Security and the IoT

One of my regular readers, Zora Lopez, created the document below that lists a lot of interesting facts about the current state of security and the Internet of Things. Her diagram stands pretty well on its own and so I won’t describe it, but there are a few facts on the diagram that I find very interesting:

  • Looking out to 2020 is shows that consumer IoT is only a small slice of the total market. I’ve seen comments asking if the IoT industry can be successful by selling smart thermostats. The answer is that they don’t have to, and the industry is much larger than that and mostly driven by businesses.
  • There are already almost 5 billion IoT devices connected across the world, nearly one for every person on the planet.
  • One scary thing on the list is the black market value from stealing personal data. An older credit card number is worth $5 on the black market while a newly issued one is worth $32. Bank accounts and Paypal account info is worth $27. These numbers show why it pays to be a hacker.

Security and the Internet of Things
Source: ComputerScienceZone.org

Broadband Statistics for 2014

pie chartIn a blog last week I talked about how cable TV subscriptions in the US had dropped for the industry as a whole for the year ending in the first quarter of 2015. But Leichtman Research Group has published the statistics for US broadband for the end of 2014 and this shows a very different story.

It’s obvious that the improving economy has helped broadband sales and the largest cable companies and telcos added 3 million new broadband customers in 2014, up 114% over additions in 2013.

Following are the statistics for 2014 followed by a few observations:

Top Cable Companies                 Total               Added             %

Comcast                                     21,962,000        1,277,000          6.2%

Time Warner                              12,253,000           657,000          5.7%

Charter                                         5,072,000           432,000          9.3%

Cablevision                                   2,760,000           (20,000)        -0.7%

Suddenlink                                   1,149,100             78,800          7.4%

Mediacom                                    1,013,000             48,000          5.0%

WOW                                                727,800             19,600         2.8%

Cable ONE                                       488,454             15,823         3.3%

Other Cable Companies              6,525,000           150,000         2.4%

Total Top Cable                          51,960,354        2,658.223         5.4%

 

Top Telcos       

AT&T                                           16,028,000               1,000          0.0%

Verizon                                         9,205,000           190,000          2.1%

CenturyLink                                 6,082,000             91,000          1.5%

Frontier                                        2,342,500           108,500          4.9%

Windstream                                 1,131,600           (39,300)        -3.4%

FairPoint                                         321,624             (8,142)         -2.5%

Cincinnati Bell                                269,900               1,500          0.6%

Total Top Telcos                        35,380,624           344,558         1.0%

Total All                                      87,340,978        3,002,781         3.6%

A few notes on the numbers. ‘Other Cable Companies’ includes Cox and Bright House Networks. These numbers do not include smaller cable companies, smaller telcos, CLECs, fiber over-builders or municipalities. Just as a point of reference, it’s estimated that there were 123.2 million households in the US at the end of 2014, so these large companies sold broadband to 68.4% of them. Total US broadband penetration is currently estimated at around 73%, meaning the rest of the market is served by companies not on this list.

Some observations:

  • It’s obvious that large cable companies keep winning the battle for broadband and they captured 89% of the net additions for the year.
  • The cable company net additions are 123% more than this group saw in 2013.
  • Growth is slowing at the telcos  and the 2014 numbers are 72% of the growth seen by the group in 2013.
  • By adding almost 1.3 million broadband customers, Comcast now has more broadband customers than cable customers.
  • AT&T continues to add U-verse customers but has been losing older technology DSL customers.

 

Should You Consider Open Source Software?

grayLinux1600There is a big shift going on in the software world that you should keep an eye on. More and more large companies are moving big parts of their software platforms to open source software. The question I raise today is whether or not it’s now time for smaller companies to consider doing the same?

Open source software has been around for decades and used by programming purists who never trusted software from big companies like Microsoft. I can remember free versions of spreadsheets, word processors, and numerous other kinds of free software as far back as the early 80s. The free software never got much traction for a number of reasons, the primary of which is that it made it hard to share your work with other people not using the same free platforms. But a small business, or a writer, or anybody who created content just for their own use was able to get by without paying hundreds of dollars every few years for the latest Microsoft Office upgrades.

