The Digital Catapult Really Screwing up Trust about Personal Data

Executive Summary

In publishing a report about how organisations need to build trust with the public about the storage and use of their Personal Data, the Digital Catapult has done almost all the classic things to undermine that trust.
And they even missed a great opportunity – the research suggests that if an organisation does screw up, and then comes clean and corrects things, it ends up with a higher level of trust than if they hadn’t screwed up in the first place.
But they didn’t.

Now read on if you wish…

Wendy tweeted about a new report:

Wendy Hall ‏@DameWendyDBE 1d1 day ago
#PDTReview has been launched today by @DigiCatapult! Get the report here: http://bit.ly/SignUpPDTReview

I though it might be interesting, so I followed to find that it was called “TRUST IN PERSONAL DATA: A UK REVIEW”. When I finally got the report, it turned out it says things like “We must build consumer trust or risk future failure” and “Building trust in the use of personal data is the responsibility of every digital stakeholder in the UK”.
However, I get ahead of myself: in order to get it, I was required to fill in a short form, giving my names, email, organisation and the organisation type (as mandatory fields).
Like many people (apparently, when I read the report), I choose to be careful about where my personal information goes. And it seemed to me that there was no reason why the Digital Catapult should need more than my email address, even if it did decide that it was not going to make the PDF available for download, but only by personal request over email.
So I tweeted:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Can I get a copy of #PDTReview without giving you my Personal Data please?

So far, disappointing, but OK.
Now the screw up starts:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for tweet. We ask anyone wishing to download the report to fill in a few fields so we can get the report to them swiftly.

Yup, “swiftly”!
Good practice to have a prompt response, but I can recognise a classic case of making up an answer, just to get rid of me. 🙂 This is known as flimflam or flannel by support staff. Like “Your database is running slowly because it is the wrong colour, we are repainting for the next release, so it will be better.” (cf http://dilbert.com/strip/1995-11-17)
But actually, this is displaying a lack of respect – the public aren’t fools.
So now I’m hooked!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Huh? Swiftly?!!! My Organisation? Why not a PDF download link? It smells like you are actually touting to get a DB of people.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.

(Opt-in: There is a tick box on the page that invites people to sign up for a Network.)
But come on! This is more flimflammed flannel. No answer to why the “swiftly”. And why am I typing if it doesn’t get kept. Again, the public aren’t fools. And don’t take me for one. I know you are keeping the data – just own up to it!

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Thanks, may do. But hang on: if I don’t tick the box, you don’t keep anything I type? So why ask? And it says “SIGN UP…”.

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 29
@hughglaser Thanks for your feedback Hugh. We’ve amended the page so people can fill in details if they so wish, rather than ‘sign up’.

Classic! I’m not going to fix the bug – I’ll change the documentation – any Software Engineer worth their salt recognises that one. They did change it, so the page says “FILL IN…” instead of “SIGN UP…”.
And what is this “if they so wish” – more noise words of flimflam and flannel – there is no other option I can see.

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser Jul 29
@DigiCatapult Sorry to be a bear with a sore head, but I’m still not making sense of this. What does “if they so wish” mean.

Now, there does seem to be some deeper investigating in order, so I went to the page and gave it my details and got the email with the report – and very interesting reading it is too.
At the same time, I emailed:

To: info@cde.catapult.org.uk
Subject: Personal Data Request
Please can you tell me what personal details you hold about me, as specified in section 1.7 of http://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/terms/
Thank you.

