miércoles, 7 de diciembre de 2016

Regulating the objects: Stopping Orwell

The Internet of the Things is not anymore a distant concept but a daily reality. Undoubtedly, the prediction of 20 billion of objects connected by 2020 is impressive, but equally impressive  it is the estimation of nearly 5 billion connected right now. And the main driver of this rise of connected object will not be production environments as the Smart Industry, but consumers. Both in the short and long term more than half of the connected objects will be plugged by consumers.

Almost everyday we can read pieces of news regarding new kind of smart objects. For instance, in less than a week The Guardian published an article regarding the impressive growth of the smart toys market and a piece of new about digitalised sex toys. It doesn´t matter if we feel a little bit akward reading this kind texts, we will not be able to stop the introduction of chips and conectivity  capabilities in all the object surrounding us. Or were we capable in the past of stopping the disapearance of the TV with cathode ray tube?

So instead of refraining of the regulation intentions for the sake of innovation and ask for a light touch approach, we should encourage governments to explore and develop all the needed regulatory options. As any kind of objects are different, we would certainly need specific regulations  for classes of objects instead of general ones. However, we should not overlook the need for transversal rules defining common principles.  An example of the former is the US checklist for self-driving cars.  Among the latter we can include the  "Guide to the ethical design and application of robots and robotic systems" developed by the British Institute for Standards.

Specially important is the regulation of the issues regarding the handling of data privacy and data sharing. Not in vain, both of them were at the top of the US checklist for self-driving cars.  The "purpose limitation principle" and the "data minimisation" principles should be at the centre of data regulation for Internet of the Things.

1984 has arrived to our lives more than 30 years later. Not only the TV has surveillance capabilities, but all the objects around. Stopping the Orwell´s nightmare before it takes form depends on the rules we establish today.

miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2016

Google; Just the beginning of its domain

There are few doubts of Google's domain of the online world. Currently the second most valued company (after being the first until 2016 Q1) and by far the company with the largest user base (you only need to compare the number of iphone vs android users). The debate is around if we are facing the peak of its domain or just its begining.

The multiple investigations for monopolistic practices that has been opened  in Brussels give us the impression of approaching to dissintegration, either for a sentence asking to separate part of businesses or due to an unpayable fine. Same could be said of some after the last European Commission´s proposal for regulations, heaviliy critisised in US as anti-Google regulation. However, neither the consequence of the investigations nor the new regulations could mean a drawback to the Internet giant but the opposite.

Take the issue of the EC investigation on Android operating system. The EC is accusing Google of abusing its dominant position by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers. The jury is still out of the room but the a negative sentence for Google could have implications on the Android ecosystem. There would be a high probability that Google would stop publishing free versions of Android, with highly probable negative consequences both for manufacturers and developers, while Google could continue its activities with an Apple-like business model.

Similar analysis could be done on the alleged anti-Google regulation proposed by the European Commission. The paramount example of this regulations is the proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. Apparently, the regulation impose harsh obligations to Google for controlling  the publication of videos in YouTube and the obligation of taking into considerations the rights of publishers in Google News services. However, as EDRI has detailed the consequence could be an increase of Google´s monopolistic power. On one hand, Google is the only player that has the technology for controlling copyright in UGC platforms as YouTube. On the other hand, the experiences in Spain and Germany have demonstrated that Google could avoid paying any compenstaion to the publishers while others are not in the same position.

So, in spite of the signs, I beat more on the option that Google is at the first phase of its domain of the technological sector. Perhaps the only clouds in the horizon are the overwhelming position of Amazon in cloud services and the fierce battle around Internet of the Things.

miércoles, 23 de noviembre de 2016

Digital skills: Targets and practices

The European Commission presented in June 2016  "A new skills agenda for Europe". The promotion of digital skills is an important part of this strategy. Among the actions proposed, we can find the revamp of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, the inclusion of digital skills in the so-called "Skills Guarantee" and   the taking into consideration of the digital skills in the "Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills". 

The revamp of Digital Skills and Job Coalition includes a demand to develop similar strategies in Member States, including sharing best practices of successful initiatives. As I have written several months before, the first practice to put in place should be the retraining of policy makers, therefore I was quite happy to know that  some countries (e.g. Norway) has already developed pilots of this kind.

Apparently, Europe is in the right path for the reduction of the skill gap. The European Commission boasts that its policies has helped to reduce the predicted shortfall of IT specialists in 2020 has been reduced from one million in 2010 to 756,000 in 2015. However, at the same time the DESI still shows that 45% of the population has insufficient digital skills. Therefore, the priority should be helping them to jump to the digital wagon.

An interesting experience regarding digital literacy efforts is Simbioza, an slovenian NGO. Simbioza is an academy based on intergenerational solidarity for lifelong learning. One of their projects aims to helps the older generation to have positive experiences with computers through the help of young volunteers.

Needed projects for spreading the digital skills aim that the children achieve the basic capabilities to access the digital resources. The classic project replicated in several country is the distribution of tablets among the pupils of basic education. Example of this kind initiative is Mobile Learning Austria, which also includes the aditional technical support and teacher for fully exploit the digital power of the tools.

The digitisation of education with projects like Mobile Learning Austria should be built up on a quality internet access. Although the provision of network access to schools are not equivalent to the digitisation of education, there is not doubt that is a needed condition. The European Commission has established for 2025 the goal of Gigabit connections in school and it also has estimated a cost of 46 € billion for providing ultra-fast internet in primary and secondary schools. It is probably an underestimated value if we take into consideration that Germany hast set up a project to connect its schools with a cost of 5 € billion and a more humble project in Spain has estimated the cost in 300 € million (and neither of them aim to have gigabit connection).

Much more things should be included in a national digital skills strategy. Besides teaching ICT in school and to the elders, it is critical re-skilling the labour force for the digital era or diseminate the digital tools among companies, particularly SMEs. We can expect that the European Commision set targets for all this areas by the end of the year as it announced in the skills agenda.

miércoles, 16 de noviembre de 2016

Reaping the digital benefits of #Brexit and #Trump

June 23th. The UK votes for the exit of the European Union. The ICT sector in Britain made bets for the "remain" option and just the day after the referendum published a statement showing its disapointment. "This is not the outcome that the majority of techUK members were hoping for. It opens up many uncertainties about the future". Losing the access to the digital single market could mean losing 2% of GDP growth.

November 8th. The US elected Donald Trump as the next President of the country. Silicon Valley called the elected President a potential disaster for innovation and there are rumors that the new president is barely able to use a computer. After the elections the same voices in Silicon valley called for "Calexit" fearing a negative impact on ICT sector of the forthcoming government policies.

The above news are probably not what continental Europe expected but could have positive effects in the European ICT sector. It is well known Europe was lagging behind other areas in ICT market.  Although Europe accounts for 21% of total global demand, European digital players now only represent 17% of global supply – a deterioration of five points between 2009 and 2013, according with this Orange´s paper. The weakening of two strong rivals as US and UK could be a benefit for the EU ICT sector. 

The DSM strategy looks as the correct path for the initial months after Brexit and Trump election. It will strengthen the ICT sector through the creation of a shared area for ICT services and products. On one hand, it would provide opportunities for expansion of EU ICT companies. On the other hand, and probably more important, it could attract UK and US ICT companies looking for a more open market. The impact of the arrival of the US and UK companies to Europe could means also a boost for innovation and creativity with a positive network effect.

Brexit and Trump are perhaps bad news for the world, but EU should grasp the opportunity to reinforce its influence and strengthening its ICT sector

miércoles, 9 de noviembre de 2016

The Global Connect Initiative: another tool for US ICT leadeship

Economic aid for development has been a traditional diplomacy tool. As ICT has been recognised as an engine for growth, the usage of a small percentage percentage of funding for development for ICT projects has been consolidated. According with the OECD data, nearly 642 $ millions was spending in 2014 by OECD countries in Official Development Aid (ODA) for development. An interesting detail is that the biggest spender in ICT for ODA were the EU institutions, more than 160 $ millions and 25% of the OECD area spending. US spent only 10 $ millions. From another source, I have found that China spent around 588 $ millions in 2012 only in Africa.

