miércoles, 6 de junio de 2018

"The Power" - Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nowadays, almost everyone knows something about "The Handmaid's Tale", that dystopian vision of a future where patriarchalism reigns and the discrimination of women has reached the summit. However, the book has passed unnoticed for years and some people gets shocked when they discovered that it was written in 1985. I remember that I read that book around 2002 and since then I have strongly recommended Margaret Atwood´s novel many times. Those who followed the advice didn´t get dissapointed.

Among many others attractiveness, the appeal of "The Handmaid´s Tale" is that it provides a framework to meditate about the unfairness of a society based on a extrem unfairness in the gender relationships. It´s a mirror to feel ashamed of our image which its deficiencies has been distorted to its maximum. You should expect the same impact when you read "The Power".

"The Power" invites you to travel through the other side of the mirror and feels the horror of the side you daily live. The novel shows a word where women gets concious of an inmense physical power that allow them to dominate men. Little by little, women begin to dominate every parcel of life in different countries and in front of our eyes appears the reverse of the more extreme forms of female discrimination applied to men. For instance, a kind of male genital mutilation called "the curving procedure".

Although the plot of "The power" could have been better developed, the progress of the story is sometime slow. However, it achieves its objetcive of making you feel the rejection and disgust against both the current patriachal society and any kind of radicalism. The novel also shows how the desire of revenge may pervert any fair cause and the dificulty of avoid being a dictator if you are powerful enough, even if you have suffered before oppression. Therefore, it is not only a novel that calls your attention about the unfairness of any kind of injustice but also about the weaknesses of human nature.

I do not have any doubt to recommend the book. However, do not expect a masterpiece as "The Handmaid´s Tale"

View all my reviews

viernes, 1 de junio de 2018

#Datacalypsis : the end of a decade

2007. Everything around your personal data is under control as it is for the rest of the Europeans. For more than a decade has been in place a Directive that protects your privacy and your personal data. A few months ago you has started to use from time to time a new kind  of services provided by some small innovative companies, Google and its new email service, a platforms for sharing videos called YouTube and a web that you are not sure what is its purpose yet called Facebook. Not too much people use this incredible services yet and you pass the voice to everyone about them.

2018. News rules for the protection of your data has entered into force. You hope this would allow you to take again control of your personal data. You feel that those big platforms you use everyday has gone too far in taking advantage from the data they collect about you. But you can not stop using it without taking a big change in your life  that you are not willing to take.

More that a decade separate the two scenarios above. Everybody now knows that last week the privacy rules has changed because their e-mail boxes has been completely flooded with notices of the change from the hundred of online services yoy have used at least once. It has been a bad start for the new data protection regulation. On one hand, people do not like to be bothered with the changes in laws. On the other hand, they have started to notice that few things have changed. The notifications are still linked to long therms of service as obscure as before and even some of them try to take advantage of the notification to obtain more data.

Nevertheless, the theory is that everything has changed and that companies are now more accountable for what they do with your personal data. According to the new rules anyone can request detailed information about the handling of their data from the companies. Online companies are scared about the seismic it could caused thousand and millions of users withholding consent for certain uses of data, requesting access to their personal information from data brokers, or deleting their information from sites altogether. But the reality has been different and only the usual mavericks has filed complaints to the usual suspects.

However, the fear is running free among companies. The first day the new data protection rules entered into force some services started to be unavailable for Europeans. The many times announced balkanisation of the Internet looks to has started. Furthermore, there is a panic of which is going to be the effect on European AI development and the offer of AI services for Europeans. Therefore, a decade after the begin of the digital revolution an scenario of disminution of the offer of digital services instead of a landscape of expanding availability of them is opening.

And we have seen nothing yet. In the middle of the frenzy few people is noticing that another big change regarding privacy and personal data is on the brink of happening. On March 2019, Brexit will be a reality and a new group of those services we used daily will be provided from a country with a different data protection legal framework. The European Commission has already published a notice to stakeholders about the preparations that needed to be done.

The explotation of personal data has been the lever of digital revolution. Therefore, a decade since the introdution of the services provided by the SIlicon Valley companies, the changes on the rules of privacy and data protection introduced by GDPR is opening a new scenario of unpredictable changes, both for EU and worldwide. As our lives are  pending on those services, it is for sure that things will not be the same after May 25th.

viernes, 25 de mayo de 2018

Waiting time on cyber security

Some figures get you dizzy. That is the feeling I have ever had when I read the report of the impact of cybersecurity incidents and their cost. Reports can be found in all flavours in the internet, but here are the figures for the main dimensions of cybersecurity in one post:

  • Cyber crime damage costs to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021.
  • Cybersecurity spending to exceed $1 trillion from 2017 to 2021
  • Cyber crime will more than triple the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs, which is predicted to reach 3.5 million by 2021
  • Human attack surface to reach 6 billion people by 2022 
  • Global ransomware damage costs are predicted to exceed $5 billion in 2017

As in any other part of the world, there is a growing concern in Europe about the above facts and figures and measures are taken in a progressive but unremmitting manner. Both in the Digital Single Market strategy and its mid-term review it is highlighted its importance and some measures are sketched, while the more concrete and holistic approach is set in the EU cyber security strategy published later under the name "Resilience, Deterrence and Defence: Building strong cybersecurity for the EU".

