by one company potentially bad from a competitive standpoint. A serious decision against Facebook could lead to the company being split up with Facebook main, being separated from WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook, for its role will need to prove that the functionality of these three divisions are suitably different as to not represent a strangle-hold on the industry when combined. Social media demanded legislation when asked about their responsibility to protect the public. They were right to so, as a company censoring its users without any true public mandate is troublesome at best. But the extent of the laws now being passed reach far above what they wanted. Expect a number of high-profile lawsuits and arguments at the top level of government over the next few years as legislators and tech clash over the exact meanings of the new far-reaching policies.

Amazon Drops Parler

Some thoughts on the #Parler situation and associated fallout. There's something of an irony in world leaders voicing concerns over tech companies imposing their own standards, when regulators have been slow to act. If Parler survives and finds a new server provider (of which there are many), it is likely that the company will need to enforce stricter editorial rules. In the short term this will allow Parler to regain access to important mobile devices, long term will allow the company to sell ads, which makes it tick first place. Meanwhile #MeWe and #Gab are picking up the churned users. Check out the video interview here #apple#google#amazon#aws

The Big Trends of 2021

Spent a great morning hanging out and chatting with Justin Crosby of TellyCast - the TV industry news review. We chat about 5 big VOD-leaning changes facing the industry. #media#podcast#VoD Check out the podcast here

Cross-media partnerships hint at a deeper consolidation to come

Last week (19th June) saw Spotify announce a deal in which characters from the DC universe will narrate new, story-driven podcasts. This deal is one of a growing number of cross-media partnerships which trade IP and new functions for consumer access. As the growth of new digital services slows, and in many cases, margins are squeezed in many cases, owners will be keen to find additional ways to monetise their client base. At the same time, consumers are inundated with accounts and fragmented services, and bringing together billing solutions is sure to drive demand. AVoD will not be stand-alone Pay-TV platforms carrying SVoD services has become an established norm and integration of BVoD services is also commonplace. It is also likely that over the next few years AVoD services from commercial channel groups will feature more prominently. Channel groups are facing increased pressure on higher channel number (multichannel) slots. Some have voiced concerns about content being devalued, with consequences for their tangible assets. As an example: in 2017 Discovery and Sky had major ‘US-style’ carriage dispute in the UK, complete with inflammatory consumer messaging and channel blackouts. Eventually Discovery was forced to accept reduced terms of carriage. For some channel operators, AVoD services are a way to add that value back, especially by monetising library content (ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV has become increasingly successful in this area). Following the dispute, Discovery focussed on its range of VoD services, which include specialist sport and AVoD service DPlay. These services now form a key part of Discovery’s new Sky deal, announced earlier this month. Direct integration of channel owned AVoD services across pay-TV, telco and OTT aggregators is likely to feature as the next, simplest form of content aggregation. OTT Games Cloud gaming may be seen by many as the latest fad for tech companies, but it has a number of qualities which imply it is truly sustainable. Cloud gaming is more accessible than the current format, which requires dedicated and expensive hardware. In general consumers tend to drift to solutions which are simple and have a lower cost of entry. Cloud gaming does, however, require control of company-owned hardware to make it cost efficient for the provider. Microsoft and Nvidia for example draw on established computing power. Telcos control the ‘playout’, meaning that they optimise latency and delivery, while not incurring data costs over networks that they already own. Telcos are currently facing a huge need to find new revenue streams as data costs decrease and cloud gaming may hold the next service to add to the traditional telco bundle, alongside broadband, mobile, TV and telephony. Some groups, including Deutsche Telecom are already developing their own solutions, but traditionally telcos have done best when aggregating 3rd party services. If cloud gaming picks up, expect to see a plethora of telco deals with the likes of Microsoft, Playstation, Nvidia and newcomers such as Shadow. Music and more A new wave of music services is emerging, catering to niche audiences. As with video, the now-crowded market creates discoverability problems as smaller nascent voices struggle to be heard. Finding an existing platform to carry the service is the key to discovery. In the digital age, any company that controls consumer access could be an aggregator, and that extends to the new wave of SVoDs. Big SVoDs tend to offer single services, but their large number of subscribers gives them the potential to be effective at launching new products. Netflix now has more than 200m accounts, and while it has eschewed advertising for a purity of experience, adding music streaming would not dilute the brand and may enhance consumers experiences. Work that Vertical Integration One company stands above all as an example of how to monetise product across multiple verticals. Disney re-uses familiar IP in its theme parks, movies, toys and TV series. Disney’s selling strategies are so effective that it made its money back on its Star Wars investment on the sale of toys alone. Disney has launched a mixed media ‘fansite’ called D23 that is targeted at superfans, but holds many of the key principles of cross media integration: it uses a single touchpoint (and billing), to retail merchandise, video content, theme parks and events. In the past, franchises tended to be limited to film, and only few channel groups could build a vertically integrated solution. But with the increased push to original video content, most large studios and channel groups (including Netflix) now own substantial rights to music, games, attractions and events, based off their proprietary IP. Netflix is pushing into gaming territory, with upcoming interactive series including Puss in Book, Minecraft Story Mode and Carmen Sandiego, however its first attempt (Bandersnatch) drew more heavily from TV than games and many mistakes that experienced game dev’s who produce in the same genre (such as TellTale games) soled years ago. Expect simple VoD services to either evolve additional facets, or to spin-off sister services, which offer additional functionality. The Bottom line Re-aggregation of TV services has been talked about as the final step in a grand arc, which would see multiple SVoD services bundled together to create the contemporary version of a traditional channel bundle. But the evolution of the telco has proved that integrating more diverse services also works, especially where they can share infrastructure. Cross media deals indicate that distribution avenues, which were typically reserved for a single format, such as broadcast video, music, or movies are ripe to branch out into new areas. The Spotify deal, and other like it indicates that perhaps true aggregation will occur deeper that at the functional level and instead will occur at the consumer level, while the medium delivered matters less. Consumer gatekeepers can, and will, expand the type of content that they provide to maximise the return in ‘owning’ a consumer relationship, and their billing details.