Small ISPs were the first group that I can remember using open source software for commercial purposes. In the early days of ISPs, when AOL and Compuserve were signing up millions of customers, there were a few thousand local ISPs that sprang up around the country. These small companies provided more personalized ISP services than the giant companies and catered largely to business customers. Some among these ISPs wrote software that took care of basic ISP functions like operating an email server or a DNS server and made this software available to other ISPs. I can remember recommending this software to telephone companies that were getting into the ISP business, with the reasoning that because it was open sourced it was constantly being improved (and it was free). But many of the telcos could not get over the trust factor of using something ‘free’ and instead went out and spent upwards of $50,000 on software that didn’t even have all the features and functionality of the free software.

Linux is the best-known open source software. At its peak it was only installed on about 1.5% of PCs, but the Linux kernel is now built into android and is on billions of phones and devices. I think it was the experience with Linux that gave large corporations the confidence to start using and even contributing to open source programming. This move has been further pushed by the need to deal with hackers. In the last few years open source software has dealt better with hacking, both because it has fewer vulnerabilities, but also because the software recovers much faster when problems arise. And this makes sense. Widely used open source software has hundreds of smart programmers watching after it and responding during an emergency where large corporate software might rely on only a small handful of programmers. Also, the small bugs in open source software are being tested and tweaked all the time whereas vulnerabilities on commercial software are often never noticed until it’s too late.

Today we are seeing some of the biggest tech companies take the open source approach with some of their software. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have accepted an open source philosophy for some of their software and have joined a legion of numerous fortune 500 companies that now rely on open source for some of their critical systems. The big companies are growing dissatisfied with the large operating systems like Oracle or PeopleSoft. While there are many things they like about these mega-software systems, there are parts of the big software systems that don’t work well for them and that are too hard to customize for their use. And these huge software systems are incredibly expensive. By the time a large corporation buys a large software system and then pays again to customize it for themselves they will have invested many millions along with having to pay big annual software maintenance fees.

Corporations also started breaking away from the large software packages when they found that more nimble software existed to handle some of their critical needs, such as the way that Salesforce has become a standard for CRM. Once they broke away from part of the big program systems it became easier to consider open source solutions for other needs.

As these large companies allow their programmers to work on open source platforms, those platforms get even better. Where Linux was largely written and maintained by people who also worked other jobs, there are now fleets of corporate programmers who are working to add to and improve open source software.

It’s not always the easiest thing in the world for a smaller company to make the transition to open source. Open source software doesn’t come in a nice neat package with dedicated customer support and training. But when I look around at my clients, I see them still spending a relative fortune on software for such things as billing systems, CRM systems, and hardware monitoring and interface software. Any small carrier who is spending more than a few hundred thousand dollars a year on traditional software might be better off to instead hire a programmer or two and let them find and implement open source software. It’s a bold move, but if it’s working for the big corporations it might well work for you.

Fact Checking the Search Engines

Scales-Of-Justice-12987500-300x300I laugh sometimes when I see how social media and other web outlets get a story very wrong. There is a whirlwind of stories going around right now about how Google is going to squash stories from Fox News and from other news outlets with which they don’t agree. And there is a huge gnashing of teeth by those who think this is a terrible thing.

The only problem with these stories is that they aren’t true. Google has recently introduced fact checking for medical information on their web site. They did this because they see that more than 1 in 20 Google searches are medical inquiries. People now largely go to the Internet first when they get a symptom. And so Google wants to make sure that people are getting reliable medical facts.

And there is good reason for them to do this. They way search engines work in general is that topics with the most sources on the web get ranked at the top of a search. So when somebody comes up with some quack medical tip, if that meme is then picked up on hundreds of other web sites and in social media, the new meme rises to the top of a search on that topic—regardless of how true it is.