We will need some time to appreciate the results of the non-legislative actions, as the Cyber Security public-private partnership promoted by the European Commission. Nevertheless, the effect of the new pieces of legislation  is felt since the first day of their entry into force. Today, its the zero-day for GDPR and a few weeks ago the Network and Information Security went into effect. In both cases, the more visible impact will be be the big fines that firms will have to pay in case of cyber security breaches. as well as the investments they will certainly announced to have made in order to comply with the laws. Less visible will be if the new legal framework promote the needed trust on the digital technology and services, and therefore fulfill its final objectives.

Same could be said about the measures that are in the pipeline. It will be difficult to appreciate in the short term if the digital opportunities initiative contribute to train the needed base of cybersecurity professionals. However, we will see from day zero the cost of the implementation of the forthcoming cybersecurity certification framework without feeling in the short tem if it produces IT products and services we can trust on.

So now we are entering into waiting time. The time to wait and see if Europe has taken the right measures to provide a secure digital environment we can trust on. If some rectifications are identified, it would be difficult to have time enough to react.

miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2018

Around the Digital MFF proposal

The European Commission started three years ago the development of the Digital Single Market Strategy. According with the press release published on the day that the initiative was presented, "The aim of the Digital Single Market is to tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one".  The implementation of the DSM Strategy is not being easy. After all this time, the legislative train panel has only registered that a handful the regulations has been fully approved by the EU institutions.

However, as important as the implementation of the DSM Strategy is thinking in the following steps. Breaking the barriers has not sense if you don't unleash later the forces of digital entrepreunership and creativity in the new space. It looks that the European Commission thinks also that way and has the intention to promote the development of a whole set of digital projects on top of the DSM. For this purpose, the EC has proposed a significative increase of funding for the digital area in the Multiannual Financial Framework (or 'MFF'), an almost 9 fold increase of investments in digital transformation and networks to reach € 12 billion.

The budget proposal for the digital area has been divided in two blocks. On one side, under the Connecting Europe Facility, the European Commission aims to promote the deployment of the very high capacity networks that the innovative digital services needed to flourish. More than 3.000 € million has been estimated for this purpose. On the other hand, a new programme called Digital Europe has been designed for the digital transformation of public services and businesses. More than 9.000 € million has been thought as needed for boosting frontline investments in high-performance computing and data, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and advanced digital skills.

The music sounds correctly but the devil could be in the details. In the documents published up to now there are few details on how this money would be allocated and spending, and we will probably do not know until the end of May. We should remember that in the last MFF proposal the EC also included an estimation of 9.200 million € for the digital area that was almost completely rejected by Member States, mainly due to its centralised management rules. Whether the EC has the same idea in its mind we can foresee a similar end for the proposal. 

miércoles, 9 de mayo de 2018

Digital outlooks for the future

The political ideas of Emmanuel Macron are far away from my vision of the world. However, he is perhaps one of the few front-line politicians who is able to speak more than five minutes about the world digitalisation, the policies needed for boosting it and its consequences. Some months ago, he gave an interview focused on his plans to make France a leader on AI development. To begin with, he chosen for put forward his ideas on the field a prestigious and global digital sector magazine, Wired, which is in itself a declaration of the importance he gives to the technological issues.

One of the passages of the interview was dedicated to the different models of AI development that USA and China are followed and what should be the European model. His thesis are not only applicable to AI field, but to digitalisation broadly speaking. On one hand, the firm-driven digitalisation model , "In the US , it is entirely driven by the private sector, large corporations, and some startups dealing with them. All the choices they will make are private choices that deal with collective values". On the other hand, the governments-driven digitalisation model, "Chinese players collect a lot of data driven by a government whose principles and values are not ours".

The President Macron did not develop completely the consequences of the above models neither which model could be an alternative to both, except some vague ideas about putting forward human development instead of technological development. Therefore, we should first stop a few minutes thinking about the different economic and social models that may be the outcome of firms-driven digitalisation and a governments-driven digitalisation.

Perhaps, we are more familiarized with the firms-driven model. As a consequence of our free-market economy embedded in a global trade system,  Europe initial steps towards digitalisation have been promoted mainly by private companies. We are witnessing how the digital giants are extending their outprint each day in more services beyond information and contents, like transport or lodging. From time to time, we get awareness that huge pile of data is held and exchanged within the private sector with few control from the citizens and their governments. The main usage of dgital technologies is for increasing productivity whatever the consequences. 

The final outcome of such a firms-driven model would certainly be an open a global economy, but based only in private interests with a diminishing weight of democracy and collective decisions. A private surveillance system would be globally established, with positive consequences for our consumer face but a dark side for our citizen part. There would also be a risk a neo-slaveism and precarization emerging from the pressure of a growing automatisation and the provision of job posts through digital platforms.

It is more difficult for us to visualise an exclusively governments-driven model due to our geo-political belonging to the Western World. However, it is easy to imagine as the first consequence the balkanisation of Internet promoted for governments in order to control the information and contents available. The governments would play a crucial role in the digitalisation of all the activities. Therefore, the application of digital technologies could be guided not only with productivity as the main goal but also to seek the society well-being.

