Disney’s Bob Iger simplifies tech adoption, and Microsoft’s avoidable absurdity - Hindustan Times
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Disney’s Bob Iger simplifies tech adoption, and Microsoft’s avoidable absurdity

May 30, 2024 07:20 AM IST

I happened to get another quick dose of California last week. It’s always a different vibe.

I happened to get another quick dose of California last week. It’s always a different vibe. This time, focus on Canva’s first ever global Create keynote. Made sense with the scale too. A usually sunny Los Angeles had a bit of a cloud cover on the day, as this 72,000-seater SoFi Stadium and adjacent YouTube Theatre provided a colossal location. Perhaps logical, considering the company’s application suite gets its biggest overhaul in a decade. This time, enterprise, business and teams' users are in focus. A new chapter? But I must speak with you about Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company and her conversation with Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva. It’s interesting what he said, when Perkins asked him about tech transformation within Disney.

Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company and her conversation with Melanie Perkins
Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company and her conversation with Melanie Perkins

“What we urge all of our people to do when they view technology as potentially disruptive is to realise that you’re never going to get in the way of it. There isn’t a generation of human beings that has ever been able to stand in the way of technological advancement,” Iger gives us all a perspective about how we tend to view technology, either as an enabler or as a complication. “In my mind, what we try to do is embrace it, embrace the change that technology is creating and use it as a basically the wind behind our backs instead of the wind in our faces,” he adds.

Over the years, we have often looked at Disney’s acquisitions from the periscope of content accumulation, but that’s a very restricted perception. Adding ESPN, ABC, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox has given the company access to technology that’ll hold it in good stead. Quite something to ponder over that approach, as they’ve to build on years of success with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the Marvel franchises, Friends, Two and a Half Men as well as The Big Bang Theory.

NOTES

Google’s scrambling (again) to clear the mess its AI has created. This time around, AI Overviews for Search have hosted some rather bizarre pointers in the summarisation of search results, which users have been pointing out on social media. Quite important to note, though formally released last month at Google I/O, the company has been testing these overviews for over a year now. Putting glue on pizza (non-toxic, credit where it is due?) to prevent the cheese from falling off or suggesting that UC Berkeley geologists suggesting that eating one small rock per day is a good source of minerals and vitamins…AI ISN’T TAKING AWAY OUR JOBS ANYTIME SOON.

EVOLVE

Back to Canva's latest updates, for a moment. This is taking the competition to Adobe and many other tech companies which offer apps or services that Canva’s integrated very neatly, a notch or two higher. Designing whiteboards or presentations, editing videos, managing documents, website layouts and more all with a thick layer of generative artificial intelligence (AI). In a way, this is in the direction of formalising Canva’s individual user base, who already use the suite for workplace tasks, but not part of an organisational subscription.

I am in the same boat, which is why there is a resonance to the argument put forward by Perkins. “Obviously, it’s very expensive to go and buy all these different tools, but it’s also expensive for people to buy learn, how to navigate each of these tools as well,” she summarises. It is a problem compounded by generative AI, and organisations in particular end up with different tools for text and video and images and code, 3D, and speech. Their data suggests deployment in over 90% of the Fortune 50 companies, and over 6 million companies worldwide.

  • Does that put a big target on Canva’s back? “To be honest, we haven’t thought about it that much. We just constantly want to build a great product and we really love building new products, what we have and listening to customers about what they like and what they want to see next,” Cameron Adams, who is co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Canva, told me. He however makes it clear – the enterprise, business and teams focus are additive, and not a pivot. The core user demographic, which is what has helped put together a base of 180 million monthly active users, of which 20 million are paying for the “Pro” tier.
  • The thing is, Canva doesn’t exactly want a user to switch from the apps or platforms they already use. That strategy sees third party integrations which widen scope of utility. Some highlights, for consumers and business users, includes Microsoft PowerPoint and SharePoint, Google Ads, Dropbox, Meta Design Check, Google Drive, Google Photos, Slack and Later. Or a tool from popular online advertising platforms Meta, Google, and Amazon to quickly test if a template is in accordance with their standards.

Quick access to our coverage from LA:

Read: Exclusive | Most cutting-edge tools use AI built in-house: Canva’s Cameron Adams

Read: Canva sharpens focus on enterprises as a refreshed UI waits to be discovered

Read: Canva boosts AI layer for Magic Studio, as Affinity acquisition reaps rewards

Read: Canva’s smart acquisitions fuel its latest chapter of growth

SPYWARE

It is absolutely not a good look for Microsoft. At their annual BUILD developer conference last week, the tech giant flexed muscles by showing off something called Recall, which will be part of some Windows 11 PCs. Basically, think of this as your PC having a photographic memory, and you can then ask the Copilot assistant random questions later about something and it’ll find the answer from that photographic memory. Brilliant. Technology at work. Microsoft is awesome with AI. Not quite though, because when you go into the specifics, the realisation is that Windows 11 will be busy taking screenshots of your screen at set intervals.

THAT. IS. NOT. A. GOOD. IDEA.

NPU (that’s a neural processing unit)
NPU (that’s a neural processing unit)

So, the screenshots could include your online banking account details such as IDs and passwords too. That’s the tip of the iceberg. “Windows constantly takes screenshots of what’s on your screen and then uses a generative AI model right on the device along with the NPU (that’s a neural processing unit) to process all that data and make it searchable, even photos,” the words of one other than Satya Nadella himself. These screenshots are aside from Recall’s other specifics — it’ll map a user’s past history of web browsing, usage within other apps, files, photos and emails too. The idea is, to give Copilot, a visual context of whatever you were browsing, reading and so on, for absolutely random (read, absent minded) searches at some point later.

Here's what Microsoft’s detailing of the measures in place, seems to suggest…

  • They say the content collected by Recall stays local, this is on the device. Additionally, encrypted by device encryption or BitLocker in Windows 11.
  • This data won’t be accessible to any other users with Windows accounts on the same device.

Isn’t that how we’d define spyware, working in the background, silently and sneakily, taking notes about what you do? Except in Microsoft’s world, this is now being positioned as a “feature”. For it to be “opt out” and not “opt in”, simply increases my level of suspicion. The contours of Recall, and the bravado around it, is absolutely ridiculous in my book.

In June last year, Microsoft settled a lawsuit for illegally collecting the personal information of children using the Xbox services without any consent from the parents, for $20 million. In July, another lawsuit for collecting user information even in Edge browser’s “private” mode. Would you believe anything Microsoft says about your data and where it stays?

Though these screenshots are encrypted and supposedly remain stored locally, still, I find myself (and this is incredibly rare) agreeing with Elon Musk. That’s a “feature” I’d definitely suggest turning off. I myself wouldn’t be caught using a Windows 11 machine (to be specific, these will be the upcoming Copilot+ PCs), with this enabled. In the back of my mind, I’ll still ponder whether it’s actually off. Nevertheless. The idea, for whatever privacy measures it may be building on, is as naïve as Zomato wanting to colour code its delivery fleet according to veg or non-veg food being delivered. Whether it was simply inviting the self-professed experts often sitting in RWA offices in Zomato’s case, or increasingly smart spyware makers in Microsoft’s story, a coquetry with stupidity is often best avoided.

It’s escalated quickly though. As it should have, for the sake of common sense and some semblance of concern towards user data privacy. Rightly so. The regulators in the UK are evaluating Microsoft’s move to constantly take screenshots of your PC’s screen. Someone has to shut this down. Soon.

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