Search Engines And Short Term Memory (or: the digital Alzheimer)

I was looking for the source of a satirical quote I’ve read years ago and, of course, I tried Google as first tool, but with no results. The only option would have been to go back in my garage, open the boxes where I stored the old newspapers, and try to find the line I need.

This lead me to an obvious but never considered conclusion: if something is “just” on paper, is going to be forgotten because “average joe” (including me) doesn’t make the effort to go over the “search” button push, looking for sources not available online.

True, Google did launch the digital library initiative, the Gutenberg Project is releasing the ebook version of the public domain literature classics and there are similar activities elsewhere, but there will always be an off-line knowledge that people don’t care to look for because it is offline.

The final word(s): our memory goes back in the past as deep as a search engine can.

There Is No Such Thing As “Business” Apple Store

By purchasing an Iphone and an Ipad through the Apple “Business” Store I discovered that to Apple there is no actual difference between a professional and a private customer: both orders fall within the same SAP pipeline and there is no “fast lane” for the corporate world (at least for the average “business Joe”.)

Furthermore, at least in Italy, Apple Financial Services (actually, GE Capital)  doesn’t accept a digitally signed agreed, as on the contrary, the rest of the business and public administration bodies do.

Not too bad for a company that claims to be able to shape the future…

Post scriptum to Apple’s legal and/or public relations directors: of course I do have evidence of what I  just wrote. Sometimes it pays to be a lawyer 🙂

Our Digital Health And Electronic Money. IT Security Gets Tough

Let’s say the truth: IT security is just a bubble that no “serious” manager cares of. There is no possible explanation for the fact that today we keep talking about the very same things I’ve heard back in the early nineties, sold by somebody who wants to re-invent the wheel. But the indirect Paypal attack against Apple targeted at the upcoming Applepay platform and the spin put on the health-related application  might change the situation: a (very)personal computing device allowing to manage the two most critical things of a (Western) human kind: health and money.

Can a company really afford to market software pre-release as “final” just to meet a marketing-set deadline? Or lure people into trusting a payment platform, risking to become liable in case of problems caused by a poorly implemented security?

It is really (still) possible to discharge any liability with a “simple” contract and put the barrel on the users’ shoulder when serious issues are involved?

IT companies should carefully think about it before entering into a sector where people aren’t so keen in just waiting for the next fix or hardware upgrade. They might be dead or bankrupted, in the meantime.

Google and Germany’s Ministry of Justice: A Wrong Idea of Dominant Position

The Germany’s Ministry of Justice asked Google to disclose its search algorithm because of the Mountain View company dominant position on the relevant market.

The request is not legitimate at least for two main reasons.

First: Google’s current “market position” is not based on a “users’ lock-in” as in the file-format case (for longtime, not being able to open a .doc file has been an effective method to have the users stuck to Microsoft Word). Everybody is free to use whatever search engine of choice. Yes, because Google is not the only kid in town: Yahoo!, Bing, DuckduckGo are in the same business, but steps behind Google. Sure, Google is THE search engine, as Altavista was a few years ago. But who but (some) historians still remember about the Google’s predecessor? And here comes the point: Google’s success is made by the people who use it: give them a better search engine (and additional features) and Google will fall on a fingers’ snap. This is the last iteration of a wrong concept of “dominant position” and “monopoly” when matched with a successful digital business model based on information as quid-pro-quo for providing (partially) free services.

Second: even if the “dominant position doctrine” were relevant to this case, the German solution would be possibly worst than the disease to be cured, because it would set the precedent that a company, for the sake of the “free market”, should be forced to disclose its industrial and trade secrets. Try to tell this to the pharmas or the automotive manufacturers and wait for the answers!

So the bottom line is: If you want to beat Google, instead of tying its hands, do create a better one.

 

 

Iphone for Business? At Your Own Risk

Buying a Iphone as a business tool from a mobile operator is – at least in Italy – a problematic issue.