Within an hour (well done!) I got a lovely response, which I won’t quote because it was in email. But in there it said that they had my name, email, business name and organisation type – exactly the same details that I was being told aren’t being kept!
This needed a private response, I think – although these are really important issues, I had no wish to cause any serious embarrassment on twitter. It was something that the Digital Catapult should get the chance to put right, so it was an email back:

Subject: Re: personal data request
Dear xxxxx,
Many thanks for your swift and detailed response.
I appreciate an organisation that can do this - on the rare occasions I have done asked others, some of them simply fail!
Unfortunately, your response tells me that the person who does your twitter feed has basically lied to me:
Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult 5h5 hours ago @hughglaser For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in. Equally happy to share report with you via non sign in. Please DM.
OK, it may be that the data you have is not in a real “DB", but in principle you have a problem here.
I clearly have a problem with your report being used to get personal data about people.
The deep, deep irony is that it is undermining trust in exactly the way the report says should be built up.
How should we resolve this?
Is your twitter feed going to give some honest and clear answers?
Best
Hugh

In the meantime, the next day I had no response to my question on Twitter, so I asked again:

Hugh Glaser ‏@hughglaser 8h8 hours ago
@DigiCatapult What does “if they so wish” mean? Is there another option if they don’t want to?

To which there was a swift response:

Digital Catapult ‏@DigiCatapult Jul 30
@hughglaser Hi Hugh, you can now directly access the review here: http://bit.ly/1DRpjpy

That’s good!
But it isn’t really what we need by now.
Any trust I might have had in the Digital Catapult has been completely undermined.
What went wrong?
Will it go wrong again?
Should I not expect an apology?
Later, I got a response to my email. It was very nice, inviting me to join the network and asking if I wanted my details removed. But it was also rather disappointing, in that it suggested that what were effectively the lies I had been told about the Digital Catapult keeping my Personal Data were because of the limitations of 140 characters in Twitter, and that the DB issue was because it was a different, “marketing” DB.
Oh dear – more flimflam and flannel.
So…

Thanks xxxxx,
Just a quick question before I respond at more length, please:
...
I think blaming the 140 is a bit disingenuous: "For clarity, we are not keeping a DB unless people opt-in.” is pretty unequivocal.
So what is the scope and purpose of the DB that you found my data in?
Best
Hugh

I also sent a message asking what is the scope and purpose of the DB that I am in.

So, coming to an end…
I exchanged a few more email,and then had a chat on the phone.
As best I see it:
The Digital Catapult wants/needs to report to the funding body what interactions they have with companies. So they gather the sort of information above. It is disturbing, because they don’t seem to think that this is “using” the information (it’s not for marketing, in particular). In fact, I am now really rather disturbed that the Digital Catapult, which has just issued a report relating to Personal Data, have significant people who actually don’t understand Data Protection, and the related regulations. We discussed how the Terms and Conditions could be improved to reflect this situation.

I asked for an apology on Twitter for taking me for a fool (at which point it felt like the call had become distinctly frosty 🙂 Or maybe it was because I mentioned I would blog about it.)

Now it is time to leave it – maybe they have learned something!

One lesson – make sure that the person on your twitter feed is technically savvy, or at least understands when they need to get advice.

Some more lessons?
Don’t take the public fools and just fudge things with brush off messages and flimflam, and when you make a mistake, come clean as soon as possible; oh, and apologise for it.
This is serious stuff – it was worth the Digital Catapult spending money to write a report about it!
And perhaps even paying Experian money to gather data, although that isn’t clear.
And, of course, “Oh the Irony!” That this should happen about a report on Trust and Personal Data!

Flattr this!

New Apple Keyboard

So the new Apple keyboard has got the character engraving ever so slightly offset to the right, and maybe a bit up too.

And the engravings don’t even align along the bottom properly – keys like “J”, “G”, “6” and “2” are slightly lower than the others in the row.

How do you manage to break something like that!

Flattr this!

Open Data Projects that Don’t Make Their Data Open

Sounds bizarre, but it seems to be the norm.

The very people who are at the forefront of consuming Open Data, funded by my tax money, almost always fail to make the fruits of their labours available as Open Data in their turn.

Let’s see: You get some public funds to build a demonstrator that shows how great Open Data is.

So you go away and harvest all sorts of data from a variety of sources (both easy and hard), and then add lots of value by linking it together and then synthesising new values and providing new insights.

Then hopefully in some time that corresponds to the proposal timescales, you launch your wizzo site, with fancy visualisations and everything. You get the loud praise and tweets from the great and good saying how this demonstrates how great Open Data is.

