Posts from Web/Tech

Sending Stuff To The Wrong People

I got a bunch of emails yesterday that were clearly not meant for me. I replied to let the senders know and deleted them without reading beyond what I had read to know it wasn’t for me.

Then I saw this tweet by Chris Dixon:

Then it all jelled in my mind. Gmail was autosuggesting the wrong people to a large swath of its users over the weekend. I was struggling with the same problem but I hadn’t realized it was a service wide issue.

Sending emails to the wrong people is embarrassing and potentially much worse. The same is true of google docs, dropbox, and a host of other cloud based services where we create and store sensitive information. At least google docs pops up the warning “you are about to send this outside of your domain.” That has saved me many times from sending a google spreadsheet or doc with personal information to a woman with the same first name in Mellon’s Private Bank instead of my wife. You would think Google would know my wife is more important. But it does not, particularly on mobile.

The thing of it is that Google is so good at knowing who you might want to send something to that they should do more than they do right now. They could easily pop up a warning saying “you don’t normally send this kind of document to this person” or “you don’t normally include this person in the group you are sending this to.” These sorts of data driven protections/warnings would further cement the already airtight lock they have on me and many others who use gmail and google docs.

But try as we might, we are human and prone to error. It is almost certain that each of us will send something super confidential to someone who should not see it at some point in our life. My hope is when I do that, the person on the receiving end is decent enough to do what I did, inform and delete, not store and forward.

The Ethics Of Algorithms

Last week, USV hosted one of our regular portfolio summits. We do this on almost a weekly basis now for some subset of our portfolio (engineering leaders, human resources leaders, marketing leaders, etc, etc). It is all part of our USV Network offering for our portfolio companies.

The summit last week was for the data analysts in our portfolio. These summits have produced some of the most interesting insights for us over the years. And last week was no different. There was a recurring discussion of the ethics of machine learning and recommendation engines.

So we decided to make that the topic of the week on usv.com. The discussion is here. Check it out.

Feature Friday: Back Up iPhoto To Dropbox

The Gotham Gal moved from an old macbook air to a new one about a year ago. When she moved all of her files, configurations, and settings from the old macbook to the new one, somehow her iPhoto folders didn’t come over correctly. She was missing a bunch of photos on her new laptop and could not seem to find them on the old one.

I tried to help out but quickly got frustrated. Somehow she had messed things up in her moves from mac to mac to mac over the years and she had not backed up her iPhoto properly.

She told me that there were years, maybe a decade or more, of photos of our family and such on that laptop and that she feared they were lost.

So last week I decided to take another shot at it, using a Dropbox feature that scans your iPhoto library and backs up all the photos in it to Dropbox. I installed the Dropbox for Mac client on her old machine and let it do its thing. It eventually prompted me with the option to backup all of her iPhoto library to her Dropbox. I clicked yes and it started scanning and scanning and scanning. It must have been crunching away on her hard drive for an hour or more and eventually it said it had found over 14,000 photos that it wanted to upload.

I thought “14,000!!, that must be all of her lost photos” and went upstairs to tell her the good news. It took over a day to upload all of the photos and it seems that Dropbox found some old buried folders that I could not find myself that contained all that she had thought had been lost.

We haven’t taken a deep dive yet on the 14,000+ photos to see if they include everything she thought was lost. But I have a strong hunch that we have.

It’s a great ending to a frustrating story. If you had a fire in your house and you had to choose the few things you wanted to get out before everything went up in flames, family photos would likely be near the top of the list, after people and pets. So losing them, or thinking you lost them, is a terrible feeling. And finding them is an amazing one.

Backing Up Your Files

I read an article a few weeks ago about a class of malware called ransomware. The author’s mom had clicked on some sort of attachment which installed the malware on her computer which in turn locked all of her files and delivered a ransom note to her requiring $500 for the decryption keys. The ransom had to be paid in bitcoin, of course, and the price escalated the longer she waited to pay the ransom.

