Your data in their hands | When was the last time you read a privacy policy?

Last week Evernote got themselves into a public relations storm by updating their terms and conditions relating to privacy of data. They then had to hastily update the policy, stating that they would no longer be making the changes as planned.

The other month I wrote about digital exhaust, but there’s a lot of data that we place into others hands deliberately. When you type an email, upload a file, fill in an online form do you think about who may have access to that data? I’m not sure we often give it the consideration it deserves.

You should assume that the data is going to live forever, so our actions have lasting consequences, and so do the actions of those people who have access to our data.

Each of us have signed up to many terms and conditions that have included privacy statements, but few of us have read any of them.

Those privacy policies were mostly written for a relatively static world but we are entering a new era of data privacy concerns as more of our data gets given to artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess and give value on. That was one of the aspects of the Evernote situation:

“Human beings don’t read notes without people’s permission. Full stop. We just don’t do that,” says O’Neill, noting that there’s an exception for court-mandated requests. “Where we were ham-fisted in communicating is this notion of taking advantage of machine learning and other technologies, which frankly are commonplace anywhere in the valley or anywhere you look in any tech company today.”

Evernote CEO Explains Why He Reversed Its New Privacy Policy: “We Screwed Up”

The reality is that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have both been using machine learning for a long time, that’s how they know to tells us interesting things like pre-warning us about traffic problems on our journey home when we haven’t told them where home is.

Most of the time we don’t even give the privacy of our data a thought, and we should. Did you know:

  • Many site reserve the right to change the terms without telling you.
  • Many services claim copyright over parts, or all of your data.
  • Some sites don’t let you delete your account.
  • Many sites track you on other sites.

It’s terms like these that enable adverts for an item I searched for just a few minutes ago to now be showing in my Facebook.

When was the last time you checked the PrivacyGrade of an app before you downloaded it? Or check Terms of Service: Didn’t Read before agreeing to the terms on a site? I suspect that for most of my readers they’ve never visited these sites.

Ultimately the only lever that we have over these services is the commercial one and most of them aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize that, but that won’t stop them pushing up against the edges of what we regard as acceptable. What we regard as acceptable is greatly influenced by whether we feel like we are getting something for free.

This constant pushing against the barriers will then influence what the next generation regard as acceptable. The Facebook privacy policy runs to 2719 words and was last updated on the 29th September 2016. Even if I had read the privacy policy in when I started using it I couldn’t tell you how many iterations it had been through or what changes had been made.

We are trading our privacy for access and I’m not sure we really understand the cost.

The hidden printer menu – if you find it can you please let me know

Printers basically do one thing – they put ink or toner on paper.

Multi-function printers do a little more than that, but not much – they also scan and copy.

Looking at the screen on a modern printer though, you would think that they did a lot more than that. They are the most cluttered user interfaces I have ever seen. The one in the office where I work has 48 different options in copy mode on the front screen, and that’s not including all the sub-screens that you can get to.

I’ve spent years fascinated by the ever-increasing complexity that printer manufacturers continue to add.

My interest in printer interfaces has been driven by two fascinations: The first is an interest in design, of which most printers are a mind-boggling example of visual clutter. The second fascination is a quest to find a hidden menu that I’m sure most printers have. These are the options that I think this hidden menu has on it:

  • Crinkle and crease paper
  • Eat corner of paper
  • Don’t print the bottom of the page
    • Sub menu: Don’t print the most important information at the bottom of the material being printed if someone has been foolish enough to put it there
  • Shuffle sheets:
    • Sub menu: print the first 10 pages correctly to fool the person picking up the printout into thinking that it’s not shuffled
  • Print at an angle
    • Sub menu: Pick an angle that’s been scientifically proved to be the most annoying to anyone with an eye for such things
  • Swap orientation:
    • Sub menu: landscape on portrait
    • Sub menu: portrait on landscape
    • Sub menu: landscape inverse on portrait
    • Sub menu: portrait inverse on landscape
  • Queue shuffle
    • Sub menu: print the biggest printout first
  • Pick your paper:
    • Sub menu: A4 on A3
    • Sub menu: A3 on A4
    • Sub menu: prefer any coloured paper that someone puts in the printer for a specific printout so there’s none left for their printout
  • Just beep
    • Sub menu: continuous beeping
  • Output tray randomise
  • Randomly pick from the above
    • Sub menu: increase randomness when printout shows signs of being urgent
    • Sub menu: pick multiples when printout shows signs of being really urgent

If you have managed to work out where this menu is I’d appreciate knowing where it is, thanks.

