Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making sense of Wikileaks and what it means for Government

Two very different men spent much of December in prison. What links these two is not just their incarceration (by Chinese and the UK courts) but because they have, in their own way, been accused of challenging the power of the state.

Liu Xiaobo is the spokesperson for political reforms in China, a campaigner for human rights including the freedom of speech and of the press. He recently won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and non-violent struggle despite being held as a political prisoner in the People’s Republic.
Julian Assange is the figurehead for Wikileaks, a website that has recently released more than 250,000 diplomatic cables (internal emails) that have embarrassed and angered the US Government. He spent much of December pacing around a small stone room in Wandsworth prison.
Both men are heads of movements that some say subvert the very fabric that is needed to hold governments and society together. Others say these men stand as the standard-bearers of the one thing Governments can no longer hold onto... information.
Viruses such as colds (or something nastier) are usually spread by humans coming into contact or near contact with other humans. Typically the bigger the population, the more and faster the virus is spread.

Information can therefore be seen as having the same properties as a virus, a pretty virulent one! It used to just utilise humans as hosts, but with each successive technology from books onwards it can infect more people, more efficiently and more effectively. Once man could write down and copy information, it could be given to others, and now with the Internet and the social media technologies that sit upon it, information can be spread globally, instantly.
The speed and scale of information transference now creates big problems for those organisations who want to restrict it, typically Governments. Huge amounts of data can now be copied onto media the size of a fingernail or transferred at megabit speed. Secrets that would previously be accessed by a handful of individuals are no longer secret for very long if that system can allow the replication of the information virus (e.g. by having it collected to the Internet or by allowing any form of electronic copying from it). For example: The recently leaked cables of Wikileaks were apparently taken off a computer that allowed compact discs to be updated, which meant a single disgruntled American security operative could copy the information to his Lady Gaga CD!
So what do Governments do about this? Well, I think they have three options;

1. Continue to do what they have been doing so far (ongoing treatment). This means they do nothing drastic and carry on trying to lock down access and copying ability of computers that have access to secret information. However, given the viral nature of information, this will no-doubt mean there will be further breaches in the future. Just like trying to prevent the common cold, this situation becomes futile and acceptance of the situation results in regular infection. It’s also likely that reoccurrence of the situation will result in the eroding of trust in Western Governments and those they work with.

2. Be heavy-handed about data breaches (quarantine). Although Julian Assange’s stint in prison is not as a direct result of his Wikileaks activity (he’s accused of sexual offences in Sweden), only a few would doubt that there aren’t forces at work behind the scenes to try and get him to a court in the USA for ‘Cablegate’. However, it is possible for America and others to adopt a more zero-tolerance approach to those who compromise their information security boundaries. After all, it has had a stricter approach to terrorism (Guantanamo Bay anyone?) than it does for other crimes (the courts, right to legal counsel, etc.). However, adopting more Chinese-type approaches has huge potential human rights consequences and is definitely not the activity of a modern and progressive Government.

3. Understand and adapt (look for a cure). This is not the 1900’s, it’s the Information Age. Wikileaks may have caused an example to have been made of Mr Assange (especially if he does get carted-off to the USA to face trial), but also gives the ideal opportunity for self-reflection about the storage, treatment and classification of what exactly should be considered secret in a digital world.

The openness and transparency of the ‘modern always-connected’ organisation is a reality that companies and brands have had to accept in recent times. Is it not the time for our Governments to do the same?

Hopefully, before evryone goes Gaga!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weather - The only thing to stop eCommerce's progress?

eCommerce is a growing market and if you listen to companies like PayPal at le Web this week, there is still a huge untapped online selling opportunity out there.

So what has put a fly in the digital ointment?

The weather! Yes, thanks to the reliance on the traditional infrastructure of road and rail, your physical delivery from the virtual world still needs to be delivered to your door. It therefore suffers when snow, ice or the wrong sort of leaves land around the time when the clocks go back.

If you are in Scotland right now and you are about to order your presents from supermarket chains Tesco, Sainsbury's or Asda then you may find you are too late. These companies have stopped taking orders online (but not for groceries yet, so make sure you order enough ASAP) and others such as Amazon and Firebox are experiencing significant delays to their delivery schedules.

eCommerce may be a huge commercial force right now, but mother nature is showing she's an even bigger one!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Social Media, Secrets and Wikileaks

Here's a video interview I did on the problems Wikileaks causes for Governments and what a secret actually means in the modern era of social media communications.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Times iPad app

Is an tablet wielding future of news worth hedging your bets on? Well... the Sunday Times released its iPad app today and I'm sure it will be an instant success (as its free to those who have a weekly Times subscription).

It is perhaps a shame that you now have a second app, with the orginal still able to access The Times news on the move....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Digital Toolkit - A Presentation

I've had a lot of interest in the Digital Toolkit postings I've done recently. So to explain the entire process, I've put up all the diagrams as slides here:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Instant eCommerce

We have been asked to build an instant eCommerce presence for the launch of Tanya Rose's new book 'Travel Secrets'

If you want to buy the book in advance of the launch on Monday, just click the PayPal button below

Update 7 December:

The website is now up and running at