Brands were front and center at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas this past week. There were huge experiences, know as “activations,” like IBM’s Connected Pavilion with Watson, and smaller but substantial ones like Scott’s Miracle-Gro connected yard with “Internet of Things” soil sensors. Kodak had a beautiful experience where participants uploaded photos and then saw and experienced the pictures inside a two-story kaleidoscope. The art installation promoted their “Memories” app.

DomainSkate COO Howard Greenstein with Watson-powered robot Pepper

While these companies were there spending hundreds of thousands promoting their brands, inside the halls and sometimes in the bars, talk turned to privacy, encrypted iPhones and government, and even Internet governance.

In a session entitled “Giving the Internet Away,“ regarding the IANA function of ICANN, the panelists discussed a multi-stakeholder model of governance for the important functions they perform. IANA controls the “Root Zone” – a critical piece of tech infrastructure that helps your browser know that is really the address and helps your device get the information you requested. The US, having created core Internet infrastructure, has been overseeing IANA and ICANN over the years. Some worry that allowing this process to go to a multi-stakeholder model – with governments, tech bodies, and interested citizens – will allow a repressive state actor to “turn off parts of the Internet.” The truth, based on the panel, is that all the current countries and stakeholders banged out an agreement over several years that tries to stave off this possibility, and allows other countries more participation in Internet governance. The panelists were all for this move, and it is now in the hands of the US government for review. A live stream of the hearings will launch Thursday, March 17th, at 10:15 am.

Howard Greenstein with his former Microsoft colleague, U.S. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, after the “Giving the Internet Away” panel

There was also another panel on encryption and the iPhone debate with Rep. Will Hurd discussing the challenges of asking a company like Apple for encryption keys. The cybersecurity industry has already seen the fallout of one such incident, which is very under-reported. Since Juniper Firewalls’ operating system was compromised due to a weak encryption key,  any traffic captured by any observer, over more than 2 years, is now easily decrypted.

This means, for example, that if a company office in a foreign country sent data to the home office where that data, they expected it to be protected by their firewall’s encrypted traffic option. But if a foreign actor was watching the traffic and captured it, it may have been gibberish in the past, but it is now readable. Who knows how much private data, trade secret information and more is now easily viewable. It’s likely that this incident will have wide-reaching consequences over a long period.

Once the encryption for Apple devices is broken once, it will make all such devices vulnerable. The panelists discussed how arguments regarding ‘catching the terrorists’ are balanced by the right of people to be secure in their persons, their homes, etc. What is a smartphone but a collection of a person’s personal letters, data, and files? President Obama, a constitutional lawyer, still supports the FBI’s stand. He said “There has to be some concession to the need to get into that information somehow….I am way on the civil liberties side of this thing, I anguish a lot,” said Obama, who did not comment specifically on the case, according to USA Today. A different perspective came from Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas who said “For me, the fact that the director of the FBI and the president are escalating this debate in the court of public opinion is unacceptable and not at all helpful to actually solving the problem. Our civil liberties are not burdens, they are what make our country great, and we should do everything to protect them.”

For DomainSkate, the opportunity to meet customers and potential partners was invaluable.  We also reconnected with with friends from .ME, SEDO and other registries at SEDO’s activation. Additionally, we were able to show DomainSkate to several brand managers and senior marketers. These leaders are now much more aware of potential domain fraud, and saw actual instances where their brand names and close variations were taken by internet bad actors. If you missed us at SXSW, please feel free to request your own BRAND RISK ANALYSIS.

The Flavor of Austin and SXSW

SXSW is famous for it’s huge keynote panels, and this year’s included President Obama, Director J.J. Abrahams, and many others from the worlds of interactive, technology and film. A major theme this year was Virtual Reality (VR), with Google Cardboard viewers as a handout from ATT, the New York Times and more. A real ‘gem’ of VR was created by KRUSH (makers of video at Oovoo) from Dayton, OH. The company had an actual “space ship pod” on a mechanical arm, which allowed a few lucky participants to experience a space flight challenge. They explored an asteroid field and tried to save a space station with a full 360 degree range of motion. The machine took up a major portion of their activation complex.

DomainSkate COO Howard Greenstein with “the VR Smile” at the Lonely Whale demo in Dell’s SXSW house

VR can be both educational and an effective way to generate empathy, emotion and awareness. Expect to see more VR in the workplace and in education as well as in gaming. VR seems a clear “winner” at SXSW. Then again, David Berkowitz, CMO of creative and tech agency MRY asserts in Ad Age that Newton’s 3rd Law applied to this SXSW trend – for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. With the growth of virtual reality, experiences in “actual reality” such as face-to-face meetings could become even more valuable.

Finally, the SXSW experience wouldn’t be complete without reconnecting with tech and marketing industry friends, a few beers and some BBQ. I can safely report that these requirements were also successfully and happily fulfilled.


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