Poorly Built Platforms Can Lead to Overthrow

In the fallout from Friday’s crippling cyber attack on Britain’s National Health Service, it has become apparent that a poorly-executed platform can not only suffer its own calamities, but can viably be leveraged for even greater attacks on institutions.

If a company has a backwards view of engineering and if you’re relaxed about security, its leaders are risking their job security and the health of the company, the well-being of other human lives, and even the future of a country. Digital transformation needs to be done right.

As members of the free world, eating apple pie and watching baseball, we should breathe a sigh of relief that the attackers on Friday just wanted some cash and not our countries.

In his seminal work, Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, Edward Luttwak frames the divisions of government as levers in the machine of the state, with the provision of healthcare serving as an exceptionally large lever.

In order to stage a coup, one must take control of a few levers, so when nuclear power facilities are hacked, when healthcare services are hacked, or when airline cockpits are penetrated, the stakes are raised well beyond sheep stations.

As platform businesses grow and begin molding more and more of modern society, the risks will become more centralized and only increase in scope, especially when they’re built for essential facets of society, like health, industry, and perhaps the military.

Sure, soldiers and tanks make for great photo ops, but their significance will decline in an increasingly integrated digital era.

If a platform business wants its users to think of it as cornerstone to their daily lives, then it must step up and prove its worth and reliability. The platform needs to demonstrate to its users that they will never need to go elsewhere. To do so, it must always be available and it must be clear that there’s no better place to spend time and money.

Target dropped the ball when it let customers’ credit card data slip, for all the world to see. Craigslist was a bit better in that it was just used as a stepping stone for Airbnb’s better UX.


Tesla’s autonomous vehicles are saving lives − what does does your company do?

Real World Impacts

Some might say that this argument only applies to digital platforms – that they’re the only ones susceptible to hacking – but offline systems are just as prone to unauthorized manipulation.

Consider the US government for instance: the principal tax collectors provide awful software, so companies like TurboTax have been able to usurp the IRS as the primary face for filing tax returns, at least as far as users are concerned.

Imagine what would happen if TurboTax was hacked and manipulated! Imagine if even just one employee made a simple mistake that submitted 1% less in tax revenues to the US government.

With the USA being the most powerful nation in the world, we’re now left with the reality that WWIII might depend not on the efforts of Bruce Willis, nor Big Dog, but in fact a random bunch of accountants and software engineers at Intuit, or even more influential companies. 

Oh so that’s how we start Excel. © Intuit

Software is indeed eating the world, though. Software companies, particularly platforms like Google and Facebook, are the ones that have the most power to redefine our society. As time progresses, software makes more and more decisions for humanity.

When governments limit their job opportunities to a limited population, such as native citizens, they’re greatly restricting their talent pool. Companies such as Google and Facebook are becoming as powerful as, if not more than, many governments − Denmark has even appointed an ambassador to Silicon Valley.

How is a state meant to compete against these opposition forces if it limits its potential employees to a small subset? It is no wonder that Canada’s PM is encouraging engineers to immigrate to Canada.

Software engineering prowess stands to be more important than any nation’s military. Knowing the enemy has become more difficult in recent decades, partially due to innovations in software.

On the Internet, these problems are even harder. Furthermore, the digital realm expands the possibility that the enemy might already be dead. Even if the platform gets fixed, ghosts can always back to haunt and punish the platform for offering a bad UX from when they were alive.

Not A Fake Problem

Another persistent problem is disinformation, more commonly known as fake news. If information services are compromised, that would have discernible impacts on the health of the population.

Google and Facebook are grappling with how to resolve this problem, while Reddit and Twitter need to confront the perennial issue of trolling with proactive solutions. Otherwise, more institutions will be called into question, much like the 2016 US presidential election.

We’ve now established that platforms are vulnerable when poorly designed, shoddily built, or simply mismanaged.

What about sticking to one thing and doing it really well? The sad reality is that this also produces bad outcomes. For instance, Amazon has a culture of ignoring “edge case” users, such as people who are blind or don’t speak American English, leaving out burgeoning markets and entire classes of people.

As a result, Europe misses out on efficient and effective e-commerce! Europeans didn’t even do anything wrong − they have decent cultures, awesome song competitions, and reasonable languages.

Their “problem” (from an outsider’s perspective) was simply that it takes too long to integrate with their smaller populations of users. Windows Phone suffered the same misfortune.

Too much personality for the downtown Seattle scene.

When your users have their needs unfulfilled, their loyalty is inevitably going to be tested. In the case of Europe, Scandinavians have learned English and their musical visionaries moved to the US and built the modern pop genre.

In the case of Snapchat; Facebook and Instagram have been copying its features and stunting its user growth, which led to its awful first earnings call. Snap fails to grasp what its core value proposition is and therefore delivers a suboptimal experience to its users and advertisers. Within a few years, the company will collapse or be sold off for parts if it doesn’t make some changes fast.

In securing your future, you therefore need to win loyalty and you need to scale faster than humanity and its weaknesses. You need to latch onto the growth curve of artificial intelligence – you need to make platforms sentient!


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