Tag Archives: social media

The Private Social Network for healthcare

In his post on the Pathcare blog, I trust you to keep this private, Danny Lieberman talked about the roles that trust, security and privacy play in online healthcare interactions. In this post, Danny talks about healthcare privacy challenges in social networks and describes how to implement a private social network for healthcare without government privacy regulation and IT balls and chains.

Online interactions with our HMO

We have online interactions with our healthcare organizations; accessing a Web portal for medical history, scheduling visits etc. Our PHI (protected healthcare information) is hopefully well-secured by our healthcare provider under government regulation (HIPAA in the US, and the Data Protection Directive in the EU). Albeit in the name of privacy, healthcare providers often take security to absurd extremes, witness the following anecdote:

I tried using online medical services with my provider in Hawaii but they could not respond due to my not being in Hawaii. What good is online diagnostic services when the patient is not in his/her home state?

Well now, I thought, that’s why Al Gore invented the Internet so that we could access healthcare services anywhere, anytime. Guess not. With our healthcare provider, we interact with the IT department. Bummer. On Facebook we interact with our friends. Compassion.

A healthcare provider’s business model requires them to protect your health information from disclosure. This is generally interpreted as doing as little as possible to help you be healthy. Social media business models require them to maximize distribution of your content. This means that your privacy is up to you and the people you connect with.

It seems obvious to me, that privacy regulation cannot work in social media because the connectivity is so high. There is no central data center where you can install an IPS and DLP systems and implement all of HIPAA CFR 45 Appendix A administrative, physical and technical safeguards. In that case, let’s get back to basics. We agree that privacy in our healthcare interactions is critical.

What is privacy?

pri·va·cy/ˈprīvəsē/

  1. The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.
  2. The state of being free from public attention

Healthcare privacy by design

Just like you are alone with your doctor in his office,we can build a private social network where the topology of the network guarantees privacy. We describe a star topology where one doctor interacting with many patients. We guarantee online privacy in our star topology network with 3 simple principles;

  1. Each doctor has his own private network of patients.
  2. In the private network, patients do not interact with other patients (interact as in friending, messaging etc.). We can expand the definition a bit by allowing a patient to friend another person in a caregiver role, but this is the only exception to the rule.
  3. A doctors private network does not overlap with other doctor networks, although doctors connect with each other for referrals.

This is a private network for healthcare by design.

What makes it a private social network, is the use of the same social apps we use in social media like Twitter and Facebook: friending, short messaging, status updates, groups, content sharing and commenting/liking.

A doctor uses a private social network for healthcare with the same 3 basic primitives of public social networking: Connect (or friend), Follow and Share.

One of the things that excites me the most about private social networks for healthcare is the potential to make the information technology go away and put the focus back on the patient-physican interaction and quality of clinical care.

  • Doctors save time in interviews because patients can record events and experiences before they come in to the office.
  • Data is more accurate since patients can record critical events like falls and BP drops, in proximity to the event itself.
  • Better data makes physician decisions easier and faster.
  • Better data is good for health and easier and faster is good for business.

What a beautiful business model – compassion, care and great business!

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The political power of social media

Clay Shirky writes on Foreign Affairs this week

Arguing for the right of people to use the Internet freely is an appropriate policy for the United States, both because it aligns with the strategic goal of strengthening civil society worldwide and because it resonates with American beliefs about freedom of expression

By switching from an instrumental to an environmental view of the effects of social media on the public sphere, the United States will be able to take advantage of the long-term benefits these tools promise.

Oooh – I just love this stuff “resonates with American beliefs” and “environmental view of the effects of social media on the public sphere

“Some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals believe them.”
George Orwell

Twitter and Facebook are communication tools. Not values.

It is the height of foolishness to assert that a communications tool like Facebook and Twitter is a substitute for values. Sure it makes it easier for 80,000 people to attend demonstrations someone else is funding, but don’t forget the agendas of the people funding the demonstrations.

The US will not be able to “to take advantage of the long-term benefits these tools promise” unless it takes a moral and value position, clearly delineating the basic dos ( for starters – honor your parents, honor freedom of religion) and don’ts (not killing your citizens, not raping your women, not chopping off hands of thieves, not funding Muslim terrorists, not holding the world at gun-point over the price of oil).

There is no evidence that social media changes government policy

Look at Egypt. Look at Israel. Look at Wall Street.

Social media hype is escapism from dealing with fundamental issues

Let’s assume that the US has an agenda and responsibility to make the world a better place.

Green / clean energy.  Healthy people.

I think we can all agree these are  good thing for the world. Did social media play any kind of role at all in the blunders of  the Obama administration in their energy or healthcare initiatives? Does the administration have a good record or a bad record with these initiatives?

Solyndra is an illustration of how a major Obama contributor took half a billion in loan guarantees and walked away without exposure.   The factory employed about 150 people and stimulated the pockets of a small number of wealthy people.   And, do not forget, Solyndra is kids stuff compared to the $80 Billion in real money that the US government squandered on Afghan electrification projects with no oversight on the cost-plus contractors that delivered zip to Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama and his yea-sayers like Clay Shirkey need the hifalutin talk about the importance of social media and free speech, to deflect voter attention from  rewards to their campaign contributors, financial service institutions, government contractors and Beltway insiders and winning the next Presidential election.

Is the objective improving the health of Americans or is the objective giving gifts of $44,000 to US doctors so that they can go out and buy some software from one of the 705 companies that have certified to HHS requirements for e-prescribing? WTF does e-prescription software have to do with treating chronic patients?

Even giving President Obama credit for having some good ideas – once you have a big, centralized, I’ll run everything, decide everything, make everyone comply kind of government – you get all kinds of nonsense like Solyndra, Afghan electrification projects, health care software subsidies and … Bar Lev lines,  multi-billion sheqel security fence projects and the funneling of funds from the PA to Israeli businessmen allied to Israeli ex-generals who sell gasoline to Palestinian terror organizations and security services to Palestinian banks.

In the Middle East – even while vilifying Bush, the Obama administration continues the Bush doctrine of not going after the real bad guys who fund terror (the Saudis),  while wasting thousands of American lives (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and blowing over 80 billion dollars in tax payer money on boondoogles like the Iragi and Afghan electrification projects.

Obama praise for the Arab Spring is chilling in its double-talk about democracy (just last month in Tunisia) as Libya, Egypt and their neighbors transition into Islamic fundamentalism rule amidst blatantly undemocratic violence.

In Israel, I would not blame any US President for problems our own doing no more than I would credit Facebook with the 2011 Summer of Love on Rothschild which was no more than an exercise in  mass manipulation by professional political lobbyists and people like Dafne Leaf who were too busy with their liberal agendas to serve their country.

Israeli leaders have been on a slippery downhill slope of declining morals since Sabra and Shatila in 1985.

And for that – we cannot blame any single President or Prime Minister no more than we can credit Facebook with remembering friends’ birthdays –  but only blame ourselves for putting up with the lack of values and morals of our leaders.

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Lies of social networking

Is marketing age segmentation dead?

My sister-in-law Ella and husband Moshe came over last night for coffee. Moshe and I sat outside on our porch, so he could smoke his cigars and we rambled over a bunch of topics, private networking,  online banking and the Israeli stock market.  Moshe grumbled about his stock broker not knowing about customer segmentation and how he used the same investment policy with all his clients.   A few anecdotes like that and I realized:

Facebook doesn’t segment friends

There is an outstanding presentation from a person in google research discussing this very point – a lack of segmentation in social networks:

http://www.slideshare.net/padday/the-real-life-social-network-v2

Almost every social networking site makes 4 assumptions, despite the fact that there is ample evidence that they’re wrong.

  1. Your friends are equally important
  2. Your friends are arranged into discrete groups
  3. You can manage hundreds of friends
  4. Friendship is reciprocal and equal

 

In fact :

  1. People tend to have 4 – 6 groups
  2. Each group has 2-10 people
  3. There are strong ties and weak ties.
  4. Strong ties are always in the physical world are < 6
  5. Weak ties in a business context are  < 150

 

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Configuring email notifications to be friendly but secure

I have commented in the past on the generally low security level of Microsoft ASP.Net web applications which stems from the closed Microsoft monoculture and a product strategy that prioritizes ease of use over security and privacy by hiding features and functionality from the user.

In the course of a security audit/penetration test of a social networking Web site this week that was developed and deployed on Ubuntu, I was reminded yet again that we all have something to learn.  Even Linux geeks.

A common Web 2.0 rich Web application system deployment involves a Web server running php and postfix for delivery of  email notifications to Web site members. There are 4 key system requirements for such a deployment:

  • A. Deploy as a null client, i.e as a machine that receives no mail from the network, and does not deliver any mail locally. This is a hugely important requirement to not turning your Web server into a launchpad for spammers.
  • B. Rewrite the default Apache www-data@domain with something more meaningful like
    domain@domain.com without changing PHP code.   This is both a usability issue and a security issue, since it is a bad idea to advertise the fact that your Web site operations are clueless to the point of not knowing how to change default LAMP settings.
  • C. Provide a human-readable From: in the header so that the users of your great Web 2.0 social media app will see real names instead of your domain. This is definitely a usability issue unrelated to security.
  • D. Mask the email addresses of your users so that you don’t disclose personal information. This is a basic data security and privacy requirement.

Continue reading

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Why Rich Web 2.0 may break the cloud

There are some good reasons why cloud computing is growing so rapidly.

First of all there are  the technology enablers: Bandwidth and computing power is cheap. Software development is more accessible than ever. Small software teams can develop great products and distribute it world wide instantly.

But cloud computing goes beyond supply-side economics and directly to the heart of the demand-side – the customer who consumes IT.

Consuming  computing as a utility simplifies life for a business. It’s easy to understand (unlike data security technology) and it’s easy to measure economic benefit (unlike governance, risk and compliance activities).

Cloud computing is more than an economic option; it’s also a personal option. Cloud computing is an interesting, almost revolutionary consumer alternative to internal IT systems due to it’s low cost and service utility model.

Current corporate IT  operations provide services to  captive “users” and empower management (historically, information technology has its roots in MIS – management information systems).  When IT vendors go to market, they go to the CxO executives. All the IT sales training and CIO strategies are based on empowering management and being peers in the boardroom. Sell high, don’t sell low. After all, employees don’t sign checks.

But cloud computing is changing the paradigm of top-down, management-board decision-based IT. If you are a sales professional and need a new application for your business unit,  you can acquire the application like a smart phone and a package of minutes. Cloud computing is a service you can buy without a corporate signature loop.

An employee in a remote sales office can sign up for Salesforce.com ($50/month for 5 sales people) or Google Apps (free up to 50 users) and manage software development on github.com (free for Open Source).

So far – that’s the good news. But – in the Cloud of rich Web 2.0 application services, we are not in Kansas anymore.  There is a very very good reason to be worried. With all the expertise of cloud security providers – the Web 2.0 service they provide is only as secure as the application software itself.

The current rich Web 2.0 application development and execution model is broken.

Consider that a Web 2.0 application has to serve browsers and smart phones. It’s based on a heterogeneous server stack with 5-7 layers (database, database connectors, middleware, scripting languages like PHP, Java and C#, application servers, web servers, caching servers and proxy servers.  On the client-side there is an additional  heterogeneous stack of HTML, XML, Javascript, CSS and Flash.

On the server-side, we have

  • 2-5 languages (PHP, SQL, tcsh, Java, C/C++, PL/SQL)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Server-side database management (MySQL, MS SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL)

On the client side, we have

  • 2-5 languages ((Javascript, XML, HTML, CSS, Java, ActionScript)
  • Lots of interface methods (hidden fields, query strings, JSON)
  • Local data storage – often duplicating session and application data stored on the server data tier.

A minimum of 2 languages on the server side (PHP, SQL) and 3 on the client side (Javascript, HTML, CSS) turns developers into frequent searchers for answers on the Internet (many of which are incorrect)  driving up the frequency of software defects relative to a single language development platform where the development team has a better chance of attaining maturity and proficiency. More bugs means more security vulnerabilities.

Back end data base servers interfaced to front end scripting languages like C# and PHP comes built-in with vulnerabilities to attacks on the data tier via the interface.

But the biggest vulnerability of rich Web 2.0 applications is that  message passing is performed in the UI in clear text – literally inviting exploits and data leakage.

The multiple interfaces,  clear text message passing and the lack of a solid understanding of how  the application will actually work in the wild guarantee that SQL injection, Web server exploits, JSON exploits, CSS exploits and application design flaws that enable attackers to steal data will continue to star in today’s headlines.

Passing messages between remote processes on the UI is a really bad idea, but the entire rich We 2.0 execution model is based on this really bad idea.

Ask a simple question: How many ways are there to pass an array of search strings from a browser client to a Web server? Let’s say at least two – comma-delimited strings or JSON-encoded arrays.  Then ask another question – do Mozilla (Firefox), Webkit (Chrome) and Microsoft IE8 treat client data transfer in a uniform, vendor-neutral standard way?  Of course not.   The list of Microsoft IE incompatibilities or different interpretations of W3C standards is endless.   Mozilla and Webkit  transmit UTF-8 url-encoded data as-is in a query string sent to the server. But, Microsoft IE8 takes UTF-8 data in the query string and converts it to ? (yes question marks) in an XHR transaction unless the data has been previously uri-encoded.   Are browser incompatibilities a source of of application bugs? Do these bugs lead to software security vulnerabilities?  Definitely.

So, it’s really easy to develop cool Web 2.0 applications for seeing who’s hot and who’s not. It’s also cheap to deploy your totally-cool social networking application on a shoestring budget. Facebook started with a budget of $9,000 and so can you.

But, it’s also totally easy to hack that really cool rich Web 2.0 application, steal personal data and crash the system.

A standard answer to the cloud security challenge is writing the security into the contract with the cloud service provider.

Consider however,who is the customer of that cool social media application running in the cloud on some IaaS (infrastructure as a service). If you are a user of a cool new free application, you cannot negotiate or RFP the security issues away, because you are not the customer.  You generate content for the advertisers, who are the real customers.

With a broken development and execution model for rich Web 2.0 applications, the cloud computing model of software as a service utility is not sustainable for all but the largest providers like Facebook and Salesforce.com.   The cost of security is too high for the application provider and the risk of entrusting valuable business IP  and sensitive customer data to the cloud is unreasonable. Your best option is to hope that your cool Web application will succeed small-time, make you some cash and enable you to fly under the radar with a minimal attack surface.

Like your first girl friend told you – it’s not you, it’s me.

It’s not the IT infrastructure, it’s the software.

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Data availability and integrity – the Apple/Microsoft version

I have over 2,300 contacts on my iPhone and like any reasonable person, I wanted to backup  my contacts. I figure my iPhone wont last forever. Like a fool, I thought it might be a good idea to test the restore process also.

The Ubunutu One service based on Funambol doesn’t really work so that pretty much left me with the iTunes and Windows option.

It seems that the combination of two closed-source software companies intent on preventing users from seeing what’s going on and convinced that users are incompetent and low double digit IQ is a killer combination. As you will see from the events described below – it appears that both Microsoft and Apple believe firmly that users should backup their iPhone contacts but they will never really want to restore the data.

At 14:00 this afternoon – I started my exercise in backing up my iPhone contacts.

14:00 – Plugged in my iPhone to a new Windows 7 Pro PC.  Took iTunes forever to initialize and then I had to wait another 2 minutes for the iTunes software to discover the iPhone on a USB 2.0 connection.  In the meantime – Windows 7 was complaining that I should use a faster USB port – and offered a list of ports, none of which work. Go away. Zusu!

