Monthly Archives: October 2015

A $24 Billion Secret

If you use any sort of connected device – a computer, a tablet, or a cell phone – you’re probably (hopefully, anyway) aware that someone is watching.  Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it’s accurate.  Everything you do, and everywhere you go if it’s a mobile device, is logged, along with some sort of device identifier.  It’s not hard to link a device with a person and that person with behaviors.  That’s really what the targeted advertising business is about.  

In that context, this article from Ad Age shouldn’t come as a real shock, but it’s always a little disconcerting to get a glimpse inside the factory where they make the sausage:

Under the radar, Verizon, Sprint, Telefonica and other carriers have partnered with firms including SAP, IBM, HP and AirSage to manage, package and sell various levels of data to marketers and other clients. It’s all part of a push by the world’s largest phone operators to counteract diminishing subscriber growth through new business ventures that tap into the data that showers from consumers’ mobile web surfing, text messaging and phone calls.

That’s why Verizon bought AOL and some ad tech companies, paying over $4.5 Billion for them.  Think that’s a wise investment?  Well, the global market for telco data as a service is potentially worth $24.1 billion this year, so it seems like it might be to me.  What’s less wise is that most consumers have no clue that all of this information about them – their surfing habits, their travel habits, potentially numbers they’re constantly texting, etc – are being packaged and sold without their consent.  Oh sure – when you sign the contract to use any of the carriers there is a lengthy terms of service agreement you probably clicked right through, and it contained language that said your data may be anonymized and aggregated and sold.  I’m not sure most people understand what that means in real terms.  Try getting phone service without agreeing.

Unlike most apps, which are opt-in, you really have no choice about this.  Are there benefits to the consumer?  Maybe.  In theory, you don’t see ads for things in which you have no interest, and you don’t get information about companies and services that aren’t in your area.   There is a huge downside, however, aside from the creepy factor.  Hackers can steal information that might allow them to know when your home is vacant on a daily basis, for example.  In fact, this sort of thing doesn’t go on in the E.U. countries because of the strict data protections those countries enforce.

The “tell” I see is that the phone companies don’t want to discuss this data business and the revenues they make from selling off our data.  If there wasn’t something nefarious going on, why isn’t it more out in the open?  Maybe if we all knew what was being gathered (300 cellphone events per day per subscriber by some counts), we’d be more curious?  Maybe we’d take steps, as some of us do with tracking blockers on the web, to maintain control of our own data?  What do you think?

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Filed under Huh?


I am sick of the clickbait mentality. You know what I’m talking about. Many of the articles you see in your Facebook news feed are one example: “The Dog Ate My Homework And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!!”. I’ll admit that Facebook is getting better about having their algorithm eliminate a lot of the most egregious offenders, but there are plenty of other sites out there whose entire business model is predicated on getting some sap to click through and then to page through a slide show or a multipage article.

What really bothers me is that the mentality is spreading. The teases for upcoming stories in news programming seem to be more clickbaity (did I just make up a word?) in nature. They’re called “teases” for a reason – to get you to stay tuned through the commercial by teasing you with upcoming content. They’ve changed, though. When a news anchor ends a tease with the Upworthy phrase “and you won’t believe what happened next”, I cringe. There’s a business lesson in the reason why, even if you’re not in the content business.

Poynter interviewed Nilay Patel of Vox about the subject:

“Most clickbait is disappointing because it’s a promise of value that isn’t met — the payoff isn’t nearly as good as what the reader imagines,” Patel said.

None of us in business should be making promises to our customers what we can’t keep.  Doing so repeatedly is a recipe for disaster.  Maybe that’s what you’re after, but I don’t think so.  Our desire for traffic, clicks, engagement, whatever can’t supersede the value we deliver to our customers.  I get that in some businesses, the user isn’t the customer, but they are the basis for what you’re ultimately selling, so alienating them makes no sense at all.

We develop and keep customers n the basis of promises made and value delivered.  I think clickbait is, most of the time, the very opposite of that.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

On Cooking

This Foodie Friday, I’d like to take a moment to express my appreciation for what goes on in my kitchen.  I know for many of you, time spent there is a painful, sometimes bloody, reminder that cooking is a chore.  I don’t see it that way, and as I’m thinking about it I’m realizing that there is some business thinking that goes along with my point of view.

I love cooking.  It’s therapeutic in many ways to me.  Even though one rule in my kitchen is that an appropriate form of music is playing (as loudly as I can get away with) as I cook, it’s actually quiet.  Appropriate music, by the way, is something that corresponds to the food being cooked: zydeco when I’m cooking Cajun, country when we’re making barbecue, and the Big Night soundtrack when an Italian meal is in the offing.  Try it – your food will be better!

Back to the quiet.  Most of us have a hundred thoughts rattling around.  It’s the collateral damage of our multitasking world.  When I’m cooking, I have one focus at a time – doing my mise en place or the smells as a dish is cooking.  How often have you taken the time out of your busy business day – even 30 seconds – to do something similar?

I appreciate the physical act of cooking, just as I appreciate that I’m constantly learning, finding better ways to do things, and getting better.  I don’t like making mistakes, but I do learn from them and rarely make the same one a second time. Those are the business points too.  My cooking is improving because of experience, not because I took a few years to go to culinary school.  I have friends who did, and they’ll tell you that the reality of the restaurant kitchen is nothing like the CIA.  It’s the same with every young person, fresh out of business school.  Doing beats almost everything.

I read someplace that kitchens are where we create community, and food is all about community.  I like to think of business that way too – a community of my team, the other teams that make up our enterprise, and the customers, partners, and suppliers that make up the community as a whole.  What are your thoughts?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud