Thoughts on Apple Card

On Monday, Apple introduced its in-house credit card called Apple Card. Since it’s not available yet and the details are quite numerous, you can read more in these two articles on TechCrunch and The Verge or watch the presentation yourself here. I’ll just lay out my thoughts on the card below

I am convinced that Apple Card will attract a lot of sign-ups. After all, it’s Apple. The application process is reportedly straightforward and easy (we’ll see soon in the upcoming months). You can apply for the card from your Wallet app and the card will be shipped to you. If you use an iPhone 6 or later and are a fan of Apple, you will likely want to try your hands on the beautiful-looking titanium card for free, as long as you qualify for one. Plus, there are millions of installed iPhone 6 or later out there. So getting folks to sign up won’t be an issue. What about the usage for Apple Card? For consumers to use the Card, Apple has to give them a reason to, an incentive.

Security & Privacy

Security & Privacy is a big sell from Apple and it’s no different in this case. Apple Card comes without the stuff that makes credit card fraud possible from the physical card perspective. Plus, the way Apple sets it up makes credit card fraud significantly more difficult

Because of the way it is set up, every purchase with Apple Card requires biometric identification aside from purchases with the physical card. In the case of a non-Apple Pay transaction online — you must get your card number from the app and that is unlocked via Touch ID or Face ID, so biometrics are still in the path. And, for Apple Pay transactions, they are authenticated at the time of transaction. I personally think it would be cool to optionally require a confirmation from your phone to let a charge go through as well, but that is likely a v2 situation.

From TechCrunch

In other words, somebody needs to steal your card, your phone and either your thumb(s) or your face to make an unauthorized purchase.

Apple claimed that it wouldn’t know anything about consumer purchases using Apple Card. Plus, Goldman Sachs won’t sell data to marketers. If you care about privacy, it is attractive. Now that I work in the credit card industry, I can tell you that the level of privacy intrusion by banks is crazy. It is entirely possible to track the location of a cardholder to a store, know whether a purchase is made and if a purchase is not made, use the user data to run ads offline and online to motivate spending. If Apple and Goldman Sachs can do what they claim, this is an appealing feature, but I doubt it will be the dominant one.

No fees

According to Apple, you won’t be charged with late fees or penalty fees. You will just incur interest on your late payments. A nice feature, but from my perspective, it is not a hugely attractive one, especially if you are like me who isn’t late on credit card payments. After all, late payments will affect your credit score and consequently future APRs.

APRs

Pretty in line with the industry standard. Nothing special about this as far as I am concerned

Visibility into purchase details

Apple claimed that users could see more details on what a purchase was and where it happened from the Wallet app, instead of the user-unfriendly lines you see from your balance statement or mobile app. Once again, a nice feature that won’t be a dominant one.

Cash back

Above is the cash back policy for Apple Card and Apple Pay. 3% on Apple-related purchases is nice, but it is not a daily event, given how expensive Apple items are. 1% cash back with the physical card is nothing special. It’s even less attractive than many credit cards out there on the market. The interesting one is Apple Pay

From Creditcards.com

Because other credit cards offer two percent cash back or more on certain categories only, two percent cash back on every category by Apple Pay is more beneficial to users. According to Apple, Apple Pay will be available in 40+ countries at the end of this year. The number of merchants that accept Apple Pay is impressively high in some countries. Here is what Apple reported on the presentation

There are cases in which Apple Pay will not be competitive. For instance, if you have a card that gives back 4% cash back on dining, it sure is a better alternative than Apple Pay, even if Apple Pay is an available option. Or if you have a co-branded credit card such as a hotel or airline co-branded credit card, there is a switching cost as you want to increase your rewards points.

But using a physical credit card isn’t as convenient as a contactless option such as Apple Pay, nor is it as secure. So which payment option works in a situation depends on what situation that is and what kind of credit card user you are. If you care a lot about rewards and cash back, as well as have the time and mental fortitude to remember all the details, using multiple cards is the way to go. Nonetheless, if you are like me, a “one guy, one card” type, I would prefer something simple and easy to use/remember. Then I can see the appeal of Apple Pay. Contactless, fast, secure and decent cash back.