This goverments-driven dgitalisation model has as its main negative outcome its orwellian footprint. Also different Internet fiefdoms would emerge with few connectivity between them, losing the global scale of the network and the unlimited availability of services. Nevertheless, a smoothest transition to automatisation could happen and its social consequences more easily absorbed.

Neither of the scenarios are probably appealing for our European minds. As President Macron said in the interview, "Europe is the place where the DNA of democracy was shaped", and the shared consequence of the firms-driven digitalisation and governments-driven digitalisation is jibarisation of citizenship. Therefore, the vaccine against both models should be around citizen empowerment, through enshrining both individuality and the importance of commonality. The individual has rights but the progress could only be based on public interest decided by the collectivity.

So the alternative to the governments-driven and firms-driven model for digitalisation should be based in a radical transparency of algorithms usage by governments and firms. Neither checking the effective fulfillment of our rights nor the defend of the public interest are possible without it. Algorithm transparency is the enabler for the limitation of surveillance but also the brake to censhorship and the lantern on unfair relationships in the labour and business spheres.

We know the alternatives, the question is finding the path to the right one.

miércoles, 2 de mayo de 2018

"Jose Antonio: Realidad y Mito" - Joan Maria Thomas

José Antonio: Realidad y mitoJosé Antonio: Realidad y mito by Joan Maria Thomàs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fue una presencia constante y callada en nuestra infancia. El retrato con su imagen de juventud perennen estaba en las paredes de todos los recintos oficiales. Sin embargo, nunca nadie era capaz de contarme quien habia sido, de dar muchas más señas más allá de su nombre, Jose Antonio, sin apellidos. Sabían que había sido el fundador del Movimiento, que había sido fusilado durante aquella Guerra Civil que entonces se empeñaban que llamaramos el Alzamiento Nacional. Jose Antonio había sido el mártir por excelencia cuya sangre daba legitimidad al régimen fascista del General Franco.

Jose Antonio era un misterio, y continuó siendolo cuando, unos años después, su retrato desapareció de las paredes de colegios, oficinas de la Administración y centros sanitarios. Leer sobre su vida, obra e ideas era una deuda pendiente con mi infancia, que he saldado con este magnífico tomo de Joan Maria Thomas. Una biografía más allá de aquel lejano mito en blanco y negro de nuestros días infantiles, la realidad de un hombre hijo de su tiempo, aquellos tumultuosos años treinta en Europa.

Vida, obra e ideas de Jose Antonio son un continuo, forman un triangulo cuyos vértices no pueden ser entendidos en análisis aislado. Una vida corta e intensa, marcada por la figura de su padre, primer dictador militar en la España del siglo XX. Unas ideas marcadas por las pasiones extremas de entreguerras. Una obra que no existió más allá de un solar vacío con apenas unos cimientos.

El trasfondo de la Europa violenta de los años treinta y sus extremismos que se propagaban sobre el caldo de cultivo de las sangrantes desigualdades y la miseria de España, una España que en vano un régimen republicano trataba de regenerar. Entre aquellos extremos, Jose Antonio tomó partido por el fascismo, sobre el que diseño un marco de ideas donde se mezclaba la nostalgia por el imperio perdido, una fe católica intensa y un vago sentimiento social. Unas ideas apenas pergeñadas que encontraron poco tiempo para ser llevadas a un papel.

Sobre su vida flota un aire de contradicción del que se contagian ideas y obra. A partes iguales, busca el destino de liderar un partido de masas y se siente arrastrado a la fuerza a la vida pública, siente la República como una necesidad para la regeneración de España y fruto de una esteril e injusta revancha contra la obra de su padre, teme y a la vez desea la violencia en las calles como medio de resolución de los problemas políticos. Una contradicción que se intensificó en sus últimos dias, donde trató de erigirse en mediador de un conflicto cuya mecha había contribuido a encender y que muchos de sus seguidores alimentaban a diario de forma extrema, y se prolongó despues de su muerte, cautivo para siempre del aparato propagándistico de un régimen infinitamente lejano de una parte central de sus ideas.

Al final, sigue el misterio, la duda sobre quién realmente fue Jose Antonio. Y termino de entender porqué en mi infancia nadie era capaz de decirme quién había sido aquella persona eternamente joven en un retrato en sepia.

View all my reviews

miércoles, 25 de abril de 2018

Soft and needed rules on P2B

Beyond the issues of digital taxes, fake news and privacy, there are many other topics that raise concerns around the role of digital platforms in our society and economy. Platforms have become a central element in the distribution of any kind of goods and services, and therefore in the connection between sellers and buyers. Each day, there are less and less cases of independent traders in any sector, consumers have got used to look for theirs dreams and needs in a selected group of sites.

But for the dismay of USA, the EU is expected to regulate on the field of P2B (Platform-to-Business) relationships. There are important reasons behind this purpose. According with a study published last year, "3rd party sellers in the EU in 2016 was €54.566,5 Million, representing 22% of total online retail". Furthermore, the aggregated impact of marketplaces, appstores, online advertising and social networks in the EU economy is estimated in the range of € 2.0 billion and € 19.5 billion per year (difficult a more acute calculation due to the opaqueness of platforms)

While there is a growing economic importance of the role platforms, there is also a growing discontent of their business users. In another study focused in the quality of the P2B relationship,  "46% of business users responded that they have experienced problems and disagreements with the platforms in the course of their business relationship". The mix of these problems include disputes around terms and conditions, the lack of transparency in platform practices, the unbalanced usage of data and many others.

