Thoughts on Privacy

Privacy has always been an important topic but has taken on increased attention in the last year. But first – what do we mean by privacy?  I think a good definition is that privacy is the ability to be free from being observed or bothered and to determine whether, if, and how information isto be revealed.  Privacy is a broad concept and ranges from the physical to information about us to our thoughts and ideas and can be related to both individuals and groups or organizations.

Our society sees privacy not just as a desirable state but as a basic human right.  The right to privacy, while actually not explicitly stated, is thought to be clearly implied in the Bill of Rights and later constitutional amendments via their protection of beliefs (1st), home (3rd), person (4th), information (5th) and basic liberties (14th).  Similar protections exist in other free countries.

Psychological research has shown what is intuitively obvious – privacy is a basic human need, perhaps not at the level of our physical or security needs but a strong need nonetheless. It is natural to want and to protect a private space.  We lower the blinds on our windows and seek out places in nature to be alone.  Young children have very little privacy, they gain more as they mature.  Privacy affirms our dignity and makes us feel respected.  The founders of our nation recognized this need and protected it. They also recognized the risk and tendency of government to overreach and drew a protective line.

The importance of this need and subsequent right to privacy leads to the tremendous anxiety we feel when this right is violated.  Learning that our online account is hacked is the modern day equivalent of the enemy tribe invading our territory or a robber entering our home.  It is not surprising that emotions run high when this happens as many women shared in this SheByShe survey.

Despite its importance, we willingly and frequently make compromises around privacy.  At a personal level, sharing private thoughts and feelings leads to intimacy – intimacy cannot be achieved without relinquishing some privacy – and our intimate relationships are precious.  We compromise privacy to enable others such as doctors to help us.  More commonly, we compromise privacy for convenience.  There are innumerable benefits we reap when we use modern technologies to manage our lives.  But we make those compromises based on the promises of the companies whose products we are using. And they are our compromises to specifically make.

When we give up some of our privacy to loved ones, professionals or organizations we are trusting them with something precious. When our government crosses the privacy line or the promises of a company we relied on were not kept, it is our human nature to react viscerally. We go beyond the intellectual and feel it in our gut.  It is a violation.  There is even more sensitivity to this topic in places where those violations were systematic in the past.  The Orwellian state so well depicted in “The Life of Others” actually happened.  It is no wonder that Europe has led the US in advocating for privacy protections.

Modern internet businesses have tremendous responsibility.  The most sensitive of information can be in our online accounts and too often those responsibilities have been breached.  To make matters worse, those breaches have often not been accompanied by adequate acknowledgement of or remorse for the breach. I am amazed by the lackadaisical and casual attitude from Facebook on their most recent “research” project.

Not surprisingly, I am in favor of stronger privacy protections from our government.  At the moment it seems as if we have the “fox watching the chicken coop” and both political parties are guilty (something about absolute power corrupting absolutely).  Stronger oversight and privacy advocacy is needed.  Stricter rules for company privacy and consequences for violations are important as well. If they care about this topic, consumers need to vote with their feet and patronize companies that better respect and value privacy.

In the case of services dominated by large near-monopolies such as Google and Facebook, however, that vote becomes impractical. The tremendous economies of scale in search have meant that solutions offering enhanced privacy such as DuckDuckGo are less robust and the tremendous network effects in social networking have made it incredibly difficult to create a real alternative to Facebook.

When facing difficult problems I often think of this phrase by John Sloan Dickey, which I first heard at Dartmouth.   “The world’s troubles are your troubles … and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.”  Humans created this problem so I’m optimistic that “better humans” can solve it. Technology is part of the problem but can also be the solution.

Brilliant humans have invented the many forms of modern cryptography and encryption and the public key architecture that makes it usable at scale.  There is still a tremendous gap, however. These secure encryption solution are not easy enough to use – there are simply too many usability hurdles.  For instance, TrueCrypt and its alternatives can be used in combination with public cloud solutions such as SugarSync and DropBox to ensure data privacy but this is not usable or practical for most people. Secure email solutions and private browsing options such as Tor also lack ease of use.

I’ve written previously to Beware of False Dichotomies.  I’m convinced that security v. usability is ultimately a false dichotomy and the person or company who proves this will enjoy tremendous business opportunity.  You should not need to be a hacker to be able to have confidence that your browsing or communication will remain private.  We can fix the privacy problems we face.

