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.

Gaming

I’ve lost hope in getting a next-gen console for the foreseeable future

On shortages, scalpers, and struggles from all over the place

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next-gen

If you already have any of the next-generation consoles, you may read this if you wish. But for most of us, myself included, we all shared a collective struggle to snag one of the two highly-anticipated consoles late last year. Unfortunately, such struggle continued even into the new year, even when Sony and Microsoft were pretty optimistic about it to start.

Don’t get me wrong: the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are part of the future of console gaming. We’re talking technologies and hardware that supposedly rivals that of any gaming PC build for more than half the price. Even with a limited game library, game developers are adopting the next-gen consoles moving forward.

However, at launch, almost all units sold out in an instant — and the reasons are quite obvious. Months prior to launch, these companies stated numerous reasons for shortages on launch day. People like me were hopeful that restocking inventory would come soon enough, and would be enough for everyone all over the world.

But why are we still struggling to find a next-gen console?

Believe it or not, this struggle to simply purchase a next-generation console isn’t entirely on the industry itself. Sure, they’re running low on production staff, worldwide deliveries are a little messy right now — but that’s not 100 percent on them anyway. In case most people forgot, there’s still a COVID-19 pandemic happening in most parts of the world.

The pandemic put the video game industry on hold for a bit, as production for the next-gen consoles took a heavy hit. Because of remote working conditions and factories shutting down, Sony and Microsoft went out and said that launch day units will be scarce. I thought that they would just simply delay the launch, but nope — they still wanted to launch in November, on the exact day.

And yet, the next-gen consoles ended up being well-received by everyone — especially the ones that were either sent a unit, or successfully bought one. Both consoles sold out on launch day, mostly due to online pre-orders on Amazon, eBay, Walmart, and other retailers. Even here in the Philippines, eight retailers held online pre-orders and immediately sold out within the 5-minute window.

It’s pretty clear to me that there is a high demand for the next-gen consoles wherever you decide to buy one. However, the companies simply cannot provide regular stock as soon as possible due to a lot of factors — hardware shortage, mostly. Yet, Sony and Microsoft do their best to try and release more stock whenever possible so everyone gets an opportunity to buy one.

next-gen

What do you mean, everyone gets an opportunity?

I remember when Datablitz PH held its first online pre-order for the PlayStation 5 back in November, two weeks before the official release. On the day of the pre-order, I received the email with the link to the pre-order form and instructions on how the process goes. However, I was busy around that time, so I asked my sister to check the link for me.

Then, she texted me saying that every pre-order slot was full, even for the Digital Version. Slots went out so fast, it’s like the 5-minute window was way too long. At the moment, I had no complaints because I expected this to happen. This wasn’t the case for the rest of the internet as they took  their complaints to social media on the online pre-order system.

Another pre-order wave started, so more opportunities, right?

A second wave of pre-orders came in just last January, and I didn’t even bother with it anymore. Instead, I decided to lurk around Datablitz’s Facebook page and see the comments on their restocks and, well nothing changed. The claims were the same as the first time: bots from other buyers, while others are able to log in at an earlier time. There were even some conspiring that retailers had internal agreements with other people about it, which I don’t think is the case.

In essence, not everyone gets a “fair” opportunity at grabbing a next-gen console. It sucks that this has been a regular occurrence with premium items like this, and yet no concrete actions have been taken. But, I was thinking that maybe we’re looking at the wrong culprits here.

It isn’t the pre-order system’s fault entirely, and it’s mostly because this was an initiative by Sony and Microsoft given the pandemic situation. We’re trying to contain the virus here, and staying indoors for the most part is the best way moving forward. Still, I think they could have improved the process with every new run.

Wait, how come they have an abundance of stock of the next-gen console?

Instead, allow me to direct your attention to the scalpers themselves; you know, people selling you things for an insanely higher price. You’ve seen these people on a Facebook Marketplace or on Shopee, promoting that they have a next-gen console ready for you. Some of them even go out of their way to offer you a complete bundle to save you the hassle!

It’s not just these people that are participating in the grand sweepstakes for a next-gen console. In addition, there are also these (let’s just call them) unauthorized resellers who also somehow have stock of these consoles. While some of them do sell the console at either a fair or much lower price, there are those that don’t tell you that you have to pay extra fees for them.

