• Children videos are ruining internet

    My son checking on a an eggplant in our backyard
    My son checking an eggplant from our potager

    Before having kids I thought that the alkaline battery industry was dead. However, as soon as we had our first child, I was chocked how many battery we go through each month.  the battery industry is not just alive, it is thriving. Rocker, bouncer seat, play mat, lamp, etc. Anything you buy for a child nowadays will probably require some sort of battery.

    Another thing I learned thanks to my kids is that they can watch the same stuff over and over again and not get bored. I'm amazed how they can watch a Wild Kratts episode on PBS in the morning and watch it again in the afternoon and still get the same chuckle and excitement on their faces.

    This is exactly what is driving the popularity of Youtube children videos. Kids love them and parents love them even more. For parents, it's literally a free nanny on-call. When I'm tired after a long day at work, I will just put a Princess Dress-up or Toy Cars video on Youtube and my kids will be glued to their screens for hours. It's helpful during a trip to the store, on the airplane or during long doctor appointments.

    As a Youtube user and creator, I thought those videos were cute until I saw first hand how manipulative they can be for a child. It's a recipe for raising children with low self-esteem, hating the way they look, not appreciative of what they have and just simply messed-up.

    Thanks to Youtube autoplay feature, one video can quickly turn into a binge-watching party if parents are not around. What is even more alarming, is that the video suggestion on Youtube is totally automated and it is not perfect. You may start with a sing-along video and end up with a masturbating Mickey Mouse video(1).

    Many tech-elites(2) limit the time their kids spend on technology. The Waldorf School(3), an exclusive private school in Silicon Valley, ban tablets, smartphones and other personal electronic devices from their elementary classrooms. At the end of the day, this epidemic is affecting poor and working families who can't afford to have their kids engaged in meaningful activities or have a quiet time to relax after a long day at work.

    Fortunately, and especially after the 2016 US elections, we are witnessing a long awaited digital data privacy awakening among internet users. We are also seeing many groups and organizations raising awareness about smartphone addiction and pushing for a non-addictive design principles(4).

    Protecting my kids from electronic devices addiction is one of the reasons I switched to a dumb-phone. If I don’t want them to watch Youtube all the time, I fee that I should do the same and be a role model for them. If I want my kids to read books, I should perhaps read books too. If I want them to engage is meaningful activities, I should do so myself.

    This is a very complicated problem where the solution can change the way we design and use the Internet. The business model of internet giants is built on advertising and harvesting customers' private data. The more they know about you, the better they can target you with advertisements and the more money they make. It's a very simple formula, but it's also invasive and easy to manipulate.

    While I still let my kids watch Youtube from time to time, I make sure they don't get sucked into the vortex of Youtube autoplay. I also make sure they stick to children-friendly channels I can "tolerate". There are plenty for excellent educative and entertaining content on Youtube. But there are also some pretty bad channels that should be shut down.

    1. The nightmare videos of childrens' YouTube — and what's wrong with the internet today | James Bridle
    2. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs raised their kids tech-free — and it should've been a red flag-  The Independent
    3. Tech-free schools for children of Silicon Valley - The Times
    4. Our society is being hijacked by technology - Center for Human Technology
  • First-Party Data, the "Holy-Grail" for marketers

    Interview by Andre Hawkins (@andyjayhawk) - The Verge (9/26/2019)


    For Uber, increasing user engagement in their Mobile App is the key to a better return on investment.

    "We will be able to monetize it one way or another" says Uber CEO (1).

    In post General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) era, marketers are struggling to make use of third-party data pushing the first and second-party data adoption to new heights. Under GDPR, companies are required to gain explicit consent from their customers to collect and share their personal information. Third-party data is aggregated from various sources bought and sold on data exchange markets. Often buyers of third-party data have no means to verify how the data has been collected, and if the consent was obtained making it useless for any legitimate use.

    Second-party data, on the other hand, is obtained from the collectors directly making it transparent and secure. In 2018, LOTAME, a data management platform, registered a 460% growth in second-party data adoption globally (2). 

    But, first-party data is regarded as the "Holy-Grail" for marketers:

    "First party data is defined as data that your company has collected directly from your audience -- made up of customers, site visitors, and social media followers. "First party" refers to the party that collected the data firsthand to use for re-targeting." Lotame (3).

    As explained by Uber's CEO, the pure quality of data allows companies to better understand their customers and eventually achieve a stronger return on investment (ROI). With machine learning and predictive analytics, companies are now able to predict their customers' patterns and personalize content and advertisements.

    In 2019, the average U.S. adult will spend 2 hours and 55 minutes per day on their smartphone (4). The more time you spend in an app, the faster the machine will learn about your online behavior.

    While the GDPR and the soon to take effect California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) aims to protect the right of consumers to freely navigate the web without being followed and harassed by unsolicited advertisements, no regulation is in place yet to control or limit the use of data "consensually " obtained. After all, Cambridge Analytica didn't break any laws by harvesting the personal data of millions of Facebook users. Using complex terms of use, companies are free to aggregate, track, and make sense of their users' digital interactions to increase their ROI. Their excuse is that it is the "right thing to do" in order to provide better services to consumers.

    On the other hand, policymakers are now looking at ways to curb design techniques responsible for the proliferation of technology addiction and its harmful consequences among users. In July 2019, Senator Hawley of Missouri introduced a bill to do just that (5). The bill referred to as the ‘‘Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act’’ or ‘‘SMART Act’’, if enacted, will prevent social media companies from using techniques such as infinite scroll and autoplay. It will also force companies to proactively limit the time users spend on their apps and be more transparent about their usage.

    It is without a doubt that the time has come for technology companies to join forces with regulators and privacy advocates to find better ways to collect, use, and share data in a responsible manner.









  • Knowledge gives you responsibility - my declaration of independance

    my declaration of independance
    An edited version of a message I sent to all stakeholder of the campaign.

    I tend to say yes a lot. In most cases, saying yes opens the door to great opportunities. But sometimes, saying yes can lead to serious conflicts.

    Recently, I was approached by a friend to build a website to collect signatures for the purpose of an amicus brief (1) in support of plaintiffs in an ongoing case. Without thinking too much about it I said yes and started work immediately.

    We were able to launch the website right on-time to go with the social media campaign planned for this purpose. After few weeks, we collected over 40,000 signatures from 144 countries. Although only US residents of a certain age will be added to the legal brief, we never the less were processing a huge amount of personal information that we were not prepared to handle. In additional to names, locations, and ages of signatories, we were also collecting IP addresses and email addresses among other identifiable information.

    Facing the pressure to release the data unconditionally, I raised legitimate questions regarding its ownership, who is responsible for it, and how it can and cannot be used. My approach would have been different, but in this case, I was the one in charge of the server and the sole responsible for the data collected.

    After several attempts, I was able to get the organization behind the brief to understand the importance of protecting the privacy of the users when taking ownership of the data. I was also able to convince them to build a new online form to collect further support for the case in compliance with national and international privacy regulations.

    At the end, this was another great learning opportunity worth saying yes for.

    But my biggest take away from this experience is that knowledge gives you responsibility. And the date I decided to stand firm and do the right thing became my day of declaration of independence.

    1. According to Wikipedia, an amicus curiae is someone who is not a party to a case and may or may not have been solicited by a party and who assists a court by offering information, expertise, or insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case; and is typically presented in the form of a brief.
      Good morning everyone.