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SMAC, Code Halos and the Good, Bad and Ugly of Tracking Data

As a SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) Analyst, I spend my days researching, writing and presenting ideas to companies and audiences.  One of the most important subjects these days is how to develop and implement the best possible information logistics systems.  That means utilizing and processing collected data in the most advantageous and efficient manner possible to further the ambitions of the business.  That goal is perfectly understandable for a business - collecting business data and transactional data is expected, but when it is your personal data (Code Halos) that is being collected we often feel differently.  For example, I love having my TripIt, Marriott and Delta mobile apps know about me, my preferences and my past, present and future travels, but I don't want that information shared with other vendors (or home burglars) without my permission.

In this article, my colleague Ben Pring, Co-Director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant is kind enough to address the good and bad of having your data (Code Halos) aggregated and tracked online.  I have included two embedded videos - first, a video interview that I filmed with Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring on the concepts of Code Halos, and a second far more professional clip on the role of Code Halos in our everyday life.
The response to our articles around Code Halo-thinking is overwhelmingly positive.   I and my co-authors, Malcolm Frank and Paul Roehrig, have spoken at dozens of client and industry events and engaged in numerous post-presentation discussions with a wide array of  senior IT and business leaders who when presented with  the Code Halo idea and follow us through our Crossroads Model tell us of  the opportunities Code Halo-thinking offers (including the risks of “extinction events”) are very real in their industry or market.  For  example, the narrative resonated with a major soft drink manufacturer that saw a new way to think about the social network around its soft drink; with an international airline which is beginning to socialize and internalize the new metaphor of a Code Halo to rethink how it moves customers from point A to point B; and with a leading financial services institution that admitted it was  only too aware of the “ionization” happening all around it as new ideas from start-ups begin to change the competitive dynamics the company faces.

Video Link: http://youtu.be/ctycYs18dyk

The second major reaction though – which may or may not surprise you, if you’ve read any of the previous pieces here, is that many people immediately internalize the Code Halo story and find “the dark side of the Halo.” Rather than focusing on the positive transformational commercial opportunities Code Halos  present, they land on the dystopian, Orwellian world of constant surveillance by Big (and little) Brother that Messer’s Assange, Manning and Snowden have brought to the fore in recent weeks, months and years.

Typically we hear a torrent of worst-case scenarios. “I don’t want to share my information with retailer x”, “I don’t want the government to have even more information on me that they do already”, “this is just going to make hackers’ lives easier”, “I get bombarded by enough advertising already; this is just going to make it even worse”, “I don’t want to live in 1984”, “I am not a number”, “how can I control who knows things about me”, “this is the final nail in the coffin of privacy”, “these ideas will never take off.”

The prism that people have is perfectly understandable.  Their concerns and fears are, of course, entirely valid and understandable. We share many of them. As digital immigrants ourselves we are at times as dazed and confused as any set of middle aged men by the emergent and volatile social mores of the new world and have to fight back the temptation to wallow in nostalgic revelries of how “this wasn’t the way we used to do it back in the day/old country.”

The grand experiment that we are all engaged in – creating a world of unprecedented hyper-connectivity of time, space, and culture - which the Code Halo phenomena is supercharging, is, by its very nature, unknowable and logically contains good things and bad.  Lots of good things are going to happen in a world of Code Halos, as are lots of bad things.

In short, we have no intention to deny that bad things will happen as a result of code meeting code. We fully expect they will. There is a very real dark side of the halo. All of the worst-case scenarios with which we are presented will happen, and are happening now.  People will get hacked. Government intrusion will grow. Advertisers will create new ways to embed advertising into every nook and cranny of our lives through every IP addressable form factor we use. Privacy will recede. The nefarious will have new opportunities to hurt us. Many innovations enabled by Code Halos will have unexpected consequences which will compound over time to produce unanticipated negative outcomes.  And yet we firmly believe these fears, concerns and objections are overblown, irrelevant or moot. Every objection is entirely the same objection that people raised as Al Gore’s Information Superhighway was entering the public consciousness in the middle of the 1990s; “I’ll never put my credit details onto the web,” Average Joe said in 1996; now Joe is routinely spending thousands of dollars online.

The Internet has been a crime scene in the last 20 years -- repeatedly. And it still is. And it always will be. But, today the Internet has 634 million websites and 2.4 billion users, according to uptime monitoring company, Royal Pingdom, and is here to stay. Nobody is going to un-invent it.
In 2013 so much of our lives are already online – shared, visible, transparent, open, all proffered voluntarily through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, et al, or less voluntarily via our credit score, phone records, movements, and key strokes that the government can impound without warrant -- that privacy is already an illusion, hackers already hack, advertisers can already advertise within our email, pharmacies already send our 16-year-old daughters coupons for diapers when neither they nor we knew they were pregnant; we are numbers, we are code.

The world that we are describing is already here. The Code Halo era is not imminent. It is now.
Just as the upside of the Internet has won over the downside we believe the upside of a Code Halo world will win over its downsides. The “give to get” ratio of the Code Halo world will be so positive that, in the same way that the cost and convenience of Internet era 1.0 triumphed over its doubters, the new Internet era of Code Halos will similarly see it detractor’s voices diminish and disappear.  

And one last thought; the ultimate value of Code Halos will originate out of the openness of data that is shared and this, of course, will mandate good behavior and accountability.  Just as lousy service that once went unpunished is now broadcast on social media with sometimes devastating impact, individuals or corporations that misuse or exploit information exchanged via Code Halos will struggle to enrich and inflate their Code Halo and to generate commercially material sparks. Bad Code Halo behavior will exist in a world of instant high visibility and will push some towards their extinction event. 


For more information on these concepts please visit www.unevenlydistributed.com.

Kevin Benedict, Head Analyst for Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) Cognizant
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and SMAC analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

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More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is an opinionated Senior Analyst at Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, SAP Mentor Alumnus, speaker, writer, and mobile and digital strategies expert. He is a popular keynote speaker, and in the past three years he has shared his insights into mobile and digital strategies with companies in 17 different countries. He has over 30 years of experience working with enterprise applications, and he is a veteran mobile industry executive. He wrote the Forward to SAP Press' bestselling book on enterprise mobility titled Mobilizing Your Enterprise with SAP, and he has written over 3,000 articles.

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