I immediately thought of my situation. I like to think I would not have clicked on the attachment. But even if I had, my files are backed up into the cloud. As long as my cloud backup service doesn’t back up the encrypted files and overwrite the earlier versions, I’ve got unlocked versions of everything. I think I am good. But I made a note to ask around about this.

I’ve been backing up my hard drive for as long as I can remember. There was a time when I backed up to local storage. But starting in the late 90s, I used a variety of online backup services, what we would now call “the cloud”, to backup my files.

My rationale for backing up my files was always fear of a hard disk crash. I’ve lost important files over the years and I’ve spent a small fortune to get them back, usually by hiring someone who knows how to work miracles on a corrupted hard drive. But I have not worried about this issue for at least a decade, maybe more.

But when I read the article about the woman whose files were being held hostage, I realized that many people still don’t backup their files every night. Just like many people don’t use strong passwords. Just like many people click on attachments they should not click on.

My number 10 prediction on the What’s Going To Happen post was:

10/ cybersecurity budgets will explode in 2015 as every company, institution, and government attempts to avoid being Sony’d. VCs will pour money into this sector in the same way they poured money into the rental economy. and, yet, the hacks will continue because on the open internet there is no such thing as an impenetrable system.

It is not just big companies and institutions and governments that need to be diligent about information security. It is all of us. The consumerization of technology works both ways. We are all targets and we all need to protect ourselves. Backing up your files is one of those things we should all do. Another thing to add to the new year’s resolution list.

What Is Going To Happen

Yesterday I wrote a post summing up what happened in 2014. In it I promised a post on what is going to happen. What I did not specify was how far forward I am going to look. It’s a lot easier to predict the future without a timeline on it. I think we all know, for example, we are going to have driverless cars. When that is going to be mainstream, however, is a pretty big question that I can’t answer.

But, because yesterday was about 2014, I am going to make this post about 2015. And so here is what is going to happen in 2015 according to me.

1/ The big companies that were started in the second half of the last decade, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, etc, will start going public. Investors will be glad to scoop up some of their shares. That will lead, in turn, to a wave of acquisitions by these newly minted goldmines.

2/ Xiaomi will spend some of the $1.1bn they just raised coming to the US. This will bring a strong player in the non-google android sector into the US market and legitimize a “third mobile OS” in the western world. The good news for developers is developing for non-google android is not much different than developing for google android.

3/ More asian penetration into the US market will come from the messenger sector as both Line and WeChat make strong moves to gain a share of the lucrative US messenger market.

4/ After a big year in 2014 with the Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift, virtual reality will hit some headwinds. Oculus will struggle to ship their consumer version and competitive products will underwhelm. The virtual reality will eventually catch up to the virtual hype, but not in 2015.

5/ Another market where the reality will not live up to the hype is wearables. The Apple Watch will not be the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been. Not everyone will want to wear a computer on their wrist. Eventually, this market will be realized as the personal mesh/personal cloud, but the focus on wearables will be a bit of a headfake and take up a lot of time, energy, and money in 2015 with not a lot of results.

6/ Capital markets will be a mixed bag in 2015. Big tech names will continue to access capital easily (see 1/), but the combination of rising rates and depressed prices for oil will bring great stress to global capital markets and there will be a noticeable flight to safety around the world. Safety used to mean gold, US treasuries, and blue chip stocks. Now it means Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.

7/ The Republicans and Democrats will start jockeying for position in silicon valley for the next presidential election and tech issues will loom large. Republicans will put forward their own answers on immigration and net neutrality (Title X) and the White House will meet them halfway. Both sides will claim victory, but the real winners will be the people.

8/ The horrible year that bitcoin had in 2014 will be a wakeup call for all stakeholders. Developers will turn their energy from creating the next bitcoin (all the alt stuff) to creating the stack on top of the bitcoin blockchain. Real decentralized applications will start to emerge as the platform matures and entrepreneurial energy is channeled in the right direction.

