Dominic Basulto

Google and Apple want to be your doctor, and that’s a good thing

Health care has always been a sector ripe for disruption, and now with Google and Apple launching new initiatives for digital health, we’re getting a glimpse of how it might actually happen.

Wearable tech is turning out to be the back door into the health care sector, mostly through data collected from wearable sensors that enable us to monitor our bodies in real time. If done right, both Google Fit and Apple’s HealthKit could eventually help to bring down the high costs of health care.

All those wearable sensors could one day be transmitting so much data that it’s almost a no-brainer that it will help physicians make better decisions about our conditions and ailments. Instead of stopping by the doctor’s office once a year for a check-up, or only once something’s gone wrong, you will now be checking up on your body weekly, daily, maybe even hourly. And that means that you’d have early warning of emerging problems and be able to take proactive measures in advance. Google and Apple -- as two of the tech sector’s most prominent consumer-facing brands -- can do a lot to change the way we think of health care.

China’s cyber-generals are reinventing the art of war

The conventional wisdom is that the future of war will involve private robot armies, predator drones carrying out precision strikes, and maybe even the militarization of space.

All of this assumes, however, that the fundamental nature of war does not change, only the technological sophistication with which we wage this war. And, contrary to just about any military text dating back to the era of Sun Tzu, it also assumes that we always know who our enemies are.

Yes, nations still fight wars, but it’s in a totally new and different way.

That’s why the current high-profile tussle over Chinese cyberattacks is so fascinating. The White House’s recent condemnation of Chinese cyberspying is just the clearest signal to date that we have entered a new era of warfare. Instead of tallying costs in terms of dead and wounded, we now measure them in purely economic terms. Instead of a known enemy, we now have a shadowy assailant who, on the surface, is still our friend. For every claim by the United States that the Chinese have gone beyond mere spying for national security to include ruthless appropriation of commercial secrets, there is a counterclaim by China that the United States has been using the NSA as its own kind of global surveillance state.

When the new paradigm for the world is economic power rather than military power, it means that we will find ways to fight without destroying our economic relationships. The new warfare will be cheap, low-intensity and most likely, waged primarily in cyberspace. Attacks will occur against economic targets rather than military targets. Taking down a stock market or a currency has greater tactical value than taking out a hardened military target.

Why you should care about the mobile Web’s advertising problem

[Commentary] Remember when using your smartphone or tablet to access the Web was a relatively ad-free experience? Now there are seemingly ads everywhere you go -- pre-roll segments on videos, paywall roadblocks, subscriber messages that ask you to sign up for newsletters, ads in your news feeds, floating ads that cover inconvenient parts of the screen.

Now that the number of mobile Web users has eclipsed the number of desktop Web users, it’s no wonder that companies are introducing a growing panoply of mobile advertising options, all competing for your attention.

By 2017, there will be more money spent on mobile advertising than on radio advertising.

Combined, Facebook and Google now control two-thirds of the mobile advertising market. Expect that number to increase once Facebook launches its new mobile ad network. All of this has very real implications for the way that we use the Internet.

It’s already the case that 86 percent of users access the mobile Web via apps and that percentage could inch even higher as companies dedicate more and more resources to winning the mobile app game.

In short, we’ve quickly transitioned from a situation in which Web companies have a mobile advertising problem, to a situation in which the mobile Web experience has an advertising problem.

The emerging dark side of social networks

[Commentary] We’ve all heard how social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube help to spread democracy around the world by mobilizing the masses and making it easier to topple dictators. Now, we’re now seeing a darker side to them.

In some cases, they’re being co-opted by governments as disinformation tools, used by authoritarian regimes to crack down on Internet dissenters, and even being used as part of digital Black Ops by the United States in places like Cuba. The story of “fake Cuban Twitter” is especially disconcerting -- we’re talking about a digital Bay of Pigs, in which the US State Department, working through US Agency for International Development (USAID), actively worked to create a Twitter-like social network (ZunZuneo) to engage the local Cuban population in order to topple the Castro regime. In other cases, social networks are being used as part and parcel of government disinformation campaigns to co-opt opposition movements -- sometimes by the US government and its allies.

In countries such as Egypt and Turkey, data from social networks is being used to find exact locations of protesters based on GPS locations or to track down the IP addresses of Internet users the government wants to discipline. The question now is to what degree Western know-how is being used to facilitate these actions.

This emerging dark side of social networks has enormous implications for how America conducts its diplomatic business abroad. Terms like “digital statecraft” and “e-diplomacy” are commonplace these days -- not just for America, but also for nations that would like to emulate America’s ability to project power around the world. At little or no cost, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube made it possible to spread the message that America was the land of baseball, apple pie and democracy for all.

But the more that social networks are seen to be doing the bidding of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency (and proxy organizations such as USAID) in terms of gathering and mobilizing the masses against governments, the less effective they are in sharing American values abroad.