A push for Apple Pay

I believe that Apple Card is another push for Apple Pay to make it the “iPhone” equivalent of payment methods. Since Apple Pay is not ubiquitously available, the Card offers the connection between Apple Pay and merchants who don’t accept the service yet. If you use the Card, you’ll earn cash back that can be, in turn, used for Apple Pay. As explained above, Apple Pay can seem to be an attractive payment method to a certain type of users. According to Apple, they are on their track to meet the goal of 10 billion transactions on Apple Pay this year. If you are already satisfied with Apple Pay, I suspect that you will get more hooked when Apple Card is launched.

It makes sense to push for Apple Pay as I think Apple will earn more revenue from the service than the Card. After all, whatever revenue from the Card will have to be split with Goldman Sachs as well.

To recap, I think that this is a push for Apple Pay from Apple, an attempt to thread a delicate line between getting into the financial world and not suffering from the regulatory headaches that come with actually getting in there. Personally, I don’t think it is a “winner takes all” situation. I suspect that users will carry multiple options around and that each type of credit card user will display different levels of love towards Apple Pay and Card. I am excited about the future updates from Apple for the Card, regarding features and benefits. After all, this is just their first iteration.

Facebook’s privacy-focused vision

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg released a blog post on a “privacy-focused vision” that centers on:

Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.

Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.

Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.

Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.

Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.

Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

Be that as it may that this vision can bring business and strategic benefits, meaning that Facebook has a reason to follow suit. Nonetheless, I have nothing, but skepticisms about this vision.

First of all, the majority of Facebook’s revenue comes from ads. By majority, I meant 98.5% of their revenue in 2018 comes from ads

Source: Facebook

When something is 98.5% of you, any claim that you will do something threatening that 98.5% part tends to raise genuine concerns about its legitimacy.

Second of all, Facebook’s track record on keeping its promise isn’t that great. For the last two years, it will be a hard ask to find a tech company that is involved in more scandals than the blue brand. I came across this disturbing article from Buzzfeed on Facebook. Here is what it has on decision-making at Facebook

Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg do not make judgment calls “until pressure is applied,” said another former employee, who worked with Facebook’s leadership and declined to be named for fear of retribution. “That pressure could come from the press or regulators, but they’re not keen on decision-making until they’re forced to do so.”

Buzzfeed

On Facebook’s attention to privacy

One former employee noted that Facebook’s executives historically only took privacy seriously if problems affected the key metrics of daily active users, which totaled 1.52 billion accounts in December, or monthly active users, which totaled 2.32 billion accounts. Both figures increased by about 9% year-over-year in December.

“If it came down to user privacy or MAU growth, Facebook always chose the latter,” the person said. 

Buzzfeed

On their denial to admit problems:

Other sources told BuzzFeed News that Facebook executives continue to view the problems of 2018 fundamentally as communication issues. They said some insiders among leadership and the rank and file could not understand how Facebook had become the focus of so much public ire and floated the idea that news publications, who had seen their business models decimated by Facebook and Google, had been directed to cover the company in a harsher light.

Buzzfeed

On a new feature called Clear History:

“If you watch the presentation, we really had nothing to show anyone,” said one person, who was close to F8. “Mark just wanted to score some points.”

Still, nine months after its initial announcement, Clear History is nowhere to be found. A Facebook executive conceded in a December interview with Recode that “it’s taking longer than we initially thought” due to issues with how data is stored and processed. 

Buzzfeed

By now, you should see why I am skeptical of Facebook’s new vision. We all have to take a side and so does Facebook. It just happens that taking advertisers side means Facebook is not on ours as users.

Book: How the Internet Happened

If you are interested in technology, the intersection of business strategy and technology and the history of the Internet, this book is for you.

It is a succinct chronicle of how Web 1.0 (connecting computers all over the world) and Web 2.0 (connecting all people) happened. Accounts of some of the most iconic and important technology companies in the world were told without lengthy anecdotal details. The author walks you through how Netscape, Yahoo, Google, eBay, Paypal, iPhone and Facebook, to name a few, came into beings and shaped the personal computing. It’s fascinating to read about the bubble in 2001. The fact that companies could raise tons of money regardless of the lack of business models and revenue, let alone profit, is surreal.

Arguably, the biggest point that I get out of this book, in addition to nice history lessons, is that success greatly stems from serendipities. Without an enabling technology, infrastructure or business environment, we wouldn’t have had the household technology names that we do today. For instance, without Netscape developing the Navigator and SSL, who knows whether we would have had different browsers, online payments and arguably the Internet? Without the existence of broadband connection, it’s likely we wouldn’t have had Web 2.0.