The risk of losing the battle of ICT4D funding is an strategic one. As a general rule, the main developers of the ICT4D projects are companies from the donor country. Therefore, weakening your position in ICT4D ranking could have as a consequence weakening your position in the global digital economy ranking.

The above numbers was probably the rationale behind the Global Connect Initiative. In 2014 US was clearly losing the battle of ICT4D (ICT for Development) so in order to recover its place launch this initiative that seeks to bring 1.5 billion people who lack Internet access worldwide, online by 2020. Global Connect is a global partnership of countries, international organisations and industry. The initiative was presented in a summit in April 2016.

Although the US has committed that "U.S. development agencies will begin to make Internet access a top priority in their work around the world", there is no ODA budget target associated with the initiative. Furthermore, in the list of projects of the initiative the US has included some projects but there are a majority of projects from other countries.

The initiative is a reinvention of ICT diplomacy, where the lack of funding is suplemented with leadership and marketing in order to maintain the status of US as the ICT lighthouse in the world. It would be important a similar initiative in the EU in case we really want to catch-up the US in the digital economy ranking.


miércoles, 2 de noviembre de 2016

"Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities" - Rogers Brubaker

Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled IdentitiesTrans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities by Rogers Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The transgender issue has became a topic for the political debate in the last couple of years. The general acceptance in western societies of the diversity of sexual orientations has opened the door to the debate on gender identity. However, there is still a need for essays and articles describing the complexity of trans identities. Below the surface of well known cases of gender transition, as the case of Cathlyn Jenner, there are a whole category of different gender identities that fall outside the binary system male-female.


The book ¨Trans¨ is a good introduction to the transgender topic. First of all, it gives a good classification of the different trans identities based on the attitude of trans people towards the binary gender system. Not all trans people face the definition of its gender identity in the same manner. Some of them accept the binary system and they feel as migrants from one gender to the opposite one (trans of migration). Others are reluctant to be classified and they float with ambiguity between male and female identity (trans of between). A last group resist to the binary system and aim to overcome it (trans of beyond).

But ¨Trans¨ goes beyond being a book about the transgender issue. The author aims to treat trans as a tool to think with and not only as a thing to think about. In order to achieve the goal the exploration of transgender identities is done in paralel with the (less known) transracial issue. Although the reader may be shocked at first with this approach, the book shows the similarities of the concepts that could be applied to both phenomenos and how sometimes our prejudices work as a barrier to understand identity issues.

A book that deserves a read, although perhaps the last chapter of conclusions could be shorter and leave more space to the reader to build its own ideas on the issue.

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miércoles, 26 de octubre de 2016

Cibersecurity & Self-Dring cars

Digitalisation is posing a great legislative challenge. On one hand, some all rules need to be changed or eliminated due to the obsolescence of the principles there were based. On the other hand, new rules are needed to face new realities. Among the former, we can include all the legislation regarding the services more impacted by the shared economy model. Among the later, one of the most exciting fields is the legislation regarding security in the IoT world.

It is expected that the installed base of active wireless connected devices will exceed 40.9 billion by 2020. There have been registered enough IoT security incidents  to foreseen this technology will be the major target of hackers in the future. A general consensus is around the need to include IoT security in the organisations strategic plans, as a recent IDC survey shows. In the public sector, this means not only to being ready to secure the IoT infrastructure, but also establish the right legal framework to enable IoT security everywhere.

As one of the paramount symbols of our way of live, self-driving cars are the connected things that are capturing for more public and press attention. But it is happening the same with the cybersecurity incidents that involve a self-driving car. Behind this incidents, there are the failure of the software embedded in cars. Demanding an exhaustive testing of software through legal obligations should be part of the future legals frameworks on the matter, as they are thinking in the US govenrment. In particular, digital security has been included as one of the items to be tested.

While US is already planning and designing the new rules for self-driving cars, EU is lagging behind again. There are not clear signs that a proposal coherent framework for self-driving cars in Europe will be produced in the next months. it should be food for thought that an European car maker as Volvo is testing its self-driving cars in USA (jontly with Uber). 
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