Do you think in spreadsheet?

I’ve been observing something. I have thousands of spreadsheets and I suspect that over 95% of them are lists of things.

They are huge tables of information.

These spreadsheets often contain some calculations, but very few of them are performing anything more significant than a lookup here and a sum there.

  • They are massive check-lists.
  • They are elongated registers of information.
  • They are extensive task-lists.

One spreadsheet that I look at most weeks is 80 columns wide and 16,000 rows long. That’s 1.3 million pieces of information.

I’ve noticed that some people really love to delve deeply into these massive matrices of information. They are looking for insights to guide their thoughts. I can be like that.

There’s another set of people who go beyond using spreadsheets for analysis and understanding, they love to use the spreadsheet as their check-list/task-list of choice. They start at the top of a long list and work their way down. The driving force seems to be to get to the bottom of the list, ticking things off as they go. The ticking appears to motivate them. This way of working baffles me, not because it’s wrong, but because I don’t understand the motivation. I don’t work like that. Any task-list that has more than 5 or 6 things on it makes my eyes glaze over and results in less action, not more. A long list is just not a motivator, if anything it’s a demotivator.

Other people look at any spreadsheet and their eyes glaze over before they’ve even started. Anything bigger than a quadrant view and they are lost.  They are constantly battling with the previous group trying to work out what it is they are supposed to be doing – “what is today’s focus”. The kings and queens of the check-list are normally in charge of the list. The quadrant lovers sit in progress meetings with the spreadsheet fanatics and roll their eyes as they are subjected to a line-by-line-by-line review of the list.

I don’t think any of these groups are right, or wrong, they are just different. What surprises me is the belief that going through a long list is, in some way, progress. The opposite of that argument is that the people who want it simple are, in their own way, wrong.

Speaking as someone who hates being a slave to a list, I marvel at the people who make a huge amount of progress that way. I need to focus on a much smaller set of things and do those. I don’t think spreadsheet.

Are you picturing "The Millennials" correctly?

When I search Google Images for “millennials” these are the first five pictures that are shown to me**:

These images are typical of the images that Google gives.

Look at the faces in these images and ask yourself this question: How old are these people?

I’ll be a more specific: Are any of these people over 25? Anyone over 30? Anyone below the age of 20?

The Millennial generation were born between 1977 and 1997, as such they are aged between 39 and 19.

All of the pictures above seek to be representative of race, creed and sex but none of them (in my view) represents the breadth of age that the Millennial generation covers.

If these faces are what you picture when you think of the Millennial generation then you are missing most of the generation.

  • You are missing the faces of married people, and divorced people.
  • You are missing the faces of people who have worked for the same employer for 20 years.
  • You are missing the faces of home owners.
  • You are missing the faces of people with teenage children. Some of whom will themselves be millennials.

If we are going to generalise we need to make sure that we do it in a way that is reasonably representative.

** I’d expect your images to be different because Google delivers different results to different people.

Productivity and Laziness: Is it time to cultivate laziness as a skill?

There’s a hugely popular mantra in all productivity schemes:

Work smarter not harder

Every time I hear this phrase I want to replace it with a different phrase:

What’s the lazy way of doing this?

Smart working is really, let’s face it, lazy working.

Laziness may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think about productivity, but you should embrace it as your friend.

Think about it, we do all sorts of lazy things to make us more productive.

Whenever you ride a bike rather than walking somewhere you are being lazy. It might not feel like it, but the bike gets you there quicker and takes you further than you could go without it. It’s lazy to ride the bike.

If you are using a phone to talk to someone you are being lazy. It’s easier than travelling to where that person is to talk to them (unless they are sat next to you).

Lazy people are constantly asking “why should I bother?” That’s a great productivity question, remember:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

I’ve seen countless business processes that add no value and were best ignored. Lazy people ignore these processes.

Lazy people experiment with doing things in different ways to see if they take more, or less, effort – they stick with the one that takes less effort.

We are surrounded by an increasing number of automation techniques, particularly in IT, yet I see people endlessly doing the same repetitive tasks. Lazy people let the machines do it for them.

I think that more of us should cultivate laziness as a skill.

Concept of the Day: Norman Doors

A walk up to the door at the gym and pull it open, quite regularly there is someone on the other side of the door looking surprised because they were about to pull the door also. It’s my favourite Norman Door, everything about this door makes you want to pull it from the inside, all the visual cues say pull, but that just leads to frustration because you need to push.

The Norman in question is Don Norman who highlighted this phenomena in his book The Design of Everyday Things. Doors are just one example of things being designed in a way that don’t make sense to the person who uses them.

Once you start looking for these annoyances you see them everywhere.

In our house there are three light switches at the top of the stairs; two of the switches operate lights in the bathroom and one operates the light on the landing. The configuration of these lights confuses all visitors to our house.

This week Instagram added a feature that allows you to zoom into photos, why that was never there before I have no idea? Previously, using two fingers to zoom invariably resulted in you liking a picture.

Microsoft’s new browser in Windows doesn’t have an address bar until you click on where the address bar should be? How am I supposed to know that?

Why does double-clicking on my iPhone headset move to the next song? In what way is that user centred?

One of the reason I gave up on using an Android phone, at the same time as a iPhone was that I couldn’t cope with the hidden aspect of the two different interfaces.

The video below from Vox does a great job of explaining it:

A Quadrant Life

The tyranny of the two-by-two

Sometimes I wonder whether western business would completely collapse without the two-by-two matrix (I only say western business, because I don’t have much experience of eastern business).

You know what I mean? Four squares – two-by-two, most of the time with two axis.

You’ve seen the type of thing I’m talking about, a bit like this:

slide1

We’ve used them for all sorts of purposes with the SWOT chart being one of the most popular:

slide2

We also use them to define product strategies where we assess the business potential against our ability to compete which enables us to classify the stars and the dogs (poor dogs?):

slide3

Organisations like Gartner make a living out of defining the matrix and populating it, they call their’s the Magic Quadrant. I’m still waiting to see one actually do magic, but I’m sure they will if I keep looking long enough. Other organisations and other quadrants are available:

slide4

We define personality types in quadrants. There are many two-factor models of personality available, most of these focus the extent to which someone is introverted or extroverted compared to whether they are task oriented or relationship oriented.

slide5

Practically all of these charts are drawn with extrovert up and introvert down – is that because they are drawn by extroverts?

We’re even told to assess our daily work as a two-by-two matrix based on importance and urgency.

slide6

In most instances the two-by-two is constructed to suggest that the place where we need to be is in the top-right-hand corner; as someone who is left-handed I wonder why that is?

There are so many of them about there has to be something about them that we like that is different for three-by-two or four-by-three matrices.

Every day it seems like someone has invented a new one for me to look at, why is that?

Number 6 in The Prisoner famously said: “I am not a number, I am a free man”, sometimes I want to shout out: “I am not a quadrant, I am a free man.” I’ve wondered about being subversive and adding extra columns or rows in just to see what the impact was.

Why do they think I’m so interested in seeing things in two-by-two? What is so seductive about quadrants? I’ve done a bit of research (for which there are a set of quadrants define by Pasteur) but the answer doesn’t seem to be very straightforward, so much so, that someone has written a book on it.

I’ll leave you with one more chart:

slide7