Taking into consideration the above landscape, it looks there are strong reasons for the EU to take regulatory actions on the issue. However, according with the announce of the digital commissioner, there are not extremely regulatory actions, just some transparency obligations, a framework for redressing and the creation of an observatory. The light approach needed for the current status of our incomplete knowledge of digital markets, but enough for starting to bridle what has been up to now an unleashed market.

miércoles, 18 de abril de 2018

What will be in the future European AI roadmap?

With some delay on the initially foreseen agenda, it looks that Europe is at last speeding its initiatives in the AI area. Last week a significative bunch of European ministers get surrounding by experts and practician to speak about the issue in the so-called Digital Day. In the near future, it is expected that the European Commission will publish the European roadmap for AI. 

It was high time for this European hyperactivity. As usual. it looks to come late. AI investments in 2016 in Europe totaled $3 to $4 billion in 2016, compared with $8 to $12 billion in Asia and $15 to $23 billion in North America. It is not a surprise of this lagging as there was not any measure in the original Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy and a vague idea for "Building artificial intelligence capacities" in the DSM strategy midterm review.

As you may remember, the European Parliament published a report on AI a year ago. It will be interesting to see how many of the European Parliament ideas will be taking on board on the European Commission roadmap. Some of them can be directly discarded. It is not the time to expect any kind of regulation on robots liability or a legal status for robots. According with the declaration signed on the Digital Day, the roadmap will contain few more things than a framework for pooling R&D resources, exchanging ideas on legal and ethical issues to be considered in the future and holding some kind of general reflection the impact of AI in labour.

However, until the roadmap is published let´s hope something more ambitious. AI is not something that will come in a far future. For good or bad, robots are around us in many fields right now, like medicine or transport to name a few. So there should be some kind of flesh in the roadmap otherwise the scaring face of a future reigned by unleashed and out of control robots will still brake the development of AI in Europe.

miércoles, 11 de abril de 2018

Are we really suffering a skills shortage?

There is a continuous hype in the press related to skills shortage. As the story is told, one of the major problems of the labour market, particularly in the IT sector, is the scarcity of enough professionals trained for fulfilling a certain kind of tasks. But what if this is not the case? What if the problem of the labour market is not a the lack of professionals but the lack of professionals that accept to work under neoslavery conditions?

The theory of lack of skills in the labour market has emerged, suspiciously, after the crisis.Promoted by the great consultant firms, like McKinsey or PWC, it has been parroted, firstly, by entrepreuners and, afterwards, by policymakers. However, the dynamics of the labour market stubbornly does not give any evidence of the lack of skills. When a commodity is scarce in a certain market, its price tend to rise. The signals of the labour market go in the opposite direction, with wages being a less important part of the economy than years ago. Surprisingly, valued skills are not accordingly paid.

Slowly, a new theory is emerging. The lack of skills would not be the problem but the decrease of buyers in the labour market. In this new theory, the experts point to monopsony as the cause of the lack of offer in the labour market. As the number of companies have decreased after the crisis and subcontracting practices have increased there are fewer buyers of labour, specially in some areas, who abuse extremely of its dominant position provoking the moving of the labour force to other areas and sectors where they are better paid.

Although it is early yet, we can expect the publishing of studies in the next month following the above line of thought. Alternative ideas are always valuable to discover the truth.  

miércoles, 4 de abril de 2018

The brexit digital cliff-edge

Things are beginning to get hot on Brexit. Once there is an agreement for the withdrawal of UK from the EU, it looks that the agreement on the future partnership is extremely far away.  There is a particular uncertainty on which will be the digital relationship between both parts. Furthermore, the British Prime Minister has explicitly discarded any belonging of UK to the Digital Single Market. Contrary to her ambiguity in other areas as financial services, she has proclaimed that "the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU".

As a part of its preparedness actions for a worst case scenario, the EU has began to publish a collection of notices to stakeholders which briefly described what would be the situation in some economic sectors unless some kind of agreement is achieved. One of this notices described the implications for e-commerce due to the fact that the Directive 2000/31/EC (Directive on electronic commerce) will no longer apply to UK. As a consequence, the country-of-origin principle will cease to be applicable to the e-commerce sites established in UK and companies established in the UK providing information society services into the EU will fall under the jurisdiction of each individual EU-27 Member State, and not under UK law.

One of the UK contradictions is the aspiration to stay apart from the DSM but maintain a privileged relationship regarding data flows. In the same speech Ms. May discarded being part in the future of the DSM, she asked  for something"more than just an adequacy arrangement" and she underlined that she wanted "to see an appropriate ongoing role for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office".  However, the EU notice to stakeholders on the rules of data protection after UK withdrawal reminds that Britain will not be different to other third party after Brexit. What is the same, it is a warning to UK that cherry-picking will not be an option neither in the digital arena.

