Who’s Following Your Family?

Aren’t other people’s families fascinating?

That’s why media companies obsess over adulterous public officials or celebrity drug arrests. It’s our own voyeurism—soap operas drive huge audiences. And access to those audiences is, after all, the product a media company sells to advertisers.

BinocularsBut what about, say, pharmacy purchases. Can a media exec sell ads against the prescriptions Beyoncé’s filling for Blue Ivy?

Only if they want to spend 10 years in prison.

Because that’s the penalty for using someone’s health information for commercial gain in the United States. And information related to your health has special protection under a 1996 federal law, the Health Information Protection and Accountability Act (aka, HIPAA).

It’s a good law, that says only you control how your, or your children’s health information is used. No one can disclose it without your explicit permission. And if they do share it, even accidentally, you can sue the offender for damages with the United States Congress at your back.

But the best part of the law is that it makes your privacy a right, not a privilege. To be protected by the law, you just have to exist. A hospital can’t say, “click here to waive your rights, and then the doctor will see you.” And in my book, that’s how privacy ought to work: it’s a right for you to control, not a cat and mouse game with hidden consequences.

How does advertising mix with privacy? Advertisers hate it: the less they know about you, the less you’re worth to them. That’s why companies that sell ads craft 60 page legal agreements to Click Here before you use their app. If I were trying to separate a user from her privacy, that’s how I’d do it, too. I mean, who’s going to read all 60 pages?

But if a man were standing outside your home, photographing your family and following your kids, what would you do? Call the police. What if that man were a social media company, gathering the same photos and location data? Who would you call? Other than the social media companies themselves, there are no cops to call—Google and Facebook are conflicted (and lobbying everyone to look away).

photoThat renders some of your most private information—your children’s current and historical locations, confidential discussions about vulnerable parents, family browsing or purchasing habits—available for sale to the highest bidder. Scared? You should be. I’ve seen enough in my career to know that privacy needs to extend beyond your health.

But am I greedy, wanting free services and total privacy? No. I believe respecting privacy is a cost of doing business. And it should be up to me to say my location’s more private than my migraines. Or my children’s data is entirely off limits. My information, my choice.

From where I stand, it’s time we take responsibility for all our data, and reject the increasingly confusing array of privacy waivers designed to strip our control or rights. To be clear, I don’t blame the social media companies, they’re behaving rationally. After all, companies don’t have ethics, people do.

We, the users, are the ones behaving irrationally, by trusting media companies and advertisers to act in our families’ best interest. That’s not their mission statement, it’s ours.

Privacy is a right, not a privilege. And unless I give you explicit permission to gather, distribute or use my family’s information, you are forbidden to do so.

That’s the privacy policy I want.

If you support this idea, this is one thing I’d love you to be public about.

Please Share this.

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CareZoneCareZone.com provides a safe, ad-free place to manage everything you’d never manage on Facebook.

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Donating to Autism Speaks

I’d like to explain a donation my company’s making today to Autism Speaks—and to all parents facing autism.

A little over a decade ago, my brother and his wife adopted a wonderful little boy from Romania, who was later diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He also turned out to be profoundly deaf.

A few years later, I had a child of my own, and he, too, had development issues to which my wife and I needed to pay particular attention.

Neither my brother nor I had a safe place to organize information about our families, store important documents or instructions, or a secure way to keep our extended families or helpers up to date. So, like everyone else, we reverted to paper files, phone trees, and lots of email. There were great productivity tools on the web, but none tailored to the specifics-or privacy requirements-of caring for a child.

And if you’ve cared for someone in need, a child, parent or loved one, you know it’s often very hard work. That’s what motivated my friend Walter and me to do something about it-we left careers in the technology world to start CareZone, a private service for families taking care of loved ones.

Every year, the number of kids diagnosed with ASD’s grows, and the rate appears to be accelerating. An autism diagnosis is hard enough, but it’s also very expensive. Clinics, therapies, helpers, even simple changes to everyday living, they all add up. As you already know, Autism Speaks is a great group fueling research, and helping people take charge of an ASD diagnosis

We started talking to Autism Speaks after launching CareZone, and committed to support their “Light It Up Blue!” campaign to raise awareness. After getting to know them, we also decided to make a donation to families challenged with an autism diagnosis, and to help distribute Autism Speaks’s 100 Day Kit (a guide to making best possible use of the 100 days following your child’s diagnosis) through the service.

So our donation is this: if you are a family member caring for someone on the autism spectrum, please feel free to use CareZone without charge – you can claim your account (or watch a quick screencast to learn more) at carezone.com/autism

I hope you find it useful, I know my family has. Helping families care for loved ones is what motivates us—so if there’s more you’d like us to do, please don’t hesitate to let us know at support@carezone.com

In the interim, feel free to tell your friends.

 

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The Thinking Behind CareZone

I’m launching a new business today – it’s called CareZone.

I’ve spent roughly 25 years listening and responding to the technology needs of large institutions. It’s a great business.

But having seen the benefits technology delivered to enterprises, I’ve always found the most interesting innovations clustered around how those institutions responded to individuals. Technology has given voice to billions of people, and turned the market on its head: institutions accustomed to telling customers and citizens the rules of the road are now faced with individuals who can and do make their own decisions. Joined via social networks, or just acting in unison, individuals are now, and will forever be, the most powerful force on earth.

And after leaving Sun Microsystems in early 2010, I decided that was where I wanted to focus – on serving individuals, and creating products that would simplify and enhance their lives.

But I also believe you can only succeed where you’ve got domain knowledge.

And although I’ve been a student of social media since its infancy, it’s a crowded space, built upon a subtle premise: the more you share, the more valuable you are to the companies that package what you’ve shared for sale to advertisers. For most social media companies, privacy is toxic — it destroys what you can charge your real customers: the advertisers.

For some areas in life, that’s not an issue. I don’t mind sharing my love of my alma mater, my coffee preferences or engaging the twitterverse now and then.

But for what I and my co founder (Walter) were thinking about, that approach wouldn’t fit.

By birth or by choice, everyone has a family. And my family, like many of yours, has had its fair share of challenges – related to aging, health, development, long term planning, or the more mundane complexities of staying in sync across zip codes (and continents). These challenges surround private, family matters, which I do not want sold to the highest bidder.

Nor do the people we’ve spent the last year getting to know – parents, helpers, social workers, caregivers and friends. Making decisions about how you manage your own information is different than making decisions on behalf of your child, or someone who needs you. Where do you manage their information?

And that’s the basis for what we’re unveiling today: CareZone, a safe place for families to care and coordinate. If you’re caring for someone in need, you’ve likely faced the same challenges we’ve all faced – a desire to use modern Internet tools to stay organized and coordinated, with a lingering concern around where that information goes, who sees it and how it might be used in the future. We wanted to address those concerns up front.

First, CareZone is built on the assumption you’re caring for someone else, on whose behalf you might keep a journal, archive documents, manage information, or track medicines. We all know that caring for someone creates an endless stream of information — CareZone helps put you in control.

Second, CareZone’s default privacy setting is simple: only you can see what’s in your account. No one else. If you want to extend access to others, like your spouse, extended family, or an emergency response team, you make (and can revoke) that decision explicitly.

If you choose to share your account with, say, your husband, wife or brother-in-law, you’ll both have access to the same information, emergency contacts or reference documents. Families can share journals or documents, medication lists can be shared with a new helper, a babysitter can have easy access to care instructions or an emergency contact list, or your Dad can have a safe place to share his accounts, passwords or last wishes.

To be clear, CareZone is a business predicated upon privacy: we are funded by families, not by advertisers, which means you won’t see ads, and you’ll always know our highest priority is to protect your informatoin, not sell it. Unlike a social media site, you’re not our product, you’re our customer.

What we’re unveiling today is the first commercial version of our service – and we’d love your feedback. The 1.0 version includes the following apps:

  • A Profile – to provide a permanent reference of key information
  • A Journal – to manage private observations, or have a private conversation among family members
  • A Medication manager – to organize all meds/therapies in one place
  • A To Do Manager – to document and assign items to be completed
  • A Contact list – to provide a common, private directory of family, helpers, vendors, doctors, etc.
  • Notes – to store instructions, passwords, account numbers, etc.
  • Uploaded Files – a safe place to store reports, advance directives, any other important files you don’t want to lose or might want to share with family or helpers

Until March 17, 2012, our service is free for one year — for everyone that creates an account. These charter accounts (up to three individuals being cared for) can be shared by as many family members as you wish. After March 17th (and after one year for our charter accounts), our pricing is $5/month, or $48/year if you pay up front – and sharing access to the account (with family, or anyone you choose) remains free. Our service is priced based upon the number of individuals being cared for — not the number of people you invite to help.

And in terms of who are we are as a company…

We are a small company of very experienced people, headquartered in the cloud (and physically in San Francisco and Seattle). We devote a portion of our profits to good works (stay tuned), and are committed to making a difference in the lives of those we serve — and the global communities in which we operate.

You’ll hear a lot more from us in the weeks and months ahead, and I’m really interested to hear your feedback.

As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter, or read our blogs, here.

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There’s been lots of coverage of our launch, btw. Take a look…

AllThingsD

TechCrunch

Fast Company

San Jose Mercury News (Silicon Valley’s news)

San Francisco Chronicle

Wall Street Journal

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February 15, 2012 · 12:24 am

Realigning the Stars

I got to know Steve Jobs during a period when success eluded him. When he’d left Apple, and founded NeXT Computer, Inc. In 1989, a few friends and I started a software company, Lighthouse Design, that devoted itself to the NeXT platform. Whether any of us admitted it at the time, Lighthouse was built by a group of people for whom Steve Jobs was the gravitational center of the universe.

At Carnegie Mellon University in 1984, we’d all drained our savings (in my case, my parents’) to buy the first Macintoshes available. We followed every product launch, Steve’s departure from Apple, the founding of NeXT, the Pixar purchase. Two years out of college, I remember being at a friend’s house planning our startup, looking at the early NeXT product collateral – like the machines he’d just unveiled, the printed collateral was exquisite. The blackest black you can imagine, a perfect square. Like the engineering, it was artwork.

Where Steve went, we, and a small legion of others – employees at NeXT, as well as software developers and a very patient Japanese investor – would follow. He had an ease about him, his self-confidence was captivating. Quit your job and join the future? Why not.

When Steve made his first call to my office, I figured it was my friend Ray, pulling a prank. It wasn’t. Once Steve had my direct line (and then my home number), he freely dispensed opinions about everything we did, from product features to naming and pricing. He was a passionate user. At all hours of the day and night.

Not all the calls were pleasant. I remember one in particular, when Steve learned how we were going to price a new presentation product, $995/user. He barked that we were blowing it, we’d never get to millions of copies sold at that price. I agreed, but the problem wasn’t Lighthouse reaching millions of copies, it was NeXT’s – if you weren’t running NeXTSTEP, we couldn’t sell to you. And NeXTSTEP was selling in the thousands of units, so perhaps he should lower his pricing. We didn’t always agree.

He was remarkably loyal and supportive. I remember the day he told me how proud he was of his friend Larry, whose company had just eclipsed a billion dollars in revenue. On our walks around NeXT’s offices, Steve dispensed personal advice as freely as pricing strategy. He demonstrated the same confident ease in his personal reflections as he did in his professional perspectives. I have never met a more principled man.

Principled people are often difficult.

When the internet bubble began inflating, Lighthouse was approached by acquirers, and Steve didn’t hesitate to offer his guidance. I was disappointed we weren’t going to be joining NeXT – he wasn’t certain whether NeXT would survive. He was frustrated, but understood our choice. We spoke only seldomly thereafter.

Perhaps I’m biased by age or experience, but I don’t think my social graph is the only one to see Steve as a gravitational force. Every startup aspires to be an Apple of their field.

And every CEO I know aspires to so effectively captivate their audience -and their shareholders (and board).

For Silicon Valley, he has, in many ways, been the star around which we all orbit. His absence is disorienting. I can’t think of a better way of describing it.

Rest in peace, Steve, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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A Picture Emerges

As I tweeted this morning, I’m starting a company today with an old friend – our site’s PictureOfHealth.com.

We’re not saying much beyond “we’re focusing on the intersection of innovation and public health,” but we are starting to build out a dev and design team. So if you care about health and technology, we’d love to hear from you here.

Why are we focusing on health? It’s ultimately a personal choice for both of us. For me, perhaps the most satisfying part of my last job was seeing Sun’s technology used in ways and by people that changed the world. Whether that was inventing a new business, creating a new market or creating national infrastructure, I had infinite faith in my team and our technology, so it was easy to sell what we offered.

But the most exciting (and frankly, the largest) opportunities were those that changed lives, that changed the way you thought about or lived in the world (think eBay or Baidu). It wasn’t that I didn’t love winning SAP deals to consolidate regional bank processes, it’s that it was hard to feel an emotional bond to the outcome (especially when the banks were collapsing, and Moore’s Law was miniaturizing those wins).

Health is something different.

Everyone cares about it in a deeply personal way (it’s tough to say the same about specialized microprocessors). Mums, Dads, children, friends, loved ones, nurses, doctors, even insurance companies and governments – everyone on earth, in one form or another, cares about health and well being.

To me, that’s easy to get excited about.

And a pretty big market.

So at the risk of repetition, if you care about health and technology, we’d love to meet you here.

More to come (and with a greater frequency than once every six months, which is a story in and of itself)…

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Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

I feel for Google – Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too.

In 2003, after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking Glass*, Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects were “stepping all over Apple’s IP.” (IP = Intellectual Property = patents, trademarks and copyrights.) If we moved forward to commercialize it, “I’ll just sue you.”

My response was simple. “Steve, I was just watching your last presentation, and Keynote looks identical to Concurrence – do you own that IP?” Concurrence was a presentation product built by Lighthouse Design, a company I’d help to found and which Sun acquired in 1996. Lighthouse built applications for NeXTSTEP, the Unix based operating system whose core would become the foundation for all Mac products after Apple acquired NeXT in 1996. Steve had used Concurrence for years, and as Apple built their own presentation tool, it was obvious where they’d found inspiration. “And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too.” Steve was silent.

And that was the last I heard on the topic. Although we ended up abandoning Looking Glass, Steve’s threat didn’t figure into our decision (the last thing enterprises wanted was a new desktop – in hindsight, exactly the wrong audience to poll (we should’ve been asking developers, not CIO’s)).

Bluster and Threat (Often Credible)

As in life, bluster and threat are commonplace in business – especially the technology business. So that interaction was good preparation for a later meeting with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. They’d flown in over a weekend to meet with Scott McNealy, Sun’s then CEO – who asked me and Greg Papadopoulos (Sun’s CTO) to accompany him. As we sat down in our Menlo Park conference room, Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” OpenOffice is a free office productivity suite found on tens of millions of desktops worldwide. It’s a tremendous brand ambassador for its owner – it also limits the appeal of Microsoft Office to businesses and those forced to pirate it. Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket.

Royalty bearing free software? Jumbo shrimp. (Oxymoron.)

But fearing this was on the agenda, we were prepared for the meeting. Microsoft is no stranger to imitating successful products, then leveraging their distribution power to eliminate a competitive threat – from tablet computing to search engines, their inspiration is often obvious (I’m trying to like Bing, I really am). So when they created their web application platform, .NET, it was obvious their designers had been staring at Java – which was exactly my retort. “We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?” Bill explained the software business was all about building variable revenue streams from a fixed engineering cost base, so royalties didn’t fit with their model… which is to say, it was a short meeting.

I understand the value of patents – offensively and, more importantly, for defensive purposes. Sun had a treasure trove of some of the internet’s most valuable patents – ranging from search to microelectronics – so no one in the technology industry could come after us without fearing an expensive counter assault. And there’s no defense like an obvious offense.

But for a technology company, going on offense with software patents seems like an act of desperation, relying on the courts instead of the marketplace. See Nokia’s suit against Apple for a parallel example of frivolous litigation – it hasn’t slowed iPhone momentum (I’d argue it accelerated it). So I wonder who will be first to claim Apple’s iPad is stepping on their IP… perhaps those that own the carcass of the tablet computing pioneer Go Corp.? Except that would be AT&T. Hm.

Having watched this movie play out many times, suing a competitor typically makes them more relevant, not less. Developers I know aren’t getting less interested in Google’s Android platform, they’re getting more interested – Apple’s actions are enhancing that interest.

Sun was sued numerous times – most big companies are sued almost constantly by entities or actors whose sole focus is suing others. Groups with no business focus other than litigating patent suits are affectionately known as trolls – pure litigation entities. (For good humor, read this, an application to patent the act of trolling. If granted, it would give the patent holder a reciprocal claim against a patent troll.)

The most egregious of such suits was filed against Sun by Kodak (yes, the film photography people).

Egregious, because Kodak had acquired a patent from a defunct computer maker (Wang) for the exclusive purpose of suing Sun over an esoteric technology, Java Remote Method Invocation (“Java RMI” – not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Kodak”). Given how immature Kodak’s technology business was (they were just starting out in the digital world), we had little we could respond with – I suppose we could’ve hunted for a Wang-like opportunity to hit at their core, but Kodak was a customer, which certainly complicated things, and the time and expense involved would’ve been prohibitive.

Their case was eventually heard before a jury in Rochester, New York, famous for being home to… the Eastman Kodak company. Lo and behold, the local jury decided Sun should pay Kodak more than a hundred million dollars. So here’s something I could never say as Sun’s CEO.

I prefer SmugMug.

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*To see a Looking Glass demo, click here - it starts at the ~2:00 minute mark.

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An Individual’s Agenda

It’s a lot harder writing a blog as an individual than as a Chief Executive.

As a CEO, you have an obvious and explicit agenda in nearly all communications – drive awareness for the company, its products and ideas. The same applies across internal and external audiences (the notion you can separate audiences is comically antiquated – ubiquitous social media renders listeners just as powerful as speakers).

As an individual, my agenda isn’t nearly so clear (at least one reason it’s taken me so long to post a first entry). On the one hand, I’d like to put context around some of the decisions I faced at Sun. There was almost always more going on behind the scenes than was obvious to the outside world, and some of that backdrop might be interesting.

In addition, I’d like to put my personal experiences in context. I’ve reconciled myself to the reality that such insights may only be of interest to my mother, but that seems like an acceptable downside – from which I’ll endeavor to protect you by liberal usage of the personal tag. If it’s interesting, have at it. If not, you’re in charge of ignoring it. (And for an interesting personal blog, may I recommend Mike Dillon’s – he was formerly Sun’s General Counsel (the top lawyer), and he’s decided to bicycle across the US to clear his head.)

As for those that read my blog in one of the eleven languages into which Sun translated it… I’m not sure I have an easy answer just yet. If you’ve got a suggestion or idea, feel free to leave it in the comment section.

More to come.

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