Unfiltered

Our data shouldn’t be used as currency for technology to move forward

Companies shouldn’t mine it like gold and oil

Illustrations by Marcus Jucutan

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Security and privacy have become the issues we’re concerned about in this generation. Technology has cemented itself as a commodity; a constant in our lifestyle and in everything we do.

For the past year, we’ve seen data breaches from Facebook particularly the Cambridge Analytica scandal, hackers attacking big tech companies, voice assistants listening to our conversations, and technology being used to further one’s political agenda.

Right now, we all fear for our personal data. The world isn’t safe anymore, and here we are, being more afraid of cybersecurity posing a threat to our safety.

Is data the most important thing right now?

When I was in Hong Kong, my friend and I stayed in Tuen Mun, a 20-minute drive away from Shenzhen, China. Due to proximity, my browser and location have geo-tagged China instead of Hong Kong. Websites have been translated to Mandarin, too.

My friend and I laughed, whispering to ourselves “Welcome to China.” Amidst the jokes and frantic laughing, I was fearful about my personal security. Throwing away the naivety, we all know the issue surrounding this country relating to data and privacy. For years, we’ve accused China of harvesting our information that we became cautious about visiting the country or when using a Chinese-branded smartphone like Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, and OPPO.

Data has become the new currency that people are trading off; the new gold and oil, where people fight to mine and own it.

Of course, I’m afraid of my data being stolen for unknown purposes. There was an added fear during my stay since I was in the midst of rallies. But what scared me isn’t the chances of me getting caught in the crossfire, it was all the stuff I have on the internet.

What if the government caught wind of my political statements in my social media accounts and private messages? What if they knew I was siding with Hong Kong and their fight for democracy? Will I be deported? Jailed? I spiraled in anxiety and fear.

Gratefully, I left Hong Kong safe and sound. On a series of flights bound for Manila and Boracay, I pondered about the fear I had: Was data the most important thing right now?

Finding the answer

It seems the stars aligned because my thoughts happened right before the annual CxO Innovation Summit. Held by VST-ECS Philippines, the conference discussed the future and importance of data in today’s technology.

“There is no doubt that in today’s digital economy, most companies — if not all — are aware of the importance of data and the value it provides,” said Jimmy Go, President/CEO of VST-ECS Philippines. Of course, this conference was meant for enterprises to tackle how they can utilize data to improve their businesses.

Technology is here to stay and we can’t hinder progress because we’re scared.

Go further explained how big companies like Netflix and Amazon use data analytics to track users’ pattern based on their searches and activity, then recommends content and product for you, which are mostly things you don’t like (or do you?).

But it wasn’t Go who only shared insights and industry trends. The summit is joined by leaders in the cybersecurity, computers and electronics, and information technology industries. Among the top players with key representatives are Cisco, Lenovo, Fortinet, Hewlett-Packard, Dell Technologies, IBM, Schneider Electric, Samsung, Huawei, Aruba, and Oracle.

Data mining is a circular economy

Throughout the sessions, most companies discussed how to harness data and utilize available technology to further an enterprise’s progress. Channeling my self-obsessed personality, I asked: “Where am I in this narrative?”

Consumers don’t realize that companies use their data for research and marketing purposes. Some use it for noble goals like improving one’s life through technology, and some do it for the sake of expanding and future-proofing their businesses.

It’s like a cycle: Your data was acquired, analyzed, shared, translated, received and find its way back. Data has become the new currency that people are trading off; the new gold and oil, where people fight to mine and own it.

We need companies we can trust

When the conference ended, I left and sipped margaritas by the beach — allowing myself to absorb all the truths I found. Come to think of it: Isn’t it scary that Facebook suggests items you’ve previously viewed on Lazada and Shopee? How about the promoted post on your news feed about a lipstick you recently talked about with your friend on Messenger? This is how our data is being used and learning a lot about this process, I was astounded.

It dawned on me: Technology is here to stay and we can’t hinder progress because we’re scared. But what we can do is to find companies we can trust.

To find better resolve, I asked Samsung and Huawei — two of the biggest players in the consumer technology industry. I first met with Patrick Low, Principal Architect for CTO Office Huawei Enterprise Business Group.

Big Data is the enemy (or not?)