There is a ton of quack medical and nutrition advice on the internet. Much of the quackery can be traced back to somebody with a motive to spread an untruth; generally that motive is financial. The pushers of nutrition supplements, pills to make you lose weight, books on curing cancer with herbs, etc. all stand to make money when what they are selling makes it to the top of a Google search.

Now contrast these spurious memes to good medical advice on the web. There are a handful of web sites like WebMD that provide very straightforward medical facts. But these sites are not often in the news and the symptoms of something like diabetes don’t make it into web articles at nearly the same rate as some crazy cure for diabetes might. And so over time the legitimate web sites get pushed further and further down a Google search list.

Google’s solution to the problem is to hire a doctor to list the medical sites that are legitimate and Google is going to arbitrarily boost those sites over other sources of medical information. You type in ‘symptoms of diabetes’ and you will now be led first to one of these sites and not to some crazy article. In doing this Google hasn’t suppressed anything and all of those other crazy medical sites and articles are still there in search – they just don’t sit at the top of the list. I think this is a wonderful idea and I laud Google for probably helping millions of people find the right medical facts.

However, it has been widely reported that this same thing is going to be done for all web searches and that Google is going to be the one to decide what is ‘true’ or not for all search topics. And so they would also decide what comes up first when you search for a topic on politics, religion, climate change, or the best recipe for brownies. Over the last few weeks Fox News made a huge deal out of this and stirred up the whole web over the topic. And since this is precisely what google does with shopping sites, the rumor sounds reasonable.

But it’s not true and Google is not doing this. There was a recent news release from Google about an internal Google research paper that talked about how Google might theoretically introduce more fact-checking. The report recommends that Google use what is called a ‘Knowledge Vault” that would contain verified facts of various types. The Google researchers use an example of websites that say that president Obama was born in Kenya. Since that is demonstrably not true, and if the president’s place of birth was listed in the Knowledge Vault, then a website making such a false claim would get a lower Google ranking.

The research paper goes on to recommend that only a few sources of information be used to feed such a Knowledge Vault, such as Wikipedia and Freebase which are crowd-sourced and largely self-policing. Unlike the medical searches, which Google is clearly tilting, they would not be the ones deciding what is factual, but would leave that up to sites that mostly get things right.

But none of this real. While Google has introduced the medical ranking system, the idea of introducing this for everything is nothing more than a research paper. It’s the kind of thought experiment you would expect a company that runs a search engine to think about. And even if Google ever decided to do this (and for topics like religion and politics that seems unlikely) they would not be the ones deciding what the ‘facts’ are, but would leave that up to the shared consensus on a dozen sites that are basically web encyclopedias. But since Google runs their search engine to make money I find it highly unlikely that they would ever be dumb enough to fiddle with politics, religion, or any of the other hot button topics—because they understand that as successful as they are, people could flock in mass to another search engine if they no longer trusted Google to lead them to wacky political web sites. Because if my Facebook feed is any indication, that is probably the second most popular search on the web these days.

 

Quantifying the Benefits of Fiber

san_francisco_skyline-wideFour times in the last two weeks I have been asked the question about how to value the public benefits of operating a fiber network. It’s a fair question, because anybody that builds a fiber network for a whole community brings added value beyond just the monetary value of the revenues of the network to the service provider.

Fiber networks automatically bring a number of community benefits. With greater download speeds people are enabled to telecommute more or to work from home full-time. Communities with fiber generally see a surge in entrepreneurship. Fiber speeds make it easier for people to partake in advanced video services like distance learning or telemedicine. Applications that require bandwidth are just starting to burgeon due to the expanding number of people with broadband.

But my clients weren’t asking about those ‘normal’ benefits of fiber. What they really wanted to know is if there is something more that they could and should be doing after they have built a fast network.