PlayStation 5

In essence, these people manage to give you what you want: a next-gen console. The catch, however, is that you have to satisfy these two conditions to get it: be a sure buyer, and be ready to spend tons of money getting it. 

But, I thought that next-gen consoles were in shortage?

That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I kept seeing some of these “sellers” on social media. The fact that they have nearly tens to hundreds of units every other week just makes it hard to believe. Even when both Sony and Microsoft declared a shortage for the next couple of months, the grind continues for these “businesses.”

I say that they’re a business because these sellers claim to be such entities. They’re somehow able to capture a need present in their market, and provide the product or service to address it. As with most businesses, they determine the price such products or services are offered through extensive research and planning. For scalpers and unauthorized sellers, however, price setting is the easy part.

These entities will seek to supply everyone with as many units as possible, and they’ll find ways to procure them in bulk. You know how people were complaining that bots are taking their stock for online pre-orders? Well, some online retailers and news agencies are aware of such technologies being abused that way.

In my own experience asking one of these unauthorized sellers, they told me that they’re supposedly closely linked to the manufacturers. Also in some cases, they are not giving me a full rundown of any additional fees nor any proof of such. Yet, they expect me to simply abide by the payments since I got it for cheaper. In essence, they achieve the same thing as scalpers do by paying more than official retailers.

So, what now? Should we just wait for regular stock?

Admittedly, I’m already thinking that regular stocks of the next-gen console won’t be here for another 7-8 months or so. It’s not just because of the already announced shortages in hardware. Rather, it’s the fact that there is a higher chance that scalpers will get a hold of them first.

I feel like these companies were pretty clear on how they want the next-gen consoles to be received. In my opinion, they truly want to give everyone access to the future of gaming; that maybe you don’t need to spend insane amounts of money for crisp, clean gameplay. You know, something that you can do on a gaming PC but on a much cheaper yet strategic price tag.

PlayStation 5

Yet, these scalpers and unauthorized resellers simply want to make a profit off a need like this. Cry about it all we want, but these people exist and some people partake in their businesses. They’ve practically turned the next-gen console into a true luxury, something that the industry and some governments are trying to go against. 

I’ve lost hope in trying to get the next-gen console for this year, or possibly while the shortages are still in effect. At this point, I’d rather spend that money somewhere else, or invest it in the stock market. We could wait for regular stock all we want, but if scalpers keep getting these from us, there’s just no hope.

SEE ALSO: A somber look at the PlayStation 5 crisis

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Unfiltered

My Internet service provider sucks and I can’t do anything about it

Is this what living in a third-world country is about?

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It’s 2020 — a year that many people were looking forward to. To some, it’s another year to chase after their goals and dreams. While for others, it’s merely the start of a new decade.

In the technology industry, 2020 was supposed to be a culmination of the innovation we’ve had for years, bringing the future to the present. Technology should’ve been ripe enough to usher us into a truly digital age.

Frankly, we’re already living in the so-called digital age. We have gadgets and technology focused on communication and connectivity, aiming to improve people’s lives. The most recent development is the 5G connectivity taking over some parts of the world.

Yet even with the promise of bringing technology closer to people, I still can’t feel it.

The struggle of being in a third-world country

I live in a third-world country, where having a good, stable Internet connection is a privilege. In the Philippines, the major telecommunication companies and some smartphone brands have been aggressively pushing for it this year, dividing most people regarding its arrival.

Some techies and geeks rave about the hopes of having the future right in the palm of their hands. But most people — distressed customers like me — are wondering why there is so much emphasis on innovation, yet there are no solutions to most problems consumers currently face.

While I cover stories about new technology and occasionally try it out before it finds its way to more people, my heart never goes too giddy at the sight of new tech. Instead, I look for the functionality, purpose — how can it help the average consumers e.g. my family, friends, colleagues, and people who are just constantly trying to keep up with new technology.

That was what lingered on my mind when people discussed 5G connectivity. “How could you keep on blabbering about the next generation, when we haven’t experienced the proper service we deserve?” or so I thought.

All my angst are channeled to a certain Internet service provider I’ve been subscribed to. I’m just not getting my money’s worth. Whether it was a DSL connection from a few years ago or a recently-installed Fibr connection, they never fail to disappoint.