In an exclusive interview with GadgetMatch, Low discussed how consumers’ data are being acquired everywhere. Contrary to myths about Huawei, the executive debunked the rumors and discussed how apps are the culprit of data mining, not smartphones.

Samsung Product Manager Anton Andres supported Low’s statement in another exclusive interview. Andres expounded how third-party apps like keyboards try to hijack personal information. Both executives warned users about the apps they download.

On the bright side, both companies believe they’re doing enough to protect their consumers’ data and security. Huawei claims they don’t touch data, while Samsung parades its security solutions found exclusively on their devices. Of course, take everything with a grain of salt. It’s okay to trust at this point, but with reservations.

Taking into consideration what both Low and Andres stated, I started to wonder if big data is the enemy here. If big data sounds martian to you, it’s a technology used to analyze and help companies understand our behavior and preferences. It’s primarily the reason why you get advertisements about an item you were browsing in an e-commerce site or getting contact suggestions from the people in the same vicinity as you.

But as one friend pointed out, big data isn’t our enemy. It’s the abusers of the technology and the perpetrators who use it for their greed and personal agenda.

How can we protect ourselves?

As the world gets more connected, it is up for us to arm ourselves against the threats looming in. Start first on your devices: Use strong passwords and make it a habit to change them regularly.

Social-media wise, check your privacy and sharing settings. When you have an inactive account, find a way to close it. Additionally, read the terms and conditions for every app you download. Consider the risks of using digital assistants like Alexa and keeping an unsecured Wi-Fi, too.

The world is getting more connected, and there’s no stopping it.

There are so many things to do. Make sure you understand what data you’re sending and how your location is being tracked. Right now, it might be easy for you to say that tech companies like Google and Facebook already have a lot of information about us, or they don’t have anything to get since we’re not rich. But cybersecurity isn’t only for the rich people to worry about, it’s for everyone who has access to a connected world.

Sure, we won’t be a hundred percent safe from the possible threats. Thieves are getting smarter, and we need to be smarter than them. Keep yourself informed, that’s the best you can do to significantly decrease the chances of your personal security being compromised. The world is getting more connected, and there’s no stopping it.

Smartphones

Oops! I was wrong about foldable phones

They’re here to stay in the years to come

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Illustration by Migs Buera

When the first foldable phone came out, the words I blurted out of my mouth were “Who the F needs that?” At the time, no one really needed it. It was a showcase of what the future might hold; a glimpse of where we’re headed.

For someone whose work requires him to be appreciative of technology, I wasn’t particularly receptive to change. Inherently, I believe that necessity is the mother of the invention which is why I was hesitant about the whole foldable concept — and even called it a fad. Smartphones are doing fine, why change what’s not broken, right?

Yes, my thoughts are the same about the flip phones that resemble the phones of the distant past. An ex-lover and I were jokingly discussing how impractical these phones are, despite working in the electronics and technology industry.

But the same thing cannot be said to the most recent foldable phones anymore, especially in 2021. There’s a certain allure with the Galaxy Z Fold2 that you can only experience when you use it. And the same goes with the Huawei Mate X2 when Michael Josh decided to play around with it. And I couldn’t agree more.

Using the Galaxy Z Fold2 for quite a while now made me realize how it fills the gap in the smartphone industry, and how they can help keep the technology industry from pressing forward.

Not the usual smartphone, not yet a tablet

By now, you probably know this foldable’s form factor. So I don’t need to go into the technical details and let me speak from experience.

The first time I got my hands on the Galaxy Z Fold2, I was afraid. It felt like a delicate flower that evokes grandeur and beauty. When folded, it’s nearly the size of average smartphones that you’re familiar with. It’s just thicker to hold and quite slippery that you might want to strengthen your grip to be on the safe side.

Opening it requires a gentler approach, but this is where the magic begins. The Galaxy Z Fold2 offered a bigger screen that I can hold for a longer time, which a tablet can’t even provide. It gave me the ability to work elsewhere without carrying my laptop all the damn time.

Though you can’t do heavy work in it, I was able to keep my social platforms running and I was able to hop on a meeting, check my designers’ works, and coordinate with my team — even if I was outdoors eating at an al fresco restaurant.

It’s also a head-turning accessory, seeing how foldables are unique to the average consumer’s eyes. And honestly, I liked the attention I got from it.

Okay, enough with its allure. Let’s talk about what my issues were and how it’s relevant to the future of smartphones.

