We at Krowdthink believe we can reclaim privacy on behalf of social networking users. But perhaps we have been drinking our own kool-aid for too long?We are building a new type of social network. One that does not necessarily seek to suck up all you do to the cloud where it can be monetised.One that embraces mobility as a founding concept to deliver location-based value – without us, or anyone in the wider krowd network, knowing where you are!This is our first public outing of a new concept we call the Krowd, with a K. We don’t want to pitch our social network, we want to discuss our founding principles with you, so they can be challenged. What we want to do today is to take you through our thinking behind our proposed social network, so that once we define the Krowd to you it’ll be self-evident why it is what it is and why we are doing what we are doing.Just a point on the style of this presentation – I believe that the right questions are harder to formulate than finding the answer to a well-stated question. So rather than punt a load of statements on what we believe are key answers, instead, in this presentation I am going to pose a series of questions, ask your input on them, and suggest the answer that we came up with. Through this series of Q&A I hope you’ll come to understand what we mean when we say we are going to be delivering a new kind of social network. If you don’t then this time will have been well spent for us too…because perhaps we have been drinking too much of the kool-aid.
The internet has evolved as a wonderful, essentially free, service. But it has also been harnessed to the ultimate end of big business, profit.Apple’s generation of the app model was based, we believe, on a fundamental insight and understanding that they needed an ‘in’ to the online revenue model, music was a start and taught them a lot. The app was their tool for the job, recognising that mobile was the next big thing, and we all know they were right of course, and as the 1st mover they take 30% of all we do for that privilege!But google and facebook and the advertising businesses that feed off them feed off the app model, they do so by selling your data.Not by asking your permission, but assuming it because you signed up to some free service, or in the case of google you may not even have signed up!Sure its anonymised – but the same tools that are used to profile your anonymous online presence can also identify you through that same data:If it is know you live in a specific area, own a specific make and model of phone bought at a specific time, have 3 children including a 2 boys and a girl, have a dog and a cat (and the dates they were bought), own a house of a specific value, when you moved there, work in a specific company in a specific role, then all that’s missing is your name….and that’s online somewhere too….you think you cannot be easily identified? You can.For most of us in this room, the game is lost, our internet profiles are complete and our identity obtainable, but does that mean we have to accept that our children have to live in a world with no online privacy? We think not.The only way forward is to offer an alternative – and we believe that the mobile internet opens the doors of opportunity for a new type of social network that can set an example.
Actually this is two questions, there are people who avoid facebook and maybe always will. There are people who have used facebook and have left. There are probably also people who have not had regular access to a PC and could thus actively participate in an online social network, who now have smartphones (now officially 1 billion of us), and perhaps could, but lets put them to one side for now, we’ll discuss that potential audience later.But we would propose that that there is a common reason that binds these two groups together. <use flip chart – ask audience for input on the reasons><review input> hopefully TRUST will have come out as a common theme, even though multiple other ways of discussing trust will have been put forward.So lack of trust, or loss of trust is why people avoid or leave facebook…..
Hopefully the previous Q&A would have led to a conclusion of TRUST…if not then we have learned a lesson and maybe skip this slide!Promising privacy as a means to develop trust is not enough….who is Krowdthink? why should you trust krowdthink? in the short term the answer is you should not trust us – we are a business entity, we are here to make money, so its almost nonsensical to claim we can guarantee privacy – because anything stored for a period of time is subject to the changing conditions of company ownership – just take a look at the changes in facebook since they went public to get an idea of what that means…….! Did you also notice Ancestry.com got bought this week for $1.6bn, by a private equity firm….makes me shudder to think what they could do with that data. Collated to provide one service, now saleable to do something completely different if the new owners desireA business cannot guarantee Freedom of Speech either, despite what twitter implies. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls out that countries can protect their national security, defend public order health or morals – which is a cart and horse loophole that allows any government to define what’s acceptable in its culture. So what’s acceptable free speech to you may not be acceptable elsewhere in the world. That does not mean we should not seek to maximise the opportunity for free speech online though, we should. In that regard twitter leads by example in social tools.Privacy and security are closely linked. If the data you assume to be private is not secured then its not private. But its worse than that, because there is no such thing as perfect security, so any data placed online or in transmission is subject to a privacy breach in the event of a security breach.Perversely the more secure and private you make an environment, the more you risk online safety. As a simple example, if a pedophile knows his identity is safely secured away from legal eyes, then that social network potentially becomes the perfect territory for such a predator to roam. So there has to be checks and balances in the social network implementation before you can start to develop user trust. But who audits that those checks and balances are solely in the user interest? When there is money on the table to be had by selling data, directly or indirectly, you have to have an auditor, just like every legal entity has to have an annual fiscal audit.
