Ford Tackles Big Data And How It Can Improve Our Lives

Big Deal With Big Data, Ford Trends

Ford held its annual Trend Conference recently and discussed topics that went far and wide from their automobile roots with speakers expert in sustainability, data, design, and the growing prominence of women in the global marketplace. They shared their knowledge with us, and each other, encouraging the audience to ask questions and expand everyone’s points of view.

One session, What’s the Big Deal with Big Data, proved to be particularly fascinating, if not for the topic alone, but for the diverse speakers who tackled the same issue from very different angles. The panel included Don Butler of Ford Motor Company, Cynthia Czabala of InterContinental Hotels Group, Chuck Holland of UPS, Douglas Davis of Intel, Sarah Quinlan of MasterCard Advisors and Dan Wagner of Civis Analytics. It was quite a group.

Although the industry each represented was very different, the message was very much the same. Big data is a big deal and the challenge is to both manage all that information, utilizing just the pieces that will help them best serve their customers, and to do it in a way that doesn’t leave those customers feeling like their privacy has been compromised.

We are all, as individuals, so very aware of every bit of information we divulge, knowing that something as simple as a form filled in with your name and address is likely going to flow through myriad channels. It can be a very good thing, but it can also be a frightening thought that companies know so much about us.

Those companies are aware of the challenge, but throughout the session, there were common threads that might set your mind at ease. The goal of these companies, big and small, is not to spy on you and collect your data for nefarious purposes. The goal is to use data to make your experiences more personal and more satisfying.

Cynthia Czabala, Vice President, Data Services, InterContinental Hotels Group gave a great example of how small bits of data collected during a hotel stay can make future visits more rewarding for customers.

Say you’re a frequent traveler and when you dine with the hotel, you always order the same bottle of wine. The hotel knows what you order and can use that information in a very positive way. Rather than choosing to reward you with a gift card or something impersonal, they can instead choose to give you a bottle of your favorite wine as a thank you. Big data. Small details.

This is a personal piece of information, but it’s one that the hotel isn’t abusing, but using to make a customer’s life a little better. Don Butler, Executive Director, Connected Vehicles and Service at Ford spoke directly to our fears of companies gathering all our data and sharing it without our knowledge or permission.

Connected cars offer the opportunity to collect an incredible amount of information. Think about how much time you spend in your car and what your day-to-day travels, choices of radio stations, app usage, and even map destinations say about you. That’s a lot of data.

But, Butler said that your personal data is your personal data. Ford is interested in improving the driver experience, but knows that a car is a very personal space and that your date will always remain your data.

And that’s the crux of the issue. Big data is not going to get any smaller and the tools companies use to collect data will only grow more sophisticated in the future. That data can be a valuable tool for improving our lives and making our interactions with companies more personal, as long as the balance between what’s yours is yours, and what’s theirs is theirs, can be maintained.

Ford covered my expenses to attend this conference.

If You Are Transgender, Google May Out You. Here’s How You Can Protect Yourself.

Google products
Google Plus, Google Gmail, and Google Hangouts icons by Google. Image by Jules Sherred.

There as been a lot of news this past week about the very sad suicide of Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, which was the result of Grantland reporter Caleb Hannan outing her as transgender.

In the wake of this news, Violet Blue wrote an article for ZDNet, which uncovered how Google has also been outing transgender people after upgrading to Android 4.4 aka KitKat.

The TL;DR version of Blue’s article is:

  • Some trans people use one name on Google+—we will call this their real name. People on Google+ may or may not know they are transgender. That part is irrelevant. The part that is relevant is that is that their Google+ world is their real self. They may not be ready, for a variety of reasons, for their “in real life” world to know about this real self. But, because they are not “out” at work, with some peers, and/or family members, they use another name on for their Gmail and messaging on their phone—we will call this their assigned name at birth.
  • After upgrading to Android 4.4, Google Hangouts became their default SMS app.
  • Google Hangouts is tied to their real name listed on Google+.
  • Their assigned name at birth—which once appeared as their name in the old messaging app and Gmail—has suddenly been replaced with their real name, thanks to Google’s infinite “wisdom” of integrating all of their services with Google+.
  • Now, they’ve been outed without their consent or transparency on the part of Google about what will happen to your ID when you upgrade to Android 4.4.
  • Google is saying, to paraphrase, “This isn’t our fault. It’s user error.”

When I read the news last night, my heart sank. I frantically went through all of my accounts associated with my Google+ account to make sure my real name is listed everywhere. My Galaxy Note III is still running Android 4.3, so I didn’t have to worry about the Google Hangouts thing, just yet. But, I wanted to make sure that when the upgrade finally becomes available to me, I won’t have to worry about my assigned name at birth popping up somewhere.

You see, I’m already mostly out. So, that isn’t something I necessarily have to worry about. I’ve legally changed my name, which also means that my assigned name at birth was destroyed and new birth records and a new birth certificate was created. But, I do have a different type of “outing” to worry about.

There are people, including my entire family, who, despite a legal name change, refuse to call me by my real name. New people come into my life who do not know I had an assigned birth name that differs from my legal name. I don’t ever want to give anyone any more “reason” to use my wrong name, or gain knowledge of it without it being on my terms.

After all, this is my life, my name, my identity. I should have control over this very private part of my life. And, so should you.

After my legal name change, I had to update all of my online profiles. It is very easy to miss one, especially if some of your online profiles are throw-away accounts. The Gmail account attached to my Google+ profile is one of my throw-away accounts, because of privacy and personal safety reason.

Missing from Blue’s article are some steps you can take in order to protect your identity. Here are two things you can do, right now, in order to protect yourself:

  1. If your situation is similar to mine, meaning: you are out; or, have recently legally changed your name, but you don’t want new people to know your past self; and/or you have people who refuse to call you by your real name and you don’t want to give them any more “reason” to be transphobic towards you, then do the following:
    1. Log into your Gmail account.
    2. Click the spokes button under your avatar.
    3. Click “Settings.”
    4. Click “Accounts.”
    5. Beside “Send mail as:” make sure it’s the same name as your Google+ account. Make sure your assigned name at birth isn’t listed when you click “Edit info.” After my legal name change, it took quite some time for Google to erase my old name. It’s only quite recent that it was no longer listed in Gmail.
  2. If your situation is such where you need to use your assigned name at work, with your peers, and with your family, then you’ll have to set up another Gmail account using your real name. It’s not ideal, but it is what a lot of my trans peers have done. Once you setup the new Gmail account, you’ll need to do the following:
    1. Create a new Google+ account that is attached to the Gmail account that uses your real name.
    2. Start re-adding people to your circles, rejoin all your communities, notify your Google+ pals of the changed account, etc. Yes, it’s a lot of work.
    3. Deactivate the Google+ account that is attached to your assigned name at birth. Because, despite your Google+ account using your real name and your Gmail account using your assigned name, soon the Google+ name will overwrite your assigned name. If you need to keep that account as your assigned name, you cannot have it attached to a Google+ account unless you want to change the Google+ account name to your assigned named. I really hope this point makes sense, because it is a little convoluted and it shouldn’t have to be.
    4. Add the new account which is using your real name to your Android devices. The upside to Android is that you can be logged into different accounts for different apps. I am logged into my throw-away Google account for Google+ (I never check my Gmail and I don’t use Google Hangouts), and my real name account for Google Play.

While the above steps are not ideal, these are some things you can do. The ideal thing would be for Google to wake up and realize that there are valid reasons for using different identities for different products. Not everyone who uses a pseudonym is a troll. Not only could these people be transgender and, for very valid reasons, have to hide this fact. But, they could also be people escaping abusive relationships, who still have to use two sets of names. And the list can go on.

I hope I made sense. If not, please feel free to ask a question in comments, and I’ll do my best to clarify.

Lay-Geek’s Guide to the Facebook Timeline Part 2: Exploring the Privacy Settings

One of the things Facebook is bragging about is improvements to their privacy settings.  How improved are they, really?

Our super-dooper social media GeekMoms posed a question a couple weeks ago. “So how are you liking the Facebook Timeline? Got any questions you’d like us to tackle at GeekMom?

This single question generated so many responses, varying from “I LOVE LOVE LOVE the FEATURE feature!” to “I absolutely hate it…” four minutes later.

