Security in Tech and Life

So much has been written lately about security and privacy, particularly because of the Apple vs. FBI feud. It scares me that so many people with the potential to influence the final outcome don't seem to understand the technical issues, nor the long term implications. The same technology that protects my family and me also protects the US President and any Americans overseas in scary countries without many civil liberty protections. 

Blake Ross' excellent wise-guy summary gives some great real world examples of security that everyone can understand, but also does a great job of giving a cliff notes overview of why building secure software is so difficult. Also, I had somehow never known the details of how they secure airplanes now:

 "For as much money and time as we’ve wasted on printer-powered air security, only one innovation has prevented another 9/11: Locked, reinforced cockpit doors. These doors can withstand gunfire and even small grenades.

But sometimes, 6 hours into a Cancun flight, 3 helpings into Delta’s Cargo-Class Seafood, a pilot needs to deposit a few small grenades of his own. So there’s a handshake protocol:

  1. When the pooping pilot wants to reenter the cockpit, he calls the flying pilot on the intercom to buzz him in.
  2. If there’s no answer, the outside pilot enters an emergency keycode. If the flying pilot doesn’t deny the request within 30 seconds, the door unlocks.
  3. The flying pilot can flip a switch to disable the emergency keypad for 5 to 20 minutes (repeatedly)."



The Power of Words

In the past few weeks I've read several articles about the recent tech boom and startup craze (thanks to Wired and The Economist, my two favorite magazines).  For example, LinkedIn just exploded during it's recent IPO, Skype was just acquired by Microsoft for $8 billion, and Groupon turned down a $6 billion offer from Google.  Online deal sites are exploding in popularity, I've personally used Living Social, Groupon, and BuyWithMe in the past 6 months (learn more with a great NPR Planet Money Podcast found here). It amazed me to learn that these sites make 50% of the purchase price.  No, that isn't a typo, FIFTY percent is a typical cut.  Just to be clear, that means if you pay $50 for your hour long massage on Groupon, the company giving the massage gets $25 and Groupon gets $25.  With margins like that, you can see why Groupon turned down the Google offer.

What had not been answered to me previously is what Groupon feels separates itself from the competition.  If they get a 50% cut, what's preventing the next guy from only taking 45%?  Eventually, basic supply and demand should level the playing field and take away the huge subscriber advantage that Groupon currently has.  So what is Groupon's answer?  Words.  According to this NY Times article, they seem to feel their main competitive advantage is how they craft their latest deals in each city.

My opinion?  Groupon should take the money and run, as I don't think time will be too kind to their wallets.  I'd say the same for LinkedIn, a company valued at 200 times its earnings.