Next Generation Collaboration – ICT Spring Luxembourg

I had the opportunity to speak last week at the ICT Spring conference in Luxembourg.  My topic was next generation collaboration – a subject near and dear to my heart these days.  Lots of great discussion followed – I was happy to see the genuine interest in how to best use the new technologies of Cloud, Mobile and Social to improve collaboration.

Catching a Wave

When I wrote about my transition recently, I mentioned my excitement about the possibility of working with up-and-coming startups and helping them develop their products and businesses.  I also can’t seem to ever get enough of the productivity tool space – (e.g. Yahoo! Mail, Netscape Communicator, SugarSync – I’m hooked!)  I get a thrill seeing how these tools and technologies can improve people’s lives.  So when the founders of Catch asked me to consult with them as acting CEO I was thrilled to jump in.

I’m so impressed with what this small team has accomplished.  They have an absolutely gorgeous app – so beautiful that Apple has it plastered all over their home page, store and headquarters.    applehqCatch is at the intersection of some of the most exciting trends in technology – mobile, collaboration, ideation, search, cloud and b.y.o.d.   At the same time, Catch, like many early-stage, technology driven companies, has yet to figure out and implement its long-term business model.

So what is Catch?  Catch is a mobile-based collaborative note taking application.  While simple note-taking functionality a la Evernote or Google Keep is great, I believe that notes achieve their true power as the most natural basis for collaboration.  We see this clearly in the usage patterns of Catch – all kinds of business teams sharing notes to manage projects, update status – even manage field sales teams.  And the best part is it’s super light-weight, intuitive and easy-to-use.

Having a couple of months off to enjoy my family (including my east-coast children), reconnect with friends, read, hike and recharge has been great but not a long-term state for me, at least not now.  I love my work and feel fortunate to have been connected to Catch and for this timing to work out.

Some exciting things in the works here that you’ll be hearing about in the weeks ahead – stay tuned!

Transition Time

I’ve written quite often on this blog about transitions – they are a natural part of life and any business ecosystem, and embracing change is part of making the most of new opportunities.  2013 marks a transition for SugarSync, and myself.  We have launched a search for a new CEO.

SugarSync has undergone a wonderful transition over the last several months.  SugarSync 2.0 launched successfully to great reviews including PCWorld and PCMagazine.  I couldn’t be more proud of this product.  Our team of designers and engineers took our highly-rated core sync foundation and rearchitected the user experience for simplicity while continuing to innovate around sharing.  The goal was to better serve an ever-expanding set of users, including businesses and larger enterprises who are rapidly moving to the cloud. Consumerization of IT is real and we are experiencing this phenomenon first hand at SugarSync.

Simultaneously, the mass-market consumer space is experiencing a competitive environment that poses challenges for any company who wants to invest in growth.  SugarSync is in a prime position to continue our growth trajectory serving business customers in addition to consumers. From a product perspective, our strategy remains strong. The vast majority of upcoming features will serve both audiences extremely well.

From a company prospective, SugarSync needs to evolve its strategy to better serve business customers. This means dramatically expanding SaaS channel opportunities and corporate sales functions, among other changes.

After quite a bit of thoughtful introspection, I came to the realization that SugarSync would be best led by a CEO with deep and recent expertise in this type of SaaS enterprise environment.  After further discussion with our board of directors, we agreed to begin the search for a new CEO for SugarSync.

It’s impossible to fully express my gratitude to and appreciation of the entire SugarSync team. What an amazing group of professionals and technologists. I will continue to serve as CEO and Board member during this transition and will do everything in my power to support the Board and new CEO.  After four years of building such an exciting business, I am committed to doing everything possible to make sure we realize SugarSync’s maximum potential.

Of course, this was an extremely difficult decision.   I have often said that while I did not give birth to SugarSync (for that I need to thank its visionary founders), I adopted it and have loved it as if I were here from the start.   I joined the company during one of the most challenging economic times in Silicon Valley’s history.  We were near bankruptcy, the broader economy had melted down and employees were fleeing – we were down to 13 people.   I’ve loved pouring my energies into rebuilding the team, launching a successful freemium model, signing and launching many major partnerships with global companies such as Samsung, Lenovo, and many others.  We’ve raised multiple rounds of financing at increasing (more than twenty fold) valuations, and so much more. SugarSync increased its user base five fold last year and experienced a dramatic increase in our revenue. We were proud of achieving 99th in the 2011 Inc500 with $11million of revenue and have continued to exceed a 100% growth rate. More importantly, the business is in an excellent financial position to continue strong growth.  I’ve been honored to be a part of this team.

So…what’s next for me?  SugarSync was a turnaround situation based on an idea and a dream from the original founders.  I have some startup ideas of my own and I’m excited to invest time vetting these possibilities to understand their true potential.   In addition, given my experience leading both direct-to-consumer and partner-oriented successes at SugarSync, I am being approached by several companies to advise or help lead the charge to solve similar go-to-market challenges.  I want to be able to give those opportunities due consideration and I’m really looking forward to helping make a difference in start-up successes.

And finally, as readers here know, I’m deeply passionate about supporting women in startups and technology. Silicon Valley is more welcoming to women entrepreneurs than ever before in my 20+ years here, and it’s an exciting time to support this new generation of leaders. I’m looking forward to having the time to take a more direct and active role in supporting their success.

As CEO of SugarSync I haven’t had the time to participate fully in the broader conversation of women in technology and, even more interestingly, envisioning new experiences on the internet – I look forward to doing that in the coming months.

I’d like to take one last opportunity to thank the amazing SugarSync team, our dedicated board of directors, and most importantly, all of our loyal customers. This has been an amazing and humbling experience, and I’m grateful for every second of it.

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My Top 5 Cloud Predictions for 2013

As 2012 comes to an end, it’s easy to look back and marvel at what a great year this has been for the Cloud market. Nearly two thirds of online adults are now using some form of Cloud service, and the amount of people using file sync and sharing services grew from 9% to 15% from 2010 to 2012. Large players like Apple and Google took notice of this rapidly growing market, and validated it with the introduction of their own (albeit, platform-limited) service offerings.

Here at SugarSync, we focused on evolving our service to match the evolving needs of customers that have a more mobile lifestyle than ever before. We recently launched SugarSync 2.0, a complete redesign of the SugarSync desktop, Web and mobile experience, to greatly simplify the use of the Cloud no matter where you happen to be using it. And we continued to sign massive partnerships to drive distribution and add value for our customers worldwide.

But where is the Cloud headed in 2013? Was the Cloud boom that we saw in 2012 a fluke, or was this year’s growth simply a precursor of what’s to come? Based on everything we’ve seen this year, and the insights I have of what’s coming up, I put together my top five predictions of what to expect in the Cloud market in 2013.

Mobile will continue to be the primary driver of Cloud usage

In 2012, SugarSync saw a dramatic increase in customers who came to us via our mobile apps. But that’s not all – regardless of whether a customer came to us through our mobile apps or by signing up online and downloading the desktop app, the most popular use of the Cloud amongst customers was the ability to access and share files via their mobile devices.

Part of this could be attributed to the fact that SugarSync has the broadest set of mobile apps on the market (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile – with Windows Phone coming soon), which is critical to our strategy of being a completely platform-agnostic Cloud provider. But this trend was not exclusive to SugarSync – the same could be said for the Cloud industry as a whole. In fact, a recent Forrester report shows that 58% of Cloud users access the Cloud daily or even hourly via mobile devices.

And all the signs (continued growth of mobile device sales, increased IT spend on mobile technology, analyst projections for mobile growth, etc.) point that this will be a dominating trend for the Cloud in 2013. IDC recently projected that mobile devices sales will grow 20% in 2013 to a staggering $431 billion. And as more people adopt powerful smartphone and tablet technology, the need to keep content in sync across those devices for greater efficiency and productivity will continue to increase.

The Consumerization of the Cloud

Just as the iPhone was seen as a “consumer” device until it became so popular that people demanded the ability to use it at work, the same is happening to the Cloud. One of the best things about the Cloud is the ability to continually access and work on any of your files on any of your devices, no matter where you are. While many SMBs and enterprises have not yet adopted company-wide Cloud file sync and sharing services, many of their employees are already using Cloud services to simplify the sharing of large files. And for an increasingly mobile workforce, the Cloud has become an essential tool to keep connected to their work – regardless of what device they have in their hands at the moment.

Consumers are using the Cloud to dramatically increase their productivity at work, and so my prediction is that many more businesses will adopt the Cloud in 2013 in an official, company-wide capacity.

The Cloud will become an expected service on every piece of hardware

With more smartphones and tablets being sold each year, and with predictions that more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than PCs by 2015, it is not surprising that more and more people are utilizing the Cloud to maximize their mobile devices. Not only does the Cloud provide the benefit of anytime, anywhere access to all of your content, but it also solves the critical problems of storage space and the lack of file system that plague many mobile devices.