Living life with the Internet

I’m not alone in my frustrations. I know that thousands of people out there have similar complaints. Imagine paying for a 15Mbps connection, but only getting around to 2-3Mbps. It’s been this way since March 2020 despite our numerous attempts to have the problem rectified. That’s six months of having sluggish connection while paying the same amount. On top of the speed issue, I experienced multiple disconnections and loss of dial tone.

When the pandemic struck, everyone was reliant on proper Internet speed yet the limited number of players proved to be difficult to handle millions of subscribers just from the nation’s capital. We stayed at home, alienated, and struggled with the so-called new normal. In the wake of the devastating situation we were thrust into, my life went on even with the disruptive issues I encountered with my Internet service provider.

I lost count of how many virtual meetings were interrupted because of my sudden disconnection. I can’t exactly remember how many times I’ve wanted to call my bank regarding my finances and purchases. Moreover, I stopped tracking the amount of money I spend on mobile data to keep me connected and to continue my life — whether it’s working remotely, ordering food, and staying alive by not going out.

What irks me the most is my ISP’s customer service. They have been harder to reach, given the limited personnel caused by the coronavirus health crisis that’s taking so long to be addressed. The last ticket I created with their customer service representative took more than two weeks to get the repair service I requested.

We’re all glorifying the remote working setup as the future of productivity and distance learning as the future of education, yet we continuously forget how difficult it is to handle when Internet access isn’t the same for everyone.

We’ve been dependent on the Internet and online services, to keep us safe and continue our lives in this pandemic. Yet somehow, the company I trusted my money, livelihood, and perhaps my life too, doesn’t give the service I rightfully deserve.

Exhausting options, on the brink of giving up

Maybe you’re wondering, “Why don’t you just switch providers?” That’s easy to say when you have options. Believe me, I’ve tried. I considered three more providers, only to find out my area isn’t serviceable.

I’m nearly giving up on the mere fact that this hopeless situation won’t improve. I’ve been exhausting all possible options, using prepaid services to connect to the Internet so I can resume my life and work. But it’s taking a toll on my financial, emotional, and mental health.

What’s the point of paying an enormous amount for a service that’s considerably trash? When the sudden disconnection causes you to become agitated when it disrupted your work? We’re all glorifying the remote working setup as the future of productivity and distance learning as the future of education, yet we continuously forget how difficult it is to handle when Internet access isn’t the same for everyone.

I’ve tried looking for answers, too, given my inquisitive nature. When I had a conversation with a friend — an engineer who worked on the project of bringing 5G in the Philippines — I learned the difficulties of setting up towers in different areas, and mostly had to do with red tape. Limited towers mean there will be limited connection. In case you didn’t know, it’s what the 5G connectivity is trying to solve: bringing access to places that 4G connectivity is having a difficult time reaching.

Despite having the knowledge about how it works, I’m still disgruntled. At the end of the day, I’m just a consumer. All I want is to get the service I paid for, sans souci. I’m certain a lot of people feel the same way. This collective frustration forced the Philippine government to break the duopoly and let another player enter.

Frankly, I’m even more skeptical. When most players are struggling with the infrastructure needed, how is another player going to help? It might just bring more disappointment. But that’s something we can all worry about more in the future.

For now, I just need my Internet service provider to become competent in handling after-sales, customer service, and being true to what they advertise. Because I’m already resigning to my fate that being in a third-world country means you won’t get the service you deserve, and you can’t hold anyone else — private entities or the government — accountable. (Unless you’re a pretty celebrity with four million followers.)

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Unfiltered

realme has been a true disruptor

And it’s messing with everyone’s expectations

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There’s been an influx of midrange smartphones around Southeast Asia over the past few weeks. Long-time players like Huawei, OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi are in the race, but they seem to have trouble keeping pace with relative newcomer, realme.

realme calls itself a disruptor, and for the most part, it walks the talk. The company kicked-off this recent midrange smartphone barrage and I’m inclined to say they might still be in the lead.

However, they are messing with everyone’s expectations.

A high screen refresh rate isn’t the end all, be all

Too many times over the course of the phone launches, I would check the comments section on our Facebook page and would see a number of them saying a variation of “nO 90Hz sCReEn rEFreSh rATe, aUTo PaSS.”

