CDO Wrap: March 2018

22 March 2018

What I’m excited about: Brisbane’s startup scene, our new hardware accelerator & world-class entrepreneurs

What I’m ranting about: personal, “private” data – Cambridge Analytica in cahoots with Facebook, and no-one saw it coming? For real?

This month I am so excited to celebrate Brisbane’s global entrepreneurs. You can read all about our 11 successful recipients here. We have been supporting entrepreneurs since Digital Brisbane began, with the Budding Entrepreneurs Grants, Visiting Entrepreneurs and, of course, The Capital, the city’s startup community and co-working space. But what excited me most about the refreshed Lord Mayor’s Global Entrepreneur Program was the discovery and celebration of extraordinary talent who are building globally meaningful businesses, right here in Brisbane. As you’ll see in the story, these are game-changing small businesses, humble and hard-working, creating high-value jobs and firmly validating Brisbane’s position as a great place to run your startup and business.

This month also saw the opening of Australia’s first hardware incubator, Arc, right here in Fortitude Valley. It describes itself as “the ultimate space for developing and commercialising innovative hardware products” and I believe it. Victor was kind enough to give my team and I a pre-opening tour and I was blown away by the 3D printers, forming and cutting machines – I wished I was more creative as I wondered what I could prototype myself if I could conceive of it. With Arc joining the already strong and networked cohort of startup incubators and support services in Brisbane, we really are the best city in the country to start and build businesses.

By contrast, the world (or tech community, I’m not sure which yet) has been aghast at the revelations that Cambridge Analytica used questionably obtained data to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election and the Brexit leave vote. No. Really?

While Zuckerberg took days to eventually play the victim card in his response (“it happened to us”, not “we’re sorry”), mainstream media and the general public finally started catching on to the real purpose of those stupid Facebook quizzes. I think though this is where I’m cranky. Cambridge Analytica probably executed one of the best data manipulation campaigns we’ve seen (overtly) yet, and while we may question its methods (its motives aside), we, the users, are the ones who have enabled it to do so.

When you sign up to any online platform for free use, you accept that your data is being used for better advertising. What surprises me in this week’s discourse is the mass realisation that data can be combined. If you’re using the internet, your flybuys card to get cheap petrol, your frequent flyer card to earn points and even your bank card to make purchases, you are exchanging beautifully rich data about yourself. Throw into that mix what you share openly on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the videos you watch on YouTube … of course that data will be used by companies who can use it to drive their agendas. As I said when I chatted with Ben Davis on 4BC this week, this isn’t new. And, if you want to participate in this gloriously digitally-connected world, then it’s a fact of our existence. But we need to be conscious. It’s not just about shutting down those apparently banal apps on Facebook, it’s about getting multiple sources of news. If you find yourself regularly nodding vehemently as you read the news of the world, ask yourself if the world is suddenly conforming to your values, or if you’re actually being fed what you want to read. Open an incognito browser, search for the same news topics in different publications – publications you wouldn’t normally read. Get a different perspective. Multiple perspectives. Then build an informed opinion. Long gone are the days where you can “rely” on the bias of your news agency and adjust your consumption accordingly  … the same publication will use different headlines to target different readers of different biases on the very same article – so two readers, sitting in the same workplace, can read the same article but with different nuance and meaning.

The positive to come out of the Cambridge Anlaytics/Facebook scandal is that finally people are paying attention to the unintended consequences of the networked world we’ve created. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facey, Twitter, the internet just like the next person (probably more, I’m Brisbane’s CDO after all). But we, the users, are the ones who need to take responsibility. For our use. For our consumption. For the opinions we form and the decisions we make as a result. No-one voted our tech leaders like Zuckerberg, Brin or Gates president of the world, but with the platforms they’ve put in our hands, they have extraordinary power. But they are just the platforms – we are the users. And it’s very much up to us how we use those platforms.

PS – the Cambridge Analytics use case isn’t new – the Obama campaign used similar techniques years before.

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