Among the main achievements of the DSM is the abolition of roaming charges. It is quite curious the lack of mention in Ms. May´s speeches to this topic when each when the issue is continually on the table. At the moment, it looks that  UK Mobile Network Operators will not reinstate roaming charges but it is unclear what the EU operators will do. Even more hopeless is expecting a bilateral abolition of roaming charges to be included in the Future Relationship agreement as this issue is not usually part of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

It is also unclear the future of transfrontier broadcasting, as Ms. May reminded in her recent speech. Again the biggest difficulty is the lack of tradition on including the issue in FTAs. The large base of TV channels which are seen in the EU and established in UK needs also clarity on this issue.

Data flows, e-commerce, roaming and audiovisual services define the more visible elements of the digital cliff-edge. Certainly, the lack of agreement of these issuer would change completely our lives.

miércoles, 21 de marzo de 2018

5G and net neutrality

Without any doubt, 5G was the star of the recently held Mobile World Congress (MWC). Since several years ago, the MWC has mutated from an event exclusively focused on mobile technology to a conference on the latest advances on digital technologies. However, this year the MWC has shown its true colours and a pure mobile topic (5G) has been the darling both of the people who have attend the congress and the journalists who have reported what have happened there.

5G was on the origin of one of the more tense debates of the congress, the session about net neutrality. One of the more innovative features of 5G is the so-called "network slicing",  a technique for network virtualisation that allows to define several networks on top of a shared infrastructure. Therefore, "Network slicing" allows to provide services with different speed and latency on the same physical network, what can be read as a violation of net neutrality principle.

As "Network Slicing" is one of the hopes of network operators to obtain new revenues in the 5g environment, they are pushing for a lenient interpretation of the rules. The critical importance of these new revenues is easy to be grasped in the framework of the cost estimations for 5G deployment. It is estimated that network-related capital expenditures would have to increase 60 percent from 2020 through 2025, roughly doubling total cost of ownership (TCO) during that period.  Furthermore, In Europe along network operators need to cough up around €56.6 billion to pay for 5G networks covering the entire EU.

So, at it was expected, the economics are at the center of the debate of 5G deployment. Before announcing the use cases for the enhanced broadband, the mission critical applications and the support for IoT which is foreseen in 5G services, the operators would like to know which levers will have at their dispose to monetise the services. And new interpretation of net neutrality looks as the main lever.

miércoles, 14 de marzo de 2018

Forget the hype, AI is not a new market

It looks that 2018 is AI´s year. Artificial Intelligence is on the news each day and it is beginning to be taken into consideration as one of the enablers of digital transformation. The excitement is not surprising, as it is expected a jump in its market size from 1,378 millions of dollars worldwide in 2016 to 59,748 millions un 2025.

Even in the digital age the space in the press is not infinite, so great part of AI buzz has been made at the expense of big data. According with the data available in Google Trends, there have been a convergence between the usage of both terms. Also this is not surprising, as AI is probably the main application build on big data. Data is useless without being analysed. So it is really possible that we are not talking about a new market, but a rebranding of what we have been calling the big data market.

The substitution theory of Big Data by AI is supported by E. Morozov. In one of his last articles he highlighted that "data is not the new oil, but AI probably is". Furthermore, he pointed that the same players that has been hoarding data for years are now grabbing market power in AI market based on its dominance of the Internet. So according this point of view it should be the GAFA the leaders of the AI market.

And the facts are greatly supporting the substitution theory. Two of the GAFAs are leading the ranking of 15 companies which are hiring AI experts and two of them in the list of 5 top investors on AI. Amazon is repeating on both lists, as well as Microsoft, so Morozov maybe right on his last theory.

So it is highly possible that AI is neither a new market nor opening new opportunities for new entrants, but the continuation and consolidation of the current scenario.

miércoles, 7 de marzo de 2018

"El final del hombre" - Antonio Mercero

El final del hombre (Sofía Luna, #1)El final del hombre by Antonio Mercero
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Antonio Mercero escribe, ante todo, una gran novela negra. El autor inicia con esta historia lo que promete ser una serie de relatos con la inspectora Sofía Luna como protagonista. La obra inicia una saga de casos de similar factura a los protagonizados por Pepe Carvalho, Tony Romano o Bevilaqua. La puesta en escena inicial arranca con un crimen truculento en que se usa un arma inusual, alrededor del cual empiezan a presentársenos personajes ambiguos, a los que es tan difícil amar como odiar: Policías de abnegada dedicación con pequeñas corruptelas, personajes decimonónicos de ideología trasnochada, jóvenes nihilistas de una generación perdida, mujeres y hombres especializados en la manipulación de las emociones, ... El relato se adentra de la mano de todos ellos en un callejón sin salida, en un laberinto de mentiras del que parece imposible escapar hasta que en un final acelerado cae el velo de todos y cada unos de los engaños. No descubrimos sólo la historia de detrás de un crimen, sino la existencia de otras miserias humanas que página a página habíamos ido intuyendo.

La obra de Mercero no carece tampoco del factor social que hace inolvidables las grandes obras de novela negra. Sofía Luna, la inspectora que protagoniza la historia, en una mujer trans* en transición social hacia su identidad de género. En las primeras páginas, una funcionaria le hace entrega del auto que le reconoce administrativamente como mujer y le acompañamos en su salida del armario en su entorno personal y laboral. Se suceden todas las escenas de empatía y discriminación por las que pasan las personas trans*: Apoyos de algunos familiares y rupturas con otros, compañeros de trabajo que se mofan y otros que admiran el valor de Sofia, el rechazo abierto de quien antes te amaba o valoraba, la transfobia violenta que aguarda en un portal, los problemas de identificación ante terceros, las preguntas incómodas, ... Historias reales que acercan al lector desde el respeto a la realidad trans*

Difícil augurar si tan gran comienzo tendrá una digna continuación. Mercero se ha puesto el listón demasiado ato.