14:15 – Finally the iPhone and iTunes talk. I elected to sync the contacts to Google Contacts as I use Google Apps.   Interestingly enough – the task of transferring 2350 contacts to Google took about 30s on my 10MB/512k ADSL line. The only catch was – that no phone numbers were transferred – only email addresses.  Seems there is a bug. I don’t have time for this.

14:30 – Back into iTunes. This time, I choose to sync my iPhone contacts with the Windows Contacts – since I don’t use Outlook.  No dialogs about replacing or merging – and it worked.  Minor problem – the Windows Contacts sync with iPhone contacts wipes out the entire iPhone contacts since the Windows Contacts was empty (I imagine hardly anyone actually uses Windows contacts – a kludgy, slow and incredibly stupid way of storing one contact per file).  Well Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore, your iPhone Contacts is now empty.

15:00 – After a bit of thinking about where my contacts might have gone. I realize that I have 3 alternatives, (1) restore my contacts from our CRM system (which runs in the cloud and doesn’t have an iPhone Contacts sync option) and a bunch of other places I’ve cunningly stored contacts  (2) try and figure out where Apple has hidden their backup files or (3) ssh into the iPhone and try and restore manually with sqlite.  I choose option 2.

15:30 – After some googling, I discover that the iTunes backup files are hidden in a %AppsData% something path – which is impossible to find in Windows 7 using Windows Explorer.   But – if you type %AppsData% in the run program line you get access to the file path. Google is your best friend.

15:45 – iTunes backups into a file format that looks like an import to sqlite (the open source database that iOS uses to store the Contacts records – that is at least a step ahead of Windows Contacts, storing 1 contact per file…perhaps Microsoft Windows 7 team has not heard of SQL yet).  I pull up the data into a text/hex editor and of course, the phone numbers are encoded in some proprietary Apple format – so forget about pulling out the data and massaging it into a format suitable for another circuitous import into iPhone contacts.  More googling- if you have a mac there is a command line utility or you can pay $25 and get a Windows application that decodes the proprietary Apple backup file format into a CSV file or series of VCF files.

16:00 – My PayPal account is not up to date since the card linked to the account expired end of November and I haven’t reverified yet.   Got the software with my Visa and jumped through a few hoops to give a couple of identifiers and finally get a registration number, activate the application and I finally have my original iPhone contacts file, but we’re not out of the woods yet – we still have to restore.

16:05 – Uploaded the csv file to Google contacts. But – for some bizarre and inconceivably cruel reason – iTunes sync refuses to actually load data into the iPhone.

16:15 – After several more attempts, including rebooting both Windows 7, restarting iTunes and rebooting the iPhone I give up – iTunes refuses to sync from Google contacts.

16:30 – Plan B – use Windows Contacts – I attempt to import, but after 10′ and 1200 records, the import process fails on an error with no indication of what caused the error.  Must be a data problem, so I try and improve the quality of data by reducing the number of fields I import and making the phone numbers look more uniform. I make 7 more (abortive) attempts at importing to Windows Contacts, and every time, it imports fewer records. When it stops on the anonymous error message at 150 contacts, I break for supper.

17:30 – Plan C – use Outlook.  Here’s a gotcha, Outlook won’t import from the CSV file, claims it’s open by another application or insufficient permissions.  Too bad the programmers didn’t look at open file hooks and tell the user the name of the Windows application that is holding the file handle open.  Of course – it must be the Windows Contacts Import process, (which is not running if you look at the task manager) but after a few minutes I identify a hidden process related to Windows Contact import and I kill it.

18:00 – Outlook is slow as molasses on import but the same CSV file that was poison to Windows Contacts gets imported with flying colors to Outlook.  I try to run quick search to find the last contact I entered this morning (my 10am meeting in Tel Aviv), but the Outlook 2003 application claims that the indexing process is running and it cannot find the records (the indexing process never actually ran….) Forget it, I don’t have time to sing and play games with Outlook 2003.

18:05 – Back to iTunes.  And this time, ladies and gentlemen, adults and adulteresses, we are going to sync from Outlook to the iPhone contacts.  It works. But verrryyy verrryyyyy slowwwwwllyyyyyy. I have time. I have to babysit Carmel (who is fast asleep down the hall after a tough day in pre-school) as the wife and daughter are out shopping. Do what any man would do on a baby-sitting gig – fall asleep on the sofa.