Timing is everything. Being early is equal to being wrong, as many companies which went out of business for being ahead of their times could attest. If you doubt the role of luck in success, read this book.

After this book, I can’t wait to read a similar one on the rise of cloud computing and everything that it enables.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a pro privacy search engine that is available on almost all browsers. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo does not profile you online, meaning that the search engine doesn’t collect your information or track you everywhere so that the information can be used to tailor ads. DDG has been doing pretty well. Here is its traffic report:

Source: DuckDuckGo

I use both Google and DuckDuckGo on my Mac, with the latter as my default search engine. Even though DDG does the job most of the time and gives me reasonable results, it is not as good as Google. I am not even talking about the personalization of searches. Below are the two examples that shows DDG has some work to do.

Search Results

When you look for a location, DDG doesn’t offer immediately a map option on the engine to the location. Here is my trying to find Ted and Wally’s, a known ice cream shop in Omaha.

There is nowhere I can find its opening hours, address or direction to the place immediately. Here is how it looks on Google, with the same keyword

There is a lot more information given by Google. Instead of multiple clicks to find out the basic information, I don’t even have to go anywhere to know the address, phone number and opening hours. Direction is just one click away.

Search Time Frame

With DuckDuckGo, you can only filter searches as far as the past month.

On Google, the options are much more varied.

I love DDG. The team believes that it is possible to have a profitable search engine without profiling users. It’s been killing it. However, I hope that they can bring more improvements to the engine and make it better so that one day I will be an exclusive user of DDG, instead of having both DDG and Google on my computer right now.

If you haven’t used DDG and you care about your privacy online, try it because as mentioned, it does the job.

Informative newsletter and tech sources

Where we get information matters. As there is so much information/noise floating around, a good curator and/or a great content provider has become increasingly important, at least to me. Here are a few of my go-to sources every day. Keep in mind that these are related to business and technology, two areas I am invested in. 

CBInsights

It offers deep-dive reports into technology and business. There are many free reports that can be downloaded or consumed immediately on site. What I like about CBInsights is that their researchers really roll up their sleeves in their work and offer great insights, sometimes from a surprising angle. Their use of visualizations such as tables, graphs or mind maps is pretty rad as well

The Hustle

It’s a newsletter on business and tech. Apart from offering what news you should know at the beginning of a day, The Hustle has a great team of copywriters. Their witty and funny writing is what hooks me up. The newsletters don’t have the same level of deep investigation as CBInsights does, but if you want a skim of what is going on out there in business and technology, it’s pretty good. Oh, if you want to do some B2B marketing, it can be a promising channel. I have seen Airtable, Microsoft and Salesforce sponsored content by The Hustle

Morning Brew

Same as The Hustle. I consider The Hustle a tad better & funnier. Still it’s worth giving Morning Brew a try

Ben Evans newsletter

His newsletter is on a weekly basis. It’s a collection of articles in technology and business that he thinks are important. 

Ben Thompson’s Stratechery

It’s a highly regarded website on strategy and technology. There is a paywall to his daily content, but his weekly content, I believe, is free. You will learn a lot from Ben as many others, including some famous names in technology, do. 

ARK

A friend suggested this one to me a few weeks back. I am still pretty new to it. But if you are a fan of cryptocurrency, AI, machine learning, industrial innovation…it is worth a read

Tool: Realtimeboard

I stumbled upon this tool while reading an article on TechCrunch. It’s an online collaboration tool with visual diagrams that users can use to generate ideas and present. Boards can be shared between multiple teammates; which I can will be pretty valuable if you love the power of collaboration and white boards as a brainstorming tool. At my company, the C-suite folks all have white boards inside their office to flesh out ideas. Some whiteboards are also placed in the hallways to keep everyone updated on the status of projects. However, physical white boards are physically limited and it can get tricky to engage multiple folks, especially from different offices.

Realtimeboard is your whiteboard without such limitations. The boards are infinitely large and can be zoomed in or out comfortably. The visual components are pretty straightforward and easy to use. Users can add links, comments and images at will. Furthermore, boards are accessible regardless of where members are.

