LinkedIn’s Sneaky UX Trick

Occasionally at the moment when you click a LinkedIn notification on your phone, the LinkedIn app opens and – before you’re taken to the notification – you’re presented with this screen:

That looks fairly mundane at first glance. Often apps present you with information before taking you to wherever you were going. But… if you click ‘Continue’ there, you’re actually saying “I agree to LinkedIn importing my phone address book, and storing all of those personally identifiable details within their database”.

I think that’s a bit sneaky for 3 reasons:

  1. At first glance it’s not obvious that clicking ‘continue’ will do something as big as import your address book (!)
  2. This appears when you click on a notification from your phone (eg. someone new connecting to you). In that context, ‘Continue’ feels like it means ‘Continue on to where we were taking you’; not ‘Continue importing the details of all of my friends/family/colleagues’.
  3. There is no ‘skip this’ option at all. Your 2 choices are ‘Continue’ (presented in high-contrast) or ‘Learn More’ (presented in grey-on-grey text).

I think: it feels like this has been done with the intent of getting people to click ‘Continue’ without realising what they’re doing, or because it appears to be their only real choice.

What do you think?

The Real Original Source of the Phrase “Big Data”

Big Data

In early 2013, Steve Lohr of the New York Times published an article where he tracked down the origin of the phrase “Big Data”. He found several different sources, and declared that it originated in the mid-1990s. But… he specifically opted to conclude that the very earliest source he could find – from 1989 – was not the originator. His reasoning was based on 2 factors:

  1. He wanted to credit someone who used the phrase in a technical way: “The credit, it seemed to me, should go to someone who was aware of the computing context.”
  2. He did not feel that the original usage of the phrase fitted the same idea of ‘Big Data’ as his. He therefore concluded the first usage was: “not, I don’t think, a use of the term that suggests an inkling of the technology we call Big Data today.”

I read Steve’s article at the time, where he declared that the first ever use of “Big Data” was not the originator, and thought “that’s a little unfair”. I keep going back to it, because the first source he found, and apparently the original usage of the phrase “Big Data” was very insightful, and covers perhaps the two biggest issues in relation to data today: its massive worth from a corporate point of view, and its massive privacy implications from a consumer point of view.

The original article was published on July 26th, 1989, under the headline “How Did They Get Your Name? Direct-mail Firms Have Vast Intelligence Network Tracking Consumers”. It was written by Erik Larson (now a best-selling author). The article talks about organisations gathering, joining, and mining data on millions of people, to use for marketing purposes. Here are a couple of example paragraphs:

“We’ve been scavenged by data pickers who sifted through our driving record and auto registrations, our deed and our mortgage, in search of what direct mailers see as the keys to our identities; our sexes, ages, the ages of our cars, the equity we hold in our home.

The scavengers record this data in central computers, which, in turn, merge it with other streams of revelatory data collected from other sources – the types of magazines we subscribe to, the organizations we support, how much credit we’ve got left – and then spit it all out (for a price) to virtually anyone who wants it.”

It goes on to talk about future implications of all of this:

It is an interesting exercise to imagine the big marketing databases put to use in other times, other places, by less trustworthy souls. What, for instance, might health insurers do with the subscription lists of gay publications?

Despite the dated & simplistic example, this is of course what many people today worry about: what governments try to regulate, where companies spend millions setting up & utilising systems, what we use in real time to deliver relevant ads to people as they browse websites, and – with a little stretching – what much of the NSA/Edward Snowden stuff was about. It is an article from 1989 talking about one of the biggest issues in technology today. And there, in the middle, is the first ever usage of the phrase “Big Data”:


There’s a copy of the original article over on the Orlando Sentinel website, ironically now full of real-time targeted ads. Erik Larson later released a book expanding on the topic “The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities”. Despite being 25 years old, both the article and the book essentially talk about one of the versions of the phrase “Big Data” we use today: a cornerstone of modern marketing from a corporate point of view, and a privacy worry from a consumer point of view for many.

BuzzFeed is Watching You

When you visit BuzzFeed, they record lots of information about you.

Most websites record some information. BuzzFeed record a whole ton. I’ll start with the fairly mundane stuff, and then move on to one example of some slightly more scary stuff.

