Tag Archives: google

Today We Say I Told You So

I was at a startup event last evening and of course, the topic of Facebook‘s data problem came up. I’m sure you’ve heard something about it but what you’ve heard might not be accurate since many of the reports I’ve watched on TV are pretty off the mark. Since I’ve written a lot of not nice things

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about Facebook here on the screed, let me add my two cents here. I also want to taunt you, politely, by reminding you that not of this should be a surprise. I won’t retell the story of what’s been going on but you can read it here if you’re not familiar.

First, the inaccuracies. This wasn’t a data breach nor a data hack. It isn’t a bug – it’s a feature. The whole point of Facebook’s business is to collect a lot of data from and about its users and sell that data along with ads to marketers. They’re not alone in this. If you use Google, they pretty much know what Facebook knows and a lot more. Like Louis in Casablanca, you might profess to be shocked by this but you knew about it all along, didn’t you? After all, you agreed to let it happen when you clicked through the app install or joined the service some other way. You didn’t realize that using a Facebook or Google sign in on other sites meant they could track you? Hmm…

What’s inaccurate is that many reports say Facebook was collecting voice calls and texts from Android phones. First, it’s not the actual calls or texts, it’s the metadata – who you called or texted. Second, that was a feature of some versions of Android that allowed that to happen and Facebook just scarfed up was available and THEN, only because YOU said ok when you installed Messenger. Please don’t be mad at them for doing what they said they were going to do and don’t be shocked the data is in your file.

I downloaded my Facebook data, Other than seeing a few photos I don’t ever recall uploading to the service (which makes me wonder if they’re just grabbing stuff off my camera roll), I wasn’t surprised. No metadata from my phone because I never granted the permission for them to have it. No weird ad stuff because I go through my Facebook settings fairly regularly to clean out things I don’t want them to store. You should too. In fact, you should do that with ALL your digital stuff – check your Google activity, your ad profile, etc. Go through every app on your phone and check the permissions you’ve granted. Why would a game need access to your camera? Why does a barcode scanner need your location? You can probably revoke the permissions individually and if it breaks something in the app, turn it back on. Better safe than sorry. You want Facebook to know less? Delete the app and only use it from a desktop.

Now the “nyah nyah” part. I wrote a post in 2010 about Facebook and their privacy practices (or lack thereof). I wrote another one in 2012 about how Facebook might go the path of AOL or MySpace. I wrote then:

Like AOL long ago, there are some other underlying factors that might portend bad things.

  • Just 13 percent say they trust Facebook completely or a lot to keep their personal information private.

  • A large majority (59 percent) say they have little or no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

I think what’s happened over the last 10 days has me convinced that I was right then. Facebook are no angels but you shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. Unless and until each of us takes control over our privacy, which means understanding that data is currency and you wouldn’t just throw your currency around, this will happen over and over again. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

It Just Works

I’m old enough and digital enough to have used the first IBM PC and VisiCalc. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use but it pretty much was the only thing. DOS led to other operating systems, primarily Windows, that enabled all of us to work more efficiently. Well, that is, unless we were busy figuring out why we couldn’t print or why we were suddenly deluged with pop-up ads via malware.

English: IBM Personal Computer model 5150 with...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That was always the biggest appeal of Apple products to me. They just worked. My primary computer is a MacBook Air and the thought of going back to a Windows environment, no matter how good the reviews are on Windows 10, is dismaying. I’ve had to help friends with their Win10 issues and it certainly doesn’t “just work.” Then again, neither does my MacBook any longer. Sure, it’s nice that the OS upgrades every year (for free!) but I find myself diagnosing problems constantly now (wifi drops, SD cards being ejected at random, and more!).

My next computer will be a Chromebook; specifically a Chromebook with a touchscreen that can serve as a tablet. Chromebooks do just work. They are malware free. Think about how you work now. Most of it is probably via a web browser and in the cloud – my work certainly is for the most part. And they’re inexpensive – I can buy two decent Chromebooks for the price of a new MacBook or a touchscreen Windows machine. But what does this have to do with your business?

The bulk of customers wants that “it just works” experience no matter what you’re selling. They want their problems solved with the least hassle and for the best value. Notice I didn’t say for the lowest price. Just as there are high-end Chromebooks costing more than some Apple computers, so too is there a segment of buyer that want the high-end product and can afford to pay more if they perceive better quality, better service, or maybe a boost to their self-esteem (think luxury cars). But that’s not everyone.

If you want to brag about your computer’s specs then Chromebooks probably aren’t for you. Honestly, they’re not for everyone – you can’t do serious gaming or Photoshop or video editing. If you’re the type that likes to tweak your settings until they’re just right, you probably want to stick with something else. You need to think about your business in this context too. Are you for some very specialized, narrow audiences or are you for the bulk of the consumer base? If the latter, I’d suggest you focus on the “it just works” experience because history shows that’s how the best businesses succeed. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Throwing Back The Small Fish

You’re probably a user of one free Google service or another. Odds are that you’ve used the search engine (probably at least once already today!). Maybe you get your email via a free Gmail account or watch videos on YouTube. It’s no secret that each of those services is provided to attract eyeballs (and usage data) for the ads Google sells.