9/ the enterprise/saas sector will shine in 2015 with dozens of emerging important new companies taking advantage of the cloud and mobile to redefine what work and workflow looks like in the enterprise.

10/ cybersecurity budgets will explode in 2015 as every company, institution, and government attempts to avoid being Sony’d. VCs will pour money into this sector in the same way they poured money into the rental economy. and, yet, the hacks will continue because on the open internet there is no such thing as an impenetrable system.

11/ the health care sector will start to feel the pressure of real patient centered healthcare brought on by the trifecta of the smartphone becoming the EMR, patients treating patients (p2p medicine), and real market economies entering health care (people paying for their own healthcare). this is a megatrend that will take decades to fully play out but we will see the start of it in 2015.

Of course, many other things will happen this year. A lot of them will be things we could never see or predict. And this list is biased by what interests me and what we’ve invested in. It is, as someone said in the comments yesterday, “biased”. But then so is every single word ever written on this blog. As it should be.

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to a great 2015.

What Just Happened?

I’m not much for the rear view mirror. I like to look forward, not back. I guess that’s why I’m in the line of work I’m in.

But I’m going to force myself to look back at 2014 and explain what just happened. Doing that will help me look forward (tomorrow?) and explain what is going to happen.

This is not an attempt to be comprehensive, or accurate, or anything else. This is what I think happened in 2014:

1/ the social media phase of the Internet ended. this may have happened a few years ago actually but i felt it strongly this year. entrepreneurs and developers still build social applications. we still use them. but there isn’t much innovation here anymore. the big platforms are mature. their place is secure.

2/ messaging is the new social media. this may be part of what is going on in 1/. families use whatsapp groups instead of facebook. kids use snapchat instead of instagram. facebook’s acquisition of whatsapp in february of this year was the transaction that defined this trend.

3/ the “sharing economy” was outed as the “rental economy.” nobody is sharing anything. people are making money, plain and simple. technology has made renting things (even in real time) as simple as it made buying things a decade ago. Uber and Airbnb are the big winners in this category but there are and will be others.

4/ the capital markets have moved to the internet. we call it crowdfunding but what is really going on is raising money is a great application of a global platform that connects billions of people in real time. i don’t know the total amount of capital that was raised on the internet across all sectors (equity, debt, creative projects, charity, helping a person in need, real estate, energy, etc, etc) in 2014 but i am sure it is in the tens of billions.

5/ mobile OS has become a stable duopoly around the world. but android is splintering into google android and non google android and that may lead to new large players. 2014 was a big coming out party for xiaomi. if and when they come to the US, things will get interesting. they are the new (and better) samsung.

6/ mobile and messaging has started to impact the enterprise. slack is the poster boy for this trend in 2014.

7/ youtube became a monster. it always has been. but in 2014 youtube emerged as the place for entertainment consumption for anyone under 16. and these youngsters are going to grow up quickly. watching The Interview on YouTube was a fitting end to an amazing year for the king (and queen and joker too) of Internet video.

8/ we finally got rid of files. dropbox, google drive, soundcloud, spotify, netflix, hbogo, youtube, wattpad, kindle, and a host of other cloud based services finally killed off three letter filenames like mp3, mov, doc and xls. spending a week in the caribbean with young adults and bad internet was the tell on this one for me. they don’t even have mp3s on their iphones anymore!

9/ the net neutrality debate emerged as a national political issue with Obama’s endorsement of Title II regulation of the last mile of the internet. it is unclear how this issue will resolve itself but the public has spoken loudly and clearly and politicians understand that the internet needs to remain open for innovation and we can’t let the monopoly carriers and cable companies mess that up.

10/ cyberwarfare, cybercrime, cyberhacking, and cybersecurity was by far the dominant theme of 2014. if anyone had their head in the sand on this one before this year, they don’t anymore. this is our new normal. the US takedown of North Korea’s internet last week, and the state department official’s comment that “i guess accidents can happen” is a moment to remember as we head out of 2014 and into our future.

so that’s what happened in 2014 according to me. i am sure i left out many important things. you can add them in the comments. hopefully i’ll write a whats going to happen in 2015 tomorrow. i tried hard to keep this post backward looking and had to edit out a lot of forward looking statements as i wrote it.

happy new year everyone.

