HM Loyal Opposition goes AWOL


This is such an extraordinary picture that I am inclined to think it’s a spoof. The Prime Minister is making a statement to the House of Commons — about the strategic defence review, no less. In other words, about the future of the country’s armed forces. But the Labour Parliamentary party — and the Shadow Cabinet — have gone AWOL, leaving their Leader sitting alone on the Opposition front bench. I don’t care what these cretins think about Corbyn: this is a Parliamentary democracy and it only works if there’s a functional opposition. That’s what Labour MPs were elected to provide. Instead of which they are sulking in their tents because their party elected a guy they can’t stand.

LATER It’s not a spoof. Channel 4 News has a video showing them slinking away.

Uber, disruption and Clayton Christensen

This morning’s Observer column:

Over the decades, “disruptive innovation” evolved into Silicon Valley’s highest aspiration. (It also fitted nicely with the valley’s attachment to Joseph Schumpeter’s idea about capitalism renewing itself in waves of “creative destruction”.) And, as often happens with soi-disant Big Ideas, Christensen’s insight has been debased by overuse. This, of course, does not please the Master, who is offended by ignorant jerks miming profundity by plagiarising his ideas.

Which brings us to an interesting article by Christensen and two of his academic colleagues in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. It’s entitled “What Is Disruptive Innovation?” and in it the authors explain, in the soothing tones used by great minds when dealing with those of inferior intelligence, the essence of Christensen’s original concept. The article is eminently readable and cogent, but contains nothing new, so one begins to wonder what could be the peg for going over this particular piece of ground. And why now?

And then comes the answer: Uber. Christensen & co are obviously irritated by the valley’s conviction that the car-hailing service is a paradigm of disruptive innovation and so they devote a chunk of their article to arguing that while Uber might be disruptive – in the sense of being intensely annoying to the incumbents of the traditional taxi-cab industry – it is not a disruptive innovation in the Christensen sense…

Read on

Yahoo: turn off your ad-blockers or lose your email service

Well, well. The rise of ad-blocking is beginning to bite.

On Friday, dozens of people took to web forums and social media to complain that they were blocked from their Yahoo email accounts unless they switched off their ad blockers.

The issue seems to have first appeared early on Thursday when “portnoyd,” a user on the AdBlock Plus online support forum, was served a pop-up with an ultimatum: Turn off your ad blocker, or forget about getting to your email.

Yahoo confirmed the reports, which were discovered by Digiday. Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., did not say how many users were affected.

“At Yahoo, we are continually developing and testing new product experiences,” Anne Yeh, a Yahoo spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is a test we’re running for a small number of Yahoo Mail users in the U.S.”

Don’t you just love that guff about “developing and testing new product experiences”!

In the end, the targeted-ad-based business model is not sustainable. Wonder what will replace it.

Let’s turn the TalkTalk hacking scandal into a crisis

Yesterday’s Observer column:

The political theorist David Runciman draws a useful distinction between scandals and crises. Scandals happen all the time in society; they create a good deal of noise and heat, but in the end nothing much happens. Things go back to normal. Crises, on the other hand, do eventually lead to structural change, and in that sense play an important role in democracies.

So a good question to ask whenever something bad happens is whether it heralds a scandal or a crisis. When the phone-hacking story eventually broke, for example, many people (me included) thought that it represented a crisis. Now, several years – and a judicial enquiry – later, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, there was a lot of sound and fury, but it signified little. The tabloids are still doing their disgraceful thing, and Rebekah Brooks is back in the saddle. So it was just a scandal, after all.

When the TalkTalk hacking story broke and I heard the company’s chief executive say in a live radio interview that she couldn’t say whether the customer data that had allegedly been stolen had been stored in encrypted form, the Runciman question sprang immediately to mind. That the boss of a communications firm should be so ignorant about something so central to her business certainly sounded like a scandal…

Read on

LATER Interesting blog post by Bruce Schneier. He opens with an account of how the CIA’s Director and the software developer Grant Blakeman had their email accounts hacked. Then,

Neither of them should have been put through this. None of us should have to worry about this.

The problem is a system that makes this possible, and companies that don’t care because they don’t suffer the losses. It’s a classic market failure, and government intervention is how we have to fix the problem.

It’s only when the costs of insecurity exceed the costs of doing it right that companies will invest properly in our security. Companies need to be responsible for the personal information they store about us. They need to secure it better, and they need to suffer penalties if they improperly release it. This means regulatory security standards.

The government should not mandate how a company secures our data; that will move the responsibility to the government and stifle innovation. Instead, government should establish minimum standards for results, and let the market figure out how to do it most effectively. It should allow individuals whose information has been exposed sue for damages. This is a model that has worked in all other aspects of public safety, and it needs to be applied here as well.

He’s right. Only when the costs of insecurity exceed the costs of doing it right will companies invest properly in it. And governments can fix that, quickly, by changing the law. For once, this is something that’s not difficult to do, even in a democracy.