Matt Ranen and Steve Weber: Before doing business in big data, consider the shifting ethical landscape

Matt RanenImagine you are the product manager in Samsung or LG’s appliance division and you have decided to sell refrigerators at a discount because “the real money will come later,” by “monetizing” the stream of data that will be generated by all the new sensors included in the design.

But what if the ability to collect proprietary data gets legally and ethically complicated, a few years down the line? Say the government imposes a limit on data collection from durable goods that are not replaced in 5 years, deeming these to be “natural monopolies”—for example, products with high switching costs for consumers, such as home appliances, smart home devices (e.g Nest thermostat), TVs, or cars—and therefore subject to US anti-trust laws?

A sustainable market for big data has yet to be defined

Business decisions about “big data” applications are not simply engineering or technology decisions. They are have philosophical, legal, and moral implications.

Markets, and the business models they support, are defined and sustained both by technology horizons as well the social, economic and political agendas of a certain moment in time. Understanding these contextual factors are equally important in figuring out how to position yourself on the winning side of data-enabled businesses.

The challenge for companies is that nascent markets built today around big data are going to change radically. We are now at a point in development similar to where internet business models were roughly 12 years ago. Since then, we have seen much back and forth about appropriate norms and rules regarding privacy and net neutrality, as well as dramatic shifts in how the public views and trusts some of the leading, innovative internet companies (i.e. is Google the “do no evil” company, or the “evil monopoly?”)

In a similar way, the fundamental decisions about what is fair have not yet been determined. And they may shift around a lot over the next five, ten, even twenty years. Some of the most important market-determining questions—like those in the financial services and appliance examples—haven’t yet even been clearly posed.

How do we connect the social and political context to today’s business decisions?

Why is this important? Because as with other newly emerging markets, the definition of the playing field will determine what is or is not a real opportunity, and which parts of a big data business will be the most advantaged and protectable. Anyone who is not thinking about this as part of their strategy may be left behind in some of the largest opportunities, or find themselves over-invested in fantasy, million-dollar businesses. This is a critical time for firms deciding which of their potential data-intensive business ideas to pursue, and in what form.

But while enabling technology may be “exponential” and future sources of customer value to be unlocked “boundless,” budgets and time are not. When everything can look at first glance like a billion-dollar opportunity, these can be hard choices to make.

Having a point of view on the broader context will help organizations  evaluate these choices more clearly, and with more complete criteria. Such criteria include:

• Which applications and use cases offer the most sustained value to your company? For example, for a digital health company, how will your bottom line be affected if new rules for wearable computing are introduced that define wearables as medical devices? Compliance costs could make many business models unprofitable.

• What data will be most valuable, and which is worth owning versus buying? It may be much cheaper for others to collect and organize data than for you to create your own proprietary system.

• What kinds of data use will cross the lines of socially accepted behavior? The now famous Target pregnancy offer case shows there will be situations where you should not preemptively market to someone. But what if you do it based on other kinds of attributes—like having been admitted to Harvard? A robust strategy will need to understand the distinct reputational risks and returns for every kind of sale and try to position around the positive-attribute marketing versus the negative in many situations. But this requires human judgment.

Sure, in theory, hospital emergency rooms would run more efficiently with real time pricing—just like Uber does. But a decision such as this requires applying additional choice criteria about what kind of value capture the market will allow. The social, economic and political guide-rails that will ultimately shape where pools of value can be created are evolving just as dramatically as the technology.

Follow Matt and Steve on Twitter at @MattRanen. We welcome your comments at

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Retweeting

jyb_musingsBefore we “retweet” anything it is important to ask ourselves:

1) Are we doing this because we really think it is a Tweet worthy of retweeting (for the sake of humankind)?
2) Or is it worthy of retweeting more as an inside joke to an inner circle of our friends?
3) Or are we trying to curry favor with the Tweeting person even though we don’t believe the Tweet is all that special? 
4) Or are we retweeting a Tweet because that person recently retweeted one of our Tweets (and we’d like for them to do that again)?
5) Or are we just trying to encourage a friend who rarely Tweets anything to hang in there and they will eventually “get” Tweeting?
6) Or are we retweeting to just let others on Twitter know that we know about retweeting and how to do it properly?
7) Or because we just want to cast out some virtual action into the vast abyss of cyberspace in hopes it will momentarily make us feel that we really do matter and can have some impact, however marginal or meaningless, on an impersonal universe?

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My ridiculously amazing experience!

jyb_musingsI just landed…you heard me right, “landed!!” Because I flew. I have been flying…high up in the air…at wicked fast speeds ….and flew over 1000 miles —that’s right, 1000 miles!! –and all in just under 2 hours!!