View all my reviews

miércoles, 28 de febrero de 2018

The battle for the ad (blocking) market

Some weeks ago, a wave of surprise shook many people when they read that Google was on the brink to distribute an adblocker integrated with its browser. Was Google going to start blocking its main source of revenues? Was the inventor and king of online ads as the source for financing digital services going to kill the market it created? But things are more complex.

According with the data published by PageFair, in 2016 11% of the Internet population are currently using an ad blocker, with a yearly growth of 30%. So the menace was already there when Google decided that the best strategy was to join (apparently) with the enemy. Furthermore, ad blocking was such a growing sector that different kind of business models were beginning to arise. Because you should notice that the majority of adblockers are not non-profit companies. Adblocker Plus, the leader of the ad blocking market,  is itself a two-sided platform that provides free services to users thanks to the revenues it obtains from not blocking some kind of ads.

So once more and as usual, it is good to take a look from a different angle. The reality is that Google (and Facebook) are not fighting the online ad business but protecting its (big) share in it. The ad blockers market battle that have already started is in fact an ad market battle. On one side,  Adblocker Plus and the so-called Acceptable Ads Comitte have defined an Acceptable Ads Definition. On the other side,  the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA), which include Google and Facebook, has defined the initial better ads standard. On the gap between both standards for a consumer-friendly ad lays the online advertisement market of the future (and its stream of revenues)

So things are not as some people has described. Google is not entering in the ad blocking market but continue its battle for the absolute dominance the ad market.

miércoles, 21 de febrero de 2018

Again platform regulation, now as online intermediary services

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the complexity of laying down rules on fake news, but the sudden EU regulatory frenzy about platforms doesn't stop on this issue. The digital giants are also on the focus of Brussels for other reasons, one of them their role on the economy, particularly as intermediaries on the value chain for the distribution of good and services. In the midterm review of the Digital Single Market Strategy, the European Commission committed to present concrete actions on unfair contracts and trading practices in platform-to-business relations before the end of 2017. Although the deadline has passed without any initiative be presented, it looks that it would be done in the following months.

The objective of the forthcoming European Commission proposals are what they called online intermediation services, which take part in the relationship between companies and consumers through some kind of contract. The main kind of platforms that could be included on this group are e-commerce market places (e.g. eBay, Amazon, ...), appstores (e.g. Applestore or Google market) and  online advertising platforms (e.g. Google and Facebook). However, it is difficult to establish a limit of which are the markets and categories of online platforms that could be regulated as intermediaries. Perhaps, a wiser approach to this regulation is laying down the topics that should be monitorized on intermediation services and an open procedure to define which are the categories by the regulator. 

So, let´s focus on what should be regulated on this unequal relationship between the digital giants and national companies. Perhaps, the better studies on the issue was published by the European Comission, one of them last summer and a second one on December. Based on survey on SMEs and complaint cases, the documents identify five issues to be regulated with different termonology:
  • Terms and conditions of the contract, particularly its clarity and changes during the relationship
  • Search and ranking tools on the platform, with a special focus of algorithm transparency and the listing mechanisms
  • Platform operation as another service provider on equal conditions as the other companies
  • Conditions for the usage of data generated within the platform, both by the platform and the service providers
  • Dispute resolution mechanisms for redressing of unfair treatment
Regarding which platforms should be regulated, there is a consensus on the classification detailed above, However, as I stated before, a fix classification would be always short sighted. A lesson we have learned on the years we have already lived on the digital age is the unexpected dynamics of the markets and the unending creativity of innovators. In the same manner that it is done in the telecom market, it would be wiser to lay down the rules for the definition of markets to be regulated and which kind of remedies could be introduced on the above mentioned five issues on the cases that are needed.

miércoles, 14 de febrero de 2018

The sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I was a child, I have been puzzled about how the First World War started. When you study the Second World War, you have a feeling of the inevitability of the conflict: A megalomaniac fool invading one country after another until the other big powers get fed up and declared the war. On the contrary, in the first reading the chronicles of the begining of the Great War you see the killing of the heir of a decaying empire at the hands of a nacionalist terrorist group as the flame that ignited the clash. Everytime I have spoken with a friend about the comparison of the outbreak of the starting of the two major disputes of the human beings history, I have met with a reflexion of my own perplexity.

With the rationale above, it is easy to understand why the first time I read of the existence of "The sleepwalkers" I knew that I would read that book. The essay looked as the key to the explanation I was looking for since my childhood, the link bewtween the killing in Sarajevo and the explosion of a war that ending with the dead of 30 million of people. Once I have finished it, I am not disappointed in ny manner. At last, I have worked out the debt of knowledge on the matter with myself.

The pages of "The sleepwalker" disentangle the genesis of the war. On one hand, there was a growing rivalry for the dominance of the Balkans between a rising country and a decaying one, respectively, Serbia and Austria-Hungary. On the other hand, both of these countries was the vortex of a complex alliance scheme. The inevitable conflict between Serbia and Austria drawn the rest of the European continent to war. The killing in Sarajevo was an excuse, but it could be another one.