20:00 – Wife and daughter back from shopping and the iTunes sync from Outlook process has finished in the meantime, in between dreams about user-unfriendly software.

23:55 – Conclusions

1. The iPhone backup process is slow and buggy on all versions of iOS, Just google for “iphone contacts backup problems” and you will get over 3 million hits.

2. Apple does not have a data restore from backup strategy.  Otherwise, iTunes would have a “Backup iPhone Contacts” and “Restore iPhone Contacts” menu.  Entertainment is more important than data.  This is why Apple stock is at 321.

3. The usability and reliability of Windows 7 Contacts is beyond contempt.  No entertainment either. This is why Microsoft stock is at 23.

4. My next smart phone will be an Android.

Enjoy.

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Private social networking for healthcare

I think we’re rapidly approaching a  point in time where people will pay for privacy.  I know that after a super-hot month of August with the house full of kids chain-watching Ratatouille, I would pay someone for some privacy.

The privacy controls that governments are attempting to impose on social media and the technical safeguards that social networks like Facebook are implementing seem to be band-aids on a larger and much more significant two-part problem

  1. How to enable individuals to control the information they disclose?
  2. How to enable individuals to put their value in front of their social graph?

I believe that the brunt of the public debate has been on question number 1 – primarily because of the sheer size and entertainment/leisure time/socializing/shmoozing/networking elements of Facebook and LinkedIn and other social media web sites.  As Bruce Schneier has noted in some of his recent essays – privacy on the Net is not necessarily about forbidding disclosure  (like the regulators are trying to do with PII and PHI compliance regulation) but about controlling what you share.

But  entertainment, leisure time, socializing and networking are not everything in life – and as a matter of fact – most people go to work and either create, make, sell or buy for a living.   Question number 2 is about increasing your disclosure in a controlled way and putting your value forward to your customers and not behind the company that you represent. Value backwards (as opposed to value forwards) is the way most information technology and big pharma is sold today – you work for a security integrator and you’re reselling someone else’s product extolling the virtues of Websense DLP (like 10 other resellers in your geography) or you’re a medical sales representative for MSD and you’re extolling the advantages of Remicade for treating Crohn’s disease.

But – we all know that the reason the customer is talking to you is because he values you (or thinks you might have something of value to sell).

Last year we did a private, professional networking project for one of the big 3 innovative pharmas at one of their Central European offices. It was a successful clinical trial of what we thought was a good idea – enabling medical sales representatives to place their value in front of their social graph of doctors.   As we approach release of the beta version of a productized version – it seems time to get some feedback on the notion of private, controlled networking. So here it is – feel free to comment online or email me.

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Controlled social networking

I saw a post recently on Controlled social networking for student collaboration. One of the comments lamented not having the head count to install technology to control Facebook access by students.

Frankly – as a data security and compliance consultant who does a lot of work with corporates in social networking (both on the application side and security side), I  would not use technology as an excuse for social media abuse.

This is a cultural and behavioral issue similar to any other content abuse issue. It starts with education: at home, in the school and with parental and teacher role models.

Current definitions of privacy are changing. Regulatory definitions of privacy used by legislators in the credit card and HIPAA compliance space do not seem to be relevant for under 25 users of Facebook – who are happy to disclose pictures of themselves but very careful about what they show and who they would share the media with.  I believe that as social media becomes part of  the continuum of social interaction in the physical  and virtual worlds, privacy becomes an issue of  personal, discretionary disclosure control.

To this extent, it seems to me that we are moving rapidly towards a new generation of social networking that is much closer to what happens in the physical world – centered on individual perspectives, one person, their friends, selective disclosure and information leakage by word of mouth not by IP protocols, social media and public access Web sites like Facebook.

But – that is already another technology kettle of fish.

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Secure collaboration, agile collaboration

One of the biggest challenges in global multi-center clinical trials (after enrollment of patients) is collaboration between multi-center clinical trial teams: CRAs, investigators, regulatory, marketing, manufacturing, market research, data managers, statisticians and site administrators.