Then…

I come along with a little email asking if I can please have the data (so that I can use it for sameAs.org and other stuff I have that is set up to use the Open Data food chain).

I then get the standard response: “Ah, yes, we intend to make the data public, but <fill in a reason here />, and give us just a little time.”

Following that, I usually wait a few weeks or months, and then ask again. I might get another response along the same lines. I will probably ask another 2 or 3 times over the course of the next year or so, sometimes getting a response, but then decide that the data is probably too old now to be of interest, and I am wasting my time in any case because it ain’t going to happen. (It is unlikely that the original project actually included a real plan for keeping the application up to date by refreshing the data, or that the technology is actually able to do that.)

The point that anyone working in Open Data knows is that if you don’t build in the mechanisms and technology from the start to make data open, then grafting it on at the end is hard, expensive, unreliable, and various other bad words. So why don’t people put it in the proposal, and why don’t the funders require it to be part of the projects?

And the worst thing is that sometimes you hear the people who have done these projects (that are essentially data sinks) actually complaining that they couldn’t get data they wanted for their project from some other source!

Now ain’t that hypocritical?!

I would actually prefer it, by the way, if the response to my request for the data was more along the lines of, well we built a demonstrator, and we aren’t going to make the data open. There are actually quite a few sensible reasons for doing that.

Right, I’m off to think about which of my datasets is Open… 🙂

Flattr this!

Windows 8 – It had to come

Don’t get me wrong – I actually like Windows. There are quite a few things it does better than OSX. And I have managed machines with almost every incarnation of the OS, by the way.

And while we are at it, there are a lot of things that Androids do better than IOS.

But starting to use Windows 8 really pisses me off.

Not so long ago I bought a new Mac; as best I recall, I fired it up, it understood (sorry about the anthropomorpism) I probably had an old one I wanted to move from, offered to help me do that, and a bit later I was up and running.
Similarly, every time I have upgraded the OSX system, I could work out how to do the basic things, even if I didn’t always like the changes (see blogs passim).

But Windows update, every time, takes the feckin’ biscuit.

I switched on the new laptop. Basically, I couldn’t actually get it to do anything without googling.

Let’s try email, I thought. There’s a button there, that’s exciting! Clicking on it actually took me into a Black Hole. It now wanted a MS email ID (which the owner doesn’t have); there was in fact no way out of this – WTF? Cancel and OK both did the same thing of suggesting I try and put the MS email ID in again.

Back to google – apparently if you push the mouse to various corners, things happen – thanks for being so obvious. Well excuse me, but there really should be visual cues somewhere that things can happen. So finally I get back to the button screen.

Let’s try some of the other exciting buttons. Every single mother’s son of them does the same thing as the Mail button. The whole thing is set up so that MS can get all he user’s login data and see the whole scope of the user’s online identity, through the MS ID.

In this respect it is just like Android – everything is linked to your Google email ID. And if you don’t have one, or want to let them link up all your online IDs, then it doesn’t work very well, and in fact keeps telling you how it could be working better.

And in this respect, both of them are unlike Apple. The “rapacious, closed” Apple devices just work fine without an Apple ID, and everything that can, does work and integrate well, and apps are fine that you don’t have an Apple ID.

Oh, I forgot, before all this it offered me the chance to install a bunch of browsers – the user likes to use Firefux, so I clicked on that. It installed it, but I couldn’t for the life of me find out how to get back to install other browsers, or even run the Firefux I just installed.

So I am still looking at this brick that I can’t actually get to do anything.

After a while, I realise that the Desktop button actually gets me a view that looks bit like the old windows thing. But no, I still can’t find Firefux or Control Panels, or anything useful.

More googling.

I finally find out the magic incantation. Apparently, what you do is go to the screens with all the buttons and *start typing*. Well stab me sideways with a laptop. That was completely obvious – I should use the *keyboard* to interact with all these buttons.

I interact with my computers (other than Unix command line) using a mouse for anything except text. That is what the mouse is for – my view of having to type to launch an app on a modern system is just – I am actually at a loss for words to describe just how brain-dead that is.