However, it was not so simple as it was described above. Reading the pages of "The Sleepwalkers" you have the feeling that the war could have been avoided. The unthinkable of the war was it the end the reason for its declaration. Every power acted as if the other side was going to act in a wiser manner and would take the cautious decision on spite of its provocation. It was this way of thinking the final rationale for the conflict.

But the book is more than an excellent history book. "The sleepwalkers" it is also a background for thinking in our current crisis in many areas, both in the international and national arena. The pages of the book give us many reasons for demanding a more concious behaviour of our leaders, asking them for being something more than sleepwalkers dragged by the events.

View all my reviews

miércoles, 7 de febrero de 2018

The case for digital skills

According with the Treaties, the European Union has not any real competence on Education. However, the European Commission has made the promotion of digital skills one of the central policies, first, in the Digital Agenda and, afterwards, in the Digital Single Market Strategy. The spreading of digital technologies is leading to the need for every citizen to have at least basic digital skills in order to live, work, learn and participate in the modern society. 

The urgency for promoting the acquisition of digital skills by citizens is usually justified by figures and statistics. For instance, one piece of data that is putting forward frequently are the results of the last DESI publication, which is showing that around 45% of the European population lacks of  basic digital skills. However, few times we think on the real stories that are behind that numbers.

Let´s start our review of the consequences of the lack of digital skills on real life with a hot story: fake news. Since the last USA presidential elections, it looks that there is a real worry among policies makers about the quick spreading of fake news through the Internet. The last evidence of this worry of the elites are the proposals for regulations coming from President Macron and the European Commission. However, the focus of these proposals is regulating plaforms and less on explaining the population, for instance, how algorithmic selection of news works. And we should remember that 54% of the population has a preference for the algorithmic selection of news, which is the real problem when a high percentage of people still believes in conspiracies in Europe.

The lack of digital skills is beginning to have impact on the opportunities to access to public services.  On a time where some people are still suffering the impact of the economic crisis, the dramatic consequences of the digital divide on an ordinary guy who is not able to fulfill an online form to demand welfare services is the starting point of "I, Daniel Blake", the last Ken Loach´s film. Perhaps, it s an extreme case, but without any doubt, it is already easiest to obtain public grants and benefits using the Internet than going to a physical point of service.

It is also worrisome how receiving any kind of information through an app or website gives this information an extra verity value. An evidence of this fact have happened in Sweden recently, where 37 unwanted pregnancies occurred among users of an app which was sold as an "algorithmic contraceptive method". The app was the digitalisation the traditional rhythm method, a contraceptive method known as insecure due to its typical failure rate of 24%, which so long ago was declining on usage in western societies. It is not difficult to imagine among the 37 unexpected mothers a significative percentage of women who looks her smartphone as an unerring device for giving advice on any kind of issue who would have never used in a conscious manner the rhythm method.

Another field where the lack of digital skills may have devastating consequences for people are the usage of fintech services. Particularly dangerous to people finances could be entering in the cryptocurrencies market. Different scams model are emerging, including fake ICOs or exchange scams. In 2017, Japan police detected 33  cryptocurrency scam cases in the first seven months. We can expect a rise of these figures in the current year.

Any kind of relationship where a citizen is involved is based on digital means, the increasing adoption of technology is an evidence of this fact. Therefore, the lack of digital skills have a daily impact on people beyond their professional career. Using a car without any driving knowledge usually ends with an accident, difficult to expect a positive outcome of using computers or smartphones lacking digital skills.

miércoles, 31 de enero de 2018

Fake news: The problem is the measures we are not taken

It´s official now. There is a race for regulate the so-called fake news and other harming content between the Brussels bureaucracy and the big European capitals. After the approval of German law, it is the turn for France for rushing before the European Commission presents its own initiative. One of  shared objectives of the three mentioned initiatives is safeguarding democracy from misinformation. However, although there are a positive side on the part of the initiatives, there could be also unforeseen consequences.

On the bright side we have the push for transparency of some the ideas put forward by the French President. Including transparency regarding sponsored content would make clear to the users who is posting some of the pieces of information that are flowing on the network. However, the almost certain consequence is less sponsored content, so the social networks are beginning to reorganise their business model before the proposal be an actual law.

But we should be cautious with other part of these measures against harmful content. On the heart of them there is also the promotion of a more responsible behaviour of platforms. Although I´m in favour of the idea of demanding a bigger liability of platforms, this demand should not be only for the retirement of harmful content within a certain timeframe, there should be also a counterbalance of fines in case the alleged harmful content retired was not such. Otherwise, the consequence would be an excess of caution that would harm freedom of expression, as we are beginning to see wit the application of the German law.

Unfortunately, what it is missing in all these initiatives are measures for facing the enemy at the the real battlefield: the user. Because the real problem are not the fake news but having an audience that gives credit to the news. And this battle is far to be win according with recent polls. So the problem are not only the measures that are being adopted against fake news, but those that nobody are taken.

miércoles, 24 de enero de 2018

Net cynicism

On the end of 2017, the battle on net neutrality was reawaken. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. The FCC decision to repeal the Open Internet decision approved in 2015 that ended the enforcement on net neutrality was welcomed by network operators and  criticised by digital platforms. 