We landed in cold, icy and foggy conditions. Giant wheels came down underneath the airplane at just the right time and the pilots, who were responsible for about 120 lives, calmly and smoothly landed the giant flying contraption and we all lived. 

I know I have experienced this very same thing many times. But this time I was really conscious of it and paying attention. And aware of how truly amazing it really is!

And the entire mind-boggling trip cost less than two shirts and a belt I could have bought at the airport.

This flight was much better than any two shirts and a belt I have ever bought.

One man sitting 2 seats in front of me missed the whole thing because he hadn’t flown before and threw up in a complimentary bag the entire flight. He was paying close attention just like me and it must have just blown his mind –even more than it did mine. I hope he tries again.

I met the pilot as I got off the plane. He was about 15 years younger than me but real responsible looking with short well-groomed hair and not a bead of sweat on his forehead. If I had his job I would have looked more like the guy 2 seats in front of me. I wanted to say, “Sir, that was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.” But I didn’t because I forget to remember a lot of amazing things I experience.

This was certainly one of those experiences! I just said, “Thanks” to the pilot.

And the most amazing part of all is that all I had to do was think about what I was doing for a few minutes rather than taking it for granted.

I would tell you how I am going to get home from the airport, but I doubt you would believe that either.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Game on, Hawking!!


Smarty pants astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has joined Facebook and said in his first post “I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit.”

Oh brother. Whatever.

Well, you know Mr Hawking, you may be the smartest man alive but a lot of us on Facebook have some pretty brilliant moments ourselves. I am upping my scientific and intellectual Facebook game. Be forewarned. And remember, it’s OK to hate the player but don’t hate the game? Feel me? You are no longer in the ivory tower on Facebook. You are now on the street. And it’s about to get real.

So, for starters, you aren’t the only one on Facebook who wonders about what makes the universe exist and about space and time and stuff like that. I think about them too. Not all at the same time. But I think about them sometimes. And think about many other complicated sciencey things too.

When I am on an airplane I like to look out the window at the clouds and think to myself, “Let’s see. There are three kinds of clouds. Stratus, cumulus, and one other.” See? You are probably already realizing we are a lot more alike than you originally thought. That’s OK. That will happen to you a lot on here. Keep an open mind on Facebook. Ok? That’s important for everybody — but especially for guys like us.

10580031_10154805192810515_2724657550179636568_nOh…and after I think about the different types of clouds, I’m not done. I keep going. I saw this one recently (see below) I keep staring at the cloud formations until it comes to me, using my vast imagination (again like you) and I figure out what the cloud shape reminds me of. This one reminds me of a puppy dog.

I am interested, Mr Hawking, to find out if your mind works this way too and if you agree the cloud looks a lot like a little puppy dog? Cutie, huh?!

Anyway, congrats for joining Facebook. This may be the most exciting and surprising intellectual journey of your life. And I suspect — if you give it a chance–you will finally get some answers to all your questions about the universe.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Evolution of Customer Service

jyb_musingsThe evolution of customer service in American business.

1960’s “Take a ticket, take a seat”

1970-1999 “The customer is always right.”

2000 – “Take a virtual ticket, take a virtual seat

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: iPhone 6 FAIL

jyb_musingsMy iPhone 6 doesn’t work!! I am so disappointed.

No, no. I don’t mean that it doesn’t work in the “doesn’t function properly” sense. Or that it is bendable or has some sort of software bug.

I mean the iPhone 6 doesn’t work in the larger sense that it failed to make my life feel utterly happy and complete –and to make me more organized, hip and successful than I was without an iPhone 6.

I tested my theory by not telling several people close to me that I now own a iPhone 6 to see if they would comment about the “new me.”

For example, I expected to start getting invited to certain chic parties I hadn’t been invited to before –or having these friends struggle to identify what exactly was different about me now (since they didn’t know about the new phone). Perhaps they would ask me questions like, “Did you get a new haircut recently?” Or “Did you lose even more weight?” Or “Did you just do or buy something that has made you irresistibly fabulous over night?”

Well, none of that happened. In fact, one friend even told me I was irritating because I kept talking about smart phone upgrades hoping he would ask me if I had upgraded recently.

I am thinking of returning my iPhone 6 for being outright defective for not delivering to me that elusive “x factor” or “Je ne sais quois” the iPhone 6 ads seemed to be promising.

On the other hand, maybe I simply got the wrong color and need to exchange my white iPhone 6 for the gold of black models. That has to be what the real problem is.


