Google and the right to be forgotten — Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Assoc. Prof. Catherine Tucker

From Nikkei Business

The European Court of Justice’s ruling that Google must honor individuals’ requests to be removed from search results—the right to be forgotten, as it has come to be known—is a misguided attempt to address one of the more unfortunate aspects of the digital age.

Although digital technology has brought many wondrous advances, it also has spawned problems. Among the most serious is what I call digital persistence or the tendency of information in digital format to last for a very long time—regardless of its accuracy.

In the analog era, if a telephone directory listed a number incorrectly, the result would be missed calls and wrong numbers until a new directory was published a year later. But in the digital world, wrong information gets repeated again and again, often showing up long after the original mistake was made.

While digital technology can perpetuate the mistakes others make about us, it also has the same effect on the mistakes we make ourselves. For example, young people by nature do silly things. Sometimes they take digital photos of themselves doing these silly things. The pictures can resurface years or decades later, when the actions no longer seem so amusing.

An approach that addresses these problems by targeting Google is flawed in several respects. First, while Google may be a handy scapegoat, especially in Europe, the American search giant is far from the only source of digital data that threatens the right to be forgotten. Information persists also in government records, online newspapers, and social media, as well as other search engines. To rein in Google while leaving other major information sources unimpeded will have little effect on the overall problem.

Second, the European Court of Justice’s actions ignore the nature of search engines. They work so well because they are automated. The combination of sophisticated algorithms, high-speed networks, and the Internet’s vast stores of data is what produces Google’s instantaneous and usually on target results. Introduce humans into this formula via requests to be forgotten and Google’s performance will slow to a crawl.

A third problem with the ECJ’s approach is that the process of approving requests to be forgotten can have precisely the opposite effect of what the architects of the policy intended. When someone asks to be removed from search results—say, a politician concerned about rumors of an illicit affair—the request itself sparks interest. In the case of the politician combating damaging rumors, reports of a request to be forgotten prompt new speculation and more rumors, even if the politician isn’t mentioned by name.

Digital persistence unfortunately is a problem that will be with us for some time. There are no quick or easy answers. Aiming at one very big target may be a popular move, but it will not bring us any closer to resolution.

Catherine Tucker is the Mark Hyman Jr. Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Why the battle of computer services companies is good news for businesses — Charles Kane

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Charles Kane

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Charles Kane

In the early days of computers, companies used a fee-for-shared-service model for technology. It was common to pay a company like IBM rent for use of its mainframe machines. As computers became smaller and less expensive, businesses began to purchase their own equipment and the computer rental model went the way of the dinosaur. Interestingly, we’re now seeing a return to that old model, but instead of computers, businesses are renting web and cloud infrastructure services for apps and storage.

This is great news for small- and medium-size companies, as building the data centers to run those services is exorbitantly expensive. By only purchasing the infrastructure cloud services that they need from large companies like Microsoft, Google and Amazon, they eliminate the risk of that huge financial investment.

Even better, we’ve seen recent price wars among those service providers. Some of them slashed their prices by as much as 85 percent this spring in an effort to attract and retain customers.

I sit on the board of several companies that are dependent on web services and have seen this decision to rent play out several times. A good example is Carbonite, which is launching its computer backup services across Europe and recently joined the ranks of Amazon customers for web services. The decision for Carbonite was simple: If it were to build its own data center, not only would it cost excessive funds, it would have to maintain it and then (all too soon) upgrade it. It would be akin to building its own telephone or cable company instead of simply renting what it needs from a provider like Verizon or Comcast.

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Behind Facebook and Google’s random acquisitions — Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Professor Catherine Tucker

MIT Sloan Professor Catherine Tucker

From Fortune

A lot of attention has been paid lately to big tech companies buying up smaller firms in billion-dollar deals: In January, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billionFacebook purchased mobile message service, WhatsApp, the following month for $19 billion; last week, it acquired virtual reality gaming company, Oculus VR, for $2 billion. There is a lot of discussion about the motives behind these large deals. Some say they are attempts to block competition, while others maintain they are efforts to stay relevant.

I see these deals as a reflection of the uncertainty companies face as they try to identify the next big thing. This is especially true for successful companies like Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG), which are known for doing what they do tremendously well. They’ve seen similarly successful companies like Kodak struggle as technology moves on, rendering its product obsolete. As a result, companies today are eternally motivated to look outside their current business.

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Leading Your Company’s Digital Transformation — George Westerman

From Sloan Management Review

George Westerman (MIT Center for Digital Business), interviewed by Michael Fitzgerald
October 29, 2012

Big traditional companies get overlooked when it comes to digital transformation. But companies across all industry sectors are remaking their operations, their customer interactions, and even their business models. George Westerman tells us how they’re doing it, whether they are technology champions or beginners.

Read more from MIT Sloan Management Review about Digital Transformation

George Westerman is a research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business

Erik Brynjolfsson on Big Data: A revolution in decision-making improves productivity

MIT Sloan Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson

There is a fundamental change underway in the way that companies make decisions. Instead of relying on a leader’s gut instincts, an increasing number of companies are embracing a new method that involves data-based analytics. This ‘Big Data’ revolution is occurring mainly because technology enables firms to gather extremely detailed information from and propagate knowledge to their consumers, suppliers, alliance partners, and competitors.

Companies that use this type of ‘data driven decision making’ actually show higher performance. Working with Lorin Hitt and Heekyung Kim, I analyzed 179 large publicly-traded firms and found that the ones that adopted this method are about 5% more productive and profitable than their competitors.  Furthermore, the study found a relationship between this method and other performance measures such as asset utilization, return on equity and market value. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit for companies that are able to use Big Data to their advantage. Read More »