The rationale behind those defending net neutrality is the need to guarantee equal opportunities to compete between those who use the internet resources, wether or not they are network providers. Imposing a ban on establishing preferences for the apps using the network prevent that internet providers could act as gatekeepers for the digital economy.

But this is not just another article on net neutrality, but an article on net cynicism. To begin with, let´s done some changes on the definition on net neutrality and start talking about app neutrality. App neutrality is the principle that digital platforms must treat all apps within their environment the same and not discriminate or charge differently by user, design or purpose. The about app neutrality is the change on the subject who is obliged to respect it, which are the digital platforms who call for net neutrality. 

The problem with the enforcement of app neutrality is the subtle forms of some of its violation. For instance, we all agreed with the idea that data is valuable, therefore taking advantage of the full knowledge of app activity on a platform is an indirect charge on the app developer. So the business model of Facebook would violate the app neutrality principle unless the platform provide with an open API to access all the information about any app activity to all the apps developers at the same cost that Facebook use this API for its services.

Something similar could be applied to app stores run by Apple or Google. Both manufacturers have established rules for including apps in its distribution system. The impact of these rules is appreciated with any slight change of them, however there is not a report published regularly of the apps that are banned and the reasons for it. Furthermore, there is not transparency on the results of the acceptability tests for the apps developed by the owner of the appstores.

None of the questions on app neutrality are put on the table by digital platforms jointly with the debate on net neutrality. That is what I called net cynicism.

miércoles, 17 de enero de 2018

Digital breathing air is diminishing

According with the available data, in 2017 among the top 6 companies by market capitalisation 5 are ICT companies, 4 of them close to the concept of "digital platform". These companies are Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook and Apple, the GAFA. Only Google was among the top 20 companies in 2009, Apple was below the 30th post in the 2009 ranking, neither Amazon nor Facebook were in the top 100 companies.

The phenomenal growth of the GAFA is not completely understood yet today. However, it is sure is that working for more thatn a decade in an innovative and not tightly regulated sector has had a big influence in the current situation. The bigger the space you have to breath free of any other living being in the surroundings the more you can expand yourself. But suddenly, the space has started to decrease.

The breathing air for digital platforms is composed by two main elements: the usage of connectivity infrastructure deployed by other companies and contents created by third parties. The connectivity is used in the same conditions as other users without taking into consideration its role as producers and the content is exploited in an indirect manner without any charge for its intermediary role. Both of these elements are on the road of getting more expensive for platforms, and therefore, diminish the space for the benefit obtain from its usage for business purposes.

Starting with connectivity, US Government repealed Net Nutrality regulation. From now on, telcom operators can negotiate paid deals with websites for so-called fast lanes to consumers  as long as they disclose those practices to the public. This could mean in the future higher prices for those (as digital platforms) which are traffic sumps on the Internet, that could be forcedto pay more to have better access to consumers.

On the content side, there are two pressures towards more expensive contents. Firstly, the governments are looking for a bigger control of contents by the digital platforms in order to suppress extremist messages as soon as possible. More control means more humans analysing each piece of content, and, therefore, the need to pay more salaries. Secondly, some content producers are asking for tools to obtain a bigger piece of cake of money obtained for services by platforms built around their news, videos and so on.

So platforms are facing a new challenge: showing that the business model is healthy in spite of the diminution of benefits and the increase in expenses. A change on the landscape that could change the balance of forces in the digital ecosystem.

miércoles, 10 de enero de 2018

Omnichannel: Brick-and-mortar is not dead but the cog of a more complex mechanism

Christmas is over. There are no more gifts under the tree and even the tree has been dismantled. Online sales may have reached a new peak and its for sure that its growth has surpassed once more the growth of brick-and-mortar sales. Back in September, Deloitte forecasts a growth of holiday sales growth of as much as 4.5 percent while e-commerce sales would increase 18 to 21 percent. Taking into account these numbers you may be tempted to close your physical store and you will make an error if you do so.

Although it may look so, the future of sales is not the Internet. At least is not only the Internet. The combination of offline and online shopping is not a provisional stage but a permanent one. According with a survey, in the last Black Friday/Cybermonday campaign in USA while over 58 million shopped online only and over 51 million shopped in stores only, over 64 million shopped both online or in stores. However the future of shopping is also beyond multichannel, it lays in what someone calls omnichannel.

What's the difference between multichannel and omnichannel? Basically, it is a question of customer experience. While in a multichannel strategy a shop print a range of lightly connected options to the shopper, in an omnichannel strategy there is a seamless continuity of the actions done by the shopper through the different channels. For instance, the shopper is free to start the relationship with the commerce through one channel and end it in a different channel.

The implementation of the more basic cases of omnichannel strategies is growing. The US merchants offering omnichannel services as buy online/pick-up in the store or ship to store doubled from 2015 to 2016. But more complex cases are already being implemented. My favourite one is the "My Disney experience" that allow you to start planning your trip to the magic kingdom from your PC to fully enjoy your days with SnowWihite, Peter Pan and the rest of the troop.

So in the end it looks that it could be true that digitalisation will not be the end of jobs but the start of a new breed of them. Omnichannel is the first step in that direction on the retail world.
palyginti kainas