Each of these carriers had made a list of ideas they wanted to discuss with me, and interestingly, they all had two of the same things on their list. First, they wanted to know if it made sense to use their fast network to bring community-wide WiFi to their service area. They also are interested in looking harder at the digital divide—particularly at the idea of making sure that every school kid in their community has access to broadband at home.

Even more specifically, they wanted to understand if there is a model for helping to pay for these ideas. They were already convinced that these are good ideas and they wanted to know if there was some ways to monetize them.

And that is a really good question. I will have two upcoming blogs that will look at the business case that can be made for these two ideas. But today I want to take more time to look at the general idea of using a fast network to bring benefits to the community.

It’s really hard to measure the social benefits of doing something like broadband. It’s fairly easy to make a list of the ways that broadband can positively affect a community. But it’s nearly impossible to put a dollar value on most of those benefits. I remember a few years ago reading a report that Seattle commissioned that quantified the value of a fiber network for the city. I don’t remember the exact bottom line conclusion, but it estimated a really big dollar benefit for the community, something like $1 billion over a few years. I recall that the benefits were greater than the cost of building the network, and if those benefits were credible the city should have dropped everything to get this done.

But even a major fiber proponent like me had a hard time grasping some of the estimates that were made in the study. How can you really measure the value of things like telecommuting or being able to start a business from home? And how do you separate the value of fiber compared to the already existing benefits of broadband from cable modems and DSL? After all, people can work at home easily using a cable modem too (I am proof of that), and so the question becomes how can you figure out the incremental benefit of fiber?

In every study I have ever seen on the topic, somebody—usually an economist—develops some assumptions of the values created by fiber and then also estimates the number of times the benefit will be realized. That requires two major assumptions, neither of which can be verified.

But that doesn’t mean that value isn’t created, just that it’s nearly impossible to ever measure it even after it has happened. And this leads me to the conclusion that if you want to use a fiber network to do good, then find some way to pay for at least some part of what you are trying to accomplish and then go ahead and do it if you and the community are convinced it’s a good thing. You are never going to be able to find definitely proof of the community value of most ideas, even when you know those benefits are real.

I don’t see this as any different than many other things that are done for the public good. How can you measure the value of things like having a nice park in a city or of having a program to help the homeless? The answer is you can’t. But in most communities those kinds of things are done when the community reaches a consensus that it’s a thing worth doing. And I think that is the same way you look at the benefits of fiber. If the community wants the benefits that fiber can bring them, then the community and the network owner ought to be able to work together to make good things happen.

The Last Bell Company

Bell_logo_1969Cincinnati Bell is the only company in the US still using the Bell name. Founded in 1873 as a telegraph company, even before the invention of the telephone, the company has been serving a small 3-state area around Cincinnati since the founding of telephony. The company operated independently from the old Bell system because AT&T only owned a 32.6% share of the company.

The company abandoned the Bell name for a while in the 90s, changing its corporate name to the Broadwing Corporation, but changed its name back to Cincinnati Bell after a few years. The company has ventured outside its small footprint over the years. It bought IXC communications, a nationwide fiber network, and also spread out at one point as a CLEC to many parts of Ohio. The company’s biggest non-traditional offering was its wireless business which it sold to Verizon last year for $194 million. Like all independent wireless operators it was feeling the pinch of competition from the price wars going on in the wireless industry.

The company has seen the same drop-off of its traditional line of business as all telcos. The company’s traditional voice business of selling telephone lines fell from $520 million per year in 2004 to $203 million in 2014 and now represents only 16% of the company’s revenues. As homes and businesses ditched voice, the successful telcos have had to look elsewhere to replace those revenues.

Cincinnati Bell has undertaken a number of new business lines, and its most successful is its Fioptics business of building fiber to homes and businesses. The company reported at the end of 2014 that it had FTTP service in 91,000 homes and businesses, up from 11,000 in 2009. The company has also put a big emphasis on building fiber to businesses districts and has connected 5,800 commercial buildings in the region, compared to roughly 500 by main rival Time Warner.