First: The Mundane Bits

Here’s a snapshot of what BuzzFeed records when you land on a page. They actually record much more than this, but this is just the info they pass to Google (stored within Google Analytics):

Here’s a description of what’s going on there:

The first line there is how many times in total I’ve visited the site (above this, which I’ve skipped for brevity, it also records the time I first visited, and a timestamp of my current visit).

Below that, the ‘Custom Var’ block is made up of elements BuzzFeed have actively decided “we need to record this in addition to what Google Analytics gives us out of the box”. Against these, you can see ‘scope’. A scope of ’1′ means it’s something recorded about the user, ’2′ means it’s recorded about the current visit, ‘page’ means it’s just a piece of information about the page itself.

There you can see other info they’re tracking, including:

  • Have you connected Facebook with BuzzFeed?
  • Do you have email updates enabled?
  • Do they know your gender & age?
  • How many times have you shared their content directly to Facebook & Twitter & via Email?
  • Are you logged in?
  • Which country are you in?
  • Are you a buzzfeed editor?
  • …and about 25 other pieces of information.

Within this you can also see it records ‘username’. I think that’s recording my user status, and an encoded version of my username. If I log in using 2 different browsers right now, it assigns me that same username string, but I’m going to caveat that I’m not 100% sure they’re recording that it is ‘me’ browsing the site (ie. that they’re able to link the data they’re recording in Google Analytics about my activity on the site back to my email address and other personally identifiable information). Either way, everything we’ve covered so far is quite mundane.

The Scary Bit

The scary bit occurs when you think about certain types of BuzzFeed content; most specifically: quizzes. Most quizzes are extremely benign – the stereotypical “Which [currently popular fictional TV show] Character Are You?” for example. But some of their quizzes are very specific, and very personal.

Here, for example, is a set of questions from a “How Privileged are You?” quiz, which has had 2,057,419 views at the time I write this. I’ve picked some of the questions that may cause you to think “actually, I wouldn’t necessarily want anyone recording my answers here”.

When you click any of those quiz answers, BuzzFeed record all of the mundane information we looked at earlier, plus they also records this:

Here’s what’s they’re recording there:

  • ‘event’ simply means something happened that BuzzFeed chose to record in Google Analytics.
  • ‘Buzz:content’ is how they’ve categorised the type of event.
  • ‘clickab:quiz-answer’ means that the event was a quiz answer.
  • ‘ad_unit_design3:desktopcontrol’ seems to be their definition of the design of the quiz answer that was clicked.
  • ‘ol:1218987′ is the quiz ID. In other words, if they wish, they could say “show me all the data for quiz 1218987″ knowing that’s the ‘Check Your Privelege’ quiz.
  • ’1219024′ is the actual answer I checked. Each quiz answer on BuzzFeed has a unique ID like this. Ie. if you click “I have never had an eating disorder” they record that click.

In other words, if I had access to the BuzzFeed Google Analytics data, I could query data for people who got to the end of the quiz & indicated – by not checking that particular answer – that they have had an eating disorder. Or that they have tried to change their gender. Or I could run a query along the following lines if I wished:

  • Show me all the data for anyone who answered the “Check Your Privelege” quiz but did not check “I have never taken medication for my mental health”.

In BuzzFeed’s defense, I’m sure when they set up the tracking in the first place they didn’t foresee that they’d be recording data from quizzes of this personal depth. This is just a single example, but I suspect this particular quiz would have had less than 2 million views if everyone completing it realised every click was being recorded & could potentially be reported on later – whether that data is fully identifiable back to individual users, or pseudonymous, or even totally anonymous.

What do you think?

.UK Domains Launched – Sorry!

On June 10th 2014, at 8am, Nominet (the UK domain registry) launched “.uk” domains. In other words, I could now move this site to “” rather than “”.

To announce the launch – the biggest change to UK internet addresses in many, many years – Nominet have launched what they call “the world’s largest welcome sign”, visible from 35,000 feet. Here’s how the Daily Mail described this enormous sign:

Sadly – here’s what you see if you visit the URL on the world’s largest welcome sign:

A shame to have launched the world’s largest welcome sign leading to a large “Sorry…” notice, and a nice lesson to remember to double check your landing pages when running multi-channel campaigns.