As I have personally experienced, if the devices breaks after the first, Apple granted, warranty period, you can’t do anything else but drop it in a local store, having shipped to a repair facility, and hope for the best, without being given a spare device.

The conclusion is: before subscribing a plan that includes an Iphone, do check if the mobile carrier is offering some insurance or other form of assistance (of course, at extra-cost) that doesn’t let you naked in the middle of Trafalgar Square on New Years Eve.

Here are the facts:
– On Nov. 2012 I purchased from Vodafone Italia an Iphone 5 with a 24month voice and data plan,
– The warranty is on behalf of Apple for the first 12 months, and on behalf of Vodafone for the next 12
– The battery of the phone died and I asked an official Apple centre if they could change (upon payment) the battery,
– The Apple Centre told me that since the phone is now under Vodafone warranty they can’t even touch it,
– I called Vodafone and they told me to give them the phone, with no actual idea of the time needed for the repair (to be on the safe side, it shouldn’t be less than a month) without giving me a back up phone.

That said, my option are:
– stay possibly one month waiting for the Iphone to come back. But this is impossible: it’s a work tool, so I should buy another Iphone in the meantime. Why should I care – then – to repair the first one?
– buy a new smartphone. Again, why should I repair the old one?
– change the battery on my own, losing what lasts of the warranty and risking to break it. Spend money, finally buy a new phone.

Thus, whatever the option, to solve my problem I’m supposed to buy a new Iphone just because there is no way to just change a died battery of an otherwise perfectly working device. Maybe this business strategy might work for a consumer that can just wait for the smartphone to come back from the repair garage, but it is non acceptable for a business user.

The Legal Status of Bitcoin in Italy

While it’s easy to think of Bitcoin as a “currency” things become complicated when approaching the issue from a legal (though, Italian) perspective.  Under Italian law, Bitcoin neither is a “currency”, nor the equivalent of check or a credit card. Is “just” a good that people freely chose to put some value into, like an old camera or a classic car whose intrinsic value is close to nil, while the trading value skyrockets.

To better explain my point, let’s start with some economics.

Currency, in itself, has no intrinsic value. We do accept a piece of paper because we trust that somebody else, on the receiving side, will do the same, otherwise we don’t. This is what happened during the Cold War, when in the Eastern Block countries western currencies – officially not allowed – were traded on the black market, while in the West nobody would ever accepted Roubles. For the records, the root of this “psychological” way to create value dates back to the breaking of the Bretton-Woods Agreements.  So, as odd as it may seems, we may safely assume that money is just a creation of the mind. The “currency power” is a prerogative of a sovereign State. In other words, to be acknowledged as “currency” a currency must come from the Power-that-be. Thus, whatever doesn’t fit this requirement can’t be called “currency” or “money” (this is true within the EU, but not in some parts of the USA where the “private currency” is currently allowed.) It comes from this definition that Bitcoin is not a “currency”.

Is, then, Bitcoin something like a check or a promissory note? No, because under Italian law these things are regulated by specific laws.

Furthermore, is Bitcoin similar to a credit-card? Again, no, because there is no third-party who guarantee for use of the plastic-money.

One possible solution, at least under the Italian legal system, is to treat a Bitcoin as an immaterial good that can be traded as a quid-pro-quo either with other Bitcoins or different things. Simple as that.

Of course, I’m aware of the issues raised by the use of Bitcoins that – if you think for a while – aren’t different by those related to the use of cash or other valuable assets. Gold, diamonds and other precious things can be used for legitimate purposes or to fund illegal activities. But this doesn’t make a brick of gold illegal “ex se”. The same approach should work for Bitcoins (whathever its legal status.) It is the misuse that should be punished and not the Bitcoin in itself. Unfortunately, as always happens when technology is involved, the “Fear Spreading Professionals” are playing loud their “warning” instead of trying to understand how to gain advantage from a brilliant mathematical application.

 

 

Web tax in Italy. Why just “web” companies?

An article published by The Financial Times, supports the idea that the companies making monies from the digital buy/selling of goods and services should pay taxes without “eluding” the fiscal regulation. The Italian newspaper Huffington Post – and its sibling, Repubblica.it – jumped on this article using as leverage to sustain the feasibility of  the infamous Italian “Web Tax” that makes mandatory to buy online advertising from companies with an Italian VAT number as a way to force (primary) Google to pay taxes in Italy.

It is astonishing – astonishing – how this people just forget that “tax heavens” and “fiscal elusion” are standard business of the whole international – and Italian – economy. Just look at which (Italian, or Italian-based) companies have a branch, a shell, or whatever “thing” the fiscal engineers have devised that are located abroad, and above all, since when. Just to name a recent court case, the “Mediaset Trial” that pushed Mr. Berlusconi out of the Italian Parliament was based on the accusation that the Italian-based media company Mediaset traded the acquisition of broadcasting rights from the USA by way of a triangulation with an off-shore company. The investigation started in 2005, way before the rise in Europe of the big digital companies.

So, my point is simple: this is the free economy and you have to live with it. You can’t both endorse “capitalism” as a way of life and complain if some companies are smarter than others, by exploiting the different way and level of taxation. To put it short, the free economy is based on difference and polarization, i.e. competition, and there is nothing that the odd-day-capitalists-even-day-communists can do, unless taking an AK-47 and start a socialist revolution against themselves.

EU:a State-approved professional to connect a router to a socket? Italy already got it

The “discovery” that Italy is going to enforce the EU directive 2008/63/CE by imposing that only a State-approved professional can connect a router to a socket has generated some sort of  hype among those who’re not familiar with the Italian legal system. Since 1992, in fact,  the decree of the Ministry of communication n.314 already establish such burden (and sanction those who don’t comply.)

The true news is that – should the government actually revise the old regulation – things can only get worse…

Amazon.it to infringe Italian data protection law?

I’m an old Amazon.com customer and I’m very happy that the Company finally landed in Italy.
It is odd, nevertheless, that Amazon.it’s data protection policy (informativa sul trattamento dei dati personali) is not fully compliance with the Italian Data Protection Code, since mandatory information are missed:
– the identity of the data controller (responsabile del trattamento)
– how long will Amazon handle the personal data
– what will happen when the data handling is no more necessary
– the rights belonging to the data subject (diritti dell’interessato) under sect. 7-13 of the Italian Data Protection Code
Further more Amazon.it’s privacy procedure fails to collect the explicit consent of the data subject for the data processing and didn’t collect the specific consent to handle the sensitive data (those related to customers who purchase political, philosophical, and/or healt-related books.)
This situation, then, poses an interesting question: is Amazon.it actually infringing its customer personal privacy rights?
Strictly speaking, the answer is yes because the law has been breached. Nevertheless I’ll keep purchasing books through Amazon services since I feel more protected by Amazon ethical commitment than by a bunch of legal lingo.
Fact is that bureaucracy asks for its lamb to be sacrificed.
🙂

Google’s executives indictment in Italy. Here are the reason’s why.

Finally the Court of Milan made public the opinion that backed the indictment of a couple of Google’s executives charged of Italian Data Protection Act infringement by not removing a violent video from the company’s video sharing platform, video.google.com. The opinion of the Court tells basically what I “guessed” in a previous post, (easy guess, BTW) while analyzing the charges against the managers.

Thus, to put it short, Google’s people have been indicted because they failed to verify, under the Italian Data Protection Act, whether all of the people depicted in the video positively consented to its upload. No matter that the service agreement bind the user to publish legally obtained content only.

As I’ve written and told in serveral places, this is a wrong decision.

Wrong in a legal perspective, for it set on ISP’s side an hidden duty of pre-emptive control over users’ activity.

Wrong in a social perspective, for it breaks the tie between a crime and its “author” and reinforces the idea of “faida” (the collateral vendetta of the ancient barbarians.)