Friday, February 20, 2015
We live in a world of surveillance, moving ever closer to Orwell’s 1984. We are surrounded by CCTV cameras on buildings, streets and inside shops, some would suggest that our internet messages and activity is also being monitored under the guise of national interest and data gathering by software providers on our every click is commonplace. This new business of ‘big data’ appears to be morphing without control and is often hidden deep within the small print that we don’t read.
Last year we reported on Adobe’s collecting of eBook reading information through their service, which ironically was set up to protect copyright and the interests of their clients - the publisher, but apparently not their other clients - the consumer. LG was also discovered to be collecting details via some of their TVs on their owners' viewing habits and on what devices were connected to their TVs and was sending this back to the manufacturer, even if the users have activated a privacy setting.
Have smart devices now become too smart? Does the technology allow others to look in and to gather data and who and how can we control what we often can’t see and have not authorised?
The latest ‘data gathering news’ is about users Samsung Smart TV users who use voice activation to control their Samsung Smart TV. It is now claimed that the TV doesn’t just ‘listen’ to commands but to everything that is said and may share what they hears with Samsung or third parties, which is believed to be Nuance, the voice recognition specialist. It’s like having a ‘Gogglebox’, or worse still Orwell’s vision in every home. The users are unaware they are being monitored and although this story broke via a story in online news magazine the Daily Beast it questions how big this iceberg may be?
The Samsung policy states that the TV set will be listening to people in the same room to try to spot when commands or queries are issued via the remote. It states: ‘If your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’
However, like Adobe, Skype and Viper before them, Samsung then send data to third parties without any encryption!
Samsung in its defence state ‘If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.’
They also go on to state that, ‘Smart-TV owners would always know if voice activation was turned on because a microphone icon would be visible on the screen.’
Does this same logic apply to other voice recognition services which are increasingly being deployed on devices?
But it is not just about gathering data but also about pushing unwanted data onto the consumer. Recently Lenovo was caught out installing adware onto new consumer computers on initial activation of the PC. The Superfish adware which injects third-party ads on Google searches and websites without the user’s permission has subsequently been removed.
Data gathering is done for a number of purposes; to help hone and target product and services to an individual, to sell behaviour and interest information to third parties and to eavesdrop on individuals. The problem is that the technology can often be the same and the lines between moral and not can often blur.
Thursday, February 05, 2015
Public Libraries where often built as large standalone buildings in the central Victorian and Edwardian civic centres, many of which remain today. They then spawned local branches with the expansion of the suburbs and even had mobile units to cater for the rural areas. Currently the role and overall library offer is being brought into constant commercial and digital question. Where should they be sited? What should they provide? What is their role in the community? What is difference between local, civic and national Libraries?
As UK retail profiles continue to change The Local Data Company, which monitors 3,000 town and shopping centres and retail parks, said 20% of shops in the North of England were now empty, compared 10% in the South and that 20% of the shops it tracked had been empty for more than three years, amounting to almost 10,000 outlets. So we have retail space and changing retail consumer habits.
However, it is no longer merely going out of town. UK Supermarkets are having to rethink their store strategy and property portfolio in light of the threat from the bargain market and from the quality end. Big is no longer best and out of town doesn't fit with changing consumer behaviour away from the bulk buy to more frequent convenience shopping. The likes of Tesco has named some 43 stores it is closing across the country. In November, Sainsbury's said it was scrapping plans for new stores, while Morrison’s plans to close 10 loss-making stores this year and there is now a growing number of empty undeveloped space sitting vacant. However Asda, Lidl and Aldi continue to expand but how long Asda will do so is debatable.
So what has the changing retail habits and property mix got to do with public libraries? This week we made aware of a large WalMart store which was abandoned by the retailer in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley. The city took the bold step to spent $24 million and transform the abandoned store into a 123,000-square-foot public library and community hub. The building now includes a computer lab, a cafe, meeting rooms with videoconferencing capabilities and a 180-seat auditorium. It effectively released their old, cramped 40,000-square-foot main library, and placed it back in the center of the community. The American LibraryAssociation and the InternationalInterior Design Association, were so impressed that they named it the overall winner of their 2012 LibraryInterior Design Awards
Across the US there are some 130 former Walmarts available and the question on how to reuse these and other ‘boxes’ is now being seriously looked at by all and the success of this and other library community hubs is evident with visitors and activity. Not every ‘big box’ is becoming a library and there are many examples of transformations across the US.
There are many examples where libraries have been located within shopping malls and this concept is not new but the idea of shops within a library may be more novel. Another potential opportunity is to tie libraries and social services into new housing developments in a similar way to how social housing is tied into new developments. This could mean that once a development area reaches a certain size or density then those developments within that area are obliged to contribute a little bit more to the community. Greenwich has done something similar in the new East Greenwich development where it has relocated a public swimming pool, a public library and small housing and social offices within a new private housing development.
Whether it locating libraries within malls, creating malls around libraries, location libraries with new housing developments or some other variant, the case is that libraries belong in communities and should not be standalone propositions. Libraries need to do more than simply offer access to books and other information and material. They need to be designed and sited for the 21st century not the 19th century.
Library in a Shopping Mall: LearnAbout The Mall Library Connection in Vancouver, Washington (May 2013)
Sweden: A Digital Public LibraryLocated Inside a Stockholm Shopping Mall Will Open Next Year (Sept 2013)
Partnerships: Second Branch ofBiblioTech “All Digital” Public Library Will Open in a San Antonio PublicHousing Project (Dec 2014)
Maybe the optimum size of a printed book in the near future will not be determined by the print economics, but instead will be governed by its weight and dimensions. Delivery of small parcels such as books by drones may be science fiction to many, but it is clearly on the agenda of some today.
Last November, Amazon's Prime Air was seeking UK Drone experts in Cambridge to help them test drones to deliver packages on up to 2.3kg (5lb) in weight to customers within 30 minutes of an order being placed. Prime Air adverts for engineers, software developers and scientists were posted on Amazon's jobs site.
When Prime Air was announced in December 2013, Amazon said it might take five years for the service to actually start and they already have started work in their R&D labs in Seattle. Amazon is not alone in pursuing this technology, with others such as Google, UPS and DHL all trailing services. As one would expect, safety is a major issue and tight restrictions on the use of drones in the US have led Google to carry out its tests in Australia.
Now Alibaba, China's biggest internet retailer has gone one step further and says it has begun actual testing of drone-based deliveries to hundreds of customers. The three day trial will be limited to one-hour flight destinations from its distribution centres in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and also to orders of a specific type of ginger tea which conforms to helping limit the weight.
Looking out of the window today at the wind, snow and low cloud, we wonder how many Prime Air flight cancellations will not be due to heavy traffic over London, but down to British bad weather.