Let’s think for a moment about the other side of that equation. How do those ads get there? Glad you asked! Google also provides a number of other free services to support marketers as well as other free services such as Google Analytics that provide data (to Google and others) about what’s going on in the web world. Lately, Google has been doing some things with those services that are instructive to the rest of us for our businesses.

What they’re doing is making those services less useful to marketers who don’t spend money with them. You might remember the outcry a couple of years back when Google stopped providing search term information in the free version of Analytics. At the time they said it would affect only a small minority of the data. The truth is that today nearly all of the search terms are (not provided), which is where Google lumps them when they don’t want to show them to you.

A few days ago, Google did it again. There is something called Keyword Planner which is used to plan search advertising. Google announced that “advertisers with lower monthly spend may see a limited data view in the Keyword Planner.” How much lower? No one knows.

How does this relate to your business? As you might expect, the response from the search marketing community has been outrage. This comment (and there are pages and pages of them on Google’s Advertising Community page) is typical:

First Google took your organic keyword data away. Now they are intent on impoverishing those without enough budget for the data.

There are many times more small accounts using Google for search than there are large accounts. Is it a good idea to favor the big spenders? Yes, it is, actually. Any good business rewards its best customers with perks. Those perks, however, shouldn’t diminish the ability of a small customer (or a new customer) to become one of the bigger ones. That’s what this change has done. Do I think it will drive marketers to another search engine? Maybe, but I’m guessing your business sector doesn’t have anyone who is as dominant in it as Google is in the search realm so you probably don’t have the luxury of not caring a whole lot.

The Boss wrote, “from small things, baby, big things one day come.” The only way to foster that growth is to provide support and tools, no matter what business we’re in. I think Google has taken a step in the wrong direction. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Scum Of The Digital Earth

I read something the other day that made me sad and then angry. It’s the sort of thing that lessens my faith in humanity, although as I describe it you’ll probably just say I’m naive. It concerns the PPI business. What’s that? It stands for pay-per-install and the companies involved in it, some of whom are business names you’d know, are the scum of the digital earth in my book. Why is that?

First, what exactly is PPI? According to the folks at NYU who did some research on this topic with Google, commercial PPI is a monetization scheme wherein third-party applications — often consisting of unwanted software such as adware, scareware, and browser hijacking programs — are bundled with legitimate applications in exchange for payment to the legitimate software company. When users install the package, they get the desired piece of software as well as a stream of unwanted programs riding stowaway. It’s big business, with one outfit reporting $460 million in revenue in 2014 alone.

Ever installed a legitimate piece of software only to find your browser behaving strangely afterward? You get a barrage of advertisements on the screen, or a flashing pop-up warning of the presence of malware, demanding the purchase of what is often fraudulent antivirus software. On other occasions, the system’s default browser is hijacked, redirecting to ad-laden pages. The vendors of this crap will claim that you approved the installation of all the additional malware by clicking through the terms and conditions or forgetting to uncheck a box approving the install. Having had to remove this junk from both my family’s and friends’ computers I can tell you that that simple error can cost you may hours of diagnosis and repair, or a bit of money to purchase an anti-malware package.

But it gets worse. Today it’s just crapware, adware and the like. What happens when someone takes a check from someone who has more sinister intentions? Keyloggers and other spyware could just as easily be installed. As one article on the study pointed out:

The one-year study by Google and NYU Tandon School of Engineering of affiliate networks running pay-per-install programs (PPI) found that nearly 60% of offers bundled with these programs are flagged as unwanted, and that in aggregate drove 60 million weekly download attempts with tens of millions of installs detected in the last year. These sites can run ad injectors.

Tens of millions of installs a week. Hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands, and a conscience nowhere to be found. I’m not one to encourage government intervention in the digital realm but someone needs to shut these scum down before something catastrophic happens. It’s not all “Russian hackers” doing this. These “businesses” are about as close to criminal as one can get without being arrested. What are your thoughts?

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Blocking The Stream

If you’re typical of most consumers these days, you spent part of the past week watching streaming video. I watch a fair amount of it, and I like to use a Chromecast to stream it on the big screen TV. I’m a subscriber to the big 3 video services – Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon – and use my TV provider to authenticate streaming of other services such as ESPN3. It all works quite well with one exception, and that’s our topic – and business point – today.

Deutsch: Logo von Amazon.com

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every app or every service supports streaming to the Chromecast with one major exception: Amazon. Because of that, I find that I use my Amazon subscription far less than I do Netflix or Hulu. It’s not that they have inferior content. Far from it: there are many things I’d like to stream. The issue is that I don’t like watching things on my computer or phone since I’m usually using one or both while watching. So why doesn’t the service support Chromecasting? As one article pointed out:

Google allows any app developer to add Chromecast support to their iOS or Android app. There is no technical or policy limitation that prevents Prime Video from “interacting well” with the Chromecast. And Amazon has made no statement indicating why they refuse to support it.