Note: If you’d like a full summary of the .uk change, what it means, and what to do about it, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll update this post later.

The John Lewis Email Spam Fine

Part of the email marketing industry in the UK is built around this phrase:

‘in the course of a sale or negotiations for the sale of a product or service’.

Those are the conditions under which – if you have collected an email address – you are allowed to send marketing emails (b2c), even if they have not explicitly opted in to receive mail from you.

Most sites assume signing up for an account, or beginning a checkout process to fall within ‘negotations for the sale of a product service’. As a result, they consider it perfectly ok to send you abandoned basket emails if you have begun checkout, and it’s fairly standard practice to email users who have registered for an account with you, as long as they have not specifically opted out.

Here’s how the Information Commissioner’s Office talk about this:

John Lewis essentially did exactly that, or considered they had. Here is how the man who took them to court (a Sky News producer) described John Lewis’ argument: (from

To be clear: What John Lewis were doing here is considered fairly good practice. The user signed up for an account. They had the opportunity to opt out & did not. Yet the court still considered it spam & issued a fine.

What does this mean for email marketing? 

If you are a business or a website owner:

  • It may mean you should relook at the wording on your website to make it clear that an account signup is considered ‘negotiation toward a sale’.
  • It may mean you need to speak to your abandoned basket email provider to ask “are we definitely covered here? If not, what do we need to do?”
  • It may mean that your ‘opt out’ box should be more prominent after signing up & that you highlight that the sign up is considered the beginning of a relationship.
  • It may mean you should check through how your existing email addresses have been acquired a little more thoroughly.
  • It may mean some sites need to watch out for scammers, putting in spam claims to try and win the fine money.
  • It may even mean you need to move to double opt-in, or more heavily confirm opt-ins, as – of course – anyone can enter anyone else’s email address on a form, it is not necessarily confirmation from the actual email owner that they wish to receive your communications.
  • It may mean you should think about not emailing users unless they have explicitly ticked a box, even though the Information Commissioner says it’s fine to do just that under some conditions.

Or, this may just be a fluke, and another court may decide a similar case entirely differently.

UKIP – Powered By Foreign Technology

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have launched a new advertising campaign. It hinges on 2 key messages:

  1. Foreign labour is damaging the UK.
  2. Much of UK law is controlled from overseas.

Here are two of their posters covering these issues:


Based on this, you may think they’d be keen on UK technology. Yet here’s the technology behind UKIP’s website:


Even their domain name is not from the UK: the “.org” in is governed from the USA.

The Mirror’s Crying Child Photo – Not All That it Seems

Here’s the front cover of the Daily Mirror. A haunting image of a starving British child, crying their eyes out.

Only… the child is from the Bay Area, and the photo was purchased from Flickr via Getty Images…

Embedded image permalink

Here’s the source of the original image: (Here’s a happier one taken the following day: Apparently she was crying over an earthworm.)

An excellent photo, taken by the excellent Lauren Rosenbaum in November 2009, shared on a US website (Flickr), sold by an American photo agency (Getty Images), used to illustrate poverty in Britain.

  • Does it matter that the photo is not really a starving child?
  • Does it matter that the photo wasn’t even taken in the UK?
  • Is there an ethical issue in buying a stock photo of a child – not in poverty – and using it to illustrate poverty?
  • Does it matter that the headline begins “Britain, 2014″, but the photo is actually “USA, 2009″?

I’m not sure on the answers to any of the above, but interesting to think about.

What do you think?


How the US Airways Tweet Happened

If you’re reading this, you will know that US Airways sent an incredibly lewd photo to one of their passengers in response to a complaint.

Here is the massively censored version of the Tweet:

The 2 Key Events:

  1. Very shortly before the US Airways tweet, the @ARTxDEALER Twitter account posted ‘the photo’, addressing the Tweet to @AmericanAir. (side-note: American Air & US Airways recently merged)
  2. US Airways posted a response to user @ElleRafter: “We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it here for review and follow up:” (I’ve deliberately changed that URL to protect the innocent).

The Actual Explanation:

  • US Airways recently merged with American Air.
  • Whoever is in control of the US Airways twitter account also monitors American Air’s brand on Twitter.
  • Having seen the lewd photo sent to American Air, the social media exec copied the URL (perhaps emailing it to someone to report it, for example)
  • When they responded to @ElleRafter, instead of pasting the URL of their complaints form, they accidentally pasted the twitter image URL. In doing that, it reattached the image to their tweet.