Actually, this is all a bit like a Unix command line. It gives you no help as to what to type, but if you do know, then you can drive it quite efficiently.

So now, remember that I will want to migrate from the old laptop? Fortunately I am sensible enough to realise that there really must be some way of doing that. But it did take quite a lot of googling (the system’s Help was no help) to find it. It was about as easy to find it as to find the right flags to tar to perform a similar function.

Since no-one will have read this far, I can report that in the end I did manage to get the apps the user needs installed.

Oh sorry, no, it turned out the the Skype button led me to one of those Black Holes, with no way to actually login using anything other than (you guessed it) the MS email ID. More googling found me the Skype for Desktop app that I had to download and install, which worked. Of course, I did try to put in the email associated with the Skype account, but the Skype app kept simply saying that the login had failed, which made me assume that the password was wrong – any half-way moronic programmer could have checked and actually reported that the email ID it was being given was not a MS email ID.

So, as I was saying, it seems pretty good now, with the data nicely migrated, and the apps the user wants installed on the button screen, as short cuts on the desktop, and pinned to the task bar, no password on login, etc.. (On the other hand I have resisted the temptation to hack the Registry to get rid of the splash screen with all that stuff on which is only suitable for tablet machines).

And of course it is a nice machine, costs a third of what a Mac would have cost, and Windows 8 works very nicely.

Flattr this!

Apple is just so messy nowadays

Let’s look at the iCal that came with Lion.

Does that look like a Mac app to you? I think not.
Yes, I know it is a take-off of the Calendar on the iPad. So why do they piss about with where the buttons are?

Let’s find the “+” button to make a new entry. That’s right, it’s at the top-left. Except it isn’t – if you are using the iPad, it’s the bottom-right. Never mind, I’ll just click “Today” to find out what I’m doing. You know what’s coming: Top-right on the Mac, bottom-left on the iPad. Arrows to move though the screens: let’s spread them around differently.

Oh how are the mighty fallen – this was a completely new app for the Mac and they could have done anything they liked, but they chose to take the iPad App and then make it harder for people to move between them.

It actually beggars belief. When I first tried to use the Mac one, and found myself looking for the buttons, I had to check on the iPad that I was not imagining it.

And yes, I know this all happened a long time ago, but it still pisses me off.

Flattr this!

All these pop-ups on hover-over

I can’t seem to read web pages any more because I can’t see the page itself for flashy things that keep obscuring it.

I use Opera for Facebook (only, so sites I visit in Safari can’t get me to unwittingly “like” them or find my history), and every time I go to click on reload or back I can’t because the bloody browser has put some huge picture of the tab above it right over the buttons.

Worse still, when I try to read things on the page, Facebook keeps throwing up all sorts of crap I don’t want, about whatever my mouse happens to be over.

Browsing is meant to be a relaxing experience (it’s called browsing, not reading!), but I find myself moving the mouse like a maniac so it doesn’t pause long enough anywhere to get some great big bubble over the text I am looking at.

I get the same problem with these huge menus you get on modern web pages when you move over the tabs at the top. In fact, if I actually want to see a menu, I can manage the effort to move my finger and click on it. And then I come to whatreallypissesmeoff.com and find that the latest upgrade to WordPress has moved to hover-over menus on my site!

Is this really the state of the art in user experience?

Or is it just that someone thought it was cool, and so everyone does it now?

Flattr this!

New Wikipedia is a parasite – is it just Yahoo on steroids?

I could really rant about the Wikipedia Police and how they impose their view on pages, even when they are ignorant of the topic. But there are more serious issues here. So I will rant about those.

The really exciting thing about Wikipedia in the early days was that it captured stuff that nothing else could capture. This meant that if you happened to know something about something, then by contributing to Wikipedia the world was able to access that information.

No more.

The only stuff that is acceptable to the New Wikipedia editors is stuff that has valid references, whatever “valid” might mean.

This has some bad consequences.

Firstly, nothing can find its way onto New Wikipedia unless it appears somewhere else, and somewhere else means on the Web. So New Wikipedia is not generating any new content at all! It has become more like perhaps Yahoo in its heyday, where it was an attempt to index and organise the information on and from the web.