Below is a board I am working on in a school project.

realtimeboard

As can be seen in the image, comments can be added in yellow boxes and links come with the logo of the website links. Nodes can be moved around or added easily. If you want to mimic the same map in, let’s say, PowerPoint, moving or adding nodes requires taxing extra work on moving the connection lines or arrows around. With Realtimeboard, such a requirement is unnecessary. Therefore, a lot of time is saved.

Export options are plenty: PDF, image, csv and so on:

realtimeboard_2

I am not an investor in this firm. Just a fan that wants to show some token of appreciation to a cool tool.

Survey on scooters in Portland

For the past few days, I have seen quite some tweet and retweet on the recent survey on how scooters are allegedly taking cars off the street.

I am baffled.

If taking cars off the street is the objective, there is a concept called public transits that does quite a nice job in that department in big cities in Western Europe. Public transits work well over short or long distance while I am not sure scooters can be that helpful for a long commute. Plus, it may be decreasing the demand for cars or Uber for now, but the effect may be exaggerated by the recent emergence of scooters. Over a considerable period, there is no evidence for similar effect. At least not yet.

Also, the method mentioned in the article is a survey sent out to scooter users. To actually back up such a claim that scooters are taking cars off the street, there should be more sophisticated investigative method than a survey asking for biased opinions.

Coming from a country where scooters (the real ones) are the main commute method, I am baffled by the love for the American version of scooters here. They may feel attractive at first, especially when people are sick of cars and traffic. But over time, it is not pleasant at all. I’d love to see more public transits in even small and remote cities in the US. I’d love to see cheaper transportation here in the US. It’s not uncommon for people to drive from city to city to avoid expensive flights.

 

Tool: Repl.it

I recently and fortunately came across a very interesting tool called Repl.it. Here is what it brings to the table:

Usually, the normal steps in programming include writing code in a text editor such as Pycharm or Eclipse, uploading to a repository such as GitHub and pushing it to a PaaS like Heroku or PythonAnywhere. However, even a text editor such as Pycharm requires some installation and housekeeping that can seem daunting to beginners.

Repl.it lowers that entry barrier. It allows coding in many popular languages right from a browser. Below is a quick code I wrote to have a dropdown menu from 1 to 49:

repl

All it takes is Internet, a browser and one-minute sign-up.

As of now, Repl.it seems to be focused on students. It’s free and its premium packages are very student-friendly. The Classroom Pro package is only $1/student/month. I think coding is fun and Repl.it seems to be highly useful in making coding accessible.

I am not an investor in the tool or one of its employees. Just a fan. I am glad that the startup recently raised some funding from the VCs.

CaaS vs PaaS and Kubernetes vs PKS

One of my concerns before I hit the “Publish” button every time is whether what I have to say is correct and has merit, especially the entries that are aimed to explain complex concepts. But I learned that public feedback or criticisms are part of the learning process. So even though I am nervous to publish this, I figure I’ll just give it a try.

I have been reading on the difference between Kubernetes and Pivotal Container Service (PKS) and the difference between Container-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service. Below is my understanding put in simple terms so it can be understood better.

CaaS vs PaaS

In the fast-changing market nowadays, fast and regular releases of software are crucial to customer satisfaction and gaining competitive advantage. Both tools offer automation of mundane and time-consuming tasks to liberate developers.Both  are aimed to help developers devote more time on real programming and less time on setting up the underlying infrastructure. The difference between the two concepts lies on how much freedom/autonomy each offers developers and how far on the stack each abstracts

Cass vs PaaS

In short, PaaS such as Pivotal Application Service (PAS) all developers to focus on the applications and data. The rest is managed by a service provider. It offers a great deal of automation. With PAS, consistency is emphasized as there are rules enforced on developers by the tool itself and the leaders in the development team. However, it also means that PaaS provides lower flexibility and less DIY, something that may not sit well with developers. A salesperson from the company I am working at shared with me a story that a financial prospect didn’t want PAS because of resistance from its developers.

CaaS such as Pivotal Container Service (PKS) or Kubernetes doesn’t offer Application Runtime. The application networking piece is in yellow because while PKS does offer it, Kubernetes doesn’t. With CaaS, there is a higher level of flexibility and DIY, but less automation, compared to PaaS. Developers tend to welcome it more as they have the freedom to express themselves.