In a complex global environment, pharma do not have control of computer platforms that local sites use – yet there is an expectation that file and information sharing should be easy yet there are three areas where current systems break down:

1. People forget what files had been shared and with whom they have been shared

2. People have difficulty sharing files with colleagues in a way that is accessible to everyone – firewalls, VPNs, enterprise content management, DRM, corporate data security policy, end point security, file size – these are all daunting challenges when all you want to do is share a file with a colleague in Berlin when you are working in a hospital in Washington.

3. Notifications – how do you know when new information has been added or updated? Not having timely notifications on updates can be a big source of frustration resulting in team members pinging other members over and over again with emails.

Over the past 10 years a generation of complex enterprise content management software systems have grown up – they are bloated, expensive, difficult to implement, not available to the entire multi-center team and in many cases written by English speaking software vendors who cannot conceive that there are people in the world who feel more comfortable communicating in their native tongue of French, German, Hebrew or Finnish!

We are developing (currently in beta with a Tier 1 bio-pharma in EMEA)  a Web-based, agile collaboration system with a light-weight, easy to use, simple architecture, that saves time and reduces IT and travel costs – and literally gets everyone on the same page.

The system resolves the 3 breakdowns above while recording all user activities in a detailed audit trail in order to meet internal control and FDA regulatory requirements.

The system also provides significant cost benefits in addition to improving information collaboration:

• Reduces travel costs: Using online events, integrated media and file sharing and discussions, the clinical trial team and investigators can conduct program reviews, education activities and special events.

• Eliminates proprietary IT: No proprietary software or hardware and no IT integration. No extra investments in information technologies, CRM, sales force integration and data mining.

If this interests you – drop me a line!

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Knowledge Prostitution

After a discussion with a client today about privacy and data security in social networking, I started looking at physician portals and came across a fascinating post from Dr. Scott Shreve – Knowledge Prostitution enabling Aggregated Voyeurism: Is this a Business Model?

Voyeurism (voi-yûr’ ĭzəm) n.

1. The practice in which an individual derives pleasure from surreptitiously observing people.

2. Derives from the French verb voir (to see); literal translation is “seer” but with pejorative connotations.

The client told me that they were considering using a closed physicians’ portal to help market their products.  The business model used by closed, advertising-free, doctors portals (Sermo.com in the US or Konsylium24.pl in Poland) involves paying for market intelligence data collected from the “user generated content” in the community.   The tacit assumption is that physicians will talk freely inside a gated, advertising-free community.

Sermo.com kicks some of the revenue back to the users but the precision and recall of this market intelligence is not clear to me, considering the amount of noise in vertical social communities like Sermo and Konsylium24.pl and open social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

What is clear to me – is that there are data security and privacy implications when the community operator data-mines user-generated content for profit.  As a concrete example – a recent thread on Konsylium24.pl went something like this:

Doctor Number 1:

You know – Professor X is the KOL (key opinion leader) for company Y’s drug Z.  He says that drug Z is extremely effective for treating the indications of infectious disease Alpha.

Doctor Number 2:

Of course – Professor X is an acknowledged expert on infectious diseases, but he is also an expert on cash and knows how to do the math and add up the numbers…

I asked my client – “and for this kind of data, your parents sent you to medical school?

This took me back to the days of Firefly, Alexa, Hotbar and use of personal information as currency – collected with “collaborative filtering” and “automated inference” from people browsing the web.

Web 2.0 and social media seems to be going through a similar evolution as Web 1.0 – trying to monetize content by  data aggregation and analysis using “collaborative filtering” techniques.  This may have been a sexy looking business model for Venture Capitalists during the dot.com era, but in 2009 (5 years after Sermo.com launched) and a few months after their well-publicized breakup with the AMA; automated inference, knowledge prostitution and aggregated voyeurism may be  yielding to direct communications between people in B2B communities, social and professional networks.

Why peep through a window when you can just knock on the front door and ask?


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