Secondly, this means it is seriously skewed towards the last 20 years. Someone or something who has lived or happened in the last 20 years is far more likely to have reached New Wikipedia “notability” by being referred to in the press etc., with the articles available online. In contrast, someone of great “notability” living even in the middle of the last century is very unlikely to have any online presence, and therefore not be part of New Wikipedia History.

A third consequence of the two above is that people who might have usefully contributed their knowledge do not. Yes, I am talking about me, for example. There are people I know in Computing who were there are the start and shortly afterwards. Nobody I know would now do anything significant in trying to contribute to New Wikipedia – it is just too hard, with a low likelihood of success in getting the editors to accept the contribution. This is a Bad Thing; as I said, the excitement of Wikipedia was in that it actually captured stuff from experts. Now it is the very experts that used to contribute who shun it. And by the way, they are dying off, so all that knowledge is getting lost. So when you read that in practice there are very few people who contribute to New Wikipedia, be not surprised. They are the ignorant few, not the informed crowd source.

And by the way, don’t think that those golden nuggets of information from the early Wikipedia contributions stay there! They are being removed article by article as their lack of reference takes them below an acceptable level for the New Wikipedia.

Of course I understand some of why this has happened, not least because of the constant griping from people about the quality of the Wikipedia content. But it really pisses me off that the great innovative crowd-sourcing site has morphed into something that is very far from a real crowd-source, and in fact has left a vacuum where it used to be. And because it was once there, there is no chance of anything else replacing the need.

Or is there?

Flattr this!

Mac Lion’s fiddling

I am just so racked off with the useless fiddling they have done.
Apart from the known Mail-Exchange bug and the fact that Safari crashes, and now iTunes and Mail are crashing on me…

What is with the Address Book and iCal – they were perfectly good apps; now I can’t see overviews of my contacts on my 30″ screen, and can’t even see the appointment times easily in month view.
And since when did Apple encourage applications with non-standard titles bars?
Jesus wept.
My Mac is not an iPad, just as my iPad is not a Mac.
It is like they actually don’t want people to have large desktop Macs.
I am even starting to use Windows 7 apps (in a VM) as they are sometimes less annoying than the Apple ones.
The interactions should be different between a little 1024×768 screen with touch and a 2560×1600 screen with just a mouse and keyboard.
Oh sorry, they are.
On the iCal on the iPad the Today button is the bottom left; on the Mac iCal it is the top right.
And the “+” is bottom right and top left.
Let’s make sure I can never find anything.
Why not shuffle the buttons all the time so I always have to look for them?

And what is with shaving a few pixels off the scroll bars as a great big advance, making it harder to hit them?
While at the same time wasting huge amounts of pixels in the aforementioned Address Book and iCal.
Yeah, I want pictures of silly bits of torn paper and staples instead of actually being able to hit the right bit of the screen.
And then they even switch off the simple things that I expect in the HCI.
Can I hover over an appointment to get details? No.
I used to be able to right-click on an email address in the To list of Mail to remove it – not any more. Click on the silly little arrow to bring up the context menu.
On and on.
Why would you actually remove things like that? They weren’t harming anyone.

And what about “Restore windows when quitting…”?

I close the document, then I quit.
But it still insists on opening the closed document the next time.

Apart from having to wait while a 10 MB word document opens before I can see the 100K one I double clicked on, it can be entirely inappropriate.
I fire up Excel to show some project plans, and it begins by displaying the sheet with my bank account transactions on.
Not what I would want on the screen in a large project meeting.
Sometimes I can imagine that people legitimately look at documents that would constitute a disciplinary offence if they were to find their way onto a public screen at an inappropriate time 🙂

And all that greyness – everyone knows that colours help to give me visual clues. And actually for some buttons I can’t even tell whether they are active or not, the shades are so similar.

I sort of vaguely hope these things will be sorted in 10.7.2, but somehow I think there will be more of the same for a lot of it.

Flattr this!