In a word, business. There are no technical reasons why Amazon hasn’t built Chromecast support into their service, but they have chosen to ignore a user base that is almost 20 million opportunities strong (the number of Chromecasts out there). The war between the two – Amazon and Google – has become so heated that as of last Fall Amazon no longer even sells Chromecasts in their store (go ahead and check – I’ll wait). You might think that it’s because Amazon wants to push their own FireTV devices, but the fight is much bigger than that. The business point is that it doesn’t matter who believes they’ll win. We – the consumers – are the losers.

I’m a big Amazon fan (and shopper!) and have been an Amazon Prime user since the first day it was offered. This, however, is terribly misguided thinking on their part.  Yes, I’m aware that I can use a browser extension to mirror my phone or screen and cast Amazon video that way, but it’s a much inferior user experience.  This is a rare, but big, misstep on Amazon’s part. As businesses, we can’t be placing customers in the middle of our business disputes.  We might think that we’re hurting a competitor but what competitors aren’t also in business together somehow these days?  Moreover, this thinking by Amazon flunks the most basic business test we need to apply to any thinking: is this good for my customers and will it enhance the value of my product or service if I proceed?  Not in this case.  Agreed?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

You Could But You Shouldn’t

You might have missed an item last week although you might very well have been the subject of the report.  Do you know about ad injectors?  I’ve written about them before, most recently when some genius at Lenovo thought purchasers of their laptops would want to have Superfish bundled with their machines.  Besides being a massive security risk it was annoying as hell, as a plethora of ads cluttered up users’ screens.  Well, it turns out that Lenovo doesn’t have a patent on either stupidity (at best) or maliciousness (more likely).  To wit:

More than 5% of Google site visitors have at least one ad injector installed. Of those, half have at least two injectors installed, and nearly one-third have at least four installed, per a study Google conducted with researchers at University of California Berkeley.

In other words, millions of people have code installed that will insert new ads, or replace existing ones, into the pages those people read.  You may be one of them.  How did this happen?  Generally, some miscreant bundled the ad injector with some other desirable piece of software which the user installed.  Tool bars (don’t install them!) and certain software download sites (download.com, for one) do this routinely.  As the Google Security Blog put it:

Unwanted ad injectors aren’t part of a healthy ads ecosystem. They’re part of an environment where bad practices hurt users, advertisers, and publishers alike. People don’t like ad injectors for several reasons: not only are they intrusive, but people are often tricked into installing ad injectors in the first place, via deceptive advertising, or software “bundles.”…Ad injectors are problematic for advertisers and publishers as well. Advertisers often don’t know their ads are being injected, which means they don’t have any idea where their ads are running. Publishers, meanwhile, aren’t being compensated for these ads, and more importantly, they unknowingly may be putting their visitors in harm’s way, via spam or malware in the injected ads.
So why does this happen?  Because it can and because some executive doesn’t have the moral courage to say “no” to an easy buck.  Any of us in business make choices like this all the time.  We could do things that are evil but profitable but most of us choose not to.  We should not be afraid to point out and shun those who do.
Business is hard.  Making the right decisions is part of what makes it so.  We don’t do some things just because we can.  Besides being immoral it’s myopic and as Lenovo found out the backlash can be worse than the original problem.  Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Evil?

I’ll admit that today’s screed is a bit more narrowly focused than it is on some days. That said, it’s about a business that touches us all and a business practice that might serve as an example.

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might know that one of Google’s informal mottos is “don’t be evil.” More formally stated (as it is in their business code) it’s:

Do the right thing: don’t be evil. Honesty and Integrity in all we do. Our business practices are beyond reproach. We make money by doing good things

It also made their IPO documents:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.

So far, so good.  What’s bugging me and many others today is Google’s announcement that they’re going to be encrypting all search data.  They started doing that on a smaller scale almost two years ago (you can read my post on it here).  For those of us who are in the business of helping companies understand how and why people come to their digital businesses, it made life difficult.  If you’re engaged in search engine optimization, it put a dent in your abilities as well.  However, at the time, Google said it was a measure taken to protect user privacy (for users signed into a Google account) and it wouldn’t affect much of the data.

Fast forward.  It HAS affected a lot of the data and yesterday’s announcement means ALL the data about how people were searching and found your site is gone.  Some are calling it the day SEO died.  I think it’s evil.  Why?  Because you CAN get the data – you just need to pay Google for it.  Their idea of privacy is bullcrap. You can’t offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers.   There’s also some rumblings that they’re doing this to protect against the NSA program but if the data is still available I can’t see how that would work.  Business practices beyond reproach?  I think a neutral party might say not so fast.

I respect that Google offers a lot of free services, most of which are among the best offered anywhere.  But dumbing down how businesses can make the web a better, more usable place hurts everyone.  Part of why Google and other search engines work is that many of us work hard to be sure our content is discoverable by and clear to the search engines.  This could make search results less accurate.  It also means the ads Google serves will be less well-targeted.  It also means that while big companies will continue to pay for expensive services that offer workarounds, start-ups and smaller businesses will suffer.

I come down on the side of this being evil.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, What's Going On