Otherwise it would mean something is wrong with me. Or that I am going to have to wait for the iPhone 7 to be released.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: AT&T Customer Service Line and Making New Friends.

jyb_musingsI like making new friends as much or more than anyone I know.

But not on AT&T’s customer service line where I am hoping to get a quick resolution to a small and annoying phone issue.

Questions like “How is your day going so far?” and “How is everything else?” and “Are you enjoying your day so far today?” just don’t seem …spontaneous and, well…, genuine.

In fact, when I get disconnected and call back and talk to a completely different person, that new person, as fate would have it, asks me the exact same friendly questions about my day and me and the general state of my well-being. I am appreciative of these solicitous inquiries and I am always friendly in return —but I do try subtly to steer our conversation back around to the primary reason for my call which is mostly to get my phone working again.

I don’t mean to sound crotchety and think it is wonderful to be polite and friendly– especially with a stranger on a routine customer service call. But if you have to make regular calls to customer service, hearing the canned buddy chatter over and over can make you question how genuine the AT&T rep really is. Especially if you are trying to cancel a line you cancelled last month but continue to get charged for. And the rep tries to help out her new friend (you) by saying on three different occasions, “I noticed you are taking advantage of the Friends and Family Plan and I can’t recommend you cancel a line and I want to tell you about better options you are missing out on.”

Having a new friend is always a little awkward at first. You are just getting to know one another and when you have asked politely not to be sold a new line but just please cancel and stop charging for the line you cancelled last month, you tend to think a friend would understand. But I have found that my new AT&T friends don’t really “get” me when it comes to asking for their help. They tend to be what I would call “controlling.” They act like they know what is best for me better than I do myself.

And that does get annoying. Even between friends. Especially if my same new friend wants me to stay on the line at the end of our little chit chat to answer a bunch of questions about what a great job they did helping me (even if they really didn’t). Of course, I don’t ever say anything ugly in one of these question and answer segments about my new friend, but I can’t help thinking they are being a little self-absorbed —and needy. For a friend anyway.

Let’s just say I am sure glad that my non-AT&T friends don’t end our phone call conversations this way. And if they ever start, I may eventually begin giving them bad reviews for making everything “all about them” instead of just being a friend. Or acting like a good customer service rep.. Because that’s how real friends treat one another.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Being Judgmental, Hypocrisy, and the iPhone 6

1549316_10154662767060515_3327043670837143695_nThis morning as I left a business meeting I spotted a long snaking line outside an ATT store as people waited for a chance to buy the new iPhone 6.

I self-righteously shook my head and muttered sarcastically to a guy snapping a picture of the line, “Wonder if any of those people would wait in line that long to talk to someone on their new iPhone?” We snickered condescendingly like adolescents and he responded, “Pitiful, isn’t it?” After he stepped aside, I snapped this shot myself and got in my car and left –off to do something more important than anticipating the new iPhone.

45 minutes later I was driving by a different ATT store and parked outside the store to do a conference call. After the call I had a few minutes to spare and wandered inside just to see what the new iPhone 6 looks like. The sales rep started pitching me and encourged me to hold the phone, which I did. He smiled at me, “Feels good, doesn’t it? Looks good, too.” I replied, “You are good….but I am just looking and not buying” and I scurried out the door.

Two hours later I had another meeting at the coffee shop by the ATT store in this picture. I got to the coffee shop about 15 minutes early and decided to stop inside ATT since there was no line and because I wanted to just “look” at the new iPhone one more time.

As I stared at the display model and was about to touch it a sales rep interrupted me and asked if I would like to get one and said they still had a few in stock.

jyb_musings“Probably just in white, though. Right?” I said discouragingly.

“Actually we have a few silver and black models left.”

I pointed to my watch and said, “Thanks anyway but I have to meet someone in 15 minutes and don’t have time to get a new iPhone today even if I wanted to and had the extra money.”

“Fifteen minutes is plenty of time” the sales rep assured me, “and under our new plan you don’t pay anything down and only a monthly fee of about $30.”

“Really?” I responded dumbly.

Twelve minutes later I walked out of the ATT store with a new iPhone 6. And I felt good about myself and happy to be an “early adopter” as they call it. As I walked toward the coffee shop I looked back where the line had been this morning –the line that I had smugly taken a picture of to post in Facebook later tonight to poke fun at people who seemingly had nothing better to do today than make sure they got the new iPhone the day it went on sale.

But I didn’t do that. I did post the picture—but posted it because even though I am not standing in that line in the picture, I might as well have been. In fact, I was worse. I doubt any of those eagerly waiting in line this morning went to three stores before buying their phone. And they were happy, not ashamed, to admit their enthusiasm.

Fortunately for me I don’t think anyone in this picture bothered to snap a photo of a smirking guy standing a few yards away taking a picture of them— and then post the picture of me on Facebook under the title “Pitiful.”

They had better things to do.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Theological Questions

jyb_musingsTheological question:

If you say something to someone at church that is supposed to be humorous –and only moderately inappropriate –and the other person sighs, shakes his head, and says he will pray for you, is it OK to tell him you prefer he didn’t because “I don’t want God to know we are friends”?

(Note: I did not say this. But thought to afterwards and may try out the line some time. I tend to get this comment a lot.)


Remember when you felt as excited about the iPhone 5 as you do today about the iPhone 6?

And thought you always would?

Erica and Matt Chua: Does it Float? Your Electronics Won’t

The biggest risk to your electronics? Accidents.  Here are pointers on how to be prepared for accidents and what to do when they happen.

This is a continuation post from Saving Your Digital Ass and Backing Up Your Computer While Traveling.

As we carry more electronics, whether at home or while traveling, we need to take special precautions to protect them.  The reality is that electronics have one nemesis: water.  There are a few other ememies such as heat, sand, and falls, but water is the ever present, catastrophic enemy of electronics.  While we want to assume our devices won’t take a bath, a small slip on a dock, a clear day that turned rainy fast, or the somewhat funny “falling-out-of-pocket” into the toilet accidents happen.  Here are tips on how to avoid aquatic catastrophe and what to do when it happens.


Water, beer, wine and other liquids are somewhat conductive.  Luckily for us they are not that conductive, but still, electronics are filled with tiny circuits and paths for electricity to travel, if the electricity jumps its track to another one (thereby bridging circuits) you get a short circuit.  While you may remember Short Circuit as a funny movie, you won’t be laughing if your laptop, phone or camera short circuits.


As with most things in life, prevention is the best medicine.  Preventing your electronics from getting wet can be as cheap and easy as putting them in Ziploc/Glad bags.  The key to this method of prevention is maximizing the time your electronics can be near liquid danger, but not get wet.  The longer you can protect them, the longer you have to remove them from a dangerous situation.  Prevention is buying time, not necessarily the solution in itself.

Keeping your electronics in a backpack versus a pocket will buy substantial time as even a driving rain will take a while to soak through.  Having your device in a waterproof bag inside the backpack will substantially decrease your risk of anything going wrong.  For smaller devices, pocket cameras and phones, Glad Freezer Zipper bags are perfect.  I’ve tested Target store brand and ZipLoc freezer bags, but the Glad Freezer Zippers seem to be most air tight.  Let me know if your testing proves otherwise.

LOCAVORista and I, simply due to having way too much camping gear, carry SeaLine Electronics Cases and Outdoor Research Sacks.  These are supposed to be completely waterproof when used properly and were recommended by kayakers.

The last method of prevention is knowing where your electronics are at all times.  This means knowing where, exactly, in your bag is your phone, camera(s), and laptop.  Knowing this will allow you to immediately remove them from a soggy bag that may have fallen into a river with your significant other.

OH SHIT!  It happened… my _______ fell into the !@&*@% water

Accidents happen, so what to do if you get your electronics wet?  Memorize this and you can save your electronics life:

  1. DO NOT TURN IT ON FOR 2 DAYS!  Water kills electronics by creating a short circuit, which isn’t possible if there is no power going through the circuits in the first place.
  2. Remove the battery (if possible).
  3. Remove any media devices such as memory card and/or SIM card.  While your device may not work again, saving your photos, music, and addresses can still be accomplished.
  4. Let the device and removed components dry separately.  There are several ways to do this: hair dryer on low for several minutes, followed by either putting it in a ZipLoc bag with dry rice or those silica packets that say “do not eat” and come with many purchases such as shoes.  (here is some detailed instructions for an iPhone, but all electronics can be treated the same).
  5. Wait, wait, don’t fret, and wait.  The longer you can wait before using the device, the better off you will be.

These steps probably seem too simple, but it works, sometimes.  There is no guarantee that your wet electronics will work again due to differing circumstances, the only thing you can do is try to prevent it and take these steps if it does happen.


This article is one in a series on protecting your digital ass(ets).  Here are the other articles:


Part 2: BACKING UP PHOTOS: You can replace your clothes, backpack or husband, but photos are irreplaceable

Part 3: BACKING UP YOUR COMPUTER: At home or on the road, your photos will end up on a computer, backing that up becomes priority number one

JUST READ: OH SHIT! When accidents happen to your electronics

After all the articles have been posted they will integrated into the Preparation Section.


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