Facebook, GDPR, brand safety – suddenly it’s 2018 all over again

Happy New Year 2018

For understandable reasons, the last four, regular monthly episodes of the Small Data Forum podcast have been focused – almost to the point of obsession – on coronavirus. From the uncertain first fumblings of life under lockdown, through escalating mortality and morbidity, and on to a fundamental lack of trust in the competence of blustering, blond, male, right-wing leaders … the last four episodes have had it all.

Some have said that this podcast was made for events like the pandemic, scrutinising as we do the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life. There’s been plenty of that about of late.

So, with lockdown restrictions being lifted all around the world – and Government advice completely ignored on the beaches of Bournemouth in the mini-U.K. heatwave last week, leading Dorset police to declare the overcrowding “a major incident” – our focus in this episode was much more catholic.

Indeed, with Facebook, GDPR, and brand safety the dominant topics, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and teleported back to 2018.

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We would have recorded you a shorter podcast …

Colonel Tom

It is said that French mathematician Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Winston Churchill all said: “I would have written you a shorter letter, I just didn’t have the time.” They may all have originated that sentiment, some may have quoted others, or all the attributions could be faulty. How to know? How to sift through the unmediated annals of citation history?

A similar predicament faced we three hosts of the Small Data Forum podcast as we gathered for our latest – and thirty-fifth – instalment of this semi-structured ramble-chat through the uses and abuses of data big and SMALL in politics, business, and public life.

Like so many of our fellow workers in the knowledge economy, we three musketeers had all been working from home for the past six weeks of lockdown U.K. (though we all had plentiful WFH experience before the pandemic). And like so many organisations, we have been forced to pivot our focus and output.

For a podcast obsessed with Trump and Brexit, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica since our foundation back in May 2016, we now talk about little else than the consequences, data, and language of COVID-19.

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More C-3PO and BB-8 than GDPR and CCPA, and definitely NSFW

Above: Prime Minister Johnson drives a Brexit-supporting JCB digger through a Pink Floyd-like wall with the scoop  emblazoned with Cummings favourite earworm.

“It’s Christ-maaaaaaaaas!”

With the stretched vocal chords of Slade’s Noddy Holder ringing in our ears, the three not-so-wise men at the helm of the Small Data Forum gathered for our post-GE2019, Christmas special, end-of-year, end-of-decade podcast.

And as usual for our Christmas specials, Neville, Thomas, and Sam made sure we’d tucked into some of the festive spirit before we started recording episode 31. Our tolerably noisy base was the members’ bar of the Picture House Cinema in Piccadilly Circus in Soho’s fashionable London.

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Back to the Future

When Rome teetered on the brink of democratic collapse in the first century BCE, as it prepared – unknowingly – to move from a form of notional democracy to imperial rule, three men came together to save the ever-expanding city state and advance their political careers.

Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus – the swashbuckler, the strategist, and the finance guy – effectively took power under emergency measures. Known collectively as the First Triumvirate, they made mistakes along the way, and were all – eventually – stabbed in either the front or the back.

And as we live today in extraordinary, turbulent times, I’m certain that the classicists’ classicist Mary Beard will be along with a BBC series to draw parallels soon.

There are two troubles with classical references and analogies, from both history and mythology.

The first is that two societies, 2,000 years apart, separated by the Dark Ages, Medieval Times, the Renaissance, and the four revolutions – from agricultural to industrial, technological to digital – are just quite literally incomparable.

The second is down to the current – at time of writing – incumbent of Number 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister Cummings – sorry Johnson – has a long track record of using classical allusions to spice up but ultimately bamboozle his public with his application of erudition. Most recently, he compared himself to Prometheus, the demi-god who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, but was punished for eternity by being lashed to a rock and having his liver pecked out by vultures.

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Summertime Special

In England’s distant past, long before the spread of wealth and the explosive growth of the middle classes, holidays were a rarity. Overseas holidays were unheard of, except for those gilded few who’d grown fat on the Empire and took a ‘grand tour’ of Europe for months at a time, or else went off to add new lands to said Empire.

The closest most workers got to any kind of holiday was being taken in a charabanc to the nearest seaside resort, where enforced fun would be had on piers stretching out into coastal waters. One of the highlights of such a visit would be an end-of-the-pier show, where metropolitan idols would perform song-and-dance, music hall routines for the masses. The shows were often billed as Summertime Specials.

In the world of the Small Data Forum podcast, this latest episode – 28 already – is our equivalent of an end of the pier show, our very own Summertime Special. As regular listeners will know, Thomas, Neville, and Sam don’t meet together IRL all that often. But in a tradition stretching back – ooh – as long as last December, last week we three braved metaphorical thunder, lightning, and rain to meet again at our favourite pre-pod haunt, Olivelli in the Cut, Waterloo, London.

Suitably stoked by pizza, pasta, and a surprisingly modest couple of bottles of Nero d’Avola, we set about our task of looking at the uses and abuses of data big and small in business, politics, and public life. But for only the third time in the three years we’ve been recording the podcast we did it in person.

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