They’re Not Human Rights, They’re Human Privileges

This could potentially be my most contentious blog yet, but the very thing I am railing against (somewhat) is the very thing that allows me to post this in the first place; human rights, as enforced by my country’s laws.

My issue is not with human rights per se, they are a concept that should only become more important as the world gets smaller. Shared information available to an enormous distribution of mobile devices will, in theory, combat the rampant ignorance across the globe, often enforced by oppressive government entities themselves. Just look at the ridiculous Twitter ban in Turkey for one of the milder examples. When everyone on the planet knows that they shouldn’t have to live under any totalitarianism regime, human rights provides the long-term road map for their first steps towards freedoms.

My issue with human rights is the equal enforcement of them. As an extreme; why does someone convicted of multiple murder have the same rights as someone who spends their whole life helping the poor? Yes, the murderer may (if caught) loose their freedom, but their rights as a human being are still in full effect. You take from someone everything they are ever going to have, and in my opinion, you are giving up some – if not all – of your rights to be treated equally AS a human.

No, this is NOT a case for capital punishment, that’s too specific a judgment, this is about the fact that as humans, there is no way we will EVER reach a consensus on right and wrong therefore the majority opinion rules. If that opinion is against yours, tough. Thieves, murderers, rapists and so on ALL have an opinion different from the majority of us, and it’s one they have acted upon. They think they are somehow exempt from doing the right thing, and in most ‘civilised’ nations those right things are written into laws.

Do NOT steal, do NOT kill, do NOT take anyone by force and so on, but what about those countries where the laws are different? Can anyone reading this blog POSSIBLY justify the non-illegality of the practice of  FGM, yet it is still prevalent in 27 African countries. And even worse, what about horrific act perpetrated for religious reasons, like terrorism? Possible inaccuracies and exaggeration aside, these things are REAL, but what makes US right?

We need to stop pretending that as a species we are that evolved, that neither religion nor Government has the final say in what’s right and what’s wrong, and the majority DOES rule regardless of where

Born with rights, but from that point forward they become a privilege which every individual has the responsibility to maintain.

The internet is another of those privileges, and like all of our freedoms, come at a cost.

[REBLOG] Ghosts in the Payments Machine

This blog was written by  and the original article is here; http://www.acuityid.com/?p=336;

“Today’s payment behemoths are trying to desperately hold on to control of the payment processing infrastructure because they intuitively – if not consciously  – understand that the true  inevitable disruption of mobile payments is radical disintermediation i.e. total or near total annihilation existing, seemingly haphazard and completely archaic business models.

This is apparent in their schizophrenic attempts to simulatneiously fight new security standards for e and m-commerce while clinging to very regulations they love to rail against to limit new market entrants. It is apparent in the reports generated by highly paid consultants to strategize about how banks can hold onto, i.e. arm twist their customers, while generating new revenue streams, i.e. fees, to compensate for  archaic service models and lost payment opportunities. It is apparent in their acquisitions and attempts to present them selves as “market innovators” and “consumer service organizations”.

If mobile payments play out the way similarly disruptive technologies have in the past, the payments landscape of 2020 and beyond will look radially different then it does today. Some, if not all of today’s industry stalwarts, in spite of their best attempts to survive, will be greatly diminished, shadows of their former selves, if not simply ghosts. Meanwhile, a host of new players with radically different visions of how payments systems ought to work will rapidly grow into expansive financial legends with global footprints.

Sound far fetched? History tells us otherwise.  Have a read through a post from 2011  A Kodak Moment. Between 2000 and 2009, Kodak imploded.  The decade started well enough for Eastman Kodak. In 2000 it clocked film revenues of $11 billion, had 70,000 employees and 14 factories around the world. Then things started going pear shaped. Come 2009, revenues from the sale of film had fallen to $1.3 billion, the workforce had dropped to 20,000 and the number of factories had gone down to one.

Or consider Digital Equipment Corporate, AOL, Kmart, or sen your local travel agency — those of you under 35, may not even know what they are.  Technology-based innovation is both the bane and savior of market evolution indifferent to the fate of those impacted by rapid, sometimes catastrophic transformation. The notion that the today’s seemingly untouchable payment legends will remain intact after the coming decade of market transformation is quite simply naive. In 1989, I consulted for a company that employed 500 people to facilitate highly-targeted,  database managed, email marketing. By 2001, I purchased a software program online that had far greater functionality for $195.

The beauty of this type of imminent and inevitable market transformation is that no one really knows how it will play out. Not the pundits or the prognosticators. Certainly not the CEO’s of major financial institutions.  So while American Express touts their “transformative move to tokenization” (quotes mine for sarcastic emphasis)  or VISA digs their heels in against the European Commissions payment card reforms,  brave entrepreneurs will continue to introduce new payment means and mechanisms, and the rest of us will continue to dance and jockey for position until the initial fallout subsides and the re-visioned marketplace emerges.

Hold on to your hats, this is going to be a wild and crazy ride!”

