Back to the Future Past

 

Can you imagine a life without the “Big Five” tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft? How about a month? That’s what one reporter attempted earlier this year. The endeavor began in Bushwick, with a Verizon employee laughing at him for downgrading to an older, less equipped phone. The reason? He was tired of all the data mining companies are doing.

With the exception of Microsoft and Apple, these fortunes were not built by selling wildly popular products, but by collecting massive amounts of user data in order to more effectively sell us stuff. At the same time, this data has also been abused to swing elections and abet state surveillance. For most of us, giving away our data was seen as the price of convenience—Google and Facebook are “free” to use, after all.

And so began his month relying on open source or independent software—an endeavor that proved challenging, but ultimately did not change his life that much. Yet the means by which such companies have gone to make the data mining invisible to users, combined with reorienting our mindset to make us feel dependent upon their solutions, have generated billions of dollars in revenue. Let’s face it: most consumers do not want to go through the work of switching platforms, especially when so many people they’re connected with use them.

In this week’s RCast, I speak with John Wantz, CEO and Founder of EVERY*, a rewards program that links brands to consumers in ways that allow for the development of actual relationships by empowering users to release only the data they choose thanks to the power of blockchain. Currently ,the company has 250,000 shoppers and 230 brands in its fast-growing network. Listen to hear why you should take steps in protecting your data. It might take some work at first, but Wantz promises it’ll be worth it in the long run.

 

The Time is Now

 

As the Big Five-less reporter from above notes, nothing is free. The dangers go well beyond targeted ads.

You might consider ditching Facebook because it is a breeding ground for disinformation. In the past three years, evidence has emerged that Facebook was a primary vector for sowing political discord in the United States and, so far, Zuckerberg hasn’t demonstrated that his company has the faintest idea of how to stop it.

Which is where another portfolio company, Proof, steps in. The fake news and disinformation fighting platform officially launched this week with its alpha project. As you’ll see on the newly launched website, the voting process is underway as “the wisdom of the crowds,” i.e. alpha testers, are looking into gene editing in China, Islamic fundamentalism and secular Christmas music, the US incarceration process, and anarchists in Walmart parking lots.

Misinformation is one thing, as are mistakes. Disinformation is another topic entirely. We’re paying, as George Gilder notes in Life After Google, with our most powerful resource: time. The more time we spend feeding our minds with news meant to divide, the less we contribute to the functioning of a healthy society. This goes way beyond our eyes on a screen, and if a collective wisdom can be utilized, there’s no better time than now.

 

123…Really???

 

For the last five years, the two “Worst Passwords of the Year” are, incredibly, “123456” and “password.” The list totals twenty-five mind-numbingly dumb passwords that prove to be a joy for hackers. The reason this list exists, according to SplashData CEO Morgan Slain, is pretty evident:

Our hope by publishing this list each year is to convince people to take steps to protect themselves online. It’s a real head-scratcher that with all the risks known, and with so many highly publicized hacks such as Marriott and the National Republican Congressional Committee, that people continue putting themselves at such risk year-after-year.

And no, switching the order—“654321” clocks in at #19 this year—or using a celebrity figure (“donald” is at #23) does not protect you any better.

Next week I’ll be taking with Rubica’s Frances Dewing and Emily Carrion for an upcoming edition of RCast. The cybersecurity platform is creating blockchain solutions to protect you from identity theft, malware infection, phishing scams, and much more. We’ll be discussing a host of important topics (including not using “123456” as your password”), but in the mean time, check out their services—and change your password, if you find it on the list above.

 

Streaming Away

 

Another day, another streaming dilemma. The less-than-a-cent per play model is frustrating musicians worldwide. For Canadian musician Danny Michel, that meant his 753,390 plays equaled just $2,745.85 in revenue. Whereas his income was once split between touring and sales, now it’s almost exclusively on live shows, which means he’ll have to double his efforts in the clubs.

Another Canadian musician, Max Kerman, looks at the bigger picture:

The nature of streaming is interesting. On the one hand, it allows you to have your music accessed by a lot of different people. You can maybe grow your audience by having people share your music. But on the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills anymore.

Which is where Resonate’s stream-to-own model comes in. Paying a tiered model per-stream, you own every song after nine plays; the artist gets the bulk of this revenue. Like RChain, Resonate is a co-op, using blockchain to power its platform. And like the rest of the theme this week, it will take a while for users to adopt a new platform. But when they realize what’s at stake for musicians, they might just realize how important such new models are.

 

Final Thought

 

It is all too easy to forget that “free” inevitably means that someone else will be deciding how you live. — Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?