Pushing the boundaries of what a smartphone should be

One of the issues most tech reviewers had with the foldable phones is the creases that, frankly, make or break an experience. I can live with it, but not a lot of people can (probably). But my issue was how most apps aren’t optimized for a foldable phone, yet.

This is why depending on how it pans out, foldable phones can turn the wheels again and make the whole industry move forward. Smartphones are getting boring and obsolete.

When every smartphone manufacturer releases a smartphone every damn three months, we get bored seeing how all of them look similar or offer a minor reiteration of the common slab devices. Remove their brand and coating, and they all look the same.

Companies have nearly perfected the design and experience of flagship smartphones. Midrange and budget phones, on the other hand, need a little bit more refining.

Other companies like LG — whose mobile division already shut down — started working on different form factors like the LG Wing. And we love it. Even ASUS made the whole Zenfone 8 an engineering solution, packing heavy features in a compact smartphone by shrinking some of its components.

Although frankly, we can all agree and settle with foldable phones as the next form factor. It’s starting to make sense, at least when you get your hands on it. With Samsung and Huawei leading the race on foldables, it’s certainly a phone war we’d love to watch from beginning to end.

The next standard of premium phones… or the future of smartphones?

If more people adopt foldable phones, smartphone manufacturers will be forced to step up their game and go where the demand is. Except, foldable phones still aren’t made for general use.

It still is a phone for those who have the money to burn, who want to be on the cutting-edge of technology, and those who need a device that fills the gap between a smartphone and a tablet to augment their lifestyle.

But whatever the future has in store for us, I’m certain that foldable phones — if done right — can be the next standard of what makes a phone premium. That, or it could be the next generation of our smartphones. Nonetheless, my mind has changed thanks to the Galaxy Z Fold2. And now, I’m excited to step into the future.

SEE ALSO: I’ve grown attached to the Galaxy Z Fold2

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Netflix’s Trese: Beacon of hope for Filipino storytellers

According to a graphic novel writer

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Illustration by Migs Buera

The wide, deep, and varied world of comics or graphic novels was something that remained unexplored until I was forced to because of work. As an introductory lesson to comics and graphic novels, Trese was a part of my reading assignment. And since they did not have all the volumes of Trese, I went on a hunt for it.

The one I got is the Trese: Book of Murders which is in English. It was a quick read but I was more curious to read the Filipino version. Either way, I finished it within the same day I purchased it. And I loved it.

Though I did not delve deep into the fandom, I was curious enough to join the Facebook group and to check on updates every now and then which was why I cheered when I saw that there was going to be an animated series based on the comics.

“Sadly, there are things that had to be sacrificed if it meant getting things done.”

On keeping the art and story

It had been around three years since I last read the entire thing and I needed a refresher. I finished it just an hour before the series was available for streaming.

I watched the entire series in one sitting. Starting from the surface, the art is gorgeous and very pleasing to the eyes, but maybe a tad too Western than what I would have wanted.

Trese

I am not saying that they should have copied the exact art style from the comics but maybe it could have been a bit more Filipino-looking. As much as I adore how Alexandra Trese looked, she looks almost American-Japanese. But, nevertheless beautiful.

Story-wise, it did not change a lot but it surely compressed it a bit. Maybe a bit too much that they had to rely on voiceovers and flashbacks in order to touch on important parts and deliver the story without leaving too many loopholes.

It was understandable but some parts felt dragging just because it was compressed. But that could also be due to other factors. And sadly, there are things that had to be sacrificed if it meant getting things done.

“I can’t think of anyone who can be the voice of Alexandra Trese other than Liza.”

The never-ending discourse about the dub

Now onto the part that everyone has been talking about even before it started to stream―the dub. There’s Filipino, English, Japanese, and Spanish the last time I checked.

I tried it all and I have mixed emotions. I originally went for the Filipino dub mainly because I wanted to get the full Filipino experience. Out of curiosity, I rewatched one episode and tried the other languages.

The Spanish one was almost natural but maybe that’s because of the familiar words that we have adapted. The Japanese one was interesting, giving that anime feel that was kind of cool and maybe had the most emotion among the dubs.

Trese

The English dub was also nice but some Filipino terms and names tend to sound kind of slang. With the Filipino one, it was the most natural one… vibe-wise.

But what I did not like about the Filipino dub was the lack of emotions in some parts and mainly from Alexandra Trese. Though it was established that Alexandra was not that emotionally expressive, she sounded so monotonous throughout the entire series.

Maybe, just maybe, Liza Soberano was focusing on her enunciation that she was not able to deliver enough emotions in her lines. But other than that, I can’t think of anyone who can be the voice of Alexandra Trese other than Liza. Just a bit more voice acting workshop, I guess, and she’s good to go.

TRESE (L to R) CARLOS ALAZRAQUI as SANTELMO and SHAY MITCHELL as ALEXANDRA TRESE in episode 101 of TRESE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

Setting up the stage for other storytellers

It may not be perfect and polished as others may have hoped for but I do hope that Trese can pave the way for other Filipino comics, and other local stories to make their way to a more global or international scene.

Philippine mythology is filled with deities and creatures, which are varied depending on every region of the country. The most common deity mentioned and used is Bathala, the Supreme Being in the Tagalog region, while the most common creature used is the aswang.

Even in the American fantasy TV series “Grimm”, they featured the aswang, but I personally think we have other creatures that are far more horrifying. There is the sigbin which looks like a dog but it walks backwards with its head lowered and it sucks its victim’s blood but during Holy Week, it hunts children for their hearts. That’s just one of the many.

A lot of Filipino creators have shared their vision and interpretation of our mythology and folklore such as Tabi Po by Mervin Malonzo, Mythology Class by Arnold Arre, Ella Arcangel by Julius Villanueva, Janus Silang by Edgar Samar, and more. From popular titles to independent creations that you would see at a smaller comic convention, more artists and writers are showing appreciation for what is ours.

Plenty of mythology to explore

At first, I was not aware of just how vast our own mythological world is and I only knew very little folklore. But when I started to work in Epik Studios Inc., I had to read and learn more. What made me delve deeper was during the time that I was tasked to write the modern take on Bernardo Carpio. Instead of sticking to the popular creatures for the villain, I researched creatures that are barely used. Not only did I find a fitting villain for Bernardo Carpio, but I also found inspiration for new stories that I want to write in the future.

We have a rich folklore and mythology that has yet to be fully showcased but we have a lot of storytellers who wish to show it to the world. It’s about time that we do.

Watch Trese on Netflix.


This opinion piece was written by Patch Aviado, a creative producer and a writer who worked on graphic novels such as Bernardo Carpio, Pedro Penduko: The Legend Begins, Maria Makiling, and Osyana. Together with Viva Books, she published Garden of Sunflowers. Currently, she’s working on an online novel entitled Blue Hearts, Purple Roses. When she’s not writing, she’s busy fangirling.

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Lifestyle

PSA: I like phones that fit my tiny hands

Bigger isn’t always better in my case

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Illustration by Migs Buera

Back in the early 2010s, we used to dread smartphones that are getting larger. At most, we could tolerate phones between 5 to 5.5 inches as our daily drivers — making it the sweet spot that fits our hands, pockets, and clutches.

Phablets were considered enormous with their insanely humongous screens sitting between 6.5 to 7 inches in size. But a decade later, we see it as the norm and compact phones have become a rare Pokémon in the wild.

But something shifted in the new decade as more smartphones, once again, started arriving in compact sizes. Although the definition of compact varies from one brand or manufacturer to another, smaller size phones coming back made me giddy. Goes to show that there’s a market to serve. As someone who constantly complained about the hefty, colossal smartphones with humongous screens, I am very much part of it.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra | Photo by MJ Jucutan

I actually enjoy the technology and smart features in large phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, OPPO Find X3 Pro, and the Mi 10T Pro. As wonderful as they are, they came with an inconvenience that a handful of people can relate to. Too big for smaller hands, too heavy to carry, too huge and bulky inside the pocket — the list goes on.

Bigger isn’t always better, at least for me

Yes, you read it right. Bigger isn’t always better, at least in my case. I had a lot of people (and egotistical friends) preached to me how they like the biggest and the largest smartphones available because of three reasons:

1. It’s the most expensive which shows how much they can shell out for a gadget.
2. They’re the best in a smartphone lineup because again, they’re the most expensive and the biggest.
3. They have the most features that you can enjoy.

Not gonna lie, I somewhat agree. Like how the S-Pen is compatible with the Galaxy S21 Ultra but not with the base edition. Although, at the end of the day, these features are nice to have but not a must-have.

All the exact features you need to make your smartphone experience enjoyable are shared across the product lineup. It’s a lineup for a reason. Don’t let other people tell you otherwise.

Unlike the reasons listed above, I’m not looking for the best, or the biggest, or the ones that I can brag about in mirror selfies. I want the right one. The right fit for my tiny and frail hands.

I want to hold it while I’m on the street without worrying about it slipping off my hand or dropping it accidentally. Or fit in my pocket without bulging. I want it to be just enough for my day-to-day life.

The product of listening

In 2021, a lot of handsets stuck to their usual sizes — mostly 6.5-inch and above. Only two flagship phones embraced a compact size and remained true to their promise: the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the ASUS Zenfone 8.

To pack so many features in a compact body is a great feat and a mindful one — because they actually listened to what a handful of users desire. Even though we’re in the minority, Samsung and ASUS listened, and that my friend is how you make a loyal customer. Keyword: listened. (Error 404: LG Mobile not found.)

To my disbelief, I particularly enjoyed the Zenfone 8 more than the Galaxy S21. It’s made of glass, kind of curved, and it’s much easier for one-handed use.

Though it’s just a bit smaller and lighter than Samsung’s flagship, overall, the Zenfone 8 had me glued to my phone once more. Don’t get me wrong: I still like both phones (and compact phones that are yet to come), but I had more fun using the no-frills Zenfone 8.

I realized what people claim to dislike about compact phones during are also the exact reasons why I like it. Another way of saying this is “what you take for granted is what someone else wishes for.”

The misconceptions and why they’re wrong

Liking compact phones is subjective. But there are common misconceptions regarding compact phones, mostly coming from those who prefer using large phones. Or those who have unrealistic standards when it comes to the latest smartphones marketed as “small and compact.”

Some say it’s not ideal for binge-watching, but I found myself watching more shows — on YouTube and Netflix — on the go frequently. When a phone is small and light, it makes it easy for your arms to lift for a longer time and not put a strain on your hands and fingers. This works especially when you’re unwell in bed and you just want to lie down and watch something.

Also, having a smaller screen doesn’t make it hard for me to watch a video unlike other people claim. Having an AMOLED display is enough: I can delight in a visual spectacle especially when you couple it with a magnificent audio experience. Don’t believe people when they say they need to squint their eyes when watching on a smaller screen.

On the topic of working remotely, some would prefer a bigger screen — and I adamantly feel the same. It’s better for writing and doing heavy work that you need to finish as quickly as possible.

But since my work requires checking designs and monitoring social media activities, I need to be able to take a glance and be on my toes. This means being ahead of any crisis, being able to jump on sudden turnarounds even if I’m on a sidewalk or I’m heading to a restaurant for my next lunch meeting.

In my experience, the ASUS Zenfone 8 served me well. I’ve gone to several lunches and dinners, and in between meetings I was able to respond and deliver my work — all done with just one hand while my other hand carries a Starbucks cold brew.

Though having a compact phone gave me a 2010-like experience that I can enjoy in 2021, a lot aren’t still sold with my experience for one, specific reason: the current compact phones aren’t small enough.

That small isn’t small enough?!

Some friends said the Zenfone 8 isn’t small enough. But are we looking for another iPhone 12 Mini — which is cool and cute by the way — whose production ended due to a low number of sales?

I started wondering: Up to which extent are we going to force smartphone manufacturers to produce a smartphone that fits our ideals? Samsung and ASUS did it right, technically speaking. Both companies made strides to pack the smartest and best features for their lineup in a phone so small, that the only limitations I encountered were its batteries.

To which, I still think, is something that both companies should continue to work on if they decide to press forward with compact phones. Nonetheless, it’s discourteous to discredit both companies from doing their best. It’s like telling someone that their best efforts aren’t good enough.

Like it or not, compact phones are here to stay. And if the “compact” size they can do right now is a 5.9-inch, then so be it. Maybe it’s the right size, maybe it’s the new sweet spot. Only time and numbers will tell.

For now, I’ll enjoy this phone that fits my tiny hands. And I don’t think you should worry about my opinion as well. At the end of the day, the best phone that you can have is the one that fits your hands and obviously, the one that you can afford without breaking the bank. C’est la vie.

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