In 2014 the company’s fiber business generated $310 million and expects those revenues to grow significantly as they expand the fiber network. The company plans on using the cash from the sale of its wireless business to further expand the fiber business, planning to spend $210 million on fiber expansion in 2015. At the end of 2014 the company had covered about 40% of the region with fiber and expects that to nearly double by the end of 2016.

The company has also done well serving the large corporations in their footprint like Proctor&Gamble and General Electric. The company has a full suite of large company products, such as cloud services, which it has now pushed down to smaller businesses. This business line generated $168 million in 2014 and is growing by double digits.

This effort makes Cncinnati Bell one of the largest fiber builders after Verizon FiOS. And like many fiber companies, they now offers a residential gigabit product priced at $89.99 per month for the first year and then going to $99.99. This is in a market where today Time Warner’s fastest product is 50 mbps download priced at a promotional price of $64.99 and reverting to $107.99 at the end of the promotion. Of course, we’ve seen Time Warner get much faster and become price competitive in other fiber markets like Austin.

For a company to reinvent itself is not easy or without risk. Like many companies that ventured into the CLEC business in the late 90s, Cincinnati Bell’s CLEC business came up a big bust. The company racked up $3 billion in debts and the business badly underperformed, threatening bankruptcy in 2003.

But the company made the right calls and changed directions again towards fiber and now seems to be on a solid path. The company has clearly reinvented itself again to be a fiber ISP. Companies who have been able to make that transition seem to be thriving. Offering the fastest data speeds of fiber in a given market seems to be a winning strategy and is letting companies like Cincinnati Bell benefit from the continuing growth of broadband services.

The company’s history is a good object lesson for others in the industry. The company foresaw the eventual death of voice as a viable business and took chances on launching into other areas. It fared poorly as a CLEC, a little better but not spectacularly as a wireless carrier, and seems to have hit a home run with fiber.

No company in this space can ever stop reinventing itself. The fiber business has thrived in part due to the continually growing demand for broadband, which has now achieved around 75% nationwide penetration of all households. But when that growth tops out, and as cable companies offer faster speeds, even fiber companies will need to stay nimble and creative to protect their revenues. Cincinnati Bell seems like a company that is always willing to take a fresh look at itself, and that’s a good lesson for all carriers.

Our Shifting Viewing Habits

Old TVNielsen did a huge survey earlier this year where they asked 30,000 viewers worldwide questions about how they view video content. The responses show how quickly people are changing their viewing habits in response to the proliferation of new options.

Even as recently as a little more than a decade ago, options to view video other than at the scheduled broadcast time  time were rare. I was an early adapter to TiVo and got my first set in 2000. At that time almost nobody watched TV on a time-delayed basis. But TiVo let me watch things on my own time schedule and I quickly invested in a CD burner that would let me capture content from the relatively small TiVo hard drive to further expand my options to watch on a time delay.

The cable companies responded to TiVo by introducing video on demand, which provided watch-anytime capabilities to a subset of their programming. I am probably somewhat unusual in that I can’t recall as an adult having ever watched a network TV series by watching at the scheduled time. I just have never been able to structure my life in that manner (or even remember what day of the week it is).

But today we have a huge array of options and this survey shows that people are using them. We can, of course, still watch TV live and sit and surf the channels. But the cable company video on demand offerings are much larger than in the past. The large cable companies and networks have also provided on-line delayed viewing for most of their popular content that is available with a cable subscription. There are the huge libraries of content at Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services. There is some pretty decent content today being produced only for the Web, along with an absolute mountain of content on YouTube. And for those willing to hunt, there are huge piles of older movies, newsreels, and offbeat content all over the web.