I didn’t show all the responses in this screen shot, but there were many. As you can see, they ranged from the first responder’s “LOVE LOVE LOVE…” to the second responder’s “I absolutely hate it…”. Most of the responses were questions about the privacy settings. So on this post, I want to share what I’ve learned so far about the Privacy Settings.

The perception seemed to be that the Timeline re-defaulted everything to public, but I don’t think that’s the case. If you had set a picture to “Friends Only” or “Friends of Friends,” from my experience, the photo should have remained that way.

Unfortunately, I do believe that several items that used to not have a privacy setting at all defaulted to “Public.” An example of this is the data that used to just sit within your “Info” section, such as Hometown, Employers and Education. Those data points are now scattered amongst your Timeline based on the dates you had specified when you first set up the “Info” section and seemed to have defaulted to public.

Let’s look at the various ways you can tune your privacy settings.  In my opinion, Facebook has made the ability to change these settings easier than ever!  The challenge is knowing what to do.

Overall Privacy Settings

First of all, you can start with the main privacy settings page to set a “Default Setting.”  Visit the downward-pointing arrowhead in the upper right corner of your Facebook page, just to the left of the ticker.  It should always be there no matter what you’re doing in Facebook.  Select the “Privacy Settings” menu.

The improved Privacy Settings menu offers a one-stop shop to tune your privacy settings to whatever you want MOST of your posts to be.  The “Default Privacy” selection will apply to all future posts after changing it.  If you want to edit your past posts, scroll down a little on this page for that option.

There are numerous settings here, from editing what non-friends see when they search your profile, to setting your app privacy.  Take a moment to explore these settings.  They’re easier than ever now!

Individual Post Settings

Now let’s say you have uploaded a status or picture that you’d prefer to be public, such as a photo from a music concert that you want to share with anyone who might have been at that concert.  Even though most of your items might be for friends only, you can make individual post changes using the “Activity Log,” whose button is just below your cover photo on your profile page.

Use the Activity Log to change individual privacy settings on your Timeline posts.

The Activity Log is supposed to be able to display EVERYTHING pertaining to your Facebook life. Status updates, comments, “Likes,” photos, changes to your info, etc. Things your friends are doing that pertain to you will show up also, such as if a friend checks you in to a location, or if you get tagged in a photo.  You can use the drop down menu in the upper right, which will start with “All,” to filter out other peoples’ posts.

Click on the icon just to the left of the circle/star in each entry to bring up a drop down menu and select who you want to view the information.  You can also put information on…or take information off…the News Feed page.

Note: If the post in your activity log is owned by someone else, you will NOT see the option to change the individual privacy.  This only applies to YOUR statuses and photos.  You cannot set a comment on someone else’s status or photo.

Do I Want This on my Timeline?

Finally, Facebook has given users the option to present information on the News Feed, but not on the Timeline.  This was great when I was changing my Cover Photo ten billion times in one day.  That kept showing up in my Timeline and was driving more relevant information, such as pictures of my kids enjoying their Christmas, further down.

Click the circle on each Activity Log post to use the drop-down menu. Select how you want the information presented on your Timeline, or choose to remove it altogether.

For Timeline, you have three choices: show on Timeline, hide from Timeline, or “feature” on Timeline.  While “hiding” is pretty self-explanatory, there is a subtle difference between “show” and “feature.”  Merely showing a post on the Timeline will set the post to sit on one side of the page or the other.  In other words, it will be to the left or right of the center line; there’s nothing special about the right or left of the center line. My posts flip to the left and right all the time as I add items to my profile page.

On the other hand, if you choose to “Feature” a post on Timeline, the item will straddle the center line and allow another 851 x 315 px worth of picture.

A “Featured” item will straddle both sides of the Timeline. When you first start Timeline, major life events will be pulled from your Info page, become “Featured” and will default to “Public” visibility. Be careful with these! Click the little icon to the right of the date to change the privacy settings of these posts.

Hopefully this helps you out some!  As the title states, I’m a “lay-geek” when it comes to Facebook, but I figured if I had muddled through this all wondering how it all works, perhaps I wasn’t the only one feeling this way!

What are your thoughts on the new Facebook privacy settings?  Did you find them easier or more difficult?