Last Friday, John Hering was visiting the DLD offices together with Hosain Rahman (Jawbone). Despite the Oktoberfest madness that paralyses Munich in the cities’ so called 'fifth season', they came out for a casual tech talk without Lederhosen.
John co-founded Lookout together with two fellow mobile security scientists. Their research at the USC (University of Southern California) imposed the conclusion that threats to mobile users would grow rapidly and that a new approach to security will be required. In a way, their funding structure reflects the pressing demand. The allstar list speaks for itself: Khosla Ventures, Trilogy Equity Partners, Accel Partners, Index Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz.
LK: In a nutshell, what’s the principal mission statement of Lookout?
JH: Lookout builds software and technology designed to enable people to have confidence with their mobile device. Apps that secure your experience from hackers, protecting your personal information, and actually protecting the device itself, in case of loss or theft for example.
Mobile Devices - The Digital Extension of Oneself
LK: You refer to mobile devices as the „digital extension“ of oneself. Different circumstances impose different challenges. In the West, privacy concerns, data protection from criminals, and abuse by corporate interests seem to be predominant. In authoritarian environments, on the other side, it is really about life or death.
JH: True. In certain parts of the world, the average user’s primary concern is if their banking credentials are being stolen or if personal information is being misused by a corporation for advertising purposes. In North America and Western Europe, we are seeing this as a primary issue. When you move to other parts in the world, we are seeing the freedom of information flow being threatened. Issues like identity theft or privacy almost seem like a luxury good. The greater concern is if the communication platforms are trustworthy. In many circumstances, the answer is no. The question is how to build technology and awareness that forces the system to operate within legal boundaries in one part of the world and guarantees human rights in another. Freedom of communications in the post-pc-era is a vital concern. The Guardian Project, for instance, builds free open source technologies for Android that allow users to send encrypted text messages or encrypted voice communications.
Freedom of Communications in the Post-PC-Era
LK: Arguably, free networks are a universal right. But who steps up to guarantee them? This new kind of (global) public sphere is hosted by private companies, mainly based in the US. Generally, their common pattern of ICT development is defined by fast prototyping and iterations. If you look at the Haystack debacle, where a software promised to protect the identity of social activist in Iran, but was hacked instantly by Jacob Applebaum, who exposed the flawful design with his public quality control, the question arises, if – in these very sensitive matters of life and death – a regulatory framework has to be put in place?
JH: But what is the best method or tool to solve such problems? One of the challenges that we are observing is the exponential growth of technologies. It becomes very challenging for an inherently slow system like regulation to keep pace with technology. I am not advocating for a lack of regulation. There’s a place for it. However, what’s important is the end result. Regulation is a means to end just as self-regulation through technology and transparency. How do we begin a very open and difficult conversation in a way that starts to create interest and demand to self-regulate? And where is the right place and time to have policy oriented regulation. This is, indeed, an urgent global issue.
Learn more about Lookout.