Here are a few of the more interesting findings of the Nielsen survey:

  • Only 48% of people now prefer to watch video live. This means that the shift to time-delayed viewing is now the predominant way of viewing video.
  • A gigantic 63% of people say that time-shifted viewing best fits their personal schedules.
  • Only 51% think that the big screen TV is the best device for watching video. This is a pretty amazing shift that says that people not only have gotten used to watching video on computers, tablets, and smartphones, but a lot of them now find those alternatives to be their favorite way to watch video.
  • 37% now finding watching video on their cellphone to be ‘convenient’.
  • Another 37% say that a tablet is as good of an alternative as a television screen or a computer.
  • 58% of people like to catch up on content through binge viewing and watching more than one episode at a time.
  • 21% of people are more likely to watch content that has a social media tie-in.

The survey also shows that the type of content affects which device we use. People still prefer the television when watching live news, documentaries, comedies, and dramas. But less than half of viewers choose the television screen to watch reality TV shows. And almost nobody uses a TV screen to watch short videos under 10 minutes in length.

Probably the most interesting phenomenon is that the choice of multiple screens is killing off the once-powerful social impact of watching television with others. I remember the days when the whole family sat around in the evening watching whatever happened to be on (since we could only get three networks that wasn’t a big choice). But this survey shows that 65% of viewers now watch video alone. I know that my wife and I share almost no common interests among the things we watch, and we routinely watch different things at the same time.

This shift is certainly still not over. I still have many older relatives who only watch traditional TV on the screen as it is broadcast. But just about the opposite is true of young viewers and they have largely abandoned the big TV screen except perhaps as background noise while they are multi-tasking on their phones.

The one place where these shifts ought to soon have a huge impact is TV advertising. With over half of all viewers now watching content on a time-delayed basis the traditional advertising model is quickly dying. Surprisingly, TV advertising spending is only slightly down this year, but it won’t be surprising one coming year to see a huge fall-off in TV advertising spending. It seems a waste to pay to advertise where fewer and fewer of us are viewing.

Barriers to Home IoT

HouseThe early IoT industry has been busy making smart thermostats and monitors of all kinds for homes, but the industry so far has not done as well as some industry analysts predicted. I think there are a number of barriers that have to be overcome for this to become a widespread technology.

Ease of Installation. Ideally you could buy an IoT device, take it out of the box, push a button, and it would work. But there are almost no devices yet like that, and many devices will never work like that. Hooking up a thermostat and many other smart devices means electrical wiring work and most people aren’t comfortable doing this on their own and are not always ready to pay an electrician to do this for an IoT device. Putting in smart door lock means changing out the old one, and anybody who ever changed a door lock knows that it is never as easy as it ought to be.

Ease of Connection. Even after you install most current IoT devices you aren’t done; you next have to connect them to your home network. We are not yet at a time when a device can self-configure, and perhaps we never want it to be that easy since a device that can do that can also be easily hacked to reconfigure. But if you think people are uncomfortable wiring a thermostat, there are just as many people who are uncomfortable messing with the settings on their home WiFi networks.

Fear of Hacking. It doesn’t take very much web research about home IoT devices to run into articles about the lack of security in these devices today. People don’t want an outsider to be able to hack into their surveillance cameras to watch them or to be able to maliciously tinker with the settings on any of their devices. Until the industry gets serious about security this fear factor is very rightfully going to a barrier to entry for a lot of people.

Ease of Using the Information Generated. When I read the literature on a home energy system it goes into great length to describe the great graphs and charts it will generate for me about my energy usage. But I don’t think most people want data – they want solutions. They don’t want to have to interpret data on hourly usage and then decide how to tinker with the settings to get the results they want. People want solutions and they are going to want IoT devices that understands what they want and takes care of the details. If you have to constantly monitor the data out of your IoT devices and then fiddle to achieve your goals, then what you’ve really gained is a new chore – and none of us want that. I think what we are waiting for is the smart house that can take care of all of the IoT devices for us.

Solving One Problem and Creating Another. I took a look at getting smart door locks. But as I thought through how they work I could see they were not for me. They work by interfacing with your cellphone and also have a manual override. But I am the prototypical absent-minded professor-type and I rarely have my phone with me when I leave the house, even when I should. I picture myself locked out of my house and not able to remember the manual code. And who the heck do you call – a locksmith or an IT guy? And oh crap, my phone is locked inside the house.