Kubernetes vs PKS

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration tool that automates the scaling, management and deployment of containers. Think of a pod (one/multiple containers that share the same task) as a body part that does a specific set of functions. Kubernetes is like a head scheduling & distributing tasks and maintaining the health of all body parts. Kubernetes is for developers, not so much for Operations team who has to maintain the health of the system on a daily basis. While the master node in Kubernetes can orchestrate children nodes and replace them when they are down, who will do the same for the master nodes? Plus, all the patching, installation and upgrades to Kubernetes? The Operational task that comes after deployment can be a headache.

This is where PKS offers values. PKS is an enhanced enterprise-grade Kubernetes. One of its component, called BOSH, automates the installation, patching as well as upgrades. It also does to master nodes in Kubernetes what master nodes do to children nodes. BOSH automates the management, scaling and deployment of the clusters.

PKS and Kubernetes

Another value proposition is related to micro-segmentation. Micro-segmentation in this case refers to the isolation at container, pod and cluster levels. Developers can set rules dictating which container, pod or cluster can communicate with one another. Isolation is made possible with the use of firewalls around the subject at hand. With Kubernetes, developers have to take time to set it up. When the number of nodes increases, the task becomes more taxing and complicated. With PKS, its NSX-T tool is integrated to automate that task, saving developers a bulk of time and increasing the time-to-market release of software.

If a company has an army of developers and prefers fast time-to-market as well as consistency, PaaS such as PAS should be the tool. If the company wants to use an open-source tool and can afford time to manage operational tasks itself, Kubernetes is the choice here. PKS offers the best of both worlds. As far as I know, it’s significantly cheaper than PAS. It complements Kubernetes while maintaining the flexibility that the open-source orchestration tool offers.

 

Equifax fined by UK and GDPR

A couple of days ago, Equifax was fined by the UK’s authority for its data breach last year. The fine is the maximum possible penalty that could be issued, but it is still only half a million pounds, an amount that I think is trivial to a company of Equifax’s size.

John Oliver did a great piece on Equifax here. For a quick summary, I’ll let the FTC explain it:

If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.

Almost half of the American population had their sensitive data breached by the negligence of the credit agency. If you think that a breach of that size might have resulted in dire punishments and financial damages for the company, you are sorely mistaken. Per Quartz:

The credit agency kept news of the hack quiet for a month after its internal discovery, giving executives time to sell almost $2 million in shares. Once the news went public, Equifax first insisted that customers waive their right to a class-action lawsuit before accepting any credit protection; after an outcry, it backed down. A typo in a tweet from Equifax’s account directed customers to a phishing site instead of the actual website the company set up to tell customers if they’d been affected, which didn’t really work anyway.

A year after the hack, the lack of penalties for the company’s failures is equally laughable. Stock prices bounced back. Former CEO Richard Smith retired with his full $90 million package. No US federal agency has made any move to punish the company.

In Vietnam, we don’t have such a concept. In Europe, there isn’t an equally concept either, as far as I am concerned. I never encountered anything like that while in Finland. My European friends are baffled by the concept as well. Having been in the US for two years, I don’t pay much attention to the score nor can I understand how it works. I set up all payments automatically to make sure I am not late ever on credit payments. Yet, my scores have fluctuated significantly for absolutely no reasons that I could understand. All they could give me is that my credit profile has only been one year old!? I don’t think that the credit agencies don’t add any value to the society and yet, they are extremely profitable entities. They have access to consumers’ sensitive data and look what they did with the data.

Regarding the small fine due to the fact that the breach took place before GDPR was enforced, I have heard criticisms of the data privacy regulation from EU. Although the regulation isn’t perfect (the same goes for almost any regulation), it is a good start. The primary criticism is that the regulation is too expensive and difficult for SMEs to comply with, meaning that the big corporations can increase their competitive advantage further. My argument is that regardless of the size, any company can have consumers’ sensitive data leaked, easily in the hundreds or thousands of records. GDPR gives the users many rights and much needed power in the conversation. It is true that smaller firms may see their costs rise due to compliance with the regulation, but innovation should start from having higher standards, not lower ones. Would we have more environmentally-friendly cars by raising emission standards or lowering them?

Had the Equifax breach taken place after the enforcement of GDPR, the company would likely have faced a fine worth 4% of their global revenue. Since Equifax generated $3.362 billion in revenue in 2017, it would have amounted to a fine of $134.5 million. Wouldn’t it be worth having such a law to protect users/consumers?