In 2012, SugarSync partnered with Lenovo to integrate SugarSync into every Lenovo laptop and tablet that ships worldwide. We also partnered with Samsung to integrate SugarSync into their AllShare Play service, which is shipping on every Samsung smartphone and tablet worldwide. These deals are an indicator of the hardware industry’s deep belief that the Cloud is bringing value to their customers, and as such, I predict that the Cloud will ship on every single smartphone and tablet that ships within 2 years, with 2013 being a banner year for these partnerships.

The Cloud will blend our work and personal lives, while keeping them separate

The elusive “work/life balance” is becoming far less elusive these days – and you can thank the Cloud for that. It used to be that your work laptop was for work only, and if you needed a personal file while you were at work, you had to wait until you got home to access it on your computer. These days, however, you can quickly attend to urgent personal matters (sending a tax form to your accountant, pulling up an important medical record, etc.) no matter where you are. Likewise, you’re no longer chained to your work device, so you can handle urgent work matters from anywhere, too. In the middle of a project, but also need to be at your child’s soccer game? No problem – you can easily track your colleague’s progress on the project you’re collaborating on, and access, work on, and send the project along right from your mobile device.

There also used to be a concern about what content you have saved to each of your devices. In most cases, you don’t want sensitive personal documents or content stored on your work devices, and your company typically doesn’t want work files being saved to your personal devices. If you have a Cloud solution that lets you choose what content you want sync’d to each individual device you have, then you can easily and effectively separate the content that is sync’d to each of your devices – work on work devices, personal on personal devices. And of course, everything remains accessible via the Cloud – but you don’t have to worry about whether things are being saved in the appropriate location.

The Cloud will be our primary method of collaboration

Gone are the days of sending large file attachments back and forth – both in work and in personal situations. With the Cloud, you can easily share files (and even entire folders) with no file-size limits, enabling the simple sharing of anything via a simple link. And if you have a Cloud solution that enables you to share as both View Only (meaning the folks you share with can view, but not edit or delete your stuff) as well as Add/Edit (which enables all parties to access and edit documents with each other), then the Cloud becomes the most efficient tool for collaboration.

Think of how many projects you work on with your colleagues, family, or friends – from work documents that require multiple levels of editing and approvals within an organization, to a couple planning their wedding who needs an easy way to share all of their contracts and wedding ideas with each other and their wedding coordinator. Rather than sending bulky attachments back and forth in email and constantly dealing with version control, you can instead share folders with your collaborators, and everyone works on the same documents, in the same folders. Everyone else in the folder is notified when a change is made by another collaborator, and the Cloud even saves previous versions so you can revert back if needed. This can literally transform the way teams work together, and for that reason, I predict that 2013 is the year when we see the true death of the attachment and the Cloud rises as our primary form of collaboration and sharing.

What are your thoughts? What do you think will be the guiding trends in the Cloud in 2013?

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File Syncing Is Blending Your Work Life and Your Personal Life

This blog post I wrote ran on Harvard Business Review today.

File syncing is evolving into the mainstream, with the adoption rate of services such as file access, sync, and share growing from 9% in 2010 to 15% in 2012. Gartner is predicting that one-third of consumers’ digital content will be “in the cloud” by 2016. What’s more, file syncing is moving beyond the consumer space and into the business environment — almost two-thirds of the devices used by information workers are now portable, and more and more people are sharing files and information across multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc.) in their daily work activities. Fifty-two percent of information workers now use at least three devices for business, and 34% use four or more. We’ve seen this new wave of technology coming, and now its usage is being validated.

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As a result, more and more people are combining their “personal” and “business” clouds for greater efficiency and productivity. Workers say they mix work and personal use on 60% of their devices. Earlier this year, Entrepreneur magazine said: “The idea of having a ‘personal cloud’ for storage is so 2011. Now you can combine office, mobile, web-based and even home-based storage options to achieve near-automatic caching of data on everything from your smartphone to your TV set-top box. What’s more, the line has become blurred in terms of personal and business use of such technologies.” According to the Forrester report, 47% of all cloud users are storing both personal and work data. While photos and personal documents remain among the top items stored in the cloud, other media and work documents have grown by nearly 30% in the past couple of years.

With all the data in our lives intermingling in the cloud, we need to be conscious of how we want it to function, and we need to be smart about how we organize it. Many of us enjoy the convenience of accessing multiple sets of data (personal and business) from a single cloud. But what about those who like to keep more discreet lines between their personal and professional lives? Both companies and individuals need to think through the scenarios of access, permissions and backup. For instance, what happens if you change jobs? It’s important to clarify who has access to which data. What is the company policy on having personal data on a work device and vice versa? A great way to manage in this situation is to put all of your data — both personal and business — in the cloud so you have easy access and so that it’s backed up, but you only sync local to the device that’s appropriate. When choosing a cloud solution, users should be sure to verify that this is possible.