No Such Thing as a Meaningless Conversation

No-one would call me gregarious, outgoing, or perhaps even friendly, but I will have every conversation offered to me. To NOT have that conversation suggests many things, almost all of which are negative; I think the person is dull / stupid / annoying, that I know more than they do, or that I do WANT to know what they know and so on. These things are judgmental, arrogant, and ignorant respectively. Of all things that it’s bad to be, ignorant is to me the worst.

I’m certainly not saying that by having the conversations that I’m suddenly a saint, but as some use faith to stop thinking for themselves, I use conversation to keep some of my more negative tendencies at bay. We all have negative thoughts, we all think bad things, but it’s knowing that we aren’t a bad person because we don’t act on those aberrant thoughts that ensures we remain good citizens.

But all of that is from a personal development perspective, in its somewhat lighter form, conversation can make or break your career development too.

It’s very easy to assume that you make your own way in life, that anything good you have is through your own hard work. Basically you created your life out of a vacuum. This is simply not the case.

Here we are in 2014, and anyone who in has a smartphone has access to information that we can never in a million years (quite literally) read, let alone absorb and retain. We must all categorise what we see every day into one of 3 buckets:

1. Read, absorb, and assimilate for ongoing use.

2. Skim, file away for reference.

3. Ignore.

95% of what we read is in bucket 3, 3% is in bucket 2, and only 2% is how we each use to make a career for ourselves. It is my belief that even that 2% does not truly give us full benefit until the context means something else to others as well.

You’ve probably heard the sayings; “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” and “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” [Aristotle and Einstein respectively], so by definition, nothing you say or think can really make any difference until shared.

Everyone you meet is the perfect sounding board in some fashion, but it requires you to take your own ego completely out of the equation. In the end, I don’t think anyone can ever care as much about someone else’s opinion as they do their own, so surely it makes sense to listen more than talk?

I am in no way saying that you should always forego your own needs / ideas / opinions in favour of everyone else’s, but it’s only really in conversation that we can obtain either the validation we all look for, or something else to think about.

Let’s face it, none of us is perfect, and once you hit your 40’s your opinions on almost everything are pretty much set. If we can, even from time to time, shut the hell up, who knows what we’ll learn.

All that said, talking to me about sports is a great way to get yourself ignored.

On Disabilities In Payments

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go through life blind? Or with a learning disability? Or perhaps what it will be like when you’re older and your mental acuity is not what it once was?

What must it be like to be almost totally reliant on loved ones, or worse, the honesty and goodwill of complete strangers?

I readily admit, these are not thoughts that I have very often, as any disabilities I have relate to my sparkling personality. However, I am now in a position to HAVE to think about it and it’s more than a little humbling to see what those with physical or mental challenges have to go through.

For the purposes of this blog, I will restrict myself to issues related to non-cash payments, as that is my skill-set, the limit of knowledge on the subject of disabilities, and there is more than enough material to fill several blogs, lets alone this one.

The issues faced today centre on the fact that the only ubiquitous form of non-cash payment is the branded credit / debit card (Visa, Mastercard et al), and both the cards themselves and the infrastructure necessary to accept them is geared almost entirely to those without any sort of disability. In fact, even if you wanted to make changes to the infrastructure, the effort would be entirely prohibitive given both the limited return on investment and the absence of any legislation.

For example, according to Action for the Blind there are approximately 360,000 in the UK with ‘sight loss’ (total population ~64M), yet the number of people who can actually read braille is under 20,000. So even card terminals with braille overlays are more for marketing / image purposes than actually providing a means for expanding independence. Terminal manufacturers don’t have to spend more, so why would they?

According to Dr. John Gill, one of the UK’s leading experts in the field of disabilities, challenges for the disabled related to non-cash payments go way beyond issues with sight. The elderly, for example, not only begin to have challenges with vision, but their declining ability to handle abstract concepts, hand tremors and even an aversion to / fear of new technology means that payment innovations will be largely avoided by this group. Especially if their individual needs are not built in from the beginning.

I have posited in previous blogs that mobile devices are far better placed to enable cashless payment for those with disabilities, but it’s clear that this will only be the case if considerable thought is put into the challenges from the outset. ‘Consistency of Interface’ (Dr. Gill’s primary interest), simplification of available technologies, and setting of individual preferences across all payment front-ends will all be required before adoption of mobile technologies is available to everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

Too many technologies aimed at disabilities are nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors, and any effort on the part of manufacturers is aimed at demonstrating that they are good citizens. And while there can and will never be 100% adoption of mobile technology, it represents a significant advance over current systems which are now in their 6th decade of use.