The key piece of information is that if you copy & paste a ‘…’ Twitter photo URL into your tweet, it reattaches that photo to your tweet.

Summary: Mystery solved. The twitter account ‘@ARTxDEALER’ accidentally caused the whole thing. (I wouldn’t recommend visiting their account – not safe for work!)

Very good luck to the poor person in charge of the US Airways/American Air twitter accounts. A tough job and – from the looks of things – an honest mistake.

How to Beat 2-Factor Authentication

You may have noticed these fake ‘Log into Google’ pages appearing more and more. They (and equivalents for other services) have very quickly become one of the main ways hackers use to steal other users’ accounts: (look carefully at the URL)

fake google login screen

The usual solution put forward to avoid falling for these is to ‘use 2-factor authentication’. 2-Factor Authentication is very, very good, and everyone should enable it where possible. But… it does not necessarily protect you from attacks using systems like the above. Here’s how a hacker could get around it if they were determined:

  1. The hacker sends an email to someone that redirects them to a fake ‘log in to Google’ page.
  2. At the point the user enters their login details, the hacker’s program automatically attempts to log into Google itself.
  3. If the hacker is presented with a ‘Please enter your code…’ screen, Google will have automatically sent a code directly via SMS to the user. The hacker should therefore present the user with their own ”Please enter your code’ box.
  4. The hacker would then wait for the user to receive the code that Google has sent, and typed it into the hacker’s own “enter your code” box.
  5. The hacker would then use that code to immediately log into Google as the user, defeating the 2-step authentication.

That’s all sneaky, and horrible, but it’s so straightforward that I’m sure it will start happening soon.

3 Factor Authentication? Or ‘Confirmed’ 2 Factor Authentication?

The obvious next step is ’3-step authentication’ which is: After Google have sent the login code and the user has logged in, they should then text another message to the user’s phone, simply saying ‘Login successful. If you have not just successfully logged in, please reply STOP to this message’.

An Interview with Apple’s Founder

Here is an interview with the founder of a company that’s played a fair-sized part in shaping the modern world: Apple. Below you’ll find a 2,000 word interview where he very kindly gives his insights and advice on careers, regret, misconceptions, and the characteristics behind Apple’s success.

Which Apple Founder?

If you asked 1,000 people on the street “Who founded Apple?” most would be able to tell you “Steve Jobs”. Some may say “Steve Jobs… and the other guy” (some may even know Steve Wozniak’s name). And, if you were very lucky, some of the most tech savvy among them may give you the correct answer, as illustrated by a Google search for ‘Apple Founders’:


If you Google ‘Ron Wayne’, you’ll find he was born in 1934, he worked at Atari as well as founding Apple, he drew the first Apple logo, wrote their founding partnership document, wrote their first manual, and – at one time – owned 10% of their shares.

You would also find lots of articles focusing on him relinquishing his shares, how he left the company less than 2 weeks after founding it, and dwelling on how much theoretical money he ‘lost’ by doing so. Below are 9 questions with Ron, talking about his life, his single regret about Apple, his feelings on technology & society, prejudice, and how he would like to be remembered in 100 years.

Q1. What are some of the things you’re most proud of in your career?

“This reply will probably disappoint you, but in terms of technical achievements, I fear I’ve accomplished very little. For a start, I wasted early decades of my life (marked by the acquisition of a dozen significant patents) before I came to fully realize that the life of an independent inventor, in the U.S., is a treadmill to oblivion – because this happens to be the only advanced country in the world where it is not a crime infringe on a patent. This means that by acquiring a patent, the independent inventor is telling the corporate world precisely what he’s discovered, and then is given 17 years in which to defend himself in civil court, against such fabulously wealthy opponents as GE, Borg-Warner and Westinghouse. One might just as well chew on razor blades, or do something equally as ridiculous.” [ed: You can read all about these mis-adventures in Ron's autobiography "Adventures of an Apple Founder".]