What if Piracy Ends in CEE…

Check out this NEM Network panel discussion that deals with the theme “What if Piracy Ends in CEE…”. Find out how will the potential elimination of piracy impact the industry and what could be offered to broad audiences as a constructive alternative for illegal streaming? Three excellent speakers are part of this panel: Christopher Peter Marcich, Chief Executive Officer of Croatian Audiovisual Centre, Nebojsa Taraba, Producer at Drugi Plan and Mark Mulready, Vice President at Cyber Services at Irdeto & Co President at Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance. The panel is be moderated by Jonathan Broughton, Managing Director at Workshare Consulting. Find out more here

TikTok and Due Process

Though they have worked worked with US government teams (CFIUS), and might have a point about the lack of 'Due Process', the wording of the executive order (fascinating read) draws upon IEEPA rules. Deep emergency powers which are very hard to challenge. My take, this is a defensive move, aimed to give TikTok a bigger platform and a chance to tell their story. It's not about winning directly. Catch my video interview with Auskar Surbakti here: #trt#tiktok#potus#china#uschina

TikTok Vs The US

Catch up on the TikTok / US debacle with TRT's Money Talks interviewing Managing Director Jonathan Broughton

Lockdown has scotched Quibi's strategy

Quibi was never supposed to be a Netflix killer. In fact, it was never even supposed to be a competitor. Instead, the founders of the punchy new streamer stressed it was targeted at the minutes of ‘dead time’ during the day, where a potential subscriber would normally pass time aimlessly. Quibi wanted to create a habit in its target audience, tapping into commutes and daily routines. Its launch offer, a 90-day trial, was designed around this concept, rather than a more usual month (though it was also a reaction to Covid-19 lockdowns around the world). Its mobile-only restriction again targets habit building. Removing the ability to cast to a TV was not really about protecting programme formats, but was targeted to train users to catch-up on their mobile, to remind them to use it the next time they have nothing to do and only use their phone to entertain them. This strategy raised questions. If we look at YouTube, peak viewing is at the weekend – across mobile and TV. The VoD platform’s fastest growing segment of viewing is on the TV set, according to its own analytics, and within this subset Saturday is the most active day of the week. In a way, YouTube is pivoting away from its mobile past, towards longer content watched on a TV set. So Quibi is therefore, an attempt to capture a subset of viewers – those looking for more premium content to view opportunistically. YouTube itself has struggled to make use premium content on its platform; first launching original long-form content bundled as a paid-for add-on, then folding that into the main service, then abandoning the approach entirely. Quibi is more focussed and presents a clear message that users can understand: bite-sized videos of quality short form. However, despite this, there are a number of lessons that can be drawn from the successful launch of other services that Quibi ignores. Instagram, and TikTok bear comparison. Quibi even prevents screen shots from being taken and shared, meaning there will be no spontaneous Baby Yoda moments. TikTok, the more recent launch, came to western markets in August 2018, and now counts half a billion users. Both these successful apps draw heavily on social both to create content and to provide the impetus for users to then consume that content. They provide a range of features that aid users in ‘mixing’, commenting, participating and interacting. Quibi, on the other hand, eschews social completely, and goes as far as locking down the app, creating a content-quarantine zone. In addition to its pay wall, Quibi even prevents screen shots from being taken and shared, meaning there will be no spontaneous Baby Yoda moments. The service actively fights attempts for users to promote or share content. There may well be a market subset who truly want to pay for professional, not user-made, short-form content, to view on the go. Quibi would have provided answers to if this demand existed, and how much it was worth. For this subset of audience, it is by far the best positioned player to capitalise, even if it needed a few tweaks. Sadly, with the disruption caused by Covid-19, we may never quite know the answer. There currently exists no commuter market, nor will there be one in the near future. Quibi has confirmed that it will launch support for main set viewing, but further than this it seems difficult for the service to change pace now. Due to lockdown, content production options are limited and isolation restricts the ability for businesses to make sweeping changes. Quibi must weather the storm and attempt a heavy relaunch once its market comes back online.

TikTok - Victim or Villain?

By some, TikTok has been called the victim of an unprecedented trade-war and by others, an arm of the Chinese secret services; either way, it seems likely that in the next few months, Microsoft will become its principle owner in most English-speaking markets. At this moment, TikTok has around 100m users in the US and more than 500m in the global market. Is TikTok a propaganda machine? There are two concerns to any question around foreign ownership of any prominent media platform. Those are: the control and harvesting of data, and the independence of content recommendation. In the first case, data, the main concern (voiced around TikTok) is that user data is being harvested via the platform and used to generate intelligence for Chinese secret services. In the second case, the algorithm is manipulated to give preference or prominence to certain viewpoints, political or otherwise, while undesired opinions are smothered. Both are reasonable questions that any responsible government should ask around any large platform which disseminates information to the public. Control of Data Across 2013-14, it became clear that social platforms and business dealing with user data were collaborating extensively with governments. In the US, PRISM provided back-doors into data streams. In the UK, GCHQ's Tempora system did largely the same. We now know that it is commonplace for governments to tap into user data from social media – among many other sources, and we also know that businesses struggle to resist handing consumer data over. Yahoo was threatened with a $250k daily fine for non-compliance, and we saw the drop-off in business for CISCO when the extent of government access to confidential info was revealed. Despite this, it still feels slightly conspiratorial to suggest that data is harvested and stored by shady government agencies, but the reality is it is now naïve to assume that data will not be accessed and stored in some way. There is little doubt that TikTok will comply with some measure of user data harvesting and supply on behalf of the Chinese Government, just as US services do for their own. While reports suggest that TikTok is perhaps more invasive, in some ways the data argument is more about control of user data, than privacy. To add to this, however, there is increasing evidence that China actively harvests and acquires data via non-legitimate methods, e.g. the Hilton hack. There is a concern that the reason this data is being harvested is not to prevent national security, or terrorism, but to allow digital methods to promote agenda or interfere in elections. In the UK, we have just seen the release of the Russia Report, which effectively revealed that social media was being used by Russia to influence a range of political issues. It suggests that these issues may have extended to changes as dramatic and important as the UK exiting the EU. It is legitimate to ask questions around the security of a service, however, control of that service’s data is just one way of using modern user platforms to generate influence. The Algorithm Direct Algorithmic control is an apparent concern with the bias that may be present in a social platform. Unlike user data, for which the purposes are nebulous and hard to define, abuse of the algorithm that recommends or filters content is simple to understand. The owner of the platform can, if they choose to, promote one type of content over the other – e.g. promote voices on one side of a political argument and suppress the other. We know that, to some extent, TikTok has censored certain content on its platform - this includes coverage of the Hong Kong protests and seems to be linked to pressure applied by the Chinese government. To balance this viewpoint, TikTok has been wary of all political content on its platform, and HK suppression could be related to a wider, blanket suppression. More recently, this policy has been loosened, and BLM and HK protest videos now appear much more prominently. Where the Chinese government applied pressure for details of HK protestors, the company volunteered that they would close the app in HK, rather than submit to state pressure. On the 30th of June China passed the National Security Law and TikTok held true to their word, pulling out just days later. A conclusion of sorts... So, as well as this discussion being part of ongoing international trade disagreements between China and the US, there are some legitimate concerns to be had around impartiality, and it is right for a nation to be concerned around the influence that a foreign power may gain via platforms such as TikTok. There is some evidence which suggests that TikTok is dealing in user data, however, there is also evidence that suggest that Microsoft will do the same. Transfer of the control of the platform to a company such as Microsoft would likely allow a higher degree of transparency and perhaps will ensure that the algorithmic concerns are addressed, but the question of user data seem to point to desire for control, rather than absolute protection.

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