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I believe we’re only seeing the beginning of file syncing adoption and its value. (Full disclosure: I’m the CEO of a cloud computing company, which gives me a good deal of perspective — and also makes me somewhat biased.) Indeed, what’s the point of having all of these powerful smartphones and tablets if we can’t access our digital files anywhere, at any time? What does it mean for our personal and business lives, and where is this growing trend leading us? Here’s what I see from my vantage point: With people storing more of their information in the cloud, both hardware and software companies will need to continue developing “out of the box” solutions for both personal and business use (including ways to keep the two accessible, but separate), which will make it easier than ever to access, manage, and sync content. File syncing will need to remain affordable, while reducing the need to purchase bigger, more expensive hard drives. Cloud services companies will most likely continue to offer a limited amount of storage free, with larger or group plans priced economically. As a result, I think we’ll also see more IT organizations support the integration of personal and business cloud services for their employees.

This “infrastructure” is supporting a true cultural shift with business and personal data blending in the cloud, and HR policies will need to follow suit. Organizations will need to accept the fact that employees will interact with their “personal” data — such as Twitter and Facebook posts and LinkedIn connections — while at work, and rather than viewing this as a distraction, they should recognize that it is a “whole person” who shows up for work, and that being able to access personal information and networks while on the job actually makes for more productive employees. And certainly there is a bit of tit-for-tat given that employees are frequently working beyond the traditional work day.

As the lines between business and personal lives are shifting, the cloud has emerged as a key tool to keep people productive and organized. The ‘personal cloud’ is evolving to an ‘all-purpose cloud’ that helps us manage our entire lives. “Getting in sync” will soon become an everyday life action and expression, with a technical meaning that everyone understands and automatically uses.

ICUC and Static Peak

I had the opportunity to attend the “Internet Cowboys UnConference” in Jackson Hole last weekend.  This conference, hosted by Yuval Almog and Yossi Vardi brings together internet and media executives for a conference in the style of “FooCamp” with user generated topics and discussions.  There were great presentations by the likes of James Wolfensohn on the state of the world economy, Adriana Cisneros on the growing consumer market in Latin America and Arthur Sulzberger on the future of Journalism in the internet era.  I let a discussion on privacy in the cloud and there were many other interesting sessions ranging from online education to the physics of YouTube.

The conference sessions go from 2-10 pm leaving the morning for outdoor activities.  For me the choice of activity was a no-brainer.  Being in one of the most beautiful hiking spots in the world I couldn’t wait to get out in the mountains.  Two hikes were offered each day – hard and easy – I opted for the hard hikes.  The first day we took the tram up to the top of Teton Village – this is the main ski area when people talk about skiing Jackson Hole – highest single lift elevation gain in the US.  We hiked down a couple of thousand feet and back up.  Beautiful views and good chance to acclimatize to the elevation.  The second day a small group of us went to the Red and Lavender Hills in the Gros Ventre range.  Incredible views of the Tetons from the other side of the valley and great wildflowers.

I made a couple of comments to Daniel Almog that the “hard” hikes were not very hard and he invited me to join him and a few of his friends to hike Static Peak Sunday morning.  We would need to leave at 5:30 to get back for the conference program as it is an 18 mile hike.  The trail gains a total of 5300’ of elevation topping out at 11,303’.  I was a little worried – my hiking companions were four guys about 20 years younger than me and this was the longest hike with the most elevation gain I had ever done.

Fortunately the trail, while long, was quite smooth until the last few hundred meters of rocks.  (I’m seeing a pattern here of the peak sections being mostly boulders – Mt Tallac was the same).  The trail was incredibly scenic and and relatively few super steep sections.  I found it challenging but doable – I am glad to report I was not the last one to summit.  It was fun hiking with new people – we had many things to talk about – everything from religious arguments – liberal jew (me) v. orthodox (Udi) to how to distribute apps in the education market to favorite hikes and travel destinations.  Here are a few pictures from the trip.

View of Phelps lake about 1/3 of the way upAlmost to the top – just a few hundred meters of rocks with no trail.At the top with a view of Bucks PeakThis was my favorite vista – check out the lake high up!No pictures from the way down.  It’s called Static peak for a reason.  Right after we left the peak we heard cracks of thunder so we jogged the first couple of miles down to get to a safer location.  We finished the hike down at a normal pace – we did get a bit wet and my camera stayed in the pack but it did not put a damper on the day.