31st May 2016

​Blockchain on the Beach

In this 30th year since I first opened my office in Harrogate, so much really has changed. I meet every new recruit to Berwins and tell them that our manifesto, the “Culture of Exceptional Care”, was written on a beach in Fueraventura – longhand, using pen and paper, when the world wide web was two years old and Bill Gates didn’t think it would catch on.

I’ve been on another beach; and this time reading about the blockchain, understanding the notion and its potential relevance to my tech clients, and especially those in Fin Tech; ahead of my attending the International Federation of Computer Law Association’s conference in a couple of weeks, where that’s a key subject.

And then as I’m doing that, and thinking it’s a bizarrely geeky way to spend a day on the beach, I think I’ll amuse, irritate or make my colleagues back at base think “what a sad b*******d”; so I take a photo of a page of a Society for Computers and Law journal about blockchain, against the backdrop of the sea and coastline.

Immediately Google recognises the hotel across the bay, and asks if I want to add the photo to Google’s review page for the hotel. Apart from noting that Google is muscling in on TripAdvisor, this reinforces one of my themes about the intrusive power of these massive aggregators of data. TripAdvisor is of course another one. They know where you are, and where you’re going. I don’t always work in the same town, but Google has learnt the pattern of when I work where; and then also picks up if I’ve cycled, run or driven.

I think I’m pretty careful with my data; I post sparingly on social media, and don’t tag where I am. Not careful enough though – Google knows where I am. Google knows where you are. Google knows your patterns of behaviour.

Some of the other articles I was reading were about the upcoming General Data Protection Regulations, and the Cybersecurity Directive. The first Data Protection Act in the UK was in 1984 – pre-Berwins! The level of data now being collected was, then, completely inconceivable. Even in 1984, that fearsome future date described by George Orwell. We should be watching out. What if those who are watching out on us, through our data, want to do more than improve our customer experience?

Paul Berwin

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