“But to return to the initial question “What are the things I’m most proud of in my career?”, I think I’m most proud of having pursued my own technological passions – and of the fact that without a formal education in either electronics or engineering, I was still able to conclude a half-century career in these fields, as Chief Engineer at a small electronics firm in Salinas, California. But please do not misread me. My lack of formal education was due to the circumstances throughout my developing years, rather than to a philosophical opposition to formal education. I simply happened to develop my career during an era in which such a professional life-style was still possible. Only under the most extreme circumstances could such an approach be possible, under the complex technolgies of today’s world. More then that, its not a course of career development that I’d recommend to anyone.”

Q2. If you had founded a company other than Apple, which would you have liked it be, and why?

“As a point of interest, I actually did found a corporation of my own, in Las Vegas during the early 1970s, focused on the design and development of new electronic gaming machines. During its brief life, I actually succeeded in having equipment of my own design, qualified for street service through the Nevada State Gaming Control Board. But I wasn’t long involved in this effort before I realized that I had no business, being in business. The fact is, I came to realize that I was a helluva lot better as an engineer, than as a businessman. As a result, in less than a year the whole thing came unglued, and I eventually returned to California with $600 in borrowed money. Then over the next 18 months I bought back every share of the corporate stock, and made certain that every creditor was paid off at 100 cents on the dollar. I knew that my “corporate shell” was there so that I wouldn’t have to do that. But my personal need to be able to look in a mirror without cringing, denied me the use of such protection.”

Q3. A lot of your posts on your blog are about politics and social justice. What role do you think technology can or should play in these fields?

“I truly believe that successful corporate enterprises – technological or otherwise – are supposed to be functional entities within a “civilized” society. And if such corporate entities (as the Supreme Court has suggested) truly are “people too”, then they have an equal obligation to behave in a civilized manner, particularly among the ocean of “human” people, within who’s society they are “privileged” to exist. Make profit, by all means – but not in the fashion of organized thuggery – and then consider, at least peripherally, how some nominal portion of that profit might be used to support and enhance the well-being of people within that society, upon whom they ultimately depend, for their own success.”

Q4. You sold Apple’s founding contract for $1.5m, making it one of the most expensive corporate documents in history. What did you do/will you do with the money?

“This question reminds me an anecdote, about two elder gentlemen meeting on a steetcorner, after not having met for some time. One says to the other… “Hello George, I heard you made $50,000 in oil last week?” The other man then replied, through a sarcastic grin… “Well, you’re almost right – except it wasn’t oil, it was coal – it wasn’t last week, it was last month – it wasn’t $50,000, it was $100,000, – and I didn’t make it. I lost it.”

About 20 years ago, while working at Thor Electronics, I came across an ad by a dealer in autographs. I then remembered this “old Apple contract”, which was then collecting dust in my filing cabinet, and which carried the signatures of Jobs, Woz and myself. After a brief discussion, I sold the contract to the gentleman – for $500. That was the same contract which, about a year ago, went at auction for 1.3 millions. In this event alone, you see the story of my life – and out of my entire “Apple” experience, this is truly the only incident that I honestly regret.

There is this, however. After a brief meeting in my apartment, between Mr. Jobs, Mr. Wozniak and myself, it was decided that the three of us would found the Apple Computer Company. At that point, I immediately sat down to my typewriter and typed out three copies of that now-famous contract. This means that even though my actual compensation was quite trivial, I can honestly say that in that moment I actually created an artifact which eventually sold at auction for more than a million dollars. In some sort of convoluted way, I suppose that’s some kind of accomplishment.”

Q5. Many of the articles written about you focus on a false ‘with hindsight’ idea that you have missed out on billions. Has the decision, or have these articles ever caused you to feel regret? Do you have any tips for overcoming regret?

“It’s easily said that “I never had any regrets over that decision.”. But I can effective prove the truth of that statement. Aside from the fact that I had several well-founded reasons for not continuing with the Apple enterprise, during the several years that followed, on at least three occasions, Jobs offered me a position with Apple, and on each occassion, I graciously declined. In large part that decision was based on my “engineering style”. I was in my late 40s by that time, and had evolved into an approach to product-development which would involve me in very stage of a product’s creation – from concept development, to prototyping, to documentation, to production planning, and even to the development of production work-station design. It was this “soup-to-nuts” approach to engineering (admittedly a 19th century engineering philosophy), which led me to always ply my skills with small companies, where I could wear six hats. It was a philosophy that eventually laid the foundation for my 16-year stint at Thor Electronics. During that 16 years, I was the Chief Engineer because I was their only engineer. And I was also the Chief Draftsman for the same reason. That kind of engineering style could never have worked at Apple, or any other massive enterprise, for that matter.

