Thursday, 5 September 2013


The National Audit Office (NAO) have published their report on Universal Credit (UC). UC is the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) initiative to rescue benefit claimants from the poverty trap created by the UK's inept welfare system. The idea is to rescue them by making work pay.

Universal Credit: early progress is 60 pages long. 60 pages which document the unrelenting and expensive failure of DWP to get to grips with UC. There is a summary for you kindly prepared by Tony Collins – Will Universal Credit ever work? – NAO report.

By 31 March 2013, DWP had spent £425 million on UC. £425 million spent by intelligent and experienced public servants and there is nothing to show for it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

You are for sale

The Financial Times have been doing a bit of investigative journalism. Health apps run into privacy snags, they said on 1 September 2013:
Before Celeste Steenburger takes off on her morning run, she taps the orange button on the MapMyRun app on her iPhone to track the exercise.

The 30-year-old office manager counts calories, logging the food she eats into a separate Lose It! app. When her menstrual cycle begins, she marks the details in the Period Tracker Lite app.

With each bit of health data Ms Steenburger records, third-party companies, some with names she has never heard of, are receiving information about her.

Monday, 19 August 2013

GDS and privacy

Yesterday's Sunday Times:
Google: we are beyond British law

The internet giant says the High Court has no authority to rule over a landmark UK privacy claim ...

“They don’t respect privacy and they don’t consider themselves to be answerable to our laws on it” ...

Last week Google’s privacy policies came under fresh attack in America after it said that its 425m Gmail users could have no “reasonable expectation” that their messages would remain confidential. The admission came to light in a court filing.

In its submission to the High Court, Google’s lawyers argue that any information gleaned from the search engine is not “private or confidential”. This means that the company is under no obligation to hold it in confidence, they say.
You know where you are with Google. No "reasonable expectation" of confidentiality/privacy.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Cyber security is a hangover in Vegas

DEF CON was founded in 1992 or 1993 by Jeff Moss (no relation) and is "one of the world's largest annual hacker conventions, held every year in Las Vegas, Nevada ... Many of the attendees at DEF CON include computer security professionals, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, security researchers, and hackers with a general interest in software, computer architecture, phone phreaking, hardware modification, and anything else that can be 'hacked' ...".

Not to be confused with Black Hat Briefings, which was founded in 1997 by Jeff Moss (no relation) and is "a computer security conference that brings together a variety of people interested in information security. Representatives of government agencies and corporations attend, along with hackers. The Briefings take place regularly in Las Vegas, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi and, occasionally, Tokyo. An event dedicated to the Federal Agencies is organized in Washington, DC ...".

Would you like to attend DEF CON? One young lady who attended this year gave an interview to BuzzFeed magazine that gives you a hangover just to read it: "... But I had a good time. It’s always a good time. As long as you remember most of it. Or maybe you don’t want to remember. It just kicks your ass. But once a year? It isn’t the worst thing for your liver".

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Toe-curling: GDS PR Blitz

The launch of the Government Digital Service's PR campaign on the BBC and in the Guardian was noted here three weeks ago on 14 June 2013.

Last week a new front was opened up in the Times newspaper with an opinion piece by Rachel Sylvester, Geeks in jeans are the Treasury’s new heroes. Are they geeks? Are they in jeans? Are they the Treasury's new heroes? Precisely what have GDS achieved so far? What is the outlook for all their outstanding projects? Ms Sylvester left her readers none the wiser.

Monday, 5 August 2013

midata and your money


Good question.

That's the title of an interview with Dan Bates, director of the midata Innovation Lab (mIL), published in Ctrl-Shift News, where space is so tight that there isn't room to remind the reader that Ctrl-Shift is one of the 22 Founding Partners of mIL.

"I am proud that we have set the bar high by bringing the mIL to life in just seven weeks from project kick-off", says Dan, too young perhaps to remember that "project kick-off" was 91 weeks ago on 3 November 2011 when the Department for Business Innovation and Skills published Government, business and consumer groups commit to midata vision of consumer empowerment.

Cloud – Dale Vile tells it like it is

Freeform Dynamics is an "IT industry analyst firm" distinguished by "straight talking, telling it as it is in down-to-earth language".

Dale Vile, the CEO, is a "cloud advocate", he tells us in SMBs are tumbling into the cloud? Oh get real, and he's not pleased. Large companies and public bodies are adopting cloud computing but small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) aren't: "we are hardly scratching the surface when it comes to selling cloud options into the SMB space".

What seems to be the problem?

Dale says: "IT policy and planning is down to business people at the lower end" and "where a business person rather than an IT professional is responsible for IT policy, planning and decision-making, cloud is far less likely to be on the agenda".

What's the matter with these business people?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Classical innovation and old-fashioned digital

8:51, Friday morning, 2 August 2013, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and Evan Davis interviews Emma Stenning, executive director of Bristol Old Vic, and Max Hole, chairman of Universal Group International. The question is what innovations are needed to make classical music more popular.

The proms at the Bristol Old Vic have introduced a screen allowing the audience to see the conductor in the same way as the orchestra does. That seems eminently sensible, but not innovative – Evan Davis and Max Hole agreed that rock concerts have had big screens "forever".

They have also introduced a standing pit for the promenaders. Again, eminently sensible, and ticket sales have gone up by 20% as a result, but not innovative – Emma Stenning made the point that this was actually a return to the way the theatre was in 1766. (When America had only just ceased to be a British colony ...)

In between these sensible points there was a bit of talk about digital innovation, new technology, digital opportunity and the promenade concerts being made more accessible by exploiting the analogy of a concert with computer games and digital environments in which avatars respond to the music (3'22" to 3'47").

Admittedly someone was driving to a funeral while this piece was broadcast, and was feeling mighty sour, but the digital innovation drivel sounded tired, old-fashioned, tawdry, gratuitous and past its sell-by date. The horse is dead and it's a waste of time to keep flogging it.

How boring an old fart have you got to be to still find computer games exciting?

"Digital" doesn't mean "open" or "welcoming" or "warm" or "informal" or "accessible" or "engaging" or "popular". It doesn't even mean "modern" any more.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

GDS's grip on public expenditure

It's always a pleasure to read the Government Digital Service's diary, This week at GDS. And never more so than when it's written by Mike Beaven as it was yesterday:
... Carl Meweezen and his team over in ERG (Efficiency and Reform Group), who look at all things spending in government and look at where we’re saving money. Mark O’Neill and Gill (Elderfield) worked with their team over there, to help them build a thing called the ‘Government Interrogation Spending Tool’, or ‘GIST’, as it’s known. That went live and there’s been some really good feedback from Stephen Kelly, Carl and his team, and the Minister (Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude), saying, “Thanks for creating something that’s very easy to use and intelligent.” So well done to those guys.
The "thing called ... 'GIST'" is an infographic of public spending. We have seen GDS's penchant for arresting graphics before. That was aspirational, at the time. Now it's reality:

It's not just Stephen Kelly and Francis Maude who have provided "some really good feedback" about this infographic.

Friday, 2 August 2013

You'd have to be naïve not to

The third and final episode of Steve Hewlett's report on Privacy Under Pressure was broadcast on Monday 29 July 2013.

The programme took the form of a debate and at one point the participants turned to the Edward Snowden revelations. The US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ here in the UK monitor our phone calls, emails and web browsing on a monumental scale. That makes a nonsense of privacy.

Surveillance is justified, said Lord Carlile, by the state's duty to protect us against terrorists. In other words, in the fight between privacy and surveillance, surveillance must win. That can't be right, said the great Simon Jenkins, not without qualification.

The advocates of freedom admit that we're not free to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. The advocates of counter-terrorism should similarly admit that there are limits.

Among others, there are financial limits. How many billions, Simon Jenkins wanted to know, should we pay for the NSA and GCHQ's work? Lord Carlile had no answer.