It’s annoying.

That feature at this segment is a “nice to have” more than a “must have.” I don’t think enough people realize that.

That said, realme did a great job by bringing over that experience to a more affordable pricing segment. For context, here’s a quick specs comparison on some of the smartphones that launched recently.

realme 6 pro Huawei Nova 7 SE Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Lite vivo V19 Neo OPPO A92
Display 6.6” IPS LCD, 90Hz refresh rate 6.5” LTPS IPS LCD, HDR10 6.47” AMOLED 6.44” Super AMOLED 6.5” IPS LCD
Processor Snapdragon 720G Kirin 820 5G Snapdragon 730G Snapdragon 675 Snapdragon 665
Max ROM + RAM 8GB + 128GB 8GB + 256GB 8GB + 128GB 8GB + 256GB 8GB + 128GB
Rear cameras 64MP + 12MP  + 8MP + 2MP 64MP + 8MP  + 2MP + 2MP 64MP + 8MP  + 2MP + 5MP 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP
Selfie camera/s 16MP + 8MP 16MP 16MP 32MP 16MP
Battery 4300mAh, Fast charging 30W, VOOC 4.0 4000mAh, Fast charging 40W, Reverse charging 5W 5260mAh, Fast Charting 30W 4500mAh, Fast charging 18W 5000mAh, Fast charging 18W
Price PhP 16,990 (US$ 339) PhP 19,990 (US$ 400) PhP 18,990 (US$ 380) 17,999 (US$ 358) PhP 15,990 (US$ 320).

realme is punching above its weight class

At first glance on paper, the realme 6 Pro is a runaway winner. After discussing for a little bit with the rest of the team, “runaway” might be a stretch, but they are still ahead. They simply offer the best overall value.

I also snarkily remarked to the team what vivo and OPPO are still doing here. It’s like they’re not even trying. But, as you know, they are putting more effort into releasing phones that can rival premium flagships. OPPO has the Find X2 Pro from earlier in the year, while vivo recently announced the X50 Pro+.

Our extraordinary team member also pointed out that these midrangers from the two companies may just be excess parts. They might have purchased an exorbitant amount of chips and lenses without projecting how much the landscape will change in such a short time.

One can argue that what OPPO and vivo have here are baseline specs for midrangers. Xiaomi is firmly in the middle having dominated this segment for a while. And then realme and Huawei offer features (90Hz screen refresh rate and 5G, respectively) that are typically reserved for phones over PhP 20,000 (US$ 400).

The knock on Huawei is the lack of Google Mobile Services, which they are trying to address. realme, on the other hand, has the full suite of Google’s offerings.

Offering something better than its price suggests

What realme has been doing is pretty clear. It’s taken some “flagship-level” features and put them in phones that are well within the midrange budget.

Late last year, they had the realme XT which featured a 64MP quad-camera setup. It was a time when the standard was still 48MP for the smartphone camera’s main sensor.

In 2020, they did it again on the realme 6 series. They brought over a 90Hz screen refresh rate which had only been seen on flagship smartphones until they decided to slap it on their midrangers.

This is something that realme continues to do at any segment — meet the specs expectation in that segment but add one extra feature that’s only available on more expensive smartphones.

It’s smart and helps them standout.

Is what they’re doing replicable? 

If realme can do it, so can other brands, right? Well, there are plenty of factors that come into play here, but mostly it has to do with the company’s strategy and direction.

As I mentioned earlier, the likes of OPPO and vivo are trying to get to the same atmosphere occupied by the likes of Apple and Samsung. It was a feat that Huawei achieved, but factors outside its control might be keeping it from staying afloat.

Recent sales numbers suggest otherwise, but  — fair or not — their brand reputation is certainly taking a hit.

Look for Xiaomi to move aggressively. They have owned the “best value” market for a better part of the last half decade, and don’t think for a second that they will relinquish it without a fight.

Can realme keep it up?

What realme’s doing here is aggressive and that’s how you have to be if you’re the challenger. I write this as I test drive another realme phone that’s looking to shake-up another pricing segment. Based on my experience so far, it’s eXtremely promising.

Competition between brands is great. It forces them to be better. So for consumers’ sake, I sure hope realme keeps the pedal to the metal.

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