How should one deal with regret? Simple. By locking your patterns of thinking into “reason” rather than “emotion”. For example, if I had later decided that my choice to separate from Apple had been a bad idea (which I hadn’t) the rational question must immediately pop up. “Why should I squander my phsychological energy, and my potentially productive tomorrows, making myself sick over the “yesterdays”, about which I can do absolutely nothing?”

In short, if one makes mistakes – learn from them. Don’t grieve over them. Yet I’ll also add, that if someone can actually smarten-up from their mistakes – I should by now be the wisest man in the world.”

Q6. Having seen Apple’s early days from both the in & outside, how much of the company’s eventual success do you put down to each of the 4: Luck, Hard Work, Talent, Personality.

“This is simple. Start with hard work – but also with the realization that in pursuit of ones own passions (as with Steve Wozniak), “hard work”, is just another word for “fun”. I’ve always told people, “Find a job that gives you so much pleasure that you’d be willing to do it for nothing, and you’ll never work a day in your life!”

Talent and personality is also unquestionably a benefit, but one that’s heavily outweighed by the others – passion, and in too many instances, luck.

When it comes to “luck”, an almost totally overlooked element, at the outset of Apple, which profoundly influenced the ultimate success of the enterprise, was the linkage between Jobs and Wozniak, the their finder, Mr. Art Rock. I don’t know if that linkage was by luck, or by cleverness on the part of Mr. Jobs. But without it, the success of Apple would have been strongly impeded. It had always been my experience that whenever an “investor” came in to support a creative mind, “money” always wanted control. But Mr. Rock was far wiser than that, so that when he linked Jobs and Wozniak to the millions needed to start the enterprise, he (Rock) made certain that the “boys” jointly retained the critical 51%. It was this key decision which guaranteed that creative genius would dominate the corporation’s future, and it’s inevitable success.”

Q7. You’ve said that Steve Jobs was the first person at Atari to whom you ‘came out’ as being gay. Do you think that would no longer be an issue today? If not, how do you think progress could be achieved to a point where sexuality and/or gender are no longer issues that trouble people?

“It is a tragic reality of the human condition that prejudice too often trumps reason. I think that the likely reason for this is that its easier to make one’s self feel superior, if others (who happen to be different) can be labelled inferior. And easier still, if one can link to others, of prejudiced thinking, to then use each other as sounding boards. The net result of this reality, is that humen social progress tends to flow like cement. I’ve presented substantial comments on this, and similar issues, in my opus magnum, “Insolence of Office“.

Q8. Do you have any big pieces of advice for someone looking to pursue a career in a ‘digital’ field, or mid-way through that career?

“When I was attending the School of Industrials Arts, in New York City, in the 1950s, I majored in Architecture and Industrial design, under the instruction of Dr. Mueller – a gentleman who held his doctorate in Architecture. My most powerful memory from that course, was when he defined architecture as “Enclosing Space for Human Living”. What struck me so deeply about this comment, was the “universality” of it. By that I mean, that the core of this expression is simply that “What ever you are creating – be it a design, a product or a painting, if you wish it be successful, never forget that you are creating it for the benefit or the use of people.” If the creator of anything forgets this simple truth, no matter how stylish the result, that effort will tempt failure.”

Q9. In 100 years, if you were to be remembered, how would you want people to think of you?

“I’d like to be remembered simply as “Someone who tried.” By the usual standards of the world, it could hardly be said that I was a “success”, by almost any measure of the term. In the final analysis, I’ve certainly never been rich – but then, I’ve never been hungry either. I’d like be thought of as someone who’d given total vent to his own creative passions, and in the process, explored the wonderful world of technology at my own pace, and under my own guidance. At 79, I can look back on a thoroughly eventful life – a life in which I’ve had a helluva good time.”



Thanks for reading, and thanks very much to Ron Wayne for sharing his experience. Do read his books:

And do visit Ron’s website: