My tale of wheels

The first four-wheeled love affairs are always special. In 1995, I got a 1985 Volkswagen Golf. I purchased that car from my father. I was 27 years old. Although I had my driver’s license for 10 years, I never felt the need for my own car. Reason being, the benefits of living in Reykjavik and Oslo. One could easily commute and do without a car, particularly in Oslo. I would borrow a car from my grandfather in Iceland or my father in Norway, only when needed but that was seldom.

I drove my little Golf until it could not drive anymore. I loved that little car, although I had to tilt the seat back when driving it. I had to avoid my head hit the ceiling of the car, leaving little space for passengers, which included two gentlemen flying from the US in their private jet just before Christmas in 1997, with the intent of buying my little company Opera. Their efforts were in vain.

I have had other cars from that time. After the Golf, I got an Opel Zafira and later a Mitsubishi Colt, and some others.

And now it’s time for another ‘first’ car story. I have desired an electric car for a long time, and finally, I am a proud owner of one. My first electric car – a Volkswagen e-Golf – a beauty.

It feels nostalgic – a lot like my old car, but in a modern form and much taller. Going forward, my goal is to only buy electric cars, if at all possible. I know I am late to the party but I am an optimist – better late than never!

Countries around the world see the use of electric vehicles as a major way to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And this is encouraging for our environment and climate vagaries. Not all countries have the infrastructure for electric cars, but the will to support this change looks bright.

Sales of electric cars in Norway have overtaken traditional vehicles. 58% of the vehicles are battery-powered. When it comes to electric vehicle uptake, Norway is streets ahead of any other country.

And as to driving an electric car, it feels a lot more correct than driving a gasoline-driven car. It is a lot of fun. Finally, I have made the switch.

My experience with Windows 10 S

During a recent trip, I did something I do not do often. I left my computer behind. I was driving to the mountains and the intent was to return the same day. But the trip got prolonged. I needed to get online, and I decided to grab a cheap PC in a local supermarket. I got one with Windows 10 S as I wanted to try out this Microsoft OS.

That was the start of an ugly story.

The install of Windows 10 S is pretty similar to installing Windows in general. You have to go out of your way to avoid using the Microsoft online install. You have to unclick a lot of settings which otherwise allow Microsoft to gather information about your use of the computer. So far, things were generally unpleasant, given that I strongly believe no company should have the right to collect my or your data in the way Microsoft and others are doing.

As you may know, Windows 10 S is an operating system that is limited by not allowing users to install software that competes with Microsoft’s own, by use of the Microsoft store. You can unlock Windows 10 S. To do that, however, you need to login into Microsoft.

Now, there is absolutely no logical reason for this, but I was forced to do that to use the computer, helping Microsoft identify me. But to my dismay, something even worse happened.

During the process, Microsoft decided to merge my Skype and Microsoft accounts. This is something that I think is uncalled for. I use my Skype account a fair bit and I use it from different computers. By merging these two accounts, two very different use cases are linked.

In my opinion, this is a security risk – the login to your computer, the login to your phone service and the login to your email should not be the same. Now you may say that this is just the kind of thing that Google would do, and you would be right, but in no way makes it any better. There is no reason for Microsoft to insist that I use the same login for my multiple, unrelated accounts.

The creation of super profiles, where a lot of information about us is gathered, is something that should be banned. Combining accounts into one, without options, is both unethical and I think it should be considered illegal as well.

The only logical reason for Microsoft to combine the Skype account with the Microsoft account is to be able to gather more data. Obviously, they will hide behind convenience and although that may be true in some cases, in this case the combination of the accounts is creating a security risk – given that it is likely that you will want to use your Skype account on devices that might not even be yours. Would you want to do that with account details that may open your computer and your email and various other services?

Shame on you Microsoft!

Why Vivaldi sponsors a small football team in Iceland

For the first time ever my home country – Iceland – is taking part in the FIFA World Cup. In fact, it’s not only taking part, it’s being watched closely by the experts and is taking many by surprise.

Being a big football fan myself, I am often asked how a small country like Iceland is able to turn out such a strong team. Let me share some insights with you. A word of warning: you’ll see the words football and Vivaldi in the same sentence.

Let’s start at the beginning

I come from a small town in Iceland called Seltjarnarnes. It’s right next to Reykjavik. You can basically walk down to Reykjavik in half an hour. When I was growing up, it was a town of 3000 people. Today it has a population of 4500.

I grew up playing football for the local club – Grótta. The club was founded in 1967 which makes it as old as I am.

Back then I remember Grótta being a fourth-league club but they’ve made great strides since then. At the moment they are in the third league but have been going back and forth between third and second. There’s a lot of young talent in that club and I am confident they’ll progress.

Growing up in Iceland, Seltjarnarnes and Grótta were my local community and the natural thing to do was play football with my local team at lower age groups. I did, even though I wasn’t great. But I had a lot of fun and obviously it’s a community that’s still close to my heart.

In January 2015, Vivaldi started sponsoring Grótta. The focus of the team – being a community football club and a place where young players can develop – is important to me. The number of people playing with the team is astounding. There are a lot of kids playing. They are already competing albeit not professionally. They use many new techniques to improve the team’s performance. For example, they are trying wearing monitors that give information about the physical performance of the players.

The money Vivaldi contributes pays for some of the ongoing expenses of the club, e.g. we cover the cost for the buses taking the players to tournaments.  

Vivaldi’s office in Iceland is also based in Seltjarnarnes which means that our team there is involved with the football team on many levels.

Just recently, Grótta football field got a new, special name – it now carries Vivaldi’s name. That makes us really proud!

Isn’t it fantastic that a small country like Iceland can produce so much talent and such a strong team! Many of the players are very good and end up playing professionally albeit not in Iceland.

My experience playing football in Iceland and more recently supporting a small football club there shows that it all starts at the community level (and, yes, I follow the same principle when building Vivaldi). It starts at playing fields like Grótta where the town population cannot even fill a big stadium. But this takes nothing away from the passion for the sport. In fact, it makes it stronger. Go Iceland!

Good for accessibility, good for all users

In the early days of the Web, the web pages described the content and its structure, while the layout was decided by the browser. This allowed for content to be displayed on a lot of different devices, including text-only devices and devices without colour screens. This also opened up for the content display to adapt to the needs of the user.

At Opera, we grasped this opportunity with both hands. Clearly, if the user needed print that was 4x bigger and with a black background and green text, that is what we should show. However, not everyone agreed. I remember being at one of the early conferences and being threatened with legal action unless we displayed the content 100% the same way as it was shown by the leading competitor, which I believe was Mosaic at the time. If the print was too small to read, that was the user’s problem. We thought differently and we have always believed that adapting to the user´s needs is what we should do, both at Opera in the early days and now at Vivaldi.

For me doing the best to adapt to the user’s needs is a given. My background is in computer science and usability, but I’ve also been exposed to usability from early on, given that my father’s research focus as a professor in Psychology was on children with disabilities. For many people, the size of the letters and the input methods available can be the difference between being able to use the Internet or not at all. We should strive to adapt to those needs and IMHO what we do for them, we do for us all.

Even in the first versions of Opera, we had keyboard shortcuts, single keyboard shortcuts, and scaling of content. It took years before other browsers had zoom like ours.

We have brought this into Vivaldi as well. We have the keyboard shortcuts, the single keyboard shortcuts, spatial navigation, and many more accessibility features. The more you study Vivaldi, the more you will find.

Vivaldi is about customization. It’s about providing a million different ways to do things, so you can get what you want out of it as a user. We provide the functionality in the browser so that you can tailor it to your requirements.

Web accessibility got broken partly because of the direction the web took – focusing on how things should look, not the underlying functionality. We’ve been seeing a lot of dynamic content and that doesn’t scale as nicely.

Limiting the ability to tailor products to your requirements has been a constant trend. I believe in going the other direction – we adapt to your requirements. In some cases, those requirements are something that’s non-negotiable.

Privacy : Ever had the feeling you are being followed? You are.

A year ago, I was travelling extensively around the world talking about the importance of privacy on the Internet. I spoke fiercely against data collection and targeting of individuals. This is something that has been on my mind for a long time. The erosion of privacy on the Internet is a very significant problem.

During conversations with my friends, they told me how they felt being watched – whether this was from playing Monopoly and seeing ads for Monopoly afterwards or looking at a dress in a store and later seeing ads for the same clothing online.

Are things this bad?

Almost everything we do online is constantly being collected, scrutinized and processed by algorithms. And this has been happening for some time and is increasing. With the addition of logins on your devices – computers, mobile phones, and tablets – you are continually being tracked. Through logins into services such as Google and Facebook, data is thus collected on you, not just on a random device. Even when you are not connected to the Internet, these logins enable the recording of your location all the time.

But things have got even worse – stealthily and silently.

A few years ago we got the Beacons. When we talk about Beacon tracking technology, it all begins with Apple and Google. In 2013 Apple created iBeacon, which is a technology based on Bluetooth. Here is what Wikipedia says about iBeacon:

iBeacon is based on Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing by transmitting a universally unique identifier picked up by a compatible app or operating system. The identifier and several bytes sent with it can be used to determine the device’s physical location, track customers, or trigger a location-based action on the device such as a check-in on social media or a push notification.”

Google quickly followed suit with the release of Eddystone, a technology similar to iBeacons.

The gates to complete tracking were open.

The most common technology used for tracking location is GPS. Our mobile phones send signals to the local towers, Wi-Fi setups, and Bluetooth devices all the time. With the help of these signals, our movements are being marked on a granular scale. And now with the Beacon technology, we can be followed even more closely, even inside buildings. For instance, when you take a close look at a particular dress in a store, the store knows it and saves all that information.

How does this happen?

While we walk around, our mobile phone listens for and communicates with, any Bluetooth beacons it encounters. The Bluetooth beacons can be placed anywhere – outside in a street, inside a clothing shop, inside a vending machine, or even inside our place of business. Every time our phone walks past one, the beacon knows our phone was there. If someone can collect the data from all of the beacons, they can piece together exactly where we went, and how long we were at each location. This can be used to decide which item in the store we spent the most time looking at – food, magazines, clothes and more.

Some time ago, a story on a Norwegian startup, Unacast, caught my eye. The story was about them getting funding, but the article in question did not go into detail about the services they provided. I decided to read more and found that they were doing something quite interesting and at the same time, scary. This is the way they describe themselves:

“We empower companies to make smarter decisions by providing the most accurate understanding of human activity in the real world through the Real World Graph.”

Still not getting it? Here’s an excerpt from their recent press release:

Unacast is the first company to enable a scalable way for retailers and brands to retarget customers online based on accurate behavior in the physical space.”

I continued to dig and to my dismay discovered that my old company had been involved in this as well. I am appalled, but not surprised. My old company has changed a lot.

“Opera/Unacast partnership connects advertisers to global beacon data for the first time.”

“Advertisers can now segment and target consumers based on where they went in the real world”.

As a proponent of privacy, I am concerned. Are you – as a user – fully aware of the data collection happening when you walk into a store? And even if you are, do you know what’s being collected?

Companies such as Unacast are making a complete picture of us and our habits by combining our data from both online tracking and real-world tracking, and in many cases, they are succeeding to an alarming degree allowing us to lose all ability to remain private.

In the earlier days, this was called spyware – software that spies on you. Unfortunately, the large companies, such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook all resort to spying on us. They indulge in hyper-targeted advertising based on more and more intrusive personal surveillance. This, in my opinion, is unethical and wrong. Collection of massive information on people should be banned. Our data should be no-one’s business but our own.

Privacy is not something that we should have to justify or argue for – it should be assumed. A default. Only regulation and responsible technological solutions will make privacy possible in its true sense.

And I sincerely hope the authorities can do the right thing and ban the combination of data sources and the trading of customer information. But regulation can take time to come into effect.

The most pragmatic way to protect our own interests then is to boycott companies that indulge in such practices. At the end of the day, the options are there. Taking our privacy back is not as arduous as we think. Be more vigilant and stop regarding technology as only a matter of convenience. The choice is ours – either we get watched and stalked or, we live the lives that we deserve free from constant surveillance.

So are you still wondering if you are being followed? You are. Online and off. And this has got to stop!

Talking Vivaldi in San Francisco

It’s always inspiring to speak with like-minded people and hear their feedback about what we do here at Vivaldi. Spending last week in the San Francisco Bay Area and meeting fellow entrepreneurs, journalists and our users has given us lots of ideas to ponder upon.
User meet up in San Francisco
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