With All Due Respect

We spent the Christmas week on the beach with family and friends. Our friends John and Diana were with us and we talked about a lot of the things that are in the news at the intersection of tech and society. John asked me to take that conversation onto his TV show, With All Due Respect, and I did that yesterday. Here is the segment.

There’s Something About Twitter

I watched a friend of my son sign up to Twitter this past week and get completely smitten within minutes. There’s something about Twitter. It sort of reminds me of the 1998 Farrelly Brothers comedy featuring Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon, and Brett Favre and Jonathan Richman! Any film that features Jonathan Richman is a winner in my book. But I digress.

Almost every male character in this film falls in love with Mary. Each for a different reason and at a different time. But they all fall for her.

I fell for Twitter in April 2007. Josh’s friend fell for Twitter this past week. His use case is very different from mine but the experience is similar. He has 22 followers and I have a lot more than that. But there’s something about being able to have a public conversation with friends and strangers in real time. There’s something about the follower thing. There’s something about the hashtag thing. There’s something about the humor that works on Twitter. There’s something about the behavior that happens on Twitter. Twitter is fun.

I know that Twitter is not for everyone. Someone called it “niche” recently in a comment thread I read somewhere. If “niche” is 300mm logged in monthly users around the world, then I would agree. It is most certainly not for everyone the way Facebook is. But it is also not boring the way Facebook is. Twitter has edge. It has attitude. People get into real fistfights because of Twitter.

Twitter is getting a lot of negativity these days, particularly from the investor community. Maybe they thought it was the next Facebook. If so, they are wrong about that. Twitter is something entirely different. And I love it today the way I loved it in the spring of 2007 when I first fell for it.

Full Disclosure: Our family is very long Twitter. We have a material financial interest in its success. This post is not about that or in reaction to that. But it may be yet another reason I love Twitter.

Feature Friday: Password Management

I posted about The Interview last Thursday and the next morning I woke to a message from Facebook:

suspicous login attempt

I can’t imagine the login attempt on my Facebook was in reaction to my blog post about The Interview, but as Andy Grove famously said “only the paranoid survive” and so I spent some time changing passwords that morning.

I don’t want to get too much into my personal security setup but I will say this. I try out a bunch of services every week and many of them ask me to create a login. I use a fairly basic login for those services. But for anything that is serious, I like strong passwords that are unique for each service.

I find a password manager to be helpful in managing all of them. The big issue with a password manager is you are creating a single point of failure by using one. But if the alternative is easy to guess passwords that you use frequently, I think going with a password manager is the better alternative. A couple popular ones are Dashlane and 1Password.

I also use two-factor authentication on services that offer it and, as I have posted here, I like using the Authy app to generate the tokens for me on my phone.

One thing I have decided to change in the wake of that Facebook login attempt is to treat social media services differently. I used to think that social media services weren’t “serious security issues” and did not worry too much about them. I’ve decided that isn’t right and I now treat social media services similarly to banking and productivity services (like email and cloud storage).

But even if you lock down your own services tightly, you still have to be worried about what you put into email and other messaging apps because the person you send the messages to you may not be as secure as you are. That’s one of the many lessons from the Sony hack. A friend of mine told me she only puts into email things she is prepared to have read on the nightly news. That’s a high standard and one that I am going to strive for myself. Given the nature of my work, it’s going to be a hard one to reach.

I think we can expect hacking and other forms of attacks on our personal data and systems to increase significantly in the next five years. If you are looking for a good new year’s resolution, I think taking security more seriously, and specifically using unique strong passwords and two-factor auth on all of your important services would be a good one. I already do that but I am always looking to do more of this sort of thing. Andy Grove’s mantra is a good one in this regard.