At Krowdthink we propose to create a board of trustees, invested with fiduciary powers (that means legally enforceable control mechanisms), to oversee the company. To act on the behalf of krowdthinks customers to ensure our product meets stated objectives in user privacy, security and online safety.We plan to make this board up from a combination of 3 experts from industry in the areas of safety security and privacy, plus 3 krowd users, probably rotated on an annual basis, and ideally voted in via the Krowd app itself.But even that is insufficient. The rot can set in early, features and capabilities that undermine these objectives can be evolved over time. The only ones who might be able to give the board of trustees the early ‘heads up’ are krowdthinks employees, many of whom we hope will be passionate supporters of these principles. So we plan to invest in our employees protected whistleblowers rights, so that they can approach the board of trustees with any concern at any time. We thus create a virtuous circle of vested interest, empowered responsibility and protected transparency of operation.A more debatable question is whether the proceedings of the board should be managed in a transparent manner, I’d like to think the answer is yes, but careful controls for customer trust have to be in place, as well as the ability for the business to operate with a degree of privacy too. Difficult questions we don’t have all the answers yet.We believe these things will help address the lack of trust we discussed earlier. But they are not sufficient. We also have to talk about the technical implementation of the Krowd and the business model that supports it, because these too can undermine trust if they are not developed and evolved to engender user trust.
Before the mobile app and mobile billing came along there was no accepted mechanism to take regular small online payments from huge numbers of people for a readily accessible service. So Google and Facebook and many of the early stage internet pioneers should perhaps be forgiven for delivering service first, monetising later…perhaps.But this created a pernicious cycle of of downward spiraling business ethics as the unedifying rush for your data accelerated faster and faster.But there is a switch going on – there are now 1 billion smartphones in peoples hands and an ever increasing preference to access online services via the mobile device, whose primary interface is the app. This switch presents an opportunity to change the online business culture…or at least offer an alternative. Its not too late, change is a continuous cycle.The app allows for many business models – some designed to also follow the (now) age old internet model of service for data, via advertising for example, but it started with the simple model of fee for a product or access to an online service. There is a simple elegance to this age old business model that anyone anywhere in the world can understand. And understanding is key, because few of us in this room can say they understood how they would be paying for their service through a loss of online privacy when they first started to use the internet and search engines.Customers are not stupid, they know that they have to pay somehow, but as the real cost of loss of privacy starts to hit home, we think we’ll see more and more people seeking an alternative will be ready to pay a small fee to obtain a service that holds their privacy in trust.Soon, really soon the amortrization of online data will become visible to the average user on the street, and the real cost of lost identity will start to hit home. There have already been numerous cases that show how security is readily compromised in computer systems, online identity is getting lost too. We believe people will be looking for a way to define themselves online, safely and securely, there is already a brugeoning and fast growth of privacy advocates and privacy tools. But they are seeking to bolt the door after the horse has bolted. We need a new kind of stable with a safer door.
Social networks like Foursquare clearly answer this question in the affirmative with their 20m+ users, as does twitter. But they connect people to places, in order to derive business value from those place owners. There’s not a huge amount of real-time social communication that goes on unless pre-organised.What if you made user social networking your 1st priority? Connect users to users INna place….what sort of social network would you create?Of course this begs a key question – why would people want to communicate with other people when they are in the same locality at the same time? Most other location-based social networks try to connect you to a place or to a specific type of business, so that they can derive value for the business or the place owner and thus give some form of immediate satisfaction to the app user – becoming mayor of the coffee shop for example.In short because crowds form around some form of common interest. It may be as mundane as socialising down the pub, and lets face it, looking for a pick up. But it can be more serious, like at a business event, such as Bizzaboo facilitates. But the more narrowly focused the social app is for a specific audience, the less likely it is that the audience in a location will reach critical mass to create a vibrant localised community.So actually what’s needed is something ubiquitous. As useable and valuable down the pub as at a business conference, in a mall or at a music concert, at a dog show or a football match. If you have critical mass in a location you don’t need to drive your users to the cloud for all your services, why not facilitate localised connectivity? Now you can approach issues like data storage location with a new perspective, why not hold some on your device if it still has value in a localised context? If your business does not rely upon the data being in the cloud so it can be monetised you start to think more freely about implementation of your social network in a localised context.Suddenly you are in an upwards ethical spiral, the more local value you deliver to your local community, the less likely it is that all data needs to be stored or maybe even transmitted through the cloud. The more you operate your business this way the more inherently private/secure that data becomes as it is no longer in a single location…..although the mobile does need to become far more secure as a platform to fully exploit this potential…..I’d love to know the real reason Google don’t enable firewalls or a default firewall in Android (we have our ideas on that question) …Blackberry offers it as standard. But I think that time will come.We see this as the Krowd – where people in a common location for a common purpose can connect anonymously, just as they can in a crowd with a C by talking to the person next to them, except now you can speak to all of them!
Actually this question goes to the heart of one of the flaws of the app model. We in this room have to accept the business models of our hosts, the carrier and device makers, who actively work together to ensure they can always obtain your location information and sell it. They seek to record and store our every movement and are very actively seeking to aggregate location information with many other data sets to provide highly valuable datasets for sale. Look at Telefonica Data Insights a new sub-division of the company that owns O2….who I use by the way, set up specifically to sell data gathered on their mobile networks in the open market. Most other carriers have already made the same step recently.But given my previous strong support of the app model as a business model, this is a flaw we have to work with and around. All we can do is alert our users to what’s going on and provide what we can as an alternative model of online privacy. So we are back to offering the ethical alternative as a means to eventually collate consumer focus and pressure around the issue.So our answer to this question is yes, we have determined a way in which we can deliver location based service to our users without actually know or recording where they are.What we saw some time ago was that carriers have to use the internet infrastructure to off-load the massive traffic mobile users are now creating. They do this by using wi-fi hotspots.So the good news is wi-fi hot spot coverage is set to massively increase. Therefore there is less and less need to rely on GPS for location, which is just as well given its significant utility limitations.Of course we make an assumption – that the crowd (with a C) is not moving – which I think we can say is a fairly safe assumption for 95% of crowds. Even then a wi-fi hotspot might be moving with them, such as in a train.So if you are connected to the same wi-fi as other people in the Krowd app, then by definition you are in the same location. We at Krowdthink don’t need to know where that wi-fi hotspot is to be able to delivered localised service. Of course there are databases of locations for wi-fi hotspots, but if you can promise to your users you won’t use them and be trusted on that promise then you really don’t know where they are.As an aside – watch out for HotSpot 2.0. it’s the carriers way of taking what is most often delivered as a ‘free’ internet portal, and turning it into a chargeable connection point. Its an aside from this discussion but if interested we should talk offline about whats really going on with Passport and Hotspot 2.0.
We have discussed location, and we have talked about the ideas of critical mass in a location at a specific time and why that’s an important unrealized opportunity.But if we are creating a social network, we are talking about people connecting for a reason. Just being in a common location at the same time is not necessarily enough, although in some cases it might be.This event for example – you could have a Droidcon Krowd (with a K) – actively connecting anyone at the event because its highly likely they share a common interest or passion for mobile and app technology.You cannot join that Krowd unless you are in the common location, so users can trust that there are no internet trolls connecting for other nefarious purposes. They’d have to be here to do that.Even in this room we are somewhat anonymous. We may wear a nametag, but it could just as easily be false. We don’t actually know the person sitting next to us, but we do know we could strike up a conversation because we share common interests.However with the krowd we allow you to connect to anyone in the vicinity – not just the person sitting next to you, so why would you strike up a conversation, seek them out?Maybe its what they are saying in the real-time location based chat room that we deliver? But that’s somewhat superficial too, so we have to have a persona accessible by anyone in the krowd that allows us to get an insight to the person before engaging with them. For this we create a user profile of course, but we back it up with your a krowd based blog. A mini-blog, somewhat like a tweet but with more content, including pictures etc, a personal app webpage if you will, in which you muse on the subjects that you care about. We organize those musings into online krowds(interest groups) too so you can focus on the areas of interest to you about that person. Sort of a personal intellectual advertising space. So when you join the krowd you have an auto-introduction tool that does not require any direct interaction with an individual. You have a real-time chat tool to check them out, and yes we enable you to go into a private chat space so you can take the conversation to the next level more privately. All before physically connecting, if you decide to at all.
This is an area of major debate, but mostly the debate is done. Twitter was the first to make the ‘handle’ or tagname ubiquitously acceptable in the social networking arena. It is one of its major strengths.Facebook and Google+ and most other 1st generation social networking tools require your identity, and there was huge debate around Google's decision in this regard.But we are neither delivering a facebook replacement, nor a twititer competitor. So where should we sit? <pause to ask the audience>We came down on the anonymous tagname side. When we bring location into the service we have to create safeguards and this is perhaps the most important one. No we won’t use twitter handles because we are different to twitter, so people who ID themselves on twitter like me under a tagname of @krowdthink, would not want to do so in the Krowd. So it would be wrong to suggest a common tagname is the right way to go. In fact the opposite, we should encourage users to come up with some complete new tagname never used before anywhere for anything, as the only way to help avoid the internet data aggregation trolls from accessing and correlating online krowd data with other data sets.Relationships will be developed solely around common interests, with the added dimension of common locality. They may or may not become face to face relationships – the decision of when that line is crossed is solely down to the individual – we just offer a means to virtually validate that person just prior to a face to face meeting.
While I have not stated in specific terms what the Krowd is, I have outlined a lot of the questions that led to its creation, to give you a feel for why we think its fundamentally new and different.Are we drinking the kool-aid, or can we able to take those first tentative steps towards reclaiming privacy on the internet ina social network?<Guage audience mood – if its positive – ask for a vote for and against> if time ask those who voted against – why not their opinion is the most important to us
Krowdthink at Droidcon 2012
Can we reclaim privacyfor the social network?Discussing a private social network concept for mobile Geoff Revill & Jacob Baytelman
So, are we drinking our own kool-aid? Or can we start to reclaim online Privacy through offering an alternative Type of social network? Interested in testing our prototype app? firstname.lastname@example.org @krowdthink