Payment systems for those with disabilities must be able to address the following or they will simply not be used:

  1. Consistency of Interface – Terminal manufactures have some standards they need to apply to their devices, but constancy of interface is not one of them. Even as a sighted person, I sometimes have an issue with where to put my card, where the OK button is, how to apply tip (or not) and so on. However, I CAN read the total, what are the options for those who can’t?
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  2. Swiss Army Knife Approach – I love technology and innovation, yet even I use a fraction of the abilities of my phone. The elderly not only use even less, they want to SEE less available. The drive is for more and more functionality, but no-where is there an option for less, and until there is, adoption in the elderly will be limited.
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  3. Non Reliance on Biometrics – You just have to look at payment innovation and see that biometrics will be a major factor. This ridiculous concept from MasterCard for example; MasterCard, Zwipe announce fingerprint-sensor card. But what about those with deformities, injuries, mobility issues? Apparently people who work with concrete or pineapples have fingerprint issues, as do those on various forms of chemotherapy. Who knew?
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  4. Size of Keypad – Something as simple as this can result in the avoidance of non-cash payments. Combine a small PIN pad with low contrast fonts and you have just lost a payment.
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  5. Learning Disorders / Mental Acuity Challenges – How do current payment technologies handle dyslexia? Or short-term memory loss? Or the onset of dementia? The use of the PIN is about as ubiquitous as the cards they authenticate, yet even this is out of reach for some. But who says the ‘PIN’ has to be numbers, can’t it just as easily be a picture of loved ones, or some other individual preference?

Clearly I am only scratching the surface here, and while there is no solution that will ever make everyone happy, there is a LOT more that can be done to make life easier for those with disabilities. Mobile devices are not perfect, but they represent a  considerable advantage over current payment technologies in terms of adapting preferences to an individual.

All we need is the attention this deserves.

 

[Note: A very special thank you to Dr. John Gill who was very generous with his time and his guidance. Please see http://www.johngilltech.com for more on this subject.]

Forget the Systems, Only the Data Matters

As a Director of a team of 28, I tried very hard to install a culture of both self-reliance, and innovation. This could be summarised by the phrase; “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.” I have tried as much as possible to build that into my blog posts as well.

Not this time however, this one’s just me babbling.

My theory is that because there is no such thing as 100% secure, with the right motivation, skill, and time, a hacker will get in. The hacker in question spends a significant amount of effort mapping the target systems to eventually find the weak spot(s), and because the environment rarely changes, their end goal is always achievable.

The analogy used most often in security is one of a castle. You build up many layers of defence (thick walls, moat, arrow-slits, battlements etc.) and your most precious possessions are held in the most secure room in the centre of it. However, because that castle can only change very slowly, a concerted attack will eventually result in the loss of the ‘crown jewels’.

All it takes is time, and a little patience.

However, all of these defences are really just a means to an end, it’s the data itself that’s the only thing that matters. The real problem therefore lies not so much in the systems, but their predictability. Spending money and resources on more and more way to protect the systems is just building higher walls, eventually you have to stop, and eventually someone is going to break them down. And to take the analogy one stage further, the higher the walls, the more fragile they become (see Insecurity Through Technology).

So what can we do when the rising interest in privacy, and the ongoing nonsense that is PCI, is causing a tidal wave of new products and services all claiming to be the missing link in your security program? Oddly enough (given my dislike of buzz-phrases), the only one that makes sense in the context of this blog is Cloud based services, where scalability, redundancy and resilience are generally built into the platform from the beginning. A system goes down and you plug in a new one.

But how about taking this one stage further? Don’t just replace when something breaks, replace / change as a matter of course! From firewalls, to servers, to encryption, even as far as location, change something in your environment to negate as much of the hacker’s reconnaissance as possible. For every benefit, there will be at least one, or even several, reasons to keep things the same, but the benefits are extensive:

  1. Security – The entire premise of this blog; if you change things frequently, bad-guys can’t keep up and the rewards become less and less worth the effort. Back to building your fence higher than your neighbour.
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  2. Simplicity – To even think about replacing a system outside of a disaster recovery scenario everything you do has to be simple, and there is no security without simplicity.
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  3. Business Transformation / Competitive Advantage – I contend that in terms of competitive advantage in the Information Age, any head start will be closed in a matter of week / months, not years / decades, so any organisation that has the capability to randomly change aspects of their environment clearly has an unrivalled understanding of their business processes. Understanding is knowledge, the correct application of knowledge is wisdom, or in this case, appropriate transformation.
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  4. Business Continuity – Most organisations have distinct gaps between their continuity needs, and their ability to meet them. Even if Incident Response and Disaster Recovery processes are tested annually, only an organisation that makes significant changes frequently has the well-honed skill-set to meet to exceed the continuity plan. Practice, in this can, can indeed make perfect.
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  5. Innovation – Only from simple and well-known can innovation be truly effective. When you’re not worrying about how to keep things running and can focus on what else you could be doing with what you have, you are free to be either more creative, or recover quicker from your mistakes. Too often the inability to adjust begets the fear to even try.

As I stated previously, there are probably more reasons that this theory is completely unsustainable than there are apparent benefits, but I don’t think that means it’s  not worth a try. Humans tend to overcomplicated things and then get lost in the detail, but with simplicity comes the freedom to focus on what really matters; the data from which all of your knowledge springs.

Anyone want to write a guest blog from an opposing perspective?