Value Proposition. In many cases I just don’t see the value proposition that some of the early IoT devices deliver. For instance, do smart locks really make my home any safer from a guy with a crowbar? Do I really need to pay extra for a smart refrigerator or dryer? It might be that the value propositions are there, but the manufacturers need to do a better job of convincing me why any device is indispensable in my life.

Only for Do-it-Yourselfers. All of these issues to me tell me that everybody who is not a do-it-yourselfer is going to want and need help with IoT, either in setting it up, configuring it or deciding how to use it. Today one a certain rather small percentage of the population is willing to tackle all of those tasks, and that is probably the limiting factor for most people.

But there is an upside to any business that can devise a business plan to help people with IoT devices. Cable companies, telcos and ISPs are certainly in an ideal spot to be that vendor for many homes. All that is really needed is that your customers like you and trust you. And trust is the key word. When you want to have a home security system installed you must trust the company and the people doing the work. I remember back when I lived in Maryland that Comcast once sent a tech to my house who was driving a dilapidated 25-year old pickup and dressed poorly. This guy was clearly a contractor and I would not have let this guy install a Comcast burglar alarm in my house. But the Comcast technician in Florida showed up in a Comcast truck and seemed very knowledgeable and professional and is somebody I would be more likely to trust.

There are a large percentage of people who are never going to want to fiddle with IoT devices, no matter how easy this becomes. I can’t ever foresee the day until maybe when we all have smart robots that a smart home is going to be easy enough for the average person. There are too many components of a smart house that are going to be beyond the comfort level of most people. And that sounds like a permanent new service business to me.

How We Deal with Surveillance

SpyVsSpyThe fact that governments spy on us has been in the news a lot in the last two years since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the US spying. It’s not just the US government; similar revelations have come out even in countries like Canada.

The folks at the Pew Research Center asked Americans how the knowledge that they are being watched has changed their behavior. Not surprisingly, a pretty large majority of people have made no changes. But the survey found that some people have changed their behavior, and here are some of the key findings in this survey:

  • 87% of people said that they had heard about the government surveillance. Only 31% said they had heard a lot about it and 56% said they had heard a little about it.
  • 34% of those who were aware of the surveillance had made at least one change to shield or hide their information from the government.
    • 17% changed their privacy settings on social media
    • 15% have used social media less often
    • 15% have begun avoiding apps that want access to their personal data
    • 14% say they are speaking to friends in person rather than communicating online or using the Internet
    • 13% uninstalled apps
    • 13% have edited themselves so as not to use what they consider to be sensitive terms online
  • Those who have made changes tend to be younger than 50 and also to be in the category of those who heard a lot about the surveillance, or who thought that the surveillance was not in the public’s interest.
  • Many people just cut back on using certain applications or have modified the way they use them. 18% did this with email, 17% with search engines, 15% with social media sites, 15% with cellphones, 13% with mobile apps, 13% with text messages, and 9% with landline phones.
  • 25% of people have started using more complex passwords.
  • Most people either do not know about or have not considered using tools that make it harder to track them. The percentages of people in these categories for various anti-surveillance tools include: 68% for search engines that don’t track you, 59% for email encryption software, 74% for browser plug-ins like DoNotTrackMe or Privacy Badger, 74% for proxy servers, and 70% for anonymity software like Tor.

The survey also asked how people feel about government surveillance and the results were mixed. 40% of Americans found it acceptable to monitor other Americans, 54% to monitor citizens of other countries, 60% to monitor leaders of both the US and of other countries, and 82% for monitoring ‘terrorists’.

Of those who are aware of the surveillance, 61% said that they are not confident that surveillance is serving the public interest. Republicans and those leaning Republican were more likely than Democrats to say they are losing confidence in surveillance.

In an interesting divide of opinion, 49% thought that courts were doing a good job of balancing the needs of intelligence against the rights to privacy while 49% thought they were not.

And finally, when asked how people felt about the government looking at their own personal data, 38% were concerned about emails, 39% were concerned about search engine results, 37% were concerned about cellphone usage, 31% were concerned about social media, and 29% were concerned about mobile apps.

I know I personally have cut way back on my viewing of cat videos. After all, I don’t want the government knowing I am a crazy old cat man (which unfortunately might be the case!).

How Real is Cord Cutting?

Fatty_watching_himself_on_TVAlmost every article you read these days about cable TV mentions cord cutting. Service provider are looking for products to satisfy cord cutters and analysts seem to be obsessed by it. But how real is it? I thought I’d take a look at the latest statistics since I haven’t done that for a while.

Total paying cable customers decreased by 31,000 customers in the first quarter of 2015 compared to a gain last year in the same quarter of 271,000. This is looking at cumulative customers for the whole industry including cable companies, telcos, and satellite. But within that number, the net losses for satellite for the quarter was 74,000 customers with a loss at Dish Networks of 134,000 customers and a gain for Direct TV of 60,000.

And cable companies as a whole are still losing customers to AT&T and Verizon, who together gained 129,000 new customers for the quarter, although as a group these two sectors had a tiny gain for the quarter.

This brings the overall loss for the year ending 1Q15 to 0.05%. While that doesn’t seem large, it’s the biggest (and the first) loss the industry as a whole has ever seen. And within the numbers is a worse story. Cable has now been shrinking for several years when measured against the growth of new households in the country. For the first quarter customers actually dropped 2.3% compared with the net change in total households, and for 2014 this was even worse with a net decline for the year of 2.8%.

As somebody who watched the telephone industry decline with landlines this is feeling very familiar. The industry first became sluggish for a few years, then had some tiny losses, and eventually began to bleed customers. But the loss of landlines was accompanied by the meteoric rise of cellphones, which gave people a good alternative to the home phone.

It’s impossible to sit and predict the same rapid decline of cable. For that to happen people are going to need to feel that the alternatives to cable are attractive enough for them to drop the traditional cable packages. So how are some of the alternatives to cable doing?

In the fourth quarter of last year Netflix streamed 10 billion hours of video, which represents 6% of all TV viewing. That number has been growing by double digits and is expected to continue to grow at that same fast rate. 6% of the market may not seem like a lot, but analysts say that Netflix contributed to 43% of the decline in ratings that TV experienced in 4Q14. So it’s not just that people are watching Netflix, but they are watching it during prime time.

And this is all very largely age-related. In the fourth quarter of 2014, viewing of linear TV (watching live broadcasts) was down 10.6%, a huge decrease over the year before. Millennials are flocking from traditional TV to either delayed viewing, viewing alternate content like Netflix, or viewing shorter content on their cellphones. Only about a quarter of millennials now watch linear TV while 44% of baby boomers do.

Linear viewing, in terms of hours watched, peaked in 2013 but has seen significant decreases since then. Over time this has to result in fewer people willing to pay the big monthly bill for something they don’t watch.

There have been surveys for years that predict an upcoming surge in cord cutting, but for various reasons none of those polls has held to be true. These polls tell that us that people are thinking about dropping cable subscriptions, but something is stopping them from pulling the trigger – there is a noted difference between intentions and actions.

There was another such survey recently released by TiVo. This poll says that about 1.5 million customers plan to ditch traditional cable in the next year. The survey says that another 38.1 million customers are dissatisfied with their pay-TV service. But that survey also reported that 20% of respondents had increased their TV packages within the last year, meaning there is a solid core of people who really love TV.

The TiVo survey might be right. When you consider that there has been no growth in cable for several years now it’s possible that there are already between 1 and 2 million people per year dropping cable, and that those drops are being masked by new households entering the market. But since most new households are younger and are the ones not buying cable that is probably not the case. The whole industry is scratching their head in the same way that I am, because